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Essay in Answer to ¶310,2a UMC Discipline 2012

Tue, Oct 14, 2014

The path to ministry God set before me was indeed mysterious, but now – looking back – clear and obvious. God in his mercy saved me from the dark, uncertain lands of my youth. He offered me his only son, Jesus Christ, and filled me with his Holy Spirit. He nurtured me through his Holy Word and the saints of his Church. The joy in my life is now totally incomprehensible to my old self. Because of what he’s done for me, I totally and completely give my life to the everlasting, triune God of Heaven and Earth.

God’s Prevenient Grace

I was raised in the Mormon faith, but always felt that something wasn’t right. For the longest I assumed it was my lack of faith and sinfulness that prevented me from being able to believe the things I should. When I left home for university I stopped attending Mormon services and, though I still considered myself a Mormon, started exploring different options. At university I found I had more in common with my friends at the Wesley Foundation, Baptist Student Union, and other Christian organizations than I did with my Mormon peers. At the same time, I was also put off by the Christians on campus who would confront people on the quad and condemn them to Hell or question if they were saved (a phrase of little meaning to a Mormon).

After university I landed a job in the Netherlands working in Amsterdam. There, surrounded by secularists, I began to question what I actually believed and even if there was a God. Still struggling with these questions, I moved back to the States after a time to be closer to my family and landed an apartment that happened to be directly next to a church. Daily I was confronted with the edifice of the Church and I could no longer continue to place my thoughts about God in the shadows. My questions of faith had come to a head; either I believed in God or I did not and, if I did believe in God, I needed to do something about that belief.

After much searching, I concluded that I did know that God existed. God’s presence was too clear in my life and the life of those around me. I knew I believed in God; however, I was still unsure how I was to respond to this belief. If God existed, then I knew I would have to be an active Mormon again; the God I believed in required action with belief. But, how could a loving God be head of an institution that brought nothing but shame, stress, and guilt to my life? I decided that the God I knew would lead me to his will; I would put Mormon doctrine to the test and attend a few Christian churches and see what happened.

That first Sunday at McKendree UMC I fully expected to not feel the Holy Spirit. I thought it would be my first and last Sunday at the “Great and Abominable Church of Satan” as I had been brought up to believe all non-Mormon bodies were. The next Sunday I would don my white shirt, suck it up, and be a practicing Mormon again. Instead in that old and nearly empty sanctuary, sitting alone on the back pew, I felt the Holy Spirit stronger than I had ever experienced in my entire life.

“This can’t be right,” I thought to myself at that time. I had to learn more; I had to discover why I had felt what I shouldn’t have felt. I decided the best way to research what had happened was to go all in. By the next week I was attending Bible study and experiencing prayers where, for the first time, I actually felt like I was talking to a loving God who listened. Two months later I was in the choir wearing “evil Catholic robes”. A month after that, I had started reading theology and learning more about all the great and wonderful things about God that I hadn’t learned as a child. In this search, I found John Wesley.

Salvation & a New Call

From the first moment I read John Wesley, I knew I had finally found someone who understood my struggles with faith and holiness. Through his sermons, I found other theologians, I discovered the writings of the Apostles that had been hidden from me, and, most importantly, I found the Lord and Savior who had been waiting on me with outstretched arms.

One Sunday afternoon – February 20th, 2011 to be exact – I was sitting under a tree in my normal reading spot at the Tennessee capitol building reading a Wesleyan theology book. I was reading an analysis and recounting of John Wesley’s Aldergate experience. When I read the line “an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death,” I, without thinking, asked “Am I saved?” I didn’t ask this aloud, and I wasn’t particularly asking God; I was more questioning myself. Immediately I received the answer “Yes.” I initially rejected it as simply me saying “yes”, but before that thought had even completely finished I received the answer again, “Yes, Michael, you are saved.” In that moment I knew that through the amazing love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ I was saved from my sins. There was no doubt and for the first time in my life I was freed to stop focusing inwards toward my own salvation and begin to think about how to project this amazing love to the world.

Within days of gaining an assurance of my salvation God started prompting me to become a pastor. For a good many months I rejected the notion. I was too young a Christian. There were already enough pastors. I wasn’t good at social interactions. My excuses were numerous, but God just wouldn’t let me alone. I felt at home behind the pulpit and enjoyed teaching people about the Eternal God. I would often have dreams where I was standing behind the table offering Christ’s grace through the sacraments. God finally broke me down and I allowed myself to entertain His will and accepted his call to ministry.

Calling in Ministry

God’s call on my life in very clear. He has blessed me with a career where I can very easily support a family and a ministry. From my first dreams of being a means of distributing God’s grace through the sacraments to the ways God continually affirms me, I know he asks that I become a presbyter/elder/priest in his Holy Church. Further, because of the career success he has gifted me with, God calls me to those small congregations who can’t afford a fulltime pastor and would normally be part of a multi-point charge. He asks me to take no salary for my work, but volunteer my time to the building up of his kingdom.

To support me in ministry I have a fiancée, Jennifer, who comes from a family full of pastors. My future father-in-law, Mark, is a district superintendent in the Church of Nazarene and was a pastor for many years before then. Mark’s father was a pastor before him and his brother is a district superintendent in the Wesleyan Church. On my future mother-in-law’s side I have one uncle who is a pastor in the Wesleyan Church and a cousin who is attending seminary to become a youth minister in the same. Most importantly, Jennifer feels called to ministry with me and stands beside me in my journey to ordination in the United Methodist Church.

McKendree UMC has been a place of new birth for me. It is where I met the living God spirit-to-spirit and where many formative moments in my development as a Christian took place. I have the support of many there, but most especially Gerry and Linda – who love Methodist theology as much as I do – and my LifeGroup which formed out of that first Bible study I attended so many years ago.

Conclusion

Why God has called me I do not know. I would be a very happy lay person and do not desire the stress and complexities bi-vocational ministry will bring upon me and my family. However, I know God lives. I know he calls me. Through Adam all need to be saved and Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God – who lived, died, rose on the third day, and will come again in final glory – is the only name under Heaven by which salvation comes. The church is the community established by Jesus, through the apostles, whereby he provides humankind the tools to assist each other in working out their salvation. The Church is the living body of God, the only institution ordained to offer his love through the sacraments of grace, and the best place to fulfill Jesus’s call to make disciples of all the world. God calls me to serve his Holy Church by being an elder in the United Methodist Church and, because I love him and desire only to do his will, I must answer.