Sunday, March 9, 2014

The End and the Beginning

Today was a significant day, and in a way, it marked the end of a long journey, but also the beginning of what could be - if God allows - an even longer one.  This morning, at Riverview Baptist Church, I was ordained.  I am now an ordained minister of the gospel (which means you can refer to me as "Your Excellency" from now on).

The ordination process started for me almost two years ago, and because I dragged my feet a bit along the way, ended just today.  It was a long process, but one that was certainly beneficial for me on a variety of levels.

In the Baptist tradition, ordination is something of a ceremonial, procedural act.  There's nothing really official that happens.  Yesterday I wasn't ordained, and today I am.  There's nothing that I can do today as a minister that I couldn't do yesterday.  Basically, what happened is that my church officially affirmed my call to ministry, and set me apart for the work of the gospel.  There were several steps that I had to complete before this affirmation, mind you, but today was the culmination of those steps, and it feels good to have it done.  And it was, of course, nice to receive the affirmation and encouragement of my brothers and sisters at Riverview, although their encouragement has become somewhat of a given in my life, as they've literally supported and encouraged me for my entire life.

One of the steps that I had to go through leading up to today was to write a statement of faith, basically a long paper on what I believe about foundational doctrines of the faith.  This statement was reviewed by other NAB ministers to ensure that I was within the realm of orthodoxy.  Once that was determined an Ordination Council was called, where even more ministers gathered to grill me on what I had written.  Needless to say, it was rather challenging.  But having been satisfied with my answers, they decided to recommend to Riverview that they proceed with my ordination, which they did.

And so it all culminated today, with the elders and leaders of Riverview gathered around me in prayer.

But even the process I've just described is not where it started.  Part of my statement of faith paper required some biographical information, and also information about my conversion and call to ministry. It's always interesting to look back at times in your life that you haven't put much thought into and to see how and where God worked.  This was the case for me as I wrote out my story for my paper.  And so, to bring the ordination process to its complete end, I thought I'd share that information here.  So what follows below is the biographical section from my paper, along with my conversion story and call to ministry.

My personal spiritual journey began at a young age.  I was born into a Christian family as the youngest of three children.  I do not remember a time in my life when my family was not consistently devoted to church attendance, membership, and regular ministry participation.  Although somewhat cliché, the phrase “at church whenever the doors were open” accurately describes my family’s commitment to church attendance and participation.
This regular involvement in church life led to my initial exposure to the Bible and the things of God at a young age.  Around my ninth birthday I felt a desire to get baptized into the faith, although this desire was fed mostly out of a longing to emulate the devotion my sisters professed to Christ (they had both been baptized not long before I was), and out of a childish fear of death and hell.  Having conducted significant reflection on this time in my life, it is my opinion that my profession of faith at the age of nine was not genuine, as it was not given out of a love for the Lord or a true understanding of the gospel, nor was it a result of any process of repentance, nor was there any evidence of spiritual fruit in my life in the years to follow. 
Although much of the spiritual training and nurture that was poured into me as a child didn’t seem to be impactful at the time, as I reflect on it now it is clear to me that God used these years to inject truth into my young mind and heart – even if it was not appropriated at the time.  Indeed, I consider these formative years to have been the foundation upon which God would build the future of my life of faith and subsequent calling to vocational ministry. 
My teenage years were rocky, at best.  Although this is unremarkable and is somewhat characteristic of all teenagers, my own experience was accentuated by my desire to dive headlong into sinful behavior.  The unregenerate state of my heart manifested itself in many ways – too numerous to list or discuss in this brief section.  Needless to say, it became apparent to me around my sixteenth year of life that I was not a genuine Christian, even though I had professed faith (both in baptism and on a regular basis in religious contexts). 
This revelation of my lack of belief came as a result of the kindness and mercy of God.  Although I had claimed to be a Christian, God exposed the sin in my life and brought about conviction.  My newfound conviction of sin caused me to fall back on the biblical and gospel education of my childhood and youth and caused me to call out to God in repentance and faith.  I cannot pinpoint a specific day or time when my conversion took place.  Rather, God used a season of my life to convict me of sin and gave me the grace of repentance and faith over a period of several months.
I sensed a call to ministry almost immediately after my conversion.  At the time – most likely because of my age – I believed that call to be to youth ministry, and this is the field of study I pursued after completing high school.  I entered Crown College in the youth ministry track and spent my freshman year there.  Having also had a negative experience with dormitory life that same year, however, I decided to take some time off from school in order to gain ministry experience.  For the next two years I worked on a volunteer basis with the youth group at Riverview Baptist Church.  I was given several leadership responsibilities during this time, and my desire to pursue full time vocational ministry grew.
It was also during this time that I began to broach the subject of pursuing full time ministry with other people in order to receive their wisdom and input.  I was encouraged by Harold Lang, the senior pastor of Riverview at the time, to continue to pursue this course.  Travis Webber, Riverview’s then youth minister, similarly encouraged me.   Friends and family members echoed this encouragement, and confirmed my inward call to ministry.
After this interim period I enrolled at Northwestern College in St. Paul.  I broadened my degree focus to a more generalized ministry degree that could lead to positions in several different ministry contexts.  Throughout my three years at Northwestern, however, I felt an increased call to pastoral ministry – particularly in preaching and teaching and shepherding.  I believe this call to have been confirmed through an increase in my sensitivity, skillfulness, and training in these areas and others.
Also during this period of time I was taken on staff at Riverview Baptist Church as the part time Jr. High youth minister, working in conjunction with the Sr. High youth minister and Dave Wick, senior pastor.  Upon my graduation from Northwestern College in 2005 with a degree in ministry my position at Riverview was upgraded to full time, and I was given the title of Pastor of Christian Life & Growth, with an increase in responsibilities and duties. 
In 2008 I was persuaded by the Church Relations Director at Sioux Falls Seminary to enroll in their M.Div. program by way of online learning, which I did.  Riverview Baptist Church graciously agreed to fund my graduate schooling in exchange for my commitment to remain under their employ throughout the duration of my schooling, and for a period of time after graduation, which I readily gave.  After two years of online seminary at Sioux Falls I was informed that the Association of Theological Schools requires seminary students to complete a certain percentage of their schooling in an on-campus environment.  I was therefore required to transfer my schooling to Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, where I completed my studies in 2012, graduating with a Masters of Divinity.  

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