After three years of discussion, prayer, and more discussion, we're staying where we are. Billy asked me if I thought I had lost the debate. Katie remaining unconvinced of the move, had I reluctantly conceded? I told him I didn't think so. While Katie's feelings weighed heavily in the decision, our choice to stay here rather than to go to seminary is just that, our choice. There are many wonderful reasons to stay put, loving and being loved not the least of those reasons.
About three years ago, while serving as youth pastor at Crawford Road, I began to sense that God had given me a heart, and maybe even a calling, for ministry. That is, I knew that I loved to teach people the Bible, to tell them of Jesus and His unrelenting love, and to demonstrate as best I can what it means to be a Christ-follower. The church confirmed this calling in my life, and several pastoral mentors of mine began to suggest that I think about attending seminary. I did. Becoming a full-time staff member at Crawford Road enabled me to go back to school for my bachelor's degree, the first step in my journey towards seminary. (I'm not sure how the saints at Crawford Road now feel about my full-time years there, but I can literally say that they changed my life. For that, I am grateful.)
I began looking for seminaries, and I quickly discovered Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, which I loved for three reasons: 1) It is close to home, 2) It is rooted in church history, 3) It is an ecumenical school, meaning that several denominational traditions are represented in the faculty and student body. For two years, I have not been able to envision any plan for my future other than attending Beeson.
My plan for Beeson was a vision that Katie did not share. Katie has been very supportive of my calling to ministry, and I know that she would have gone to Birmingham with me. Still, she was not happy about the idea of moving, and this kept us from making a final decision.
One of the reasons that moving seemed so necessary for me is that there seemed to be no work in this area for which I was qualified and that felt satisfying to me. Moving to Birmingham would open doors for our future that just wouldn't open if we stayed here. Two things began to change my perspective about this. First, there was our church, Missio Dei. One of the things that did bother me about moving was leaving our newly formed church. I love the people of Missio Dei and believe in our mission with all my heart. I began to wonder why I should go to school to work toward pastoring a church when I am already pastoring the best church of which I could imagine being a part. Perhaps there were other ways to improve my knowledge and abilities apart from moving. Even so, I am not receiving a salary with Missio Dei, and there are bills to pay and children to feed.
There was still the question of career. Fortunately, I discovered linguistics. My interest in language was a complete surprise to me. I suppose it shouldn't have been a surprise; I've loved arranging words in thoughtful and affecting ways in songwriting and preaching for years, and I'm learning to love the power of words in prose and poetry as well. As I took more courses in linguistics and in Spanish, I began to develop a love and respect not only for words and language, but for non-native speakers of English. It may sound strange, but when I am out and I see a group or family of Hispanic persons, I feel drawn to them. I want to speak with them, get to know them, see the world through their eyes. I believe this desire is from God.
Through my linguistics minor, I will be certified through TESOL to teach English as a second language. I am considering getting a teaching certificate in order to work with students in public schools who are non-native speakers of English. These students struggle in classrooms where they are not able to fully understand what is being taught. In many cases, they are simply thrown into an English environment and expected to survive on their own, or they are placed in special education where they do not belong. This field is also a perfect fit for my work with Missio Dei, which is Latin for "mission of God." The name refers to the idea that God is creating one people out of many nations and many tongues. The mission of God is a cross-cultural mission - a fact that has escaped many churches in this area. To be fair, opportunities for cross-cultural ministry have not been demographically significant in past years. That has changed, and there is much work to do.
Career and ministry aside, there is another reason to stay: our family and friends. It's difficult to leave somewhere when so many people want you to stay. Cultural observer Andy Crouch commented here on the cultural trends of the last decade. One of those trends was regarding place. Crouch writes:
Urbanologist Richard Florida observed that young adults meeting one another no longer ask, “What do you do?” They ask, “Where do you live?” More and more people will change careers in order to stay in a place—connected to family, friends, and local culture—than will change place to stay in a career. The 20th-century American dream was to move out and move up; the 21st-century dream seems to be to put down deeper roots.
Our decision to stay put is a decision to put down deeper roots.
I mentioned before that I came to this decision through prayer. Of course, I was praying for God to reveal to me His will for our lives. Was it His will that we move or that we stay? For several reasons, including my own sanity, I felt like I was nearing decision time. I needed answers. For help in listening, I turned to Thomas Merton, a monk who has taught me much about what it means to seek God's will. Merton says:
Our vocation is not a supernatural lottery but the interaction of two freedoms, and, therefore, of two loves. It is hopeless to try to settle the problem of vocation outside the context of friendship and of love. We speak of Providence: that is a philosophical term. The Bible speaks of our Father in Heaven... In planning the course of our lives, we must remember the importance and the dignity of our own freedom. A man who fears to settle his future by a good act of his own free choice does not understand the love of God.
What Merton is suggesting is that sometimes, while we are waiting for God to write in the sky His choice for our lives, God is quietly whispering to His child, "You choose." In his love, He has given us the freedom to choose how we best want to please Him. This is the freedom I began to feel. And I chose.
One final question I had when making this decision was why had I felt so strongly that I should go to Beeson, that it was what the Lord wanted, when in the end, He knew I would stay. In other words, why go through all the fuss? Recently, I was looking back through all of my Facebook statuses from over the last year. My first status for the year 2010 was a quote by C.S. Lewis: "The longest way round is the shortest way home." Now, I don't remember where I read that or why I posted it at the time, but I can tell you what it meant to me at the end of 2010. It meant that I needed to seriously consider leaving so that I could intentionally choose to stay. My life and work here are no longer a necessity; they are a choice.
Note: The follow-up to this post is How to Glorify God.