Sep 22, 2011

Posted by in Apologetics, Culture | 2 Comments

Finding a Calling: Finding Purpose Through a Journey of Failure

Third in a series. Part one, Part two.

When I was a new Christian I heard a sermon on the radio (back when the messages of many well known pastors were broadcast on radio, what people used to listen to before iPods). The topic was discerning God’s will for your life. The advice was deceptively simple. First get as close to Jesus as you can (via spiritual disciplines) and then do what you want to do. The perfectly valid assumption being that a disciple of Christ would not do anything against what He taught. However, when it came to serving in the church, especially if any kind of spiritual gift was involved, then it should be “confirmed” by the church. Unfortunately, the pastor never elaborated on that last bit. I have always taken it to mean encouragement or invitation to continue. Perhaps a more blunt way to put it would mean that failure would indicate you’ve chosen the wrong type of service.

As I mentioned in the previous post, as a new Christian I was immersed in many types of study, growth and discipleship. I attended Bible Study Fellowship for five years, was a voracious reader of materials on apologetics. At that time my church was starting small groups for fellowship and Bible study. The easiest way to be in a small group was to simply lead one.

After a particular meeting of my small group someone commented that I should teach on Sunday mornings in the young adult class that a few of us attended. That prompted me to ask my pastor if such an opportunity was possible. That led to my speaking on two occasions as part of book studies. On another occasion I spoke on systematic theology using the catch phrase, “What God cannot do.” I discovered two things about myself I did not expect. First, I was one of those people who, rather than fear public speaking, I actually enjoyed it. Second, the process of study, preparation, and presentation of truth about God inspired me like nothing I had ever experienced.

The feedback I received from friends and peers was, as well as I remember, positive. One individual who visited the day I spoke on systematic theology actually asked me if I was a recent seminary graduate. It was around this time I sought specific feedback and advice from my pastor. I told him that I wanted to do more of this, and I asked him what I should do to get better at it. His response was that I should try teaching a class in children’s church, for example the third grade boys.

At the time, this seemed like complete rejection and failure. This created a dissonance in my spiritual life from which I have not completely recovered. In the short time I had been teaching, the process of preparing and studying had energized my spiritual life in a tremendous way. When my “delusion” of being gifted to teach was shattered my desire to study the Bible was taken as well. The connection between teaching and studying made the latter a painful reminder of my disappointment. Since I am being completely candid, I even prayed for a long time for the desire to teach taken away from me.

I have had my share of trials and difficulties as a Christian. One of the most difficult was watching brain cancer take the communication faculties of my father in less than a day. I saw that and other struggles as being evidence of evil. I don’t know why, but I have never struggled with presence of evil alongside the character and attributes of God. However, the struggle I had with teaching left scars I am almost ashamed to admit. I could not grasp how such a passion could be ignited in my life only to be told it was an illusion, something I had no business pursuing.

While it took a very long time to accept, I put aside the idea of pursuing any kind of teaching ministry. I met a tremendous Christian woman who has been in my life for over 20 years. We have a wonderful teenage daughter and all three of us are blessed in so many ways. In hindsight, my idea of serving God became focused on my roles as a husband and father. To the extent that I still served at Church it was almost always with my wife: from teaching a two-year-olds class to automating the church library. My family and career have given me purpose and joy for which I have always thanked God.

However, that is not the end of my story. Apparently, years of family and career are not enough to snuff out something as powerful as my interest in scholarship and teaching. In my next post I will offer some observations about the church and what has dragged me back into the search for ministry.

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  1. I don’t understand why you took you pastor’s advice the way that you did. It seems to me that that is really good advice. If you can teach anything to 3rd graders, then you can teach it to anyone.

    I have friends who are professionally trained at the graduate level in Analytic Philosophy. On occasion they have been given the opp to speak at church, and when they spoke, it was like … woosh! … stuff went way high over our heads. I had no clue what they were talking about – and I have some background in the stuff.

    I wish I could have these guys sit down with 3rd graders and explain it to them. They would improve dramatically.

    ~ R. Rao

    • Raj,
      As to your first comment I have to disagree on at least two levels. First, and I hesitate to belabor the obvious, there is a huge difference between material that is suitable for adults vs. children. At my church and at two of my daughters schools I have had the opportunity to “teach” 2-year-olds, 4th grade, 8th grade, and most recently high school. The plain fact of the matter is that there are many aspects of Christianity that can’t and shouldn’t be simplified down the the level of children. Second, and again this seems obvious to me, there is a completely different mindset, gifts, passion, etc associated with those who can minister to children. I have come to learn as a parent that I have learned how to work with children of various ages through my experience with my daughter. At the time, I was newly married and had never worked with children. In other words, in terms of how effective I might have been, it was the probably the worst advice I have ever been given.
      Finally, while I empathize with your frustration with speakers who are poorly equipped to complicated subjects, that is indictment of the speakers not the material. It is a cliche worth repeating that the protestant church abandoned the life of the mind almost 100 years ago. The solution is not to dumb down complicated subjects to the level of children, the solution is for the church to cultivate teachers who can communicate. The church should also challenge believers to use the minds God gave them, not coddle them with a continual diet of milk (Hebrews 5:12-13).
      In 1992 JP Moreland spoke at my church, I was a baby Christian with only a science focused education (Physics). I could barely spell philosophy, theology, let alone analytic philosophy. He managed to communicate the foundations of philosophy, philosophy of science, and why and how a Christian can rediscover the life of the mind. I have never been the same since.
      From reading science and philosophy written by those who are hostile to Christian theism, I can assure they are relying on Christians remaining poorly educated in their faith and how to defend it.

      An aside: Philosophy is a notoriously difficult discipline to communicate to those who are not immersed in it. When carefully and judiciously applied to topics such as Christology, it can be a useful ally to defend and explain doctrine. However in my opinion it is difficult to make relevant as an end unto itself.

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