The Subjective and Ignorant Call of God Into the Ministry

I continued to work in the church through the summer and fall of 1985. I couldn’t get enough of it. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. The church was the world’s greatest playland. My career at Delaval—the machine shop—was going well too. God was showing favor there as I was becoming more involved in committees and training. It was an excellent job for me.

I told Cal Pearson, one of my bosses, that I couldn’t foresee me doing anything else in my life. But I did add that if I do grow weary of the job, I will leave. Of course, I could not possibly imagine that happening. My comment to Call was instructive because it was less than a month later when I noticed there was a drawing of my heart from Delaval. It was out of the blue; I was growing weary of my job. It was amazing.

There was no script for what I was going through, and I was unprepared for the unexpected. The work that I loved doing was becoming taxing and frustrating. Shortly after talking to Cal, I wanted to be somewhere else though I didn’t know where that would be. The only clue I had was that my heart yearned to do more work for the Lord in the context of a local church. These thoughts brought fear and angst.

The Call of God?

Simultaneous to my soul troubles, some of the good church folks hinted that God was calling me into the ministry. “Going into the ministry” is a term from the Independent Baptist movement of churches that meant if a male, Christian had zeal and a desire (burden), God was calling him to full-time work. The three options are pastor, missionary, and evangelist. Yeah, weird, right? But it wasn’t then.

Their approach to pursuing the ministry is not wise even though men do it all the time in religious cultures. Some of the things missing in this equation are a lack of assessment of the person’s gift mix, character, and a season for the outworking of his gifting. And, of course, how he loves and leads his family are critical data points. Discerning these things did not happen. I received no counsel. The irony is that I was merely acting out the gospel in my life as I was learning from Bible reading, preaching, and modeling what I saw other Christians doing.

In retrospect, God was not calling me. Living out the teaching of the Bible should be typical for all believers. If you grow in your understanding of the Bible and live it out, you’re transforming into an expected Christian life. Reflectively, I see how my life was counter to the nominalism in the church. I was the new, shiny thing, and the people were ignorantly excited about the zealous Christian in their midst.

This kind of ignorance is the false continuum that says if you have zeal, God is calling you into the ministry. And the good Christian folks were not shy about stating their opinions regarding my vocational future. Their “encouragement” became a sinful temptation to me. I did not want to “go into the ministry.” I was terrified of this notion.

But their not-so-veiled-comments continued while nobody came alongside me to talk about these matters. They were observing me and giving opinions on how they thought about my future or what God was doing in my heart. It became a waiting game for them. I did not know how it worked, but they knew the day was coming when I would “surrender” to the “call to go into the ministry.”

I just needed to work it out so the inevitable would happen. I think about how insane this is today. How devastating to a person and his family when you “expect” him into the ministry without careful evaluation and soul care.

The Compelling Desire to Be a Fundamentalist

We were sitting in the main auditorium of a Southern Baptist church in the spring of 1985. It was there where it became evident that we should be at Grace Baptist Church on Weddington Road. It was such clarity, as though it came from nowhere. I was sitting there thinking about “whatever,” and then my mind was filled with this need to attend Grace Baptist, the fundamentalist church across town. My wife agreed.

Shortly after God saved me, there was this urge to find a local church and become a member. This “prompting” was one of many things that began to happen to me. I had never had the urge to find a local church or become part of one before salvation. My life had changed, and I was led mysteriously by another power. It was a new day, an objectively different day. After redemption, we went in search of a local church. We visited a Pentecostal church, Southern Baptist churches, Independent churches, and Presbyterian churches. I had no clue about doctrine, the Bible’s teaching on the local church, or the value of the local church, but knew we had to be part of one.

Sometime in the winter or spring of 84-85, we visited Grace Baptist, a fundamentalist church. I do not remember our first visit. But I do remember some of the experiences with that church. The most notable one was walking through the foyer and observing the mem standing there, with their Bibles tucked under their arms while talking about God. This scene was so odd to me. To hear people talking about God outside the “sanctuary” was unheard of—to me. And it got “worse.”

We visited with members of Grace Baptist in their homes, and their conversation would inevitably lead toward God, Christ, and what He did for them. It was surreal; I didn’t know you could do that, but it was compelling. Some of the men of the church were Gerald Medlin (pastor), Rick Baker, Doug Webb, and a few others. Later Jim Greenburg came to our church, and it formed some of the fondest memories that I ever had in any local church then or now.

While sitting in that Southern Baptist church—a friend of mine from Delaval invited me—I knew I was supposed to be part of Grace Baptist. The next Sunday, we went and never left until we moved to Greenville, South Carolina.

These were my formative years as a new convert. I remember walking in Grace Baptist in those early days with my Living Bible, a paraphrase, not knowing that I had the wrong Bible, which was one of the hottest issues in the Independent Baptist movement. I noticed the “guys” all had Scofield Reference Bibles. So, I got one—a red-leather-covered one and carried it proudly. I soon found my place in the vestibule, making up the gauntlet that greeted folks. I was one of the boys.