I’ll be returning to Gardner-Webb’s School of Divinity this fall to finish my Masters of Divinity. Since Harrelson Agency is doing well, it can afford (demand?) that I take a few days for classes while still having a hand in day-to-day operations. I’ll be working on both seminary and the agency as well as ministrieslab moving ahead (more on that in a second).
Gardner-Webb Divinity and I go way back and have more history than I can remember over this past decade. I first started the MDiv program there in 2006 while building the marketing agency as well as teaching undergrad Old Testament as an adjunct there for a little while. In 2009, after the death of my mentor and great teacher Dan Goodman, I received a great opportunity to go back into the classroom at Spartanburg Day School and I knew I had to follow that path.
I’m glad I did. I found my amazing wife at Spartanburg Day and watched her struggle and wrestle with her own call to ministry. She blazed through Gardner-Webb Divinity and impressed me beyond words with her devotion to her call an her passion for authentic ministry. Merianna graduated this year with her MDiv and is now pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship. I’m so proud of her for too many reasons to list, proud of her congregation, and proud of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of SC for responding to her voice and ministry.
I’m not deciding to do this lightly or with the goal of following a traditional form of ministry. Instead, my ministerial focus will be on a startup church I’m hoping to build in the next few months/years/decades called ministrieslab. We’ll be using Reddit, bitcoin, Twitter, meetups, mobile, our app, and in person fellowship to help enable every member to be a minister and focus on causes like my own Hunger Initiative while still participating in CBF life.
Think authentic missions in the post church-as-cultural-hegemony world that focuses on community. See /r/dogecoin if you need a non-religious example of what transformative community can look like despite the absurdity (almost as absurd as religion). Imagine if Christianity were actually a lifestyle. It’s going to be fun, challenging, nightmarish, and uplifting. I’m sure I’ll be writing more here as I get ministrieslab off the ground.
I view ministrieslab as the culmination of my work in marketing, religion, tech, entrepreneurism, etc and a catalyst for the kind of change I think God wants me to enact in the world. I’ve got enough experience with startups to know what’s ahead and I don’t take it lightly.
I have to thank my amazing wife for pushing me to listen to the still small voice of my call that has been persistent in my life since I was 13. I also have to thank Thomas for being there, always challenging and supporting me. Also, Kheresa Harmon at Gardner Webb Divinity is an amazing counselor along with Jay Kieve and Debbie Haag at CBFofSC.
More on ministrieslab soon. In the meantime, here’s my Pilgrimage Statement that I wrote as part of my (re?) application to Gardner-Webb Divinity explaining the opera in my head…
Constructs such as fate and purpose do not appeal to me. Instead, because of my education and life experiences, I choose to view the world with a more critical lens. However, incessant gentle prodding from a hand unseen drives me towards an extended realization that to be fully actualized I must throw myself into the fiery and mysterious darkness of Sinai where God’s voice still hovers and beckons humanity to listen.
This pilgrimage has not been easy by any sense of the word and the decision to answer this call does not bring comfort and peace to me. This Damascan Road has been long and arduous and only now are the blisters healing on my eyes. I’ve consistently sought out other paths and avenues for my service, but none have proven satisfactory to the unending whisper that never leaves. Despite the difficulty of the path so far, this is a decision that I have to make because of the persistence of the call.
As I approached college age, I spoke with our Pastor frequently about the ministry and the steps which needed to be taken. I led our church’s youth group and gained experience in the pulpit both in our church and in surrounding churches in our association. However, as I entered college, I decided to major in Chemistry and Computer Science and take Religion classes as electives because of my own doubts about my ability to live up to the standards I set for myself and I felt were expected of me. Nonetheless, I quickly discovered the continuing hush whispers summoning me to a life in the ministry would not cease.
It was during an Old Testament summer school class my freshman year that something sneaked up behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and made me realize everything I had missed on the road of life up to that point. This was exciting, this was real. That day, I became a Religion major, eventually joined the pre-ministerial society and became an assistant to the Chaplain.
However, my self-doubts were in constant competition with my path. Ultimately, this struggle between doubt and calling came to a critical point during my time at Yale Divinity School and led me to pursue a Masters in Religion and the Arts rather than the MDiv. After teaching for a couple of years, I decided to complete the MDiv at Gardner-Webb in 2007. That process was challenging, enlightening, and completely affirmed my calling. With the death of Prof Goodman in 2009, my own personal theology was challenged to the point where I decided to go back to the classroom as a teacher rather than try to finish the MDiv at that time.
Part of me knew I would eventually return to Gardner-Webb to finish the degree and get my ministry off the ground in a meaningful way for both myself and the Kingdom. It has been a period of soul searching, deep prayer, and conversation with loved ones. However, that still small voice of calling that has been in my life since my childhood is still pushing me down the road to enter pastoral ministry.
I realize now that this crux in my life has provided me with the valuable experience of eight years in the classroom as well as time in the business world creating my own successful marketing agency from scratch. Being a middle school teacher has brought me closer to the various roles of a minister in a way that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. Bootstrapping my own company and having it become profitable has equipped me with tools and skills relating to business that I will bring to my ministry. Those experiences have helped to forge my identity and my theology significantly, and will allow my pastoral ministry to be more enhanced.
To successfully cultivate a theology of ministry in the context of church leadership, it is incredibly important for me that people who have professed faith in Jesus and carry the name Christian understand the depth and ramifications of bearing that self-imposed burden. In my own personal theology, this is not a simple or easy. This is beyond difficult and requires both a sense of a developing biblical worldview as well as the ability to always be a lifelong learner. Professing a faith in Jesus is a deadly serious affair that radically transforms a person and binds them to both the cross and the historical imperative of acting to bring about the Kingdom of God. In other words, as I grow in my own theology and faith, I am learning and realizing more that calling oneself a Christian is not something to be taken lightly. Coming to understand the power associated with that self-identification is a gift which church leaders can bestow upon congregants.
Along those lines, understanding that a person has a deep sense of call to a ministry as a vocation and then acting upon that call is an incredibly intensive, personal (yet community-minded) and radical experience. As I grow in my own faith and come to understand and reconcile my own sense of calling more through the years (a process which I hope never ceases), I am continually realizing that a calling to the ministry is not something that is to be taken lightly or without proper understanding of one’s own limitations, abilities and potential. The backing of my wife, family, and church community at Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship has been so edifying. However, this radical experience has also been challenging and my ministry will seek to honor their support and sacrifices as well as welcoming the kingdom of God into our creation.
The road ahead for my life in the ministry is more challenging than I can ever expect. Comfort and ease are not the objectives of my life as a minister. However, the mysterious darkness which covers the path ahead like a thick fog gestures to me to follow and I cannot ignore that quiet voice which is like a nocturnal lullaby of hope and love. The vocational objectives of my ministry will be shaped by my unending belief that God is calling us all to partake in the richness of the Universe and that we must have eyes to see and ears to hear these soft invitations in a world corrupt with violence and greed. In order to partake in this cosmic communion, we must change as individuals and as a global society. We must consider the lilies of the fields in all that we do.
My objectives as a minister will find their bedrock in the sharing of this opportunity to make real the words of the Sermon on the Mount. As I continue my journey into the metamorphosis of becoming a pastoral minister, I feel my lips being touched with the hot coals and the Seraphim offering the chance for me to have audience with God as I continue down that mysterious path. This choice was not effortless or convenient; however it is the choice that I make so that I may serve my God and my fellow humanity.