Home > Looking Back, Ministry > “No thanks. I’m really busy.”

“No thanks. I’m really busy.”

(This is my 4th post about my journey in, out, and eventually back into ministry.)

Angela and I found a nearby church to attend.  When they found out that I’d been a pastor and that I was working on my Master’s Degree at Hardin-Simmons, they tried to lure me into taking some responsibility as a volunteer.

“No thanks,” I answered.  “I’m really busy.”

That statement contained elements of truth.  I focused on my classes, but aside from that I didn’t have much to do.  I took up golf.  I was up for anything except getting close to people or something that might involve me failing again.

(Golf proved to be a temporary excursion from that rule.  Although when I realized that I would never score lower than one hundred, I gave that up as well.)

Instead, I stumbled upon something that in hindsight seems understandable and healing as well as slightly selfish.  In West Texas, a number of pastors wished for an opportunity to have a morning off from their preaching responsibilities, but they lacked a sizable pool of qualified candidates to take their place.  They could’ve gotten anybody to preach for them, but if that fill-in said anything heretical or offensive, that pastor would not only have to assume responsibility for what that guy said but probably have to deal with it for weeks.  These pastors wanted someone to fill-in for them without having to worry about what embarrassment or difficulty might face them on Monday morning.  They wanted someone reliable.

I was their guy.

Having gotten to know a number of these small town pastors as well as having a fairly good reputation with my professors, I found it rather easy to fill my calendar with preaching opportunities.  On average, I spent two to three Sundays a month preaching at different churches all over West Texas.

And the money wasn’t bad.  I made more doing this than I had as the pastor of that church.

(A little more not that much more.)

I didn’t have to get to know anybody.  I could be in and out, maybe have lunch with someone, maybe not.

How did this help me?  I convinced myself that I continued to honor this calling to ministry by preaching somewhere different every week.  Deep down, I knew that wasn’t the case, but it bought me some time until I could make sense of what had happened.  Why had I failed?  Why had God so clearly put me in that place, if he’d known that I would fail so miserably?  What was the point?  To show me that I wasn’t cut out for ministry?  To show me that I had made a terrible mistake?  To move me in another direction?  If that was the case, there were probably easier ways to convey that message.

All that driving to and from these churches along those empty county roads allowed me to bounce those questions around in my head.

I had another thing to think about while I drove to and from these churches: If I wasn’t going to continue with the ministry as my life work, then what was I going to do for a living?  I had uprooted myself from San Antonio to Abilene specifically because I wanted to be a minister.  Now what?

Maybe I could teach.

I enjoyed school.  I excelled at school, after my freshman year.  (My freshman year I played basketball nearly every afternoon and evening.  I’m not sure I frequented the library as often.)  Not that school came easy to me, but I enjoyed studying and I didn’t mind putting in the long hours at the library.

I even found there to be a little bit of a thrill in writing research papers.

A couple of friends even suggested that I consider teaching as a future.

What would teaching involve?  More school.  Getting a doctorate.

When I’d started school, I had never even considered the idea of graduate school and now I’d become entranced with the idea of getting a doctorate.

If I wanted to go down this path, then I needed to figure out what I wanted to teach and then figure out where I wanted to go to school.  As a Graduate Assistant at Hardin-Simmons (I worked 10 or so hours a week in return for free tuition and a small stipend), I worked for the professor who taught Greek.  I’d been given this assignment since I’d won the Logsdon School of Theology award for Greek studies as an undergraduate.  I taught the labs, graded homework, and did some tutoring as well.  A few people encouraged me to consider teaching Greek as a career.  As much as I liked the language, and as much as it made sense, that idea didn’t appeal to me too much.  I didn’t want to be teaching Elementary Greek for the rest of my life.

I leaned towards Church History.  I enjoyed how it took all aspects of the church from it theology and ethics to its practices and tried to understand them in light of the cultural context.

With that in mind, I then focused on trying to figure out where to go to school.  Southwestern Seminary had a good department, but I eliminated the seminaries from my list.  I didn’t want to have anything to do with something related to ministerial studies.  I wanted pure academics.  I wanted to prepare to teach, not to minister.

I talked with a couple of professors, who encouraged me to consider Baylor.  Some fellow students were also considering Baylor for doctoral studies, so we made plans to visit Waco one week during the spring.

The Sunday before our visit the ATF invaded the David Koresh compound outside of Waco.  One of the guys called me and said that our trip was off.  The ATF, or some government agency, had shut down the road that we would be taking into Waco.

“We’ll go another time,” he said.

I never made that trip.

Previous posts about this journey in, out, and eventually back into ministry:
“I’m done.  I quit.”
“Why me?  Why here?”
“I Give Up!”

Categories: Looking Back, Ministry
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