Home > Looking Back, Ministry > “You Belong Up Here.”

“You Belong Up Here.”

(Another post about my journey in, out, and back into ministry.)

Angela had decided that she wanted to attend graduate school and that decision required that we move from Abilene .  She could’ve gone to either Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio or the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).  Since UTA would give her credit towards her Master’s Degree on account of her undergraduate degree in Social Work, she chose UTA and we moved to Arlington.

As we moved, I wondered what I would do for a living.  I didn’t expect there to be many job opportunities for a former pastor with an unfinished Master’s Degree in Religion.

In the last few months before we’d left Abilene, I’d thrown myself into that thesis.  I woke up early every morning, stumbled into the guest bedroom, sat down at my desk, and worked on it all day long.  I read and I researched.  I wrote the first draft and started to do some editing.  I looked at the first couple of pages and said, “I don’t care.”  I then packed all my research notes along with that first draft into a box.  That phase of my life was over.

I needed a job.

I considered teaching at a private school but I didn’t hear back from most of the schools and the ones I did hear back from paid next to nothing.  Thinking I could do better financially, I held out for something else.

I ended up working retail at a bookstore and making much less.  Much much less.

We settled into Arlington and eventually found a church to attend.  Since I worked retail, I ended up missing a couple of Sundays a month, which I didn’t mind too terribly much.  The church had three services as well as over a thousand people, so it didn’t prove to difficult to remain anonymous there.  I didn’t have to answer people’s questions about my unfinished education, my lack of desire to be a minister, or my previous church staff experience.

I quickly moved up the ranks of with this retail bookstore.  In six weeks, I got promoted to an assistant manger as well as transferred to a store in Irving.  A few months later, they transferred me to the Duncanville store and later promoted me to store manager.

And after Christmas, the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

So much for things looking up.

I had a great staff and absolutely hated having to tell each and every one of them that they no longer had a job.  That has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  They didn’t deserve what had happened.  They had worked hard and we’d become one of the better stores in the company.  Unfortunately, it was too late.

The company pared itself from twelve stores to six.  I managed to keep a job, being demoted back to an assistant manager at the Arlington store.

Five months later, this company folded and planned a liquidation sale.

I had missed the meeting because I’d been attending my younger brother’s college graduation.  My boss left me a voice mail at home.

“Seriously?” I thought.

I managed to escape unemployment a little while longer as a group of employees were allowed to keep three stores and attempt to make those work as a new company.  Somehow, I got promoted back to Store Manager but transferred to Irving.

There were days when we wouldn’t see a customer until mid-afternoon.

This did not bode well for the future.

I needed to do something.  I had to make a change.

So, Angela and I bought an acre of land in Ovilla (near Waxahachie, forty minutes from Arlington) and started building a house.

(With unemployment on the horizon, it seemed like the right thing to do.  Isn’t that what rational thinking people do when they’re about to lose their job, buy some land and build a house?)

The news finally came.  I called our headquarters to speak to Crystal, the CEO.

“She’s not at your store?” the person on the other end of the line asked

“No.”  I paused.  “Whatever, let me speak with Cherrie (her counterpart).”

Pause on the other end of the line.

“She’s with Crystal.”

Huh?  They never came to my store together.  I quickly considered the possibilities.

“It’s over, right?”

“Yeah, but don’t let them know I told you.”

We started liquidation proceedings soon after.

The final nail in that chapter of failure.

I should’ve spent the next six months or so looking for a job, but I didn’t know what in the world I could do or even wanted to do.  I dreaded having to answer the questions about my undergraduate degree as well as my unfinished master’s degree.

“So,” the prospective employer would begin, “why should I hire someone with a Bible degree?  Shouldn’t you be working in a church or something?”

And then I would have to explain, somehow putting a positive spin on it, that I didn’t see myself as a minister and rather I wanted to do whatever “fill-in-the-blank” job they were offering.

I must not have been too convincing because I didn’t get many job offers.

Instead, I spent my time hanging out with the general contractor for our house and watching it be built.  Of course, since I know absolutely nothing when it comes to tools, I just stood around, watched, and tried not to get in the way.

We moved into our new home and I still didn’t have a job.  Our expenses had more than doubled as we went from renting a two-bedroom apartment to the mortgage on a four bedroom house situated on one acre of land.  How were we going to manage this?  On the bright side, Angela completed her Master’s Degree just before we moved in.

Desperate, I tried for anything and everything.  I applied for a job at Fidelity Investments three times before I got a call back.

“I see you went to Hardin-Simmons University,” the female caller said.

“Yes.”

“We recently moved here from Abilene.  We went to Beltway Park Baptist Church and helped out with the college ministry there.”

“That’s great,” I said.  I think I tossed in the names of some people I knew that had gone there.  I hoped that she knew them, and if she had that her interactions with them had been positive.

“Well, I saw you went there and decided to give you a chance.  Are you still interested in an interview?”

“Absolutely.”

I got an interview solely because I’d gone to Hardin-Simmons.  I didn’t care.  Whatever it took.

I drove to downtown Dallas for the interview.  They herded us into teams of six to ten people for group interviews and then shuffled us into another room for a math test.

Not that I’m horrible at math, but I’d only been required to take one math class in college and that had been General College Math.  Prior to that that, I’d gotten as far as Algebra II as a high school junior.  In the previous ten years, I’d taken two math classes and the last one had been as a college sophomore seven years previous.  I might as well have been taking a foreign language exam.

(Actually, I would’ve felt more confident taking that.)

I finished the exam as best I could and when I exited the building I never expected to hear from Fidelity again.

Then they called me back for a second interview.

And a couple of days later, they offered me a job.

I had a job.

(And I wouldn’t have to worry about this company going under anytime soon.)

Since we’d moved to Ovilla, we needed to find another church.  It didn’t seem feasible to drive forty-five minutes for church every week.

We took a few months looking around at different churches, before we settled on Lakeview Community Church, which Angela’s family happened to attend as well.  At the time, they probably had a congregation of about a hundred people.  Everyone knew everyone.

At the church we’d attended in Arlington, it had been rather easy to remain anonymous.  At Lakeview, that probably wouldn’t be the case.

It would only be a matter of time before the conversation would veer towards where you went to college, what did you major in, and in my case, why aren’t you doing that?

“It’s a long story,” I might’ve said or “It just wasn’t for me.”  Whatever my answer, I didn’t want to talk about it.  I wanted to forget about it.

With a little prodding, I managed to open up and begin to meet some people.  Rick introduced himself to me.  He, his wife, and young daughter had moved to the area so that he could attend Dallas Theological Seminary and prepare for the ministry.  We slowly developed a friendship.

After we had been there a few months, the pastor, Steve, announced that he’d accepted an offer from another church to be their pastor.  Even though we’d been attending there, he and I’d never really spoken beyond “Hello” or “How are you?”

Because of my background and experience, I suspected that they might want me to help out in some way until they found someone else to be the pastor.

I had one thought, “Please don’t let that happen.”

And at first, it didn’t.

One Sunday, after Steve had left and while the church looked for a new pastor, I managed to time my arrival at church exactly.  The service had already started and everyone had been seated.  Angela and I walked into the empty foyer and as I reached for the door handle to enter the sanctuary another guy came rushing up to me and shoved a piece of paper in my hand.

“I need you to do the announcements at the end of the service.  Family emergency,” he said as he bolted out of the building.

I didn’t even have a chance to politely decline his offer.

I stood there in the church foyer, holding this crumbled piece of paper.  I didn’t want to give the announcements. I wanted to show up, sing, listen, talk with some people, and go home.  I didn’t want to stand up in front of a group of people and say or do anything.

Throughout the entire service, I sat in a chair near the front (one of the consequences of arriving late to church).  How could I get out of this?  How could I pass this off to someone else?

The announcements were scheduled at the end of the service, so I had a lot of time to think and scheme.  I came up empty on ideas.  I was stuck doing the announcements.

After the offering, I watched as the worship leader scanned the audience looking for the person he thought would be giving the announcements.  He didn’t know that this person had left to tend to a family emergency and had passed the responsibility to me.

Only I knew that I was supposed to do them.

(Technically, Angela knew as well.)

Rather than let him continue to fret in his worry, I got out of my seat and walked onto the platform.  I’m sure he had no idea what was going on when I stepped onto the stage.  I informed the congregation of the other person’s family emergency and then quickly launched into the announcements, striving to get this over as quickly as possible.

Somewhere through the announcements (midway or towards the end), the worship leader interrupted me and asked the following, “Who are you?  I don’t even know your name.”

(Although the church consisted of only a hundred people or so, not everyone knew everyone.  Maybe my efforts to remain anonymous has succeeded at some level.)

Without a skip of a beat, I reached over and shook his hand.  “I’m Chris.  Who are you?”

People laughed (as did he) (at least that’s how I remember it), and then I finished the announcements.  The worship leader thanked me for my willingness to help out and then to conclude the service he prayed.

I stood there on the platform, six or steps up, looking out over the people, relieved that I had gotten through this.

Then, I heard these words, “You belong up here.”

They sounded so clear that they seemed audible to me.  I turned around to see who had spoken to me and found no one.  Only the worship leader and I remained on the stage.

“You belong up here.”

What?

Who said that?

What did it mean?

But in that moment, I knew, I knew, that this had been God speaking to me.

“You belong up here.”

Still, what did it mean?

Not as a minister.  I wasn’t cut out for that, remember?

“You belong up here.”

What the heck did that mean?

*****************
More posts about my journey in, out, and back into ministry.
When They Wouldn’t Accept “No” As An Answer
“No thanks.  I’m really busy.”
“I’m done.  I quit.”
“Why me?  Why here?”
“I Give Up!”

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Categories: Looking Back, Ministry
  1. March 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I’m so enjoying this series. I appreciate your honesty and humility (and writing skills). 🙂

    • March 4, 2011 at 8:08 pm

      Thanks. Glad to hear you’re enjoying it.

  2. March 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Well, He had a point. You DO belong in ministry. I love your sermons.

    • March 4, 2011 at 8:07 pm

      Thanks. Appreciate the words and encouragement.

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