I answered the call to preach in my early teenage years. I must define what I mean by “call”. God does not always reveal an individual’s calling in the same manner as mine was revealed. The short version of the story goes like this:
When I was a teenager at youth camp I listened to a powerful sermon from the camp evangelist. I don’t remember much of his sermon, but I do remember one thing he said. “Some of you need to bring Jesus your blank sheet of paper and allow him to write on the lines what he would have you to do.” In that moment I knew God was calling me to some kind of full-time ministry, even though I didn’t really understand that at the time.
You should know that I served in a nursing home ministry shortly after I became redeemed. My first ministry experience was leading devotionals at the local nursing home on Sunday mornings. I never knew those early Sunday mornings would contribute to my eventual calling to ministry.
After I answered the call to ministry I began to be more involved in church. Landmark Free Will Baptist Church in Hamilton, Alabama. Each month the fourth Sunday night was deemed youth night. The youth pastor and youth conducted the entire service. My responsibility was to bring the message. (Thank you Landmark for putting up with all those bad sermons!) That experience played a key role in my current ministry.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. After graduation I decided that I would attend Free Will Baptist Bible College, which was renamed to Welch College in 2012. Some well meaning Christians asked me the following question, “If God called you to ministry, why are you going to school? Isn’t God’s call all you need?”
Well, I’m working on a master’s degree in preaching and I still answer this question on a regular basis. Sometimes I ask myself the very same question, “Why Seminary?” Here are some of my reflections on this question.
- God’s genuine calling on me is a result of his grace. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to young Timothy, “I thank God that he has counted me, the least of the apostles, worthy to proclaim the Good News.”
- Scripture can be understood and studied by all. School gives me tools to better interpret God’s word. I have learned so much about Bible study that I would not have otherwise learned.
- Many pastors have said to me, “I would love to have the opportunity you have been given to continue your theological studies.” I have been impacted greatly by faithful under-shepherds who never went to school, yet all of them have encouraged me to prepare for ministry rather than just jumping in. Theological training, whether through the academy, or through mentoring relationships is a necessity for pastors. How can pastors defend the flock if they do not know the Gospel themselves?
- Personal passion and commitment to the church. Shortly after my conversion I developed a deep love for the church-how it functions, what it represents, and it’s purpose in the world. Jesus loved the church so much he died for it. I love the church and desire to commit all my days to serving King Jesus and making disciples.
- Encouragement from others. So many have supported me throughout my academic journey. Many have told me, “Dustin, you can do this. You have the God-given ability.” God has blessed me with the ability to think and reason out my faith and I do not want His gift to be wasted.
I’m Not Saying…
- Seminary is necessary for pastoral ministry. It is helpful though.
- Uneducated pastor’s are ineffective in the Lord’s work. I think it’s amazing to see how the Holy Spirit works through normal people. God didn’t call the mighty of this world but the weak. This does not mean we shouldn’t try to better ourselves as we labor for King Jesus.
- I want to spend the rest of my life in school.
- I’m better than others because of my theological training.
Each day I am learning to value this season of preparation. Maybe sometime we can have a conversation about my journey, God’s work of grace in me, and why I love NOBTS.
Thank you Andy Stidham for giving me opportunities to preach when I was a teenager. Thank you Mark Collier for your pastor’s heart. Thank you Joe Tolbert for encouraging me to love Jesus and the mundane tasks of everyday ministry. Thank you Landmark FWB Church for supporting me through this journey. Thank you Winfield FWB for sending me out as a laborer of the Harvest. Thank you Jesus for calling me and equipping me for Kingdom work. I’m blessed to be seminary student.