I’m always astonished how the mind, particularly concerning the comprehension of memory, works. All sorts of things can trigger a memory. A song can come across a playlist that takes me back to 1995, or the smell of oatmeal cookies can transplant me back to my great aunt Minnie’s kitchen. These memories are more direct, but often it’s the completely randomness of a situation which can trigger a moment I haven’t thought about in years.
This week it was seeing the re-opening of a Chick-fil-A here in Winston-Salem.
Complete. Utter. Beautiful. Randomness.
Lauren and I were in the car when I noticed the restaurant was open. For unknown reasons, my mind went to an old sermon I had heard from a pastor of a large church in Wilmington, NC. The pastor had worked there while in high school, stayed connected during college, and believed upon graduation he would continue with the company. Of course things changed, and during the interview process for a lucrative job within the corporation he confessed to his would- be- boss his “call” to go into ministry. The boss man was disappointed, but affirmed that the young man should do what he felt called to do. It was a good personal testimony type story and obviously I remembered it.
But the memory wouldn’t stop there, and my mind within a matter of seconds decided to venture down several different “rabbit holes.”
I began to think of how this pastor’s church had been very significant to me in my faith journey.
It was my first exposure to any type of “contemporary” church. A building that didn’t look like a typical church building, a worship experience with a full band and crazy lights, and a pastor who wore flip flops on stage.
It introduced me to “small groups.” Small groups were essential because the church was HUGE. I had been to what I thought a large church was, but seeing several thousand people meet over the course of the weekend was something new.
This is probably where I, for the first time, began to think theologically on issues. Meaning; we were presented with concepts and asked to discuss it within our groups. However, looking back now, I believe we were supposed to have come to the same conclusions. Yet, I did find the ability to develop my voice in this space.
It was the thought of “finding my voice” which made me remember one particular incident.
One of the groups the church had was geared towards new believers. I went through the class and really enjoyed it. At the end of several weeks, one of the leaders/facilitators approached me and said I should check into becoming a small group leader. I think what he saw in me was an eagerness to be involved and that I wasn’t afraid to talk in a discussion oriented environment (and come on, churches are always looking for volunteers). I sat in for a couple of weeks as an assisting facilitator, just helping drive and spark conversation. I felt it was a good fit and was super excited to pursue becoming a small group leader. Part of the process was training, but before that, one needed to meet with what I will describe now as the Small Group Pastor. This was the individual who oversaw all the leadership training and material taught during small group meetings. Think “CEO” type figure.
I met with this individual one afternoon and was told I was unfit to be a leader.
I remember the seemingly polite yet curt tone of their voice. The word “expectation” was used several times with different examples; one being that I shouldn’t be seen downtown going into Front Street Brewery. I can remember sitting there feeling like a kid in the principle office getting chastised for something I didn’t fully understand. Here I was a young person in my twenties who wanted to be at church. Hell, not only be, but wanted to help. And yet, according to this person, I didn’t measure up. I was told I needed to “do this and that” and perhaps later we could revisit the possibility of me volunteering. I left our meeting feeling insufficient and defeated.
It was one of the last times I ever went to church there.
In retrospect, I believe this person thought they were doing me a favor. I believe they thought they were holding me and themselves accountable to what they saw as biblical qualifications for leadership. I want to assume they had the best intentions for me, even though they really didn’t know me that well. Perhaps they felt they needed more time to judge my character? Honestly, I’m not sure…a decade has gone by and I don’t think I’ll ever get the full reason behind the decision. Not only am I okay with that, I’m thankful.
I’m thankful I didn’t listen to that person. I’m thankful I didn’t give them the finally word.
I left Wilmington shortly after this and found I did have a place to help volunteer and lead. I was encouraged by people in a positive way to pursue what I thought God had for me. I was told to ask questions, look into theological education, and get involved. I know it was the affirming voices I heard when I submitted my resume to the divinity school secretary at Campbell University. It was the affirming voices I heard when a church actually called me for an interview. It was those affirming voices I heard when I was offered my first youth minister position. Those affirming voices carried and granted me a confidence which I learned to grow into. The difference I believe from what those voices offered and the voice of that small group pastor in Wilmington was intention. I believe one wanted to correct me, while the other wished to guide me.
2018 will mark my 6th year in ministry. I’m thankful for all the voices which got me here, both good and bad. My hope for the New Year is to be an affirming voice for someone. To tell them they belong and how their voice is needed.
What would I say to that individual now, the one who told me I was unfit and was worried about me going into a brewery?
Let me tell you about this couple I prayed with in a bar one night. Their adult child was extremely sick. We talked, we prayed, and we drank Guinness together. It was an absolutely holy moment. Try not to affirm that.