It was a slow paced day working at Harley Davidson, the shop is crowded with shiny motorcycles and the staff is having random conversation as we reconcile our inventory. I’ve just come off of a 24 hr shift at the Columbia Fire Department and am a bit sleepy. I find my mind wandering so I begin to make attempts to stay engaged to what is turning out to be a rather boring day. I print off an inventory form and make my way to the back stock room where I plan to spend the rest of my afternoon. Honestly, on nights where I don't get much rest, my refuge is the back stock room. I can play worship music, tend to the needs of the service technicians, and remain in my own little world.
A random mix of Christian rap, soulful worship, praise, and southern gospel music flood the speakers of my iPhone. My speakers stay at a constant volume level of 5 (in my opinion the absolute perfect sound level without the annoyance of chest thumping bass). I begin my late afternoon inventory with the items of largest quantity. O-Rings, hundreds of O-Rings. Big and small, various diameters, differing applications, all very important. With this simple ring of rubber your motorcycle cruises down the highway like a spring wind. Without this tricky rubber ring, you're left sitting on a mere $20,000 paperweight. The numbers on my inventory form are beginning to run together, so I take a moment to swallow a gulp or two of a citrus flavored energy drink. My music stops as a text rings through.
The text, “It’s time for you to go home” comes across my iPhone screen. I didn't question this, I had been ready to leave the shop since I pulled into the parking lot. “Did you know Myrtle Beach is the most unchurched city within the state”? Instantly, I knew this wasn't from my supervisor, however I was still very engaged as to what this was all about and who this was coming from. I notice this text is from Pastor Brad. He and the other pastoral staff had attended a SC Church Planters meeting earlier that morning. Statistically, he was right. The numbers don’t lie. Founding Awaken Church Pastor and President of the SC Church Planters, Pastor Jay Hardwick delivered the statistics. Pastor Brad, knowing Myrtle Beach was my home town, quickly wanted to spread the news.
This text conversation wasn't a fluke or an impulse moment by Pastor Brad. In the days that followed we spoke about the possibilities of working in ministry and a possible pastoral internship at Awaken Church. Honestly, I loved the idea, however I've been a firefighter for 15 years. Rescue work is what I do. I love the adrenaline rush and the joy that comes from helping people in extreme conditions. Furthermore, the thought of schooling terrified me. I was never the type of student that excelled in academics. I was one who loved the freedom of life without parameters. When I originally went to the fire academy, I liked knowing that I could pursue a passion of my own to help people and would suck it up for 18 weeks to become a skilled fireman. Ministry had always been in sight, but in my mind, never within reach.
In years past, I led bible study groups and taught Sunday School (youth and college aged). I felt like maybe that was my sole calling. Worship God in such a way that I merely speak to small groups and on occasion at youth retreats. In the meantime, I would continue to pursue a rewarding career in the fire service. However, God had different plans.
It was just a year or so ago that Tiffany and I along with a small group of Awakenites, ventured to Washington, D.C. to attend the Together 2016 event. It was at this event that they were trying to get 1 million Christians to fill the National Mall. About 500,000 showed up to gather and worship Christ. Due to excruciating heat the event was cancelled at only half way through. But God was in D.C. God worked within our small circle in a powerful way. It was there that we experienced great freedom in surrender. The hotel where we stayed, we met a man named Francis. He was a bellhop who had moved to the US from Ghana. He spoke about his culture and asked about ours. We spoke of the reason for being in D.C. and instantly he rejoiced. He invited us to his church’s revival service that would be in the days to come, as he had wanted to attend the Together 2016 event, but was required to work. He spoke about the volume of discontent in the US and how we as a people lack love. A basic love for one another. A love that breaches barriers, borders, & ethnicity. I knew he was my brother. My hands began to tremble. My heart began to race. I knew that we had to stop all that we were doing or planning on doing to speak to God in prayer. We did just that outside the front lobby of the Hyatt Arlington Hotel. With freedom he participated without regard to what his employer may say and we rejoiced in the love of God.
That same freedom has propelled me to embrace the possibilities of vocational ministry. With further conversations with Pastor Matt and Pastor Brad, they invited me to be prayerful about the possibility of a pastoral internship at Awaken Church. They spoke about how they had been watching me in various capacities within the church. How my wife Tiffany and I serve God together and individually. How we have a passion for the nations and how we pursued and served in a missional capacity in Romania. We were humbled by this opportunity, we were overwhelmed just the same. We had no other option but to fall to our knees requesting wisdom and understanding for the days that lie ahead.
Trembling at the thought of disobedience, uncertain about what we may be called to do, our stomachs churning as we didn’t understand how this would work financially. We prayed. Do I leave what I've done for so long. I've worked at Harley Davidson as long as I have worked as a fireman, 15 years. I have no idea how to pastor, I have no idea how to intern, I have no idea at all what God has planned for my life. What do I do?
Often we tend to have such a tight grip on the things we are comfortable with. We treasure and hide them in hopes that no one will be able to pry our comforts from our hands. In so many ways, we found ourselves in that very situation. I had a conversation with a close friend who told me about the freedom he experienced having released his tight grip on comfort. He spoke of the relief he experienced once he lifted his hands to God giving it all to him. That was something I needed to think on, giving up comfort to intentionally be uncomfortable just didn’t make sense. When will the sun come out and clear this fog?
Tiffany and I scheduled time to meet with Pastor Matt and Pastor Brad to discuss the possibilities of this internship. To discuss what vocational ministry really meant and how that would plug into our lives. We were reassured that God is moving. We needed that, as we felt God leading us in this direction, however WE were standing in the way of pursuing God.
After a little bit of time and a ton of prayer, Tiffany and I committed to serving in ministry. The pastoral staff of Awaken Church were ecstatic. Now, they would present this opportunity to the church elders and await their approval. Days, faded into weeks, and so on and so on…. not really but it sure felt that way. The elders met and discussed the arrangement of having a pastoral intern at Awaken Church. Moments after that meeting, Pastor Brad called me to tell me that the elders voted unanimously in favor of a pastoral intern. I broke down, I hit my knees and cried. Not because I was terrified of their decision and what that meant for our lives but thankful for God providing my next steps. Thankful for experiencing faithful obedience. Thankful for the Awaken leadership to give a simple guy like me a chance.
My days look much different now that I've left Harley Davidson. Nothing that I do reflects life in a Harley shop, other than maybe sweeping and mopping a polished concrete floor. Hours upon hours are spent reading and studying the bible. Community group bible study outlines take tremendous time to prepare. Facilitating various activities, discipling men, and just simply being an unfiltered servant of God. Yeah, there are some stressful days as I work through life challenges with people that may be in a rough spot. There are times that it seems like I'm a bit lost because of all the newness this opportunity provides. But one thing I'm certain of is that my very next step is already accounted for. God knows right where it will land. He knows what my life blue print looks like and is smiling at what my future holds.
So what does all this mean? What is this vocational ministry all about? What is a pastoral intern? Well, by definition vocational ministry is traditionally understood as a career in which someone is paid for working full-time in a Christian organizational setting. Pastors, missionaries, and full-time evangelists are examples of people involved in vocational ministry. An intern is just that… an intern. Pretty much I shadow great leadership in an effort to gain hands on experience and apply that information to whichever ministry outlet God chooses for me.
I was recently in a conversation with a friend of mine who works in leadership at Reaching Africa’s Unreached, a gospel centered ministry group based in Uganda. He encouraged me in this new role and spoke of his desire to spread the word of God throughout Uganda. This ministry has successfully reached 10 of the 54 villages within Uganda. He ended our conversation with theses profound words: “We are so hopeful. God provides for His ministries”.
What if we all had the heart of a man who just wants everything to be a reflection of God? What if we pursued the hearts of men with the same passion as the next Facebook post? What if we could not help speaking about what we have seen and heard? (Acts 4:20) This is the heart of Tiffany and I. God has delivered us through so much and we know that He is our safe haven. We know that storms will command and when they do He will be the calm in our storm. We know that we cannot remain silent. We know that we must share the gospel to as many people as possible. Through discipleship, prayer, mentorship, friendship, and preaching what we know is true… the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We are grateful and as my dear friend said - “We are so hopeful. God provides for His ministries.”