My Ministry Calling (Part 1)

I first received my call to ministry as a sixth grade boy, late at night, standing in the middle of a soggy football field listening to Christian rock legend Mylon LeFevre. I was in the middle of attending a four day music festival that had been accompanied by torrential downpours and just about every popular musical act in contemporary Christian music. The festival lost money, but it changed my life. I had been a committed Christian for most of my life, but something happened at that event that moved me deeply. The rain had finally let up and Mylon spent a large portion of his music set preaching rather than playing the songs I wanted to hear. As he spoke, I realized that God was speaking to me. He was telling me something that went beyond what was even being proclaimed from the stage.

Finally, Mylon took off his preacher hat and began to play The Warrior song. As he sang, the moon glow slowly cracked through the veil of clouds that had covered most of the day’s festivities. I listened to the slow, heartfelt ballad with my eyes gazing upward and my heart surprisingly calm and open. Mylon’s smooth but worn voice echoed through the night as the words slowly moved from my ears to where my dreams abide. I remember these words and the moon glow clearly,

Tonight could be the night,
That you could see the light.
And you could trade your worst in for His best.
And He could take your sin,
And cast it in the wind,
As far as from the east unto the west.

And I know,
It’s time to go.
Cause there’s a war that’s going on, a soul is raging.
A battle weary warrior is praying.
And you must understand what the song is saying:
Come on home to the Father,
Come on home to the Son,
Come on home the battle’s over,
Christ has won.”

I had heard this song before but I had never experienced this kind of peace. Although I loved God, I was also a very anxious young man afraid of death, heaven, eternity and just about anything I couldn’t completely understand. As Mylon sang those words, I felt as if the heavens would open up and Christ would return. Instead of being terrified by that notion, I was comforted. I was comforted by the notion that I wanted to see Jesus and I wanted to be found serving him when He returns for me or when I return to Him. At that moment I made up my mind that I would serve God all of my life.

Although I knew I wanted my life to serve God, I didn’t really know if pastoring was the best course to accomplish this objective. I wanted to influence culture with the good news of Christ but I was fully aware that once I became a pastor, doors would be shut. Telling someone you are a pastor has a way of both starting and stopping conversations. Once they know you’re a “holy man,” they just start treating you differently.

With this in mind, I pursued a path of education for the purpose of influencing culture in whatever way God saw fit. I majored in History at the University of Washington for the purpose of pursuing master’s work in either law or politics. Both of these professions seemed ripe for revival. However, God had a different design for my future.

While attending one of my final classes at the UW, I met a man who was starting a computer company that later went on to be Real Networks. At the time, I just knew him as Rob, the guy I had lively discussions with in my American Cultural History class. One day, Rob took me out to lunch and asked me to be an employee in his new company that was going to try and influence the political and cultural landscape of America. Our meeting was exciting, but afterwards I was a little skeptical of all the grand ideas. I knew Rob as the middle-aged man who wore shorts to class every day and talked a mile a minute about everything. He had some great ideas, but so do a lot people hanging out in the halls of knowledge.

I finally learned Rob’s full name in our lunch meeting and I immediately went home and searched the validity of his convictions to start a media and internet empire. I soon discovered that shorts-wearing, fast-talking Rob, was in fact Rob Glaser, a former vice president at Microsoft, a current minority owner of the Mariners and a very influential man in certain circles. I realized that I had been offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to be the second or third employee in an internet start-up company run by a very intelligent and successful entrepreneur. I said yes and amen to this God-given opportunity.

I started at Real Networks in 1994, before the tech boom and the tech stock bubble bust. It was a time when companies went public and immediately traded at ridiculous valuations. If you could get in at the ground floor of an Initial Public Offering (IPO), you could make millions of dollars in a manner of months, weeks and even days. While working at Real Networks, I was perpetually amazed at the influential people who crossed my path. I met presidents of companies, powerbroker politicians and the heads of substantial non-profit organizations. Somehow, God had miraculously placed me in a room full of world changers where I now had the possibility to make millions and millions of dollars once our company went public. It all seemed like a really good chapter in the story of how God miraculously answers prayers. At the time, the excitement was not in the possibility of being rich, but in the possibility of having profound influence within culture. All right, I was a little excited about the possibility of being rich.

One day at work I was informed that the company’s focus had changed. Instead of being a company that dealt with social or political issues, we were going to focus on internet technology such as audio and video streaming. Rob had decided that he could better influence culture by making lots of money and then donating that money to promote his causes. Instead of creating content that changed the world, he decided to earn money that he could invest in other people’s world changing content.

As I heard this news, my heart sank. I was not very interested in the technological side of the company equation. For me, the opportunity was always about creating content that influenced things for the better. My interest was in working with like-minded people who were actively solving important social problems. Now the company had simply become another internet start-up.

At first, I still felt like I was to do my best to continue in this clearly God-ordained position. Although we were no longer creating content that interested me, I still knew that Rob liked me and that I would be able to hold onto my job long enough for the company to go public and make me a lot of money. At the time, I thought that if I made a lot of money, I could do a lot of good with those financial resources. Again, my desire was more than to just be rich, but to have influence. Why else would God have provided this clearly miraculous opportunity?

In my life, I’ve found that God is neither impressed nor constrained by my logic. Whenever I think I’ve got things figured out, God reminds me that He does the configuring. That’s the best way I can explain what happened next. One day I was sitting at my computer, working on research for the prospectus of the company, when a very clear train of thought went through my head.

It started with the following thought: “If I don’t make a lot of money in the next five years, I will have wasted those five years.” That thought was rather odd to me, because I knew that I was going to make a lot of money. The issue wasn’t about if I became rich, it was about what I am doing to become rich. As the company had moved away from a focus that was geared towards my passion and giftings, I found myself working at a computer on a project that I had absolutely no passion for doing. In other words, the only reason I was still at the company was because I knew I would eventually receive enough stock options to make myself mildly wealthy.

The next thought came just as quickly: “Doug, you told yourself long ago that you would never work just for money! If you’re working here just for money, then you’re here for the wrong reasons.” What followed seemed completely logical at the time. However, when I look back I can see why it wasn’t logical to most people. I left work early and went home to tell my wife Jennifer what I had discovered. I said it in an awkward way, fearing she wouldn’t understand what in the world I was doing. I told her that I had the most troubling thought today, the thought that I was only working to make money. And although I knew I was going to make money, I felt like that was a terrible way to live my life. Then I paused and said the rest. “I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to quit Real Networks, go to seminary and become a pastor.”

My wife and I have a good marriage, a God ordained, true partnership marriage. Even so, there have been times when my charge up the hill, take ground personality has been met by my wife with a fair amount of genuine trepidation. It’s not easy to be married to a man who is constantly trying to figure out the universe while processing a hundred ideas of which two or three he’ll actually pursue. With this in mind, I expected my wife to view my newfound revelation with uneasy eyes. Instead, she just embraced it. Not with a grand prophetic word or a powerful confirmation from scripture. She simply smiled and basically said, I trust you and I trust God and I believe that God will be good to us. What resonated in my heart was that she had absolutely no disappointment in losing out on the possibility of being wealthy. She wasn’t pretending, she genuinely did not care what we had, as long as we had each other.

After that day, things moved rather quickly, I immediately resigned and started looking for seminaries. In choosing seminaries, I had very little awareness of options and opportunities. All I knew was I wanted to go to a place that believed in the working of the Holy Spirit. I spent much of my life growing up in a mildly charismatic Presbyterian church that had also been positively influenced by renewal within the Vineyard denomination. Although there was an acceptance of some charismatic expressions, there was not a complete embrace. Although my parents were Pentecostal, and I was to the best of my knowledge Pentecostal, we had attended this church because the people seemed honest and genuine. It was the community we had been called to, even though it didn’t necessarily welcome some Pentecostal expressions.

Since the church I grew up in was frequently hesitant to accept certain Holy Spirit expressions, I wanted to go to a seminary where I could raise my hands in worship and not stick out. I wanted to attend classes that welcomed and made room for the Holy Spirit. So I searched Pentecostal seminaries and came up with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary; otherwise known as AGTS.

What we did next was rather foolish to most people. I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest almost all my life. I enjoy the Puget Sound region and I’ve never really had the desire to live anywhere else. At the time, besides the occasional trip to Disneyland, I had never really seen much of the United States. I certainly had never visited Missouri, let alone Springfield Missouri. Even so, site unseen, without a single visit to the campus or even one conversation with a professor or school administrator, I enrolled in the M.Div program at AGTS. So we packed up our life and headed to the great unknown, simply trusting that God was leading us.

(To be continued next week)

The Church House

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  1. My Ministry Calling (Part 2): Seminary Revival | fairlyspiritual - October 21, 2013

    […] This is the second post in a series: Click here for My Ministry Calling (Part 1) […]

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