As I glance back over the previous post where I listed out those questions I intend to tackle here, openly on my blog, I noticed a somewhat glaring omission. There are no “Why?” questions, not even the most important one: Why do I do what I do?
My life has taking only a small number of twists and turns. In fact, it almost seems as though I have been on track for this current career path ever since I decided to add a mathematics major my second year of college. For those that do not know, I first shopped for colleges based on my intent to enter full-time vocational ministry. I found Wayland to be that place where there was the greatest personal attention and interest in my own personal success. Some places seemed to care about the success of their students on the whole, but when I spent time on the Wayland campus, I sensed an interest in ME reaching my goals. (I wonder if I’ve made clear the distinction between the general and specific in those two approaches).
At any rate, I had loved math and science so much in high school that I just couldn’t stand not taking those classes any more. It was then that I became familiar with the likes of Dr. Phil Almes, Dr. Gerald Thompson, Dr. Harold Temple, and Dr. J. Hoyt Bowers. Later on, as a faculty member, I would also get to know Dr. Vaughn Ross. These great men demonstrated something I had not considered as a possibility: Ministry is a calling that can be completely uncoupled from full-time vocational ministry. In other words, God can call us to play a kingdom role without calling us to the pastorate. These men served as role models for living God-centered lives and for cultivating the necessary skills and passions to start Christ-centered careers. Plus, their curiosity and genuine wonder at all that God had created helped me to see science as more than a set of facts to be learned or a skill to practice, but as a worship of the One who created the world we study.
I have reached a point in life that I must no longer lie to myself or others about my calling to ministry, mainly because I want others to learn from me. Many in my life will remember a time when I walked the aisle at the end of a church service and declared that God had called me to full-time ministry.
How do I reconcile that moment with my life today? Allow me to try…
When I was young teenager, I was desperate to be doted upon. I don’t know why that became my driving motivation at that age, but more than anything, I worked to be admired for my accomplishments. I didn’t choose sports, though. For me, it was easier to excel at academics and band than at athletics, so I chose those activities for which I was most likely to be recognized as the best: golf, UIL Math and Science competitions, class rank, band, even church. In most cases, competition is healthy, and it has driven me to improve myself.
However, my greatest regret is that I let that competitive spirit infect my faith. I know the Apostle Paul used a race a metaphor for the Christian life, but it is not a race so much AGAINST your fellow man for a single prize. The point of Paul’s illustration is that, like an athlete, the Christian life requires perseverance, commitment, and regular training. You don’t quit, you keep pressing toward the prize. I do not claim to be an expert in Biblical Interpretation, so someone more advanced than me could certainly correct me here, BUT I would argue that the metaphor breaks down when you think of a race as a competition against your fellow brothers and sisters. Competition is healthy when it makes you strive to be your best, but for me, it became unhealthy in my faith because I was constantly trying to demonstrate my “exceptionalism” compared to everyone else in church.
There came a time when a friend made public his commitment a life of missions. Fearing I would be outdone, I began desperately praying to God that he would call me to some special mission so that I could also go forward and be recognized for what God was doing in my life. Instead of seeking to know what God wanted me to do with my life, I began dictating to God how I might be of best use to him in his kingdom. The path I prescribed for myself was based on a very limited view of God’s kingdom, plus it came from a spirit of selfishness and pride. Decades later, I can appreciate how God would have seen those prayers of a teenager commanding the Creator of the universe how to use him. It’s an absurd picture that I now see clearly for what it is. It is just as absurd now for me to think that I am in control of my own life and that I should know better than Him which way I should go.
Yet, God was gracious. He did not reprimand me or discipline me. He impressed upon me through my quiet times with Him that he indeed had a purpose for me and that he was going to call me to ministry. However, what I couldn’t understand at that time, what I witnessed later on in the lives of my professors is that God calls all of us to a special ministry that may take place in or out of vocational ministry. I was called to use a special set of skills and the God-given gift of my intellect to build the kingdom by building the individual “living stones” into kingdom workers. My calling is to prepare individuals to take their faith with them into the workplace as engineers, teachers, medical professionals, scientists, lab technicians, geologists, etc. That’s the core of what I do: prepare students to excel in their career in mathematics or sciences in such as way that they may integrate their faith in God into all that they do and thus further God’s kingdom.
This is why I believe it to be fitting that I am where I am in my position as Dean of the School of Mathematics and Sciences. One of our distinctives as a school is our intentional integration of faith and science. Now, I would never rule out a change in my future. I leave open the door that God may call me somewhere else. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last 25 years since first pleading for God to use me, it’s that He doesn’t like us to get comfortable. Who knows, I may still yet be a pastor some day, or I may progress up through administration, or I may return to the classroom full time, or something else I’ve never considered. No matter what, I choose to follow His leading as best I can determine His will for my life.
If you would choose to learn something from the time you spent reading this long post, I would hope that it is this: take your faith with you no matter where you go. Whatever job you have, whatever career you’ve chosen for yourself, God intends to use you in that position for his kingdom. Ask yourself how you might grow the kingdom from your position. That could mean bringing more people into the kingdom, that could mean positively impacting more lives through helping those outside the kingdom, it could even mean growing individual members of the kingdom. In fact, I’m always curious to hear how God has been using you in your chosen field so feel free to share below.