The first Sunday in August of 2009 was my first official Sunday as pastor of First Baptist Crawford. Believe it or not – that was 7 years ago. Reflecting on the past sevens years has resulted in great joy and gratitude. It has also stirred reflection back even further on God’s work in my life. I thought I’d summarize some of my reflections in a diary of a young preacher.
Spring 2001: The First Light Bulb Moment
I was nearing high school graduation, solely focused on my girlfriend and athletics, when I walked through the door of the First Baptist Church of Killeen, Texas. My church experience was little to none and my knowledge of Jesus Christ was in even worse shape. It wasn’t long before I realized that the people of this church worshipped a God I did not know and spoke of a salvation I did not possess. I call this the first light bulb moment. I was intrigued. I was moved. I did my best to plug in.
November 2001: Baptism
First Baptist Killeen demonstrated to me the glorious riches of Jesus Christ. Men and women demonstrated worship, preached the gospel, served out of faithfulness, and treated me with love and generosity. I began to read the Bible and it seemed like the words lifted off the page and wrestled with my desires. My desires were overmatched. I began to worship and it seemed like God showed up for an intimate conversation between the two of us. My heart turned from stone to flesh in hearing and rehearing the message that Jesus bore the cross for my sins. Through the witness of this church and my personal encounter with God, I surrendered my life to Jesus as a college freshman. I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and vowed to follow him wherever he led me.
Fall of 2001: Spiritual Giants
Soon after my baptism two spiritual giants entered my life. Marshall asked me to teach a sixth grade Sunday school class. For a long time I jokingly said that Marshall asked me out of pure ignorance and I accepted out of pure ignorance. In reality, God was equipping me for the days ahead. I taught that sixth grade boys Sunday school class for the next five years. Soon after I met Marshall, God placed another tremendous influence in my path. Dennis invited me into his home for Bible study, prayer, and Scripture memorization every Monday night. He poured his life into mine and discipled me for the next five years. On top of that, Dennis also provided me countless opportunities to preach, teach, and lead in various capacities. The impact of these spiritual giants can’t be overstated.
2002 – 2005: School Daze
My freshman year of college I became a business major for no particular reason. It just seemed like a good idea. I spent a year at a community college and then transferred to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor as a sophomore. Why? Because it was close it First Baptist Killeen. It allowed me to stay connected to this group of Christ followers. It allowed me to continue teaching those knuckle headed sixth graders. It allowed Dennis to continue to disciple me. I also encountered a number of spiritual influences during my time on campus. I started out as a business computer information systems major. After one semester, in which I only took one introductory computer class, I realized it wasn’t for me. I switched over to marketing, enjoyed it and thrived. During my senior year I was named the marketing student of the year. I figured this was a sign of good things to come. I was excelling in school and flourishing in my new faith.
2005 – 2006: Wilderness
It turns out that business is hard … at least it was for me. I spent close to two years doing my best to launch a career in marketing. I only succeeded in launching a great deal of frustration. The more hours I worked the more my frustration grew. The harder I worked the more I found myself in despair. I held three different jobs within two different companies during this time period. Every change brought the hope of something better. Yet, better things never arrived. I spent the evenings in prayer. Over time prayer turned into tears. My faith that once was thriving now seemed to be stalled on the side of the highway. I have a vivid memory of one night pulling out the Bible that I used when first coming to faith. I asked God to speak to me like he did in those early days of finding Christ. I woke up that next morning with the Bible still on my chest feeling as if I had been ignored.
April 2006: The Second Light Bulb Moment
I vented my despair to Dennis (often). One night over a bowl of chips and salsa Dennis asked me, “Have you ever considered that God has been preparing you for ministry?” Light build moment number two. With the clarity of hindsight, I saw that God had been preparing me for ministry from the day I first walked into First Baptist Killeen. God graciously provided me a glimpse of the church as it should be and surrounded me with people who would equip, support, and encourage. It simply took time for me to gain the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Yes. God called me to ministry. The very next day my supervisor at work informed me that if my numbers did not improve they would be forced to make some changes. I went home that day and typed up a two week notice. I could sense God at work.
2006 – 2009: Seminary Daze
In the summer of 2006 I gladly took the business career off life support (to let it die) and began the admission process to seminary. In a hectic blur I was soon in Greek class at George W. Truett Theological Seminary. The next three years were an incredible period of spiritual growth. I was sitting at the feet of world class scholars and I soaked up every minute of it. I was challenged, confronted, and comforted in many ways. A list of each instance could fill the state of Texas.
In October of 2006 I sought to combine my seminary education with tangible, concrete ministry. I was hired to lead the youth ministry of a small church plant in Waco, Texas. Over the course of three years my position slowly morphed into what was finally settled as associate pastor. Along with some of the most humble and incredible people I’ve ever met, I attempted to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with a struggling community. This ministry provided some absolutely soul shaping memories and some pastoral fails worthy of a sitcom. Brookview deserves it own series of posts.
In August of 2007 I had a brief encounter with a girl in a coffee shop. I was preoccupied with a book and didn’t take much notice. Yet, the brief encounter led to “Hello” in the seminary hallways. “Hello” turned into high-fives. High-fives turned into Facebook conversations (Yes, we are of THAT generation). Facebook conversations turned into a date on New Year’s Eve. For the record, New Year’s Eve is THE WORST time for a date. The conclusion of a New Year’s Eve date comes with a great deal of pressure. The New Year’s Eve date (which consisted of “Hello” and high-fives) turned into a wedding almost exactly a year later.
August 2009: Crawford Calling
During my last semester of seminary I began a conversation with the First Baptist Church of Crawford, Texas. The process included countless emails, volumes of phone calls, a couple of interviews, and two acts of preaching for the committee. I was young and inexperienced. Yet, by the grace of God, the church took a chance on me. I stepped to the pulpit as pastor for the first time on August 2, 2009.
Seven years later – I’m overwhelmed by God’s generosity towards me made visible by this community of faith. I will continue to walk alongside this church as we obediently follow Jesus. I pray God uses us in mighty ways in the days ahead.