Today I’m going to share with you an experience that I’ve only told to a few people up until now. It’s a hard lesson I learned in college that God had to allow me to live though. It has impacted my view on ministry and leadership until now. I’m sharing this publicly because I think my experience might be similar to someone else’s and the lessons may help you too.
By the time I was a senior at Southern in 2009, I had accumulated (what I considered to be) and impressive ministerial resume. I was a Ministerial Candidate in my Theology program, I had been highly involved in extracurricular activities (I had been President of one prominent student group on campus and was at that time serving as President for the Student Ministerial Association within my department). I had also held several evangelistic series and weeks of prayer across the country, served as a boy’s counselor in a summer camp, and was working as a Resident Assistant within the dorm at school (although, I promise you, none of those positions were planned nor expected, except for the RA position because the hours were convenient and the pay was great for a broke college student!).
The problem with all of this, though, was that in a subtle and subliminal way, all of these accolades were making me pretty proud of myself. This would come to a head in the worst possible way and time.
You see, every year, the Religion Department at Southern makes it possible for senior religion majors to interview with various regional branches of the Adventist church (called “Conferences”). These interviews are meant to help with placement for either sponsorship to the SDA Seminary at Andrews University in Michigan, or pave the way to work as an intern pastor for a few years, eventually going to seminary later on.
I had always wanted to go to work at a certain Conference. What had started out as a, “Wow, wouldn’t it be nice to work there?” thought eventually turned into a coveting relationship where I basically thought, “I have to go there.” To make things worse, I was almost certain that I was a shoe-in for that position (because of my “formidable resume” that I had amassed), not to mention that, as Student Ministerial Association President, I was given an office within the department and the interviews were being held in my office.
I won’t go into detail regarding what was said in the interview, but let’s just say that I did everything I now know are sure fire ministry interview killers. I was cocky, I name-dropped, I pointed out during the course of conversation the fact that we were interviewing in my office among other things. Of course, I’m hard on myself now because hindsight is 20/20; back then, I really thought that the interview was a success! I went back to my dorm room and waited for that call whisking me away to glory to come in… only that no one called.
I came to find out later that night that the position was offered to one of my best friends who totally didn’t want to go there… and I felt two feet tall.
I’ll admit it; that night, I cried. I cried because I knew that I wasn’t going where I wanted to go. I cried because I got passed up for one of my best friends. But I also cried because I realized that I had been and idiot and my own worst enemy. I looked back at my attitude and realized that I had lost sight of who I was meant to be.
Let me share with you 3½ lessons that I learned about that experience:
1) Don’t let you works or accomplishments breed a presumptuous attitude when it comes to life, or any one of its synonyms: brazen, overconfident, arrogant, audacious, familiar, impertinent, cocky, cheeky, rude, impolite, uncivil.
Be faithful in the work that you do. Do good work and you will get noticed. The idea isn’t to aim to be noticed, but to aim for excellence. Work hard and leave the results to God. It’s like one quote says, “You don’t become a good leader to be recognized by others; a good leader is one because he is recognized by others.”
2) Three of the most important character traits that I believe God looks for in his leaders are genuineness, honesty, and humility.
Interestingly, these characteristics cannot be learned at any school. They have to be cultivated in the day in, day out routine through experience. When leaders start to be something they are not, compromise their integrity, or think that they are something bigger than they actually are, it opens the door to pride and downfall. I’d be willing to bet that all failed leaders have thrown away one of these aspects in the course of their journey.
A few days passed after that and I had no idea where I was going in my ministry. I asked the Lord for forgiveness, knew that we were good, and knew that God had a place for me somewhere… the only problem was that I had no idea where. By now I really knew what God meant when He said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” (Isaiah 55:8). It was only when I was fully ready to go where God would lead and I didn’t care about my own reputation or path anymore that God would eventually lead me to my third lesson.
3) It may not always seem like it while you’re going through the storm, but if you trust Him and stick close, God knows exactly where you need to end up.
I went into my next interview literally not caring if I got the job or not. The Conference president and his officers were there, I met them and they were really nice people. They asked me about my life, priorities, passions and approach to ministry. I answered all of those questions, joked around with them and, at one point near the end even spent about 10 minutes talking about how great the Boston Red Sox were (I’m telling you, I really didn’t care if I was hired or not)! After successfully defending my position on why Terry Francona needed to stop being an idiot and stick with his current rotation of pitchers, the Carolina Conference President (Jim Davidson at the time) said, “So, when can you start?”
We all laughed, but he wasn’t kidding. That evening I got a call and was asked to join the Conference by going to Seminary first to finish my Masters and afterwards come back and work in the field. So here I am, 5 years later bearing my soul before the world. Why? Because I’m sure someone out there can learn from my mistakes and take hope in the fact that if the Lord did it for me, he can do it for you too.
Oh, and what’s that other ½ lesson all about?
1/2 – Go Red Sox!!
Who knew that I would get sent to the very city where one of their minor league teams, the Greenville Drive, plays?! I’m telling you, when God does something, He does it right! Who knows where I would have ended up had I been a Yankees fan! *shudder*
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.- Micah 6:8