I never intended to earn a Masters of Divinity degree. As a 24-year-old, nondenominational fundapentacharisgelical, my faith mentors and peers disdained the intellectualism and theological skepticism that seminaries were allegedly promoting. As one already toting an undergrad degree in religion and philosophy, including two semesters of biblical Greek, my training already exceeded that of most pastors I knew. All I really wanted was to take a couple of courses in biblical Hebrew and to gain some clarification in exegetical methodologies. Two semesters away from home should suffice, I surmised.
One semester sufficed to reveal how little I knew about being a pastor. Classes and conversations opened my eyes to biblical complexities, theological ambiguities and pastoral minefields whose depth seemed bottomless. So I stayed put. I earned the three-year M.Div. degree.
I was hired by a south Florida fundapentacharisgelical church that was affiliated with the United Presbyterian Church and taken under care to be ordained in their denomination. Two years hence, with ordination in hand, I was called to serve my own congregation, and amid my 10 great years there, earned the D.Min. degree. Then followed a 12-year pastorate of another great church.
A curve was thrown me when the board of the denomination’s leading independent magazine asked me to step aside from the pastorate to become their editor. I told them I couldn’t stop being a pastor, but I could see myself applying my calling via print rather than pulpit. They liked that answer.
Nine years ago this month, I accepted the call to serve as editor of The Presbyterian Outlook and soon was developing friendships with folks like you: members, elders and pastors of thousands of churches, plus academes, denominational leaders and ecumenical partners. I made friends with colleagues who were seeking to serve God and the church with a faithfulness that charged into the complexities, ambiguities and minefields that continually challenged them.
It’s been an exciting ride.
But the pulpit has continued to beckon for me to return. I’ve taken countless preaching opportunities — always awe-filled to be entrusted to expound the word of God.
One of those churches has asked me to consider returning from the print and electronic media to the place of my first calling: the local church. After lots of conversations, much praying, and feelings of anguish over letting go and of excitement over the prospect of starting again, I have accepted the call to become pastor of the Vanderbilt Presbyterian Church in Naples, Florida, which worships just five miles from where I was taken under presbytery care 32 years ago.
I will complete my work at the Outlook on September 30 and first lead VPC’s worship on Oct. 26.
The Outlook’s staff and board members are preparing the way for a successor to guide this ministry and, I trust, to be a pastor to and with you as you also serve our Lord where God has planted you.
I’m glad to have a couple of more editions still to edit — so these are not my final words. But just as the M.Div. made way for many unexpected turns, so too this whole journey of faith and service to our Lord brings many serendipities, many unexpected turns, many reasons to say thank you to our Lord. For this moment, I want to say “thank you” to you, my reader, my conversation partner, my colleague, my friend.