I am the oldest of five children. My father served in the Marine Corps in WWII and worked as a printer for the Charleston, WV, newspapers while I was growing up. My mother was a homemaker in every sense of that term, a godly, hard-working woman whose example and influence shaped my life during my formative years and continues to affect me to this day. She died in 2007 at the age of 82, and I still miss her every day.
My parents instilled an ethic in me, the essence of which is captured in the text of a sampler which hung on our dining room wall. It said…
If a task is once begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done.
Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.
I have tried to live my life according to that motto. I have sometimes been wrong-headed, but I have never been half-hearted. That has characterized my Christian commitment as well. As a youngster I determined that, if I was going to be a Christian, I would be as good a Christian as it was possible for me to be. Only later did I come to realize that that was exactly what Jesus intended and expected me to be, and that the biblical term for that kind of devotion was discipleship.
In 1966, while I was a senior in high school, I sensed a movement of God’s Spirit within me which I identified as a “call” from God to devote my life to Christian ministry as a vocation. My tradition had taught me that, while you could choose to become a doctor or a lawyer or a mechanic, you had to be called to the ministry. I now believe that those other occupations are legitimate callings too, but I remain convinced that ministry as livelihood should be undertaken as a response to God’s call, truly a vocation and not merely a job.
More than forty years have passed, and I have never doubted the genuineness of that call. It has been regularly affirmed by the people of God and confirmed through life experience. With Paul I, too, can say that “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” (I Tim. 1:12 KJV)
Upon graduation from high school in 1967, I enrolled at Appalachian Bible Institute (now College) in Bradley, West Virginia, and graduated with a diploma in Bible and pastoral studies in 1970. Given my upbringing in conservative, evangelical (read fundamentalist) Christianity, I had seriously considered only colleges in that tradition, and ABI was a logical choice for a variety of reasons, not least of which was its location just sixty miles from my home in Charleston.
At the time of my graduation from Bible college, my career-path was influenced by three basic assumptions. First, I assumed that my three-year Bible college diploma marked the end of my formal education. Second, I assumed that the primary context for my ministry would be the pastorate. And third, I assumed that my commitment to fundamentalism was unassailable. In each case I was wrong.