There Is No Plan B

It might appear to the casual observer that the course of my vocational pilgrimage has been a rather orderly trajectory. Leaving aside the obvious difference that, forty years ago I started my career as a Fundamentalist and am today an Anglican, it could be noted that I started as a Christian minister, and today I am still a Christian minister. In that regard, I will acknowledge some measure of consistency and continuity in the course of my vocation. So you might assume that my employment history would reflect a steady, if sometimes incremental, progress. You would be wrong.

I have been a pastor. I was a good preacher, but I struggled with other aspects of pastoral ministry; I now believe it was primarily because I was simply too young for the job. Pastoral care requires an ability to empathize which I did not develop until I had experienced the kind of pain and loss my parishioners were going through. I will be a much better pastor if I ever have the privilege of serving in that role again. Until recently, however, I never considered the possibility that the last chapter of my active ministry might be the pastorate.

I served for nine years (1992-2001) as the staff person and spokesman for a parachurch ministry which sought to raise a voice for evangelical orthodoxy within contemporary Anabaptism. After the first couple of years, I hated it. I did it because my peers asked me to do it, I believed it needed to be done, and there did not seem to be anybody else willing or able to take it on. But it was brutal. I was always challenging denominational positions on doctrinal and cultural issues, and I gained a reputation for being divisive and doctrinaire. And even though I believe that regret is mainly a useless and futile emotion, in many ways I do regret those years. I have addressed all of that in a blog post which I called “Correct Doctrine Is Not Enough.”

Along the way I traveled many thousands of miles, across most of the US and into Canada, as a Bible conference speaker and a teacher in short-term institutes and seminars. That is difficult work, especially for an introvert, but I enjoyed it. Also, from 1989-93, I wrote and produced a five-minute daily radio broadcast, which aired in Virginia and Pennsylvania, in the days before podcasts and YouTube.

In 1994, my second year as Executive Secretary of Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship (the job I disliked intensely), I was asked to serve as adjunct faculty at Rosedale Bible College. When EAF closed in 2001, my teaching load was increased to full-time. The pay was lousy, but the intangible benefits were, as it turned out, immeasurable. I loved teaching, and by the time I had been doing it fourteen years, when the administration offered me a long-term contract, I concluded that I had found my niche.

What I had not foreseen was the incompatibility which the governing board of the college perceived to exist between that Anabaptist institution and my growing convictions in the area of liturgical worship. And so, since I could not be a Mennonite Bible college instructor with liturgical leanings, I have become an Anglican priest with Anabaptist sensibilities. The transition has been difficult but necessary. I never thought about pursuing another line of work. You see, I have no Plan B.

That is, I have never considered doing anything with my life except vocational ministry for Christ, the Church, and the Kingdom. That’s what God called me to do in 1966, and He has never rescinded the call. I could no more consider another line of work, assuming such was even a possibility for a man of my age and limited marketability, than Yo-Yo Ma could walk away from his cello or Paul Prudhomme could lay aside his chef’s hat.

When God called me to vocational ministry (and by that I mean full-time commitment to Christian ministry, from which I would derive sufficient financial compensation to pay my bills), He never stipulated what form that ministry would take. I assumed it would be the pastorate, since that’s really the only form of compensated “church work” I knew anything about as I was growing up. As this summary of my work history has shown, however, I came to realize that vocational ministry could, and would, take a variety of forms.

I have deliberately avoided using the term “professional” in this review of my career. I don’t dislike the term, and it definitely has an appropriate usage. Just not as part of the description of my pilgrimage. I am not a professional minister. I am a servant of the church. I didn’t set out to achieve a level of competence in a profession. I set out to serve wherever God made it clear that my gifts would contribute to the spiritual growth of the body of Christ and to the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Like most young people, I never gave much thought to retirement during my 20s and 30s and even into my 40s. When I reached my 50s people began asking about my plans for retirement, and my standard reply was that I had no plans to retire. And I didn’t. I still don’t.

It may be that my active ministry is over. I have not received a stipend for ministerial service in almost four years. During that time, I have prepared myself for ministry within the new communion (Anglicanism) to which I now relate. I could do nothing else. My call is for life. At present, I don’t know if I will ever be financially compensated for ministry again. That is not my concern. It is God’s.

If my active ministry is over, you will soon receive word that God has called me home to glory. That is not a throw-away line. I am altogether serious. Many years ago I identified with the quote attributed to David Livingstone: “I am immortal until my work is done.”

In 2007, while I was still teaching at Rosedale Bible College, one of my students (you know who you are, Josh Graber) paid me the highest compliment I have ever received. At the bottom of the last page of a written assignment he wrote these words:

“Mr. Kouns, with much respect and thanks. I hope to fulfill my calling as well as you have yours.”

If his observation is true, then God be praised. Because, you see, for my life, there is no Plan B.

Waiting On God Is Not Wasting Time

Forty-five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, (I’m 62, in case you are doing the math in your head) God and I entered into a covenant.  He told me that, if I would use my gifts, talents, and abilities to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and to help Christians “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” then He would show me where to use them. He would open doors for ministry. And perhaps most practically, He would take care of me materially and meet my needs.  He didn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but the reality of God’s call on my life would not have been more certain if He had.

Over the course of my pilgrimage, I have come through some periods of time, some circumstances, where I could not clearly see what step I was supposed to take next. At those times, in those circumstances, I had no choice but to wait until He opened a door and showed me where to go and what to do.

Until fairly recently, the periods of waiting were measured in days or weeks, and only very rarely, in a few months. I’m in another period of waiting right now, and this one is already four years long… and counting.

Four years ago I was in my fourteenth year of teaching at a small Bible college in the free church tradition. I loved my job, and if the testimony of my former students and colleagues can be believed, I was pretty good at it.

But about five years before that, my soul had begun to hunger for something which my sojourn up to that point had not provided.  I began to read the early church fathers and to explore the character of Christian worship in the first centuries of church history.  I gained a new awareness of the place of mystery and reverence in worship, a fresh appreciation for the importance of the Eucharist. And I began seeking an experience of more holistic spirituality.

Eventually, it became clear that my developing convictions in the area of liturgical worship were incompatible with the college’s theological position and potentially confusing to the constituency. My contract was not renewed after the 2007-08 academic year.

Now, remember that covenant that God and I agreed to? Well, when I lost my job, I pulled it out, dusted it off, and showed it to God. I told Him that I believed I had kept my part of the bargain, and now it was time for Him to keep His. His response to me was one word—wait.

So I’ve been waiting… and waiting…

I haven’t been sitting on my hands. For the first year after I lost my job, our attention was focused on Shirley’s battle with breast cancer. Then, for the next two years, I did what I needed to do—classes, reading, interviews, etc.—to prepare for Holy Orders in the Anglican Church in North America.

I was ordained a priest last May, and since then, I’ve been learning how to function as a preacher and pastor in this new tradition that I’ve adopted.

I still haven’t drawn a paycheck in nearly four years, but God has taken care of us. So, in a very real way, He has been living up to His part of the bargain. But I’m still waiting for God to do what He has done time after time over the course of my life. I’m waiting for a clear sign from God that He has brought me to a place of ministry where I can use my gifts in service to Christ and the Kingdom.

I told you I’m not good at waiting. Waiting is painful. I’ve been waiting so long, in fact, that the pain of waiting is now greater than the pain of losing my job. The situation that produced the need for me to wait is now, itself, less painful than the urge, on some days, to throw in the towel and give up completely.

And then I read Isaiah 40. And I hear the prophet say…

29 (God) gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who wait upon the LORD

will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

I can tell you, it’s been a long time since I felt like I was “soaring on wings like eagles.”  And I would need the “second wind” of God’s grace before I could think of my life and ministry as something I do “at a run.” But I can still walk. Not very steadily, not very sure-footed at times. And some days over the past four years it has taken every ounce of strength I could muster just to pull myself out of bed and put one foot in front the other, because I couldn’t see any farther ahead than that.

Many times recently, I have literally sat down and cried while I prayed, “Lord, speak to me. Say something. Let me know that You are still there.”

And every time I have cried out like that, He has spoken to me. And every time, He has said the very same thing.

It’s like I’ve felt Him put His hand on my shoulder and lean in to whisper in my ear…

“Wait; just wait. Have I ever let you down?  Oh, I could move according to your timetable; I could give you what you think you need. Then you’d have what you want, but you wouldn’t really know me. You wouldn’t know how I sustain the weak and give hope to the discouraged. You wouldn’t know what it means to keep trusting when you are surrounded by despair and all you can see is darkness.

So what would you prefer—for me to clear all the obstacles out of your way or to give you the spiritual strength to prevail in the midst of them? Hang on. I know the pain is sometimes unbearable. But I have promised never to put more on you than you can withstand.

And so, when you consider how much better you are getting to know me when you are forced to trust me this way, it really could be said that my most gracious response to your prayer is that one word… wait.”

In Over My Head

What do you do when everything you have come to believe about the way God works out His purposes in your life no longer seems to apply? What happens when all the things you’ve taught your Bible college students about the way a church should function with regard to the distribution of spiritual gifts now seem contradicted by your present circumstances? That’s precisely my predicament.

For decades, I believed and taught that God’s purposes for our lives generally involve the exercise of the gifts He has given us. Thus, if we’re looking at two possible directions, opportunities, or courses of action, and one seems far more suited to the use of our natural and God-given strengths and abilities, that is probably the course we should follow. Moreover, if we find our circumstances requiring us, routinely, to extend ourselves in areas for which we are simply not equipped by gifting, temperament, aptitude, or interest, then we probably need to stop, rethink our situation, and very likely make a mid-course correction.

Further, with regard to the life and ministry of the church, I had heretofore believed and taught that God expects us to serve in areas compatible with our gifts, and if He intends the church to pursue a new avenue of ministry, He will provide gifted people to be involved in it. Thus, the most efficient, effective, and harmonious way for a church to operate is for members, including leadership personnel, to function in the area of their strengths, gifts, and interests. When a leader demands, or feels obliged, to take on responsibilities outside his or her areas of giftedness, the results are generally mixed at best and disastrous at worst.

In Ephesians 4, Paul addresses this principle in relation to the kinds of leadership gifts which God has ordained in the church for the purpose of preparing and equipping His people for their various roles of service.

 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.  (New Living Translation)

Most conservative scholars agree that this passage notes four distinct categories of leadership gifts in the church (in bold print in the above quotation), the term “pastors and teachers” most likely referring to dual dimensions of gifting in the same individual. The role of shepherd (“pastor”) in a church will generally involve a ministry of teaching, which requires appropriate gifting for enablement. That is the role I believe I am called to fill in the church, and I have the necessary gifts to enable my effective and efficient functioning in that role. I am a pastor-teacher.

I have exercised my gifts and fulfilled my calling in a variety of contexts and settings over the years. I have sometimes served as a pastor in a local congregation, but I have also used my gifts in a para-church ministry and as an instructor in a church college. In each situation, it has been clear, both to me and to those who called me to serve in a particular role, that my gifts were commensurate with the scope of the responsibility I was assuming.

In my current situation, however, things are different. The gifts required for church planting are different from those required for pastoral ministry, particularly when the effort to plant a church has to be undertaken completely “from scratch,” with no institutional sponsorship of any kind. And frankly, when it comes to caring for the myriad details associated with a church plant, including trying to convince people that the project is worthwhile and viable in the first place, I am just “in over my head.”

A consistent application of the principles I have believed and taught about God’s guidance and effective ministry would seem to require me to stop, rethink my circumstances, and make a mid-course correction. Except that there seems to be no other course available.

Truth be told, I really don’t believe God is going to require me to abandon the principles I have previously believed and taught. My greatest contribution to the work of establishing St. Patrick’s Anglican Church will be seen farther down the road. I’m not going to try to be something or someone I am not. So, for this work to get done, for this church plant to materialize, God will need to send us people with gifts to match our immediate needs. I don’t have them. Do you?

If you do, and if you want to share them with us, contact me at

Leadership As Chaplaincy

About a month ago I read an article by Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today magazine, called “Why We Need More ‘Chaplains’ and Fewer Leaders.” It was one of Galli’s regular Soulwork columns, published by CT as a web-only feature. As soon as I read the piece, I knew it would someday find its way into one of my blog posts. That day is today.

I was, first of all, intrigued by the article’s title. Not many evangelical writers would dare to suggest that the church needs fewer leaders these days, especially if the alternative is an increase in “chaplains.” By placing that word in quotation marks, however, Galli makes clear that he has in mind a ministry style more than a specific ministry role.

Like most people influenced by the army of leadership consultants and management experts “serving” the evangelical church community these days, I had developed a negative view of the term “chaplain.” The literature in this field generally uses the term pejoratively, a way of describing a ministry style which focuses more on maintaining the status quo than on casting vision or launching new enterprises. That is the way I have used the term when I have said, to people who inquire about my vision for planting a new church, “God has not called me to be a chaplain to disgruntled ex-Episcopalians.”

Galli’s article, like a splash of cold water, caught my attention and refocused my thinking. It caused me to repent of my earlier attitude toward the term “chaplain.” As Galli notes, attaching negative connotation to the term denigrates those who serve in the vital role of chaplain… in hospitals, nursing homes, colleges, and the military. Moreover, it implies that today’s church leaders should aspire to be charismatic visionaries and entrepreneurial motivators rather than pastors and priests whose primary ministry is what used to be called the “cure (or care) of souls.”

Galli writes,

In an increasingly secular, capitalist culture, it’s understandable that so many clergy are fascinated with the idea that they can be leaders and entrepreneurs. These are the people our culture admires most—those like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or whoever has made a ton of money and a practical difference. … Such is the culture we live in, where successful business people seem to enjoy really important work, and pastors, if they are not careful, will be chaplains, mere servants.

I have served as a local church pastor, and, if God brings the new St. Patrick’s Church into existence, I will serve in that role again. I have reflected on my experience as a pastor, and the way I understood my job at that time, as I have considered what sort of leader I aspire to be in the future. Galli’s article helped crystallize some of the ideas that had been taking shape in my mind for a while. I have determined that I am not a charismatic entrepreneur, and I do not wish to be one. Further, I do not know the implications of that admission for the work I want to do in the Grandview/OSU area.

This I do know. I believe the primary work of a pastor is spiritual formation, the cultivation and development of Christlikeness, first in himself (or herself) and then in the people among whom he has the privilege to serve. This, I think, is how Mark Galli defines the term “chaplain” in the title of his article. I base that conclusion on statements like these.

To say that a pastor is first and foremost a chaplain—someone who is the Lord’s means of healing—is not to suggest that his or her role is primarily therapeutic. It includes therapy-like moments, for example, in helping parishioners deal with their ordinary fears and worries. But it is fundamentally about the healing of souls—helping men and women, boys and girls, to become right with God, and therefore, right with others.

That is what I aspire to be and to do. I want to be a “servant-leader” whose primary concern is to assist men and women, boys and girls, to become more like Jesus.

For that reason, I need to admit something else that might rankle my readers who are also members of the Anglican communion, my newly-adopted church home. Where Evangelicals call the main leader in their churches the “pastor,” Anglicans prefer the term “rector.” I don’t like that word.

The word “pastor” comes from a Latin root which has to do with things related to shepherds and sheep herding. Its Christian usage connotes one who is a spiritual guide and a “shepherd of souls.” The word “rector,” on the other hand, derives from the Latin root which means ruler or governor. In my mind, the image of a rector is one who runs a church while that of a pastor is one who serves a church. I prefer the latter image, even as I prefer the role of servant to ruler.

Many times over the years I have heard people describe the main leader of their church something like this: “Rev. So-and-so is a great preacher (or administrator or motivator or something else), but he’s not much of a pastor.”  In my mind, that is like saying that a butcher is a great conversationalist or sports fan or investment counselor, but he’s not much of a meat cutter.

Mark Galli writes,

I’ve been a parishioner in many churches over many years. In each church, the pastor has been tempted, as I was, to become the great leader, to shape himself in our culture’s image of success. To be sure, the modern pastor does have to “run a church”; he or she is, in fact, the head of an institution that has prosaic institutional needs. I’ve been thankful when my pastor carries out these institutional responsibilities with efficiency and joy.

But the times I remember most, the times when my troubled soul has been most deeply affected and moved—outside of preaching and receiving the sacraments—have been when my pastor acted like a chaplain. When he pulled me aside in the narthex, put his arm around me, and prayed with me about some matter. When he visited me in the hospital. When in unhurried conversation I felt less alone, because I knew in a deeper way that God was present.

May God forgive me for ever speaking ill of chaplains. By His grace, that is precisely the kind of pastor I want to be.

The Saint Patrick Center

A Place for Worship—Liturgical worship in the Prayer Book tradition is at the very heart of what it means to be Anglican.  I was not very far along the road from Evangelicalism to Anglicanism when I learned the Latin maxim, “Lex orandi, lex credendi,” which means “the law of praying is the law of believing,” or more colloquially, “as we worship, so shall we live.”  For Anglicans, our “theology,” i.e. the most basic elements of our belief about God, Christ, humanity, sin, and salvation, are contained in, and communicated through, our worship—notably the liturgy of the Daily Office and, especially, the Eucharist.  The St. Patrick Center (SPC) would be a place of regular worship.  Morning and Evening Prayers would be said daily, and the Eucharist celebrated often.

In addition, the Center would host special events, such as retreats, conferences, and seminars, where the importance of worship, both communal and individual, would be explored and experienced within the context of other aspects of Christian discipleship such as apologetics, evangelism, charismatic gifts, spiritual warfare, and inner healing.  SPC would also be a place where individuals or small groups could come for silent retreats, focused prayer, and spiritual direction.  Anyone seeking a place to get away from the frenetic pace of modern life in order to be spiritually renewed in a setting dedicated to worship, and anyone looking for a place to explore and experience what it means to be an Anglican Christian would find it at SPC.

A Place for Study—While it is true that the genius of Anglican theology is its connection to the experience of worship, that does not mean there is no place in Anglicanism for serious study and the cultivation of the life of the mind.  SPC would be a place where earnest Christians with intellectual curiosity could engage in the thoughtful examination of subjects such as Biblical history and content, church history, apologetics (defense of the Christian faith), moral theology (ethics), liturgics, and the interface of Christianity with contemporary culture.  The Center would provide a setting for individual study (both directed and non-directed) and reflection as well as periodic (or regular) classes and seminars designed to explore “cutting edge” issues with a view to equipping believers to be more responsible, sensitive, and effective as disciples of Jesus Christ in a postmodern culture.

In addition, the Center would offer a curriculum specially designed to serve as the “Anglican component” for Anglican students doing their seminary study in a non-Anglican school or to supplement the theological training of persons from other Christian traditions who are pursuing Holy Orders with ADGL-ACNA.  While neither competing with nor replacing similar programs already available through Anglican seminaries, the SPC curriculum would be more limited, less comprehensive, more flexible, and less expensive than those programs.  I could have benefited from a program like this as I was preparing for Anglican Holy Orders.

A Place for Spiritual Formation—As I wrote in an earlier post, I believe the primary focus of pastoral ministry should be Spiritual Formation, by which I mean exhibiting, encouraging, and enabling Christlikeness.  The Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes, and indeed the entire Anglican Church in North America, could be well served by a place where pastoral leaders (especially deacons, priests, and those in training) could come to experience, and be equipped to facilitate, genuine Spiritual Formation.  This might involve participation in some of the programs, opportunities, and emphases available through the Center and already discussed above under Worship and Study.  It would also include a specialized learning environment comprising, as desired, spiritual direction, individual and group retreats, as well as courses, seminars, and conferences on themes related to Spiritual Formation.

More anon.

Reflections On Clericus

Three or four times a year, the Bishop calls all the clergy of our diocese (priests, deacons, etc.) to meet with him for a day at the church which has been designated the Pro-Cathedral for the diocese, St. Luke’s in Akron, OH. This meeting is called a Clericus. (Anglicans have a special word for almost everything related to the church. For example, did you know that most ex-Episcopalian Anglicans refer to the basement of the church building as the undercroft ? Neither did I.)

The purpose for the Clericus is to provide a time for colleagues in ministry to get together to learn what is happening in the diocese, to build or nurture friendships, to spend some time praying with and for each other, and to share the Eucharist together. This fall’s Clericus was held yesterday, Thursday, Nov. 3. It was a great day.

The Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes (ADGL) is part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a new, albeit still unofficial, province of the worldwide Anglican communion. ACNA was formed in 2009 as an orthodox and evangelical alternative to The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the US and its counterpart in Canada. The highest ecclesiastical authority (the Primate) in the ACNA is Archbishop ++Robert Duncan. The Bishop of our diocese is The Rt. Rev. +Roger Ames. When I was ordained in the ACNA, first as a deacon and then as a priest, I promised to regard the Bishop with loyalty and respect and yes, obedience. I took those vows seriously when I made them originally. I still do. Of course, it is no burden to fulfill my vows when the Bishop is a man of godly character and integrity. We are blessed to have such a Bishop in this diocese.

I am still very much a newcomer to this tradition and to this diocese. Although this was the fourth time I have attended a Clericus, it was my first as a priest. Our diocese is growing rapidly as new parishes and ministries, and their respective clergy, are added to our number. In a few cases, clergy from other traditions have taken Holy Orders in our diocese, while the churches they serve continue to work through the process of identifying with our diocese and with the ACNA. These are unusual situations, but they are altogether consistent with the unique character of this “new Anglicanism” which God is raising up in North America.

I am excited to be a part of all of this. (Or as excited as a 61 year-old man, who has devoted his life to Christian ministry and is a bit “frayed around the edges” from the experience, can be.) Even though the ministry for which I was ordained, a new church plant in Columbus, OH, has not yet taken shape, I still feel welcomed and affirmed by my colleagues in the diocese. And I rejoice with them when they report, as so many of them did yesterday, that God is at work in their situations and settings. It encourages me to continue to wait with the expectation that God will soon overcome the obstacles that, at present, impede the realization of the vision for St. Patrick’s Anglican Church in Grandview Heights.

I wanted to use this blog post as a way of saying thank you to all those who have welcomed me into this diocese and have assured me of their prayers for me and my ministry. So, to Bishop +Roger Ames, to Archdeacon Mark Scotton+, to Chaplain Fr. John Jorden+, and all the other priests and deacons with whom I am privileged to serve in the Anglican Diocese of the Great Lakes… Thank you for making this newbie feel so warmly accepted. And may God bless the ACNA, the ADGL, and all of their efforts to bring glory to His name.

Starting Over… Sort Of

Forty-five years ago, when I was a senior in high school, God and I entered into a pact, a covenant, if you will.  More accurately, God set some terms, and I agreed to them.  He told me that, if I would use my gifts, talents, and abilities to advance the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and to help Christians “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” then He would take care of me.  He didn’t speak to me in an audible voice, but the reality of God’s call on my life would not have been greater nor more certain if He had.

My pilgrimage has been (to borrow the title of a Beatles’ song) a “long and winding road.”  I have been exposed to and influenced by a number of Christian traditions.  I have served in vocational ministry in several of them.  While to some observers, my circuitous journey from Fundamentalism via Evangelicalism and Anabaptism to Anglicanism reflects instability, I prefer to see it as (to borrow the title of a book by Eugene Peterson) a “long obedience in the same direction.”

Many of you know that I was ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) in May 2011.  You may not realize, however, that ordination in this tradition is not generic; that is, a priest receives Holy Orders for the purpose of serving in a particular ministry.  In the Free Church tradition where I served for thirty-five years, it was common for recognition of gifts and a call to a place of service to precede credentialing, which could be secured later if and when it was deemed useful or necessary.  In the Anglican tradition, at least in my experience, credentialing precedes ministry but with full expectation that a specific ministry, identified at the time of ordination, will soon follow.

I came to the Anglican Church out of a lifetime of vocational ministry in the Free Church tradition.  In all that time, I had never had to look for, much less create, a context in which to use my gifts in service to Christ and the Kingdom.  More often than not, I needed to choose between several opportunities, any of which would have been a productive, fulfilling ministry.  As a Bible college student, I was taught that the greatest ability required for Christian ministry was availability.  “If you are available and willing to serve,” I was told, “God will always lead you into a ministry context where you can use your gifts for His glory.  The need will always exceed the supply of available servants.”

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was told by a veteran Anglican clergyman very early in the process of discernment and preparation which would eventually lead to my ordination in this tradition, “I have no doubt that you are qualified for Holy Orders.  What I don’t know is where we will find a place for you to serve.”  This way of thinking runs counter to the principle by which I have lived my life and carried out my ministry for more than thirty-five years.

I simply cannot believe that the inability to “find a place” for me to serve in the Anglican Communion means that there is an absence of need.  Rather, I take it to mean that there is a shortage of money.  If so, this poses something of a problem for the future of ACNA. I will have much more to say about that in my next few posts.

When One Door Closes… (Bio, pt. 3)

In 1992, I presented a series of lectures as part of the annual Leadership Seminar at Rosedale Bible College, a small, two-year Mennonite school in central Ohio. Those lectures were so well-received that, beginning in 1995, I was hired by the college to teach two courses each year on an adjunct basis. I did this for six years. In 2000, I was asked to increase my teaching load from two to six courses per year. When EAF closed in 2001, RBC increased my teaching load to eight courses per year.

I never expected to fulfill my call to vocational ministry in a Bible college classroom. I have been a pastor, and I found the experience both challenging and rewarding.  I have been a parachurch executive, and there the challenges and frustrations outweighed the rewards.  Then, for fourteen years, I was a Bible college instructor, and after a tentative beginning I came to feel very much at home in the classroom.

Indeed nothing else I have done over the course of my career has brought as much satisfaction and joy as the privilege I had to contribute to the education and spiritual formation of hundreds of students who took at least one of my courses at RBC.  I took my job as a teacher seriously and sought to increase my effectiveness in that role with each passing year.

The hard work paid off.  I am a far better teacher today than I was when I started teaching at RBC in 1995.  I think more clearly and communicate more effectively.  I also recognize that teaching is far more than merely transmitting information.  “The mediocre teacher tells,” I once read somewhere.  “The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires.”  I don’t know if I am a great teacher. But if the scores of notes and letters of appreciation, affirmation, and commendation which I received over the years are any gauge of effectiveness, I am a pretty good teacher and was an asset to RBC.

The college’s vision was to be “a center for the advancement of an engaged and evangelical Anabaptist faith.”  This cannot be realized through books and lectures alone.  It requires a model.  It demands a laboratory. I believed that our students had the right to expect some visible demonstration of the school’s vision at work in a congregational setting—a church equally committed to both evangelical orthodoxy and radical discipleship. Where would they find such a church? It would have to be planted.

As I envisioned this effort, it would have begun on the RBC campus and then, after it was well-established, it would either move to Columbus (likely the vicinity of the OSU campus) or commission a “daughter church” to take up that vision. Any Christian effort to make a significant impact on the contemporary culture will require an intentional presence in urban America. We had a major American city and the nation’s largest university on our doorstep.  What an opportunity!

Sadly, I will not be involved in the development of such a congregation, at least not under the auspices of Rosedale Bible College. May 2008 marked the end of a significant chapter in my personal and professional pilgrimage. My contract was not renewed, owing to my failure to comply with a bylaw which requires all full-time faculty to attend a Mennonite church.  As I will explain in my next post, the course of my pilgrimage in pursuit of authentic faith had brought me to a place where it was no longer possible for me, in good conscience, to comply with that requirement.  And so, after fourteen years of service as a member of the faculty, my association with Rosedale Bible College came to an end.

Never Half-Hearted (A Bit of Bio, part 1)

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.

More anon.