Nothing like asking the new guy to write a blog post when he hasn’t even figured out how to retrieve his voicemail yet!
If you would have told this dude (the lead singer is the cooler, thinner guy I used to be) that 15 years later he’d be a seminary professor, unbridled laughter may have been the response. At that point in 1999, I had dropped out of college deferred my undergraduate studies at Trevecca Nazarene University and was living the rock-and-roll dream. (Actually, to quote Matt Foley, it was more like “living in a van down by the river.”)
But let me back up. I am a PK (that’s “pastor’s kid,” to the uninitiated). My dad was a PK too! And his brothers are all pastors. (You think it might run in the family…?) Growing up, my dad pastored churches in Ohio, Oklahoma and Tennessee. It was at a Nazarene campmeeting in Dickson, Tennessee that I said an unqualified “yes” to God and felt a call into some kind of ministry. But I had have enough of a teenage rebellious streak that I hoped that calling didn’t require me to follow in my dad’s footsteps of pastoral ministry in the local church. I didn’t want to just go work for “the family business,” so to speak. (Maybe it wasn’t as “unqualified” a “yes” as I thought.)
So, since I had a little music thing going already, I thought, well, my Christian band is a way of fulfilling this call to ministry…Great! I don’t have to be a pastor! I wrote songs and made a couple albums and travelled the country, and it was fun. But at a certain point, the allure of the road lost out to the allure of “real jobs” and marriage for my bandmates and me, and our merry band disbanded. So, what next?
Back to school I went. The first time around it was for music, but since I’d “been there, done that” in a “career” that didn’t really care if I even had a degree, this time it was to study English literature. Some of my most significant influences were my Christian university professors, and so I thought, well, being a professor at a Christian college is a way of fulfilling this call to ministry…Great! I don’t have to be a pastor!
While at Trevecca, I met, fell in love with and married Gloria, who grew up mostly in the parsonages of Wesleyan churches. Gloria is an amazing singer, worship leader, mentor, mother, wife and friend, and I suspect the church we are now leaving to come to Wesley Seminary put up with me for nearly 7 years just because they liked Gloria so much. When we said “til death do us part,” we really had no idea what we were signing up for. But do we ever, really, when we say “yes” to our spouse, or to God?
After considering several seminaries and graduate programs, we decided that the Center for Literature, Theology and the Arts at the University of Glasgow in Scotland sounded like a good option and a fun place to live for a year. But a one-year master of theology led to a highly competitive Overseas Research Student scholarship to fund my proposed doctoral research on sacraments, postmodern theology and contemporary literature, so that one year became four!
Fast-forward to the summer of 2007: we moved back to the USA with a 3-month-old son (Andrew Scott, named for the patron saint of Scotland), a half-finished PhD thesis, and no job. I went through a round of academic job applications, but couldn’t deny the “pull” toward full time ministry. My graduate studies had brought clarity that my driving concerns were theological and ecclesiological, and not merely academic. So I said another “yes” to God: Fine. If you want me to be a pastor, I’ll be a pastor. In short order, I received and accepted a call to serve as worship pastor at the Church of the Nazarene in Xenia, Ohio – a congregation where I have deep roots on my mom’s side of the family.
It has been an immense privilege for these past 7 years to be part of the story God is writing through this congregation’s life and ministry. They supported me as I finished my PhD in 2010 and gave generously to send us to Scotland for graduation when we couldn’t afford it. They encouraged my pursuit of ordination and celebrated with us when that journey was brought to completion in 2011. They’ve cared for and loved our family as a second (Joseph, b. 2009) and then a third (Cecilia, b. 2011) child entered our household.
They’ve taught us the value of ministry to the elderly and those with mental and physical challenges. They’ve shown us grace as we’ve tried and failed in ministry, and as we’ve tried and succeeded. They are a people who respond to Christ’s invitation to gather at His table every Sunday, and who take up the basin and towel to wash one another’s feet on Maundy Thursday, as Christ did. They have blessed us with their funerals and baptisms and weddings and baby dedications. They have been the perfect “school” not only to teach me to be a pastor, but also to prepare me (insofar as one is ever really “prepared”) to now serve a wider array of local congregations as a seminary professor, helping equip pastors for ministry.
When I came to interview for the job at Wesley Seminary, I was very ambivalent. We often misuse that word as a synonym for indifferent, but it really means to have simultaneously conflicting feelings. I got my PhD so I could become a professor someday, but I was also loving being a pastor and a worship leader. In fact, for several years, I’d been telling people I had my “dream job”: I get to play music and lead worship, be a pastor, teach classes, write, publish, go to conferences…what else could I ask for?
But the pivotal moment was when I expressed this to the faculty – how much I love my church and love being a pastor – and they told me, “See, this is why we like you. We want professors who are pastors first, and who love pastors and love the local church.” I was sold. I’ve met far too many pastors over the years who bemoan just how little seminary actually prepared them for parish ministry. Often, their professors were great scholars but lousy churchmen. I am committed to living within the tension between the academy and the local church. If that’s the kind of seminary Wesley at IWU intends to be, then it’s the kind of place I want to be.
I am grateful for the opportunity to join an amazing faculty (it’s like being asked to join The Avengers or something!) and to serve the students of Wesley Seminary. Thanks for reading and getting to know me a bit, and I look forward to getting to know you, face-to-face and online!