God of My 20’s: Understanding Connectivity

(Post #9 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger Rick Howell

I felt the call of God into the ministry at the ripe young age of 17. While I obediently began to make decisions consistent with this understanding of God’s direction for my life, I thought it was the dumbest thing God could do. I was active in a small Baptist Church that only had two staff members: a pastor and a choir director. I knew I couldn’t sing; therefore, my calling must be to be a pastor. The problem with this, from my perspective, was that there was very little that I saw my pastor do that I thought I would either be good at or enjoy. Nevertheless, to the best of my understanding I proceeded forward. After getting married, my new bride and I moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to begin my pastoral preparation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was 22 years old. Through the course of the next five years, God used a variety of circumstances to guide my journey to places I did not even know existed when Debbie and I packed the U-Haul and headed north. At a certain point in my ministerial formation, I experienced a crisis of self and faith that, I would learn one day, was complicated by my misunderstandings of myself, God, and our relationship. Fortunately, for me, Southern had an arrangement with a local counselor with whom I began to meet. This counseling relationship became a vital tool of the Holy Spirit to begin to attend to some very unhealthy dimensions of my relationship with God and with myself. This exploration of self and God was at times very painful, but also life giving. I began to experience a deepening intimacy with God that would have not been possible if I had maintained my previous perspectives. Ever so gradually, I began to wonder if my particular God-given gifts and talents were intended for a ministry of pastoral counseling rather than the pastorate. As my calling began to be clarified and focused, God’s idea originally communicated eight years earlier became much less dumb. Isn’t it interesting how that transformation occurred?

My relationship with myself and God continues to grow and become, now 32 years later. I have come to understand that God is not nearly as concerned about my productivity as my connectivity. Staying grounded to myself enhances my willingness to be connected to God as I am clearly aware of my longing for God. Staying grounded to God, being reminded of God’s deep desire to hang out with me, enables me to be honest in my self-assessment thereby improving my relationship with myself. From time to time, I experience unhealthy remnants of my immature understanding of myself and God. I get caught up in impressing God with my activity or achievement. While these vestiges continue to disrupt my journey, I am committed to my own healing. God is patient, kind, and clear as I encounter these setbacks. God’s calm voice keeps calling me back. “Be still and know that I am God.”

At the same time and as a result of God’s calling on my life, I have had the privilege of serving God by walking alongside of people who are loved by God, for whom God desperately desires healing and wholeness. Through the years I have discovered that I am not unique, as it is common for folks to need a safe relationship with whom they can explore themselves, God, and their relationship. Perhaps this familiar human journey is what The Holy Scriptures is referring to when we are told to “Work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.” Relationships (with self, God, and others) are like bottles of Ketchup. It doesn’t matter how full they look from the outside; it takes a lot of work to get anything out of them.

Hey Leader…Get Some Help

A copy of this Carey Nieuwhof book was given to me recently. Just finished reading it. Worthwhile.

I want to pass along one paragraph that may be one of the most helpful practices in the book. In chapter five entitled “Don’t Quit,” Nieuwhof lists five practices that have helped him, the founding pastor of a multi-site church near Toronto, persevere. The second practice reads:

2. Get some help. A decade ago I sat down with a counselor for the first time. Jim helped me get through some key issues, and he helped my wife, Toni, and me navigate some of the pitfalls common to couples when one is called into ministry. I’ve seen a few counselors over the last decade during different seasons and am quite sure I wouldn’t be in ministry today if it weren’t for their influence in my life. When I’ve been tempted to quit moments before a key breakthrough, my wife, prayer, wise words from others, and the help of a counselor made all the difference. I really believe God uses other people to speak to us. Interestingly enough, I don’t know of a single influential ministry leader who’s made it over the long haul who hasn’t been through some form of formal or informal counseling. My only question is why I didn’t go sooner.

Leader, consider the practice of your colleague. Get some help.

Get to the Doctor!

Psalm 19 is full, rich, and worth meditation. Verses 12-13 jumped out at me this morning.

Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins; do not let them rule me.

Did you notice the two types of sin he acknowledges? Unintentional and willful. That’s worth chewing on.

We all have a pretty good idea what our willful sins are, if we are honest. Many of them start with our tongue: slandering, gossiping, lying, or stretching the truth for our benefit. Others stay hidden from others in our minds and hearts, but they aren’t hidden to us. These types of sin are easy to address because we are aware of them.

But what about those unintentional sins? How are we supposed to address or acknowledge what we can’t see? 

May I suggest thinking of these sins as blind spots. If you were experiencing strange spots in your vision, what would you do? You’d probably go to the doctor, right? Because of his experience and knowledge, he could explain to you why your vision is spotty. 

What if the difficulty in your emotional/mental/spiritual life is hidden from your view? If you knew what it was or how to address it, you would do it, right? So when we can’t figure it out on our own, we have options similar like going to the eye doctor:

  • Pray these two verses
  • See a counselor or therapist
  • Go to church
  • Lean on a friend/mentor
  • Get connected to a small group

These are just a start. I would say that they could/should also be moved from optional status to non-optional status. If we want to stay clear of experiencing blind spots, ongoing connection with others desiring the same thing is the best place to be. Don’t wait for the blind spots to rise. Expect them. Position yourself in places where they can be seen, and you can receive the answers you cannot see for yourself. Get to the doctor!