Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Call: Misinterpreted or Misguided?

"I had just had my car filled up with gas and enjoyed a marvelously rich conversation with the pump attendant. As I turned the key...a thought suddenly hit me with the force of an avalanche: This man was the first person I had spoken to in a week who was not a church member. I was in danger of being drawn into a religious ghetto.
Urged on all sides to see that, because I had come to faith, my future must lie in the ministry. I had volunteered to work in a well-known church for nine months - and was miserable. To be fair, I admired the pastor and the people and enjoyed much of the work, but it just wasn't me. My passion was to relate my faith to the exciting and exploding secular world of early 1960s Europe, but there was little or no scope for that in ministry. Ten minutes of conversation with a friendly gas pump attendant...and I knew once and for all that I was not cut out to be a minister." - Os Guinness from The Call

Using the wayback machine, let's rewind to the year 1990. I had finished my BFA and had plans to pursue my MFA. My goal was to teach art on the college level while pursuing that elusive dream of being the next "big" artist. At the time, I was also wrestling with the notion that God was calling me into full-time ministry. Now, I never heard of God calling anyone to become a rock star or a millionaire or even the next "big" artist, so I figured if God was calling me, it had to be to full-time ministry. It wasn't the first time I had felt the call either. In the early 80s I felt a similar calling. Other than making a public commitment to that end at a college retreat, the issue was dropped like a hot potato. But, here it was again, rearing it's unwelcome head into my supposedly concrete future.
What happened next is a mish-mash of events that only God and video camera could keep straight. In a nutshell, I was turned down by every grad school I applied for. This, to me, was unbelievable. I was an award-winning student at my school. I won a national competition sponsored by the Binney-Smith Corporation which yielded me $500 worth of art supplies and my name printed in Art in America magazine. Grad schools did not turn down artists of my calibre. But here it was happening to me. In frustration, I moved to Alabama to apply for Auburn University's art school. Surely they wouldn't turn me down. When the time came for me to be admitted, I was turned down flat. In a meeting with one of the faculty, I was told the reason for my rejection was because, "We can't teach you anything." On one hand, that made me feel good but on the other, I basically just wanted someone to give me a studio, a little guidance, and most importantly, that all-powerful piece of paper that said MFA on it. At this point, I didn't know where to turn.
Around this same time, the college minister at my home church must have sensed what I was going through. He actually knew more than I did. He somehow knew that I was receiving a call. He also knew that I had no idea what to do about it. So, he personally took me to Nashville for the Creative Ministries Festival at Two Rivers Baptist Church. At this festival, I caught my first glimpse of artists using their talents for God. I can't describe how I felt. It was amazing. I watched every performance and took every class that I could fit in. I listened to folks lecture about faith and the arts and I felt like I was home. It was at this festival that I first saw "The Company," the drama team that I would eventually spend two years with. I was so inspired by the experience that my college minister/friend and I put together a college Christmas musical in the car on the way back and performed it the next month for our church.
Eventually, I gave in to the call. I remember telling my college minister/friend about it on the way to the beach one day. He smiled and said he knew it was coming. I went forward at church and let it be known that I was surrendering to a call into full-time ministry. People that I had known all my life filed by after the service and hugged my neck and told me that they knew God's hand was on my life. I made plans to go to seminary and by 1992 I was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Now, what has all of this got to do with the quote from Mr. Guinness? Alot. About all I knew was that I wanted to use my artistic talents for the Lord but seminary? God help me. I didn't want to go. With my application, I sent a picture of me with my long hair knowing full well that they wouldn't allow a hippy to attend their fine institution. They did. What I'm trying to say is, I wanted to serve God but I didn't want to go to seminary...but that's what you I did.
There were moments of great joy but they were few and far between. I was miserable there. In fact, I went through an extremely bad bout of depression while I was at seminary. I actually prayed for God to kill me. But I persevered and eventually graduated and continued to serve the Lord as best as I could. There were moments of great joy but, overall, it was a grandly frustrating experience.
My point to all this, and I do have one, is that a call from God does not necessarily mean jumping into full-time ministry. I know that now. I did not know that then. I followed my heart and the well-meant advice of others and did what I thought was right. Perhaps it was the right thing at the time. Perhaps it was not. All I know is that I wish I had experienced an encounter with a gas attendant like Mr. Guinness had. I wish I had experienced a revelation that I was not cut out to be a minister. Or at least a revelation of what exactly it was that God wanted me to do.
Many are called, and perhaps all are, but each call must be interpreted with that individual in mind. Some are cut out for full-time ministry. Others are not. And just because you are not in full-time ministry doesn't mean you can't serve the Lord. I know that now.
I wish I had known that then.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the story, Marty. I'm so interested to hear how you received your call. I know the grad school rejections and the affirmations of people around you and the experience of the Creative Ministries Festival were all a part of it, but I'm wondering about the thoughts and emotional impressions that ran through your mind in the decision making process. While I don't want to just say "there was a reason" (I have own my own desert wanderings that lead me to say "I wish I had known"), the faith is that all things work together for good.

And just for the fun of it, what does the call look like for you now?

becca said...

I relate to your story... What else was I to do after receiving a call into ministry? Everyone who talked to me encouraged me to go to seminary. It's just what you do. And I was so depressed much of my time there. I think it has almost been harder since graduating though. There's no neat little title/hole for me to fit into. God does call artists, and He does have a plan for them, but it sometimes seems like I'm walking in the dark trying to find the path.