The Short Version
I’ve been a Christian all my life. Raised in the church by godly parents, I accepted Christ at a young age. But at 12 years old, I became convicted that I wasn’t living the way I should, so I rededicated my life to Christ and have been serious about following Him ever since. After 5 years of arguing with God, I finally overcame my fears of public attention and got baptized. I served in worship and college ministry throughout my late teens and early twenties, feeling called to full-time ministry while attending Central Michigan University. After graduating and getting married, I went to Dallas Seminary and quickly found my interests shift to academic ministry. During my time there my beliefs were challenged like never before, and it took time to reorient myself on questions of Scripture, the Church, and more. Now I’m back in Michigan learning to put my new passions, skills, and knowledge to service in the local church as I work to discover where God wants me to land.
And now for the less-short version.
Part 1: Childhood
I’ve never known life apart from God. I grew up hearing His stories, singing His songs, and living among His people, and I absolutely loved it. Church was the highlight of my week. I couldn’t tell you when I started believing in God because I was too young to know what doubt was. God was a glorious given.
One evening I was sitting outside with my mom when she explained that my sin separated me from God and I needed His forgiveness. I think I was only 4 years old at the time, but I did so immediately! I loved God and didn’t want anything getting between us. I asked Jesus into my heart right there in a short prayer.
For the next few years I continued relishing church—especially choir—and prided myself on knowing all the answers in Sunday School. I was blessed with great teachers all along the way who marked me in seemingly small but important ways. I was bold and matter-of-fact about Christ with my neighborhood friends, and many of them were receptive the way kids often are. I also had a keen sense of God’s presence, that He was always there with me.
Part 2: The Events of 1995
Nothing really changed until I was 12 years old. I had gotten into a fight with one of my best friends, and I remember being so angry with him I wanted to cuss him out. But I knew that was wrong—I’d learned that lesson quickly at a young age with the help of some Dial. So since I couldn’t say the words, I thought I could get away with writing them down. It was so gratifying! That is, until I felt this sudden, intense pang of guilt. I heard in my heart “Do you realize what you’re doing?” almost as though it were coming from somewhere else, like God was talking to me (almost). I was instantly convicted that I hadn’t been taking God seriously. Jesus had been my childhood buddy for too long; I needed to give Him the honor and submission He deserved as my King.
This desire to follow Christ put me on a strange path. What does it look like to be completely sold-out for Christ? My childish imagination mixed with Sunday School theology, as I worked to believe hard enough for God to radically change my life.
That was a frustrating enterprise.
I prayed and searched and really believed, but nothing changed. So one day I sat down in my back yard, particularly discouraged that my project wasn’t bearing fruit. And I prayed asking God that if all things were truly possible with faith He would give me a sign. I thought up three outlandish signs and said “amen.” Then they happened.
They actually happened.
I was stunned, numb all over. I was in awe of this great God who loved a clueless nobody kid enough to say so. My confidence in the power of faith grew, but I finally realized praying for superpowers wasn’t what God had in mind.
Part 3: Life as a Teenager
Soon after, I went through a painful relocation, feeling as though I was being ripped away from everything I knew and loved. I had been happy and thriving in Metro Detroit for 8 years, but now I found myself in rural Michigan feeling completely alone. As my family faced some unexpected hard times, I retreated inward and became something of a monk in a monastery, depending on God more than ever. Even church became a chore as I didn’t connect with any of my peers and the body soon began going through one of many informal splits. I spent my time sitting in my room and walking in the forest, all the while talking with God, trying to make sense of things, journaling, and beginning to write songs.
It was a painful time, and I was so lonely I wanted to die. I believed I was going to heaven and I didn’t see the point of waiting, but I never had the will to act on it. Depression set in. It would be many years before I would be free again, but now I look back at those difficult years and see some of the richest times I ever had with God.
Part 4: College and Ministry
Things began to change for me late in high school when I finally went forward to be baptized. From the time I was saved at 4 years old I knew I had to be baptized, but I was horribly afraid of standing up in front of everyone. I had fought God especially hard on this issue since I rededicated my life at 12 years old. One Sunday our teacher asked us if we were holding out on God, so I confessed this issue to the class and they prayed for me. With their support I knew I had no excuses. Being raised Baptist I had heard over and over that baptism doesn’t do anything to you, but I felt something change. If nothing else I know that the act of stepping out in faith changed me, and the end of that rebellion brought me closer to God.
Until this time I had helped out behind the scenes, but soon after I found myself in more prominent roles of service. It began with worship music, starting on bass guitar, then acoustic and singing. Then almost by accident I found myself helping to lead our college ministry, and as leaders left over the years I assumed more and more responsibility until it was completely under my care. I also taught the youth Sunday School for two years after their teacher stepped down. (There I learned quite a bit about what not to do, and I’m grateful for those patient students!) There were other responsibilities here and there, but these are the three that shaped me the most. I have always loved serving others, and teaching drove me deeper into God’s Word than ever.
But this season had its own difficulties. During my first year one of my best friends walked away from the faith, and that devastated me. She would turn out to be one of many close friends of mine who left the church, which fueled my interest in apologetics. I began to go beyond the Bible to study theology as theology for the first time, sure that I could find some way to prove to her that Christianity was true, to overcome her doubts. I eventually realized that there was no fool-proof argument. You can’t get by without trust. I soon decided that if I had to trust the Bible to make sense of Christianity, I would. I chose to submit to God’s Word, to place it beyond my criticism.
Part 5a: Seminary
My decision to go to seminary actually came when I was still new to ministry, toward the end of my second year of college. I had been trying to discern a career path for months, and after another one of our outreach events I realized that there was no job that could compare with a life of serving others. I felt sure God was calling me to ministry, and I decided right then to go to Dallas Seminary, where a man that had so influenced my parents had been trained. Looking back I see that it was wrong-headed to think one had to choose between a career and a ministry—every career is a ministry. But I don’t doubt this was part of God’s calling me to full-time service.
In 2008, I moved to Texas with my bride of almost two years. Jenny and I met in college and were friends for a few years before we dated. She stood out to me as a woman of character and diligence, someone I admired and wanted to emulate. I fell in love as we served together and competed with each other, and soon we were married. Seminary turned out to be a huge blessing to our marriage as I rested from ministry and learned to give her the priority she deserved during my rigorous studies. She knew I had been over-committed, but I just thought I was giving everything to Jesus. At my busiest, I was leading the college ministry, teaching there twice a week, co-leading the worship team and playing every Sunday, and leading two small groups on worldview curriculum, on top of attending a weekly Bible study. And this while working a full-time job.
Like I said, getting away was a HUGE blessing.
Not having a dedicated college track, I had chosen an emphasis in teaching systematic theology thinking it would be the next best thing, but I quickly found myself drawn to the thought of being a professor instead. I fell in love with philosophy, which I had always thought was an enemy of the faith. By the end I would also develop my passions for cultural studies and history.
Our daughter joined the family toward the end of seminary, demanding all the time and attention babies do, but giving us lots of joy in return. If seminary was a race, I sprinted the first few laps and slowly jogged to the finish. I had been marked by scores of godly men and women, and after 4 years (120 credits), I rushed through a master’s thesis and signed on for doctoral work.
After a year of some of the toughest and most fantastic study I’ve ever had, I decided that if I wanted to be a professor then staying at DTS wasn’t the most strategic move. I needed more connections, new perspectives, new challenges. I had to be the very best to compete for such a difficult position.
But as I left school I felt God working on my heart, challenging my motives, forcing me to slow down and reassess. Could I really compete in the difficult world of academia? What would be best for my family? Was I spiritually ready for the next leg of the journey? I decided I needed to take a break from study and spend more time in ministry, making use of what had already been entrusted to me.
Part 5b: Megachurch
Even though I spent most of my 6 years in Dallas at the seminary, church warrants its own mention. I’d gotten conflicting advice about whether to serve or take a break while at school, so I took a break from teaching and continued serving in music.
As a college leader, I early discovered Andy Stanley and bought into that general mindset of ministry. I wanted a church that was more than what I grew up with, one that strove for quality, that was seeker-friendly, that was active in the world outside its walls. We landed at Watermark Community Church, a rather young but booming megachurch. It was welcoming, well-organized, aesthetically pleasing, and passionate about serving the community.
I spent the first few years playing bass for the Jr. High worship team, watching and learning how the leadership creatively ministered to the group that terrifies me the most. Eventually, I was invited to join the main service team, where I was stretched even further as a musician and a worshiper. As much as I loved seminary, I find I miss my times with those artists and leaders the most. Aside from that I had the opportunity to teach a couple seminars and serve on the apologetics team.
But all the while I was struggling. Seminary was challenging my views, and I felt completely lost in church for most of my time there. I was too busy for their community groups, which I think are fantastic at what they do; if I had it to do over, I would have slowed down on school to make that a priority from the beginning. I became bitter about many things at church, critical about their theology in the worst ways. Thankfully, finding community in the worship teams and backing off from seminary to examine my heart, God brought healing.
Part 6: ???
As tempting as it is to pretend I have it all figured out, I don’t. God does. He’s the one working this story, bringing good out of things I never would have expected and directing me on paths I would never have chosen.
I don’t know if I’ll ever become a professor, but I still think I would like to get my doctorate. God has called me to teach, and I’m coming to believe that doctoral studies will help no matter what the venue.
I don’t know if that means I’ll be a pastor. I feel called to serve and equip, but I have a lot to learn about the daily functions of a church and what it means to represent Christ as shepherd. As long as I can serve with my gifts and passions, the money and titles don’t really matter to me.
What I do know is West Michigan is my new home, West Cannon Baptist Church is our new family, and God is doing exciting things. He’s at work in the big and the small, from the grand stage of smoke and lights to the kitchen sink; there is no part of us—no part of the world, past or future—beyond His care. And my hope is that in sharing this glimpse into my story you’ll be encouraged as you reflect on your own. God is working there, too.