If someone had told me in Jr. High that I would grow up to be a pastor, I would have gone into a corner and cried. The most clueless, out of touch people I knew were pastors. In fact, most of the Methodist pastors I’d run across were old, bald and boring.
I figured someday, by God’s grace, I would become old. I hoped I wouldn’t become bald (it wasn’t a thing back then), but I knew for a fact I could never be that boring. Intuitively, I could not imagine swallowing that much of myself to fit into some straight jacket existence as a pastor.
My Big Dream
Deeper than that, since around age 8, the BIG dream in my life was to become a marine biologist. Jacque Cousteau was my hero. (He’s worth googling.) Watching his TV specials about the ocean and its exotic life forms fascinated me.
That dream led me to choose Illinois Wesleyan for my undergraduate degree, not because it was a private, United Methodist-related school, but to fulfill my career goals.
Wesleyan offered a superior biology program which happened to include a Marine Biology course – in the Florida Keys – in January. (Score!)
Little did I know that in September of my freshman year, I would have a profound experience of the love of God and connect with a Christian group that would alter the course of my life.
Wesleyan called this student-led group a deputation team. We went to churches on Sundays and led contemporary worship services – late ‘70’s style. (Can anyone say, “Kum Ba Yah.”) Interspersed among the songs were personal testimonies of what God was doing in our lives.
It was that small group of 10 or so students that loved me, mentored me and discipled me in the Christian faith. Leading those worship services brought joy and a sense of purpose to my life.
Over the course of a couple of years, I found myself infinitely more interested in people than in Petri dishes.
However, this switch in affections brought great anxiety. The only dream I ever knew was crumbling, and I had nothing to replace it.
By the end of my sophomore year, a quiet discontent brewed within me.
Let’s freeze it right there. In this story is the beginning of a call. It’s the kind of thing God does all through Scripture.
No Pedigree Required
First, God comes to ordinary people.
- a shepherd boy like David
- a middle-aged truth-telling woman like Miriam
- a teenage peasant girl like Mary
- a carpenter like Joseph
- a hot-headed fisherman like Peter
They were not privileged or religious. There was not a spiritual pedigree in the bunch. Yet God came to them.
For reasons that still baffle me, God came to me as a freshman in college. I was clearly focused on other things. Serving God was nowhere on my radar screen. But that didn’t seem to bother God in the least. It’s like he knew something I didn’t know.
Placed in Families
Second, God gave me a community.
That group of 10 or so students patiently took my experience of God and helped establish me in the faith. They patiently endured my ceaseless questions and teenage immaturity.
In a word, they loved me.
Scripture says, “God places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6 NLT). That’s what I needed. Left to myself, I would have washed out as a follower of Christ and surrendered to purely selfish pursuits. I know would have.
But God had other plans. My experience of God’s personal love and the practical love of this small group laid the foundation for a radical change in my life’s direction.
This is how God works in countless lives.
Have you ever had a time when it felt like God came close?
Maybe you heard someone talking and you felt a twinge in your heart. You knew those words were for you. Or perhaps in the middle of a really dark time you sensed someone say, “It’s going to be OK.” Or maybe as you watched a sunset on the beach or walked through a mountain pass, you felt overwhelmed by a sense of beauty and peace.
Have you ever shared that experience with anyone?
God comes to ordinary people, every day, often when we least expect it. The trick is to notice God’s presence and talk with a few other people about it – people who will love you. You might be surprised by where that could lead.
But I’ll talk more about that next time.
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A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as the lead pastor of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the Midwest. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role with Spiritual Leadership, Inc (SLI).
Roger now comes alongside pastors, non-profit leaders and their leadership teams as an executive coach, specializing in leadership that inspires change. As a side gig, he loves teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.
Other passions of his include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, Krispy Kremes, board games with family and friends, and traveling in different cultures. He also has a weakness for golf.
Roger is the author of three books, Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith, Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For, and Come Back Participant Guide, all through Abingdon Press.
Now for the best part. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross. Leanne grew up around Bloomington, Illinois where the two of them now reside. God has blessed them with two adult children, a son-in-law, several tropical fish, and one adorable granddog.