A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog titled “And if not, He is still good.” It was something that had been simmering on my mind and in my spirit for several weeks and I felt like it needed to be shared. This week, I wanted to share how I have tried to live this out over the past 12 years, and was really put to the test recently. Sometimes, I succeed and truly remember that He is good and worship Him as my heart is breaking from His ‘no’. But more times than not, I fail. I either get angry, play the victim, or simply withdraw from Him.
I’m going to tell you about the journey of Scott’s ordination process, which started back in 2003. I guess, I should really say his calling to pastoral ministry, which started at New Covenant Fellowship back in 1998. And to give you a heads up: this is kind of a long story, but I promise there’s a point.
One Sunday evening service at NCF, our pastor, Bro. Lester Robinson, gave an altar call for those being called into ministry. Scott found himself up at the altar. Then Bro. Lester and my dad both prayed the exact same prayer over him at different times, about Scott accepting his call to ministry. Needless to say, Scott was pretty shook up.
Later that night, he called me at my dorm room at Judson College and asked me what I thought. I told him I had always felt called to be a pastor’s wife. My childhood pastor’s wife, Sister Fern Ronsisvalle, actually prophesied that over me at my Missionette Honor Star banquet back when I was about 11 or 12. I was so thrilled that God had finally broken through to Scott and revealed that He had big plans for him… just different than what he had planned for himself!
Scott went into youth ministry, just as a youth leader at first. Then he became the associate youth pastor to Brett Self, one of our very best friends who was a mentor and a great example of a youth pastor. When Brett got called to another church, Scott was hired as the full-time youth pastor at NCF. And so it began…
We were there for a year in that position and loving life. We were still riding high from the summer mission trip with the students, when Scott said that he felt God calling him into the Methodist church. I specifically said, “No, He is not.” But, Scott was right, which happens way too often! It drives me crazy!
Scott took the youth pastor position at Taylor Memorial UMC in Clay. That was the first Methodist church for us to be a part of. I learned alot there. I learned that the Apostle’s Creed was indeed a creed and not just a Rich Mullins song. I learned the Doxology and the Gloria Patri. I learned of Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Maundy Thursday. I saw my first ‘Order of Worship’ bulletin.
Although Scott was the youth pastor, he wrestled with the idea of being a ‘grown-up’ pastor in the Methodist church. We weren’t too keen on the whole idea of itinerancy, where the pastors get moved around to different churches. We were contemporary worship people (that’s really all I had known my entire life), so I was not a fan of traditional worship at all. And there was the big, long, drawn-out process of becoming ordained. Scott was already 29 years old. He was going to have to finish his undergrad degree, get a seminary degree, plus many other steps to become fully ordained. He felt as though by the time he was finally ordained, he would be too old to be effective. That thought really cracks me up now, but it is something that really troubled him. But one thing stood out. Even in the very beginning, he could preach. People always seemed to be moved or challenged when he shared God’s Word. I always kept those words of encouragement and affirmation tucked away to share with Scott whenever I felt like he was starting to doubt himself and his calling and lose confidence.
We were at Taylor Memorial for 2 years, when Scott took a position at Pell City FUMC. There is where we met Reverend Mark Parris. He took a special interest in Scott, and that is where Scott took his first steps towards being a pastor. He went through Candidacy (a time of exploration to the call of ministry) in 2005 with Bro. Mark’s guidance. He also took Scott to Asbury Theological Seminary for a visit, where Scott did choose to go a few years later.
Two years later, Scott had another one of those moments where he felt like God was calling him somewhere else. But this time, it was to Northwest Tennessee, where he is from. Again, I told him, “No, He did not.” And again, he was right! Ugh! But God knew exactly what He was doing by calling us there.
Scott took a full-time youth pastor position at FUMC Union City. Although it was the county seat, it was quite small to me, who had been a Birmingham girl her entire life. You had to drive an hour to get to a mall! Scott thought that was a blessing 🙂
Besides living close to Scott’s parents, which was a blessing, God had our paths cross with some of the kindest, most genuine, and most generous people. Two of those people are Bill and Carol Latimer. They went to our church. Scott had never finished his undergraduate degree. Mr. Latimer saw potential in Scott, plus he also has a heart for young pastors, so he helped fund Scott’s undergraduate education. I know God brought us to Tennessee to help equip Scott with the necessary tools he would need to become a fully ordained pastor. I just didn’t know that at first.
While Scott was working on his undergraduate degree, Dr. David Russell encouraged Scott to go through local licensing school, so he could do more things at our church. Once he became a licensed local pastor, he could preach, serve communion, officiate weddings, and baptize (only in the church he was appointed to). So he finished local licensing school in 2009 and was appointed back to FUMC Union City as associate pastor. He was still youth pastor, but also was responsible for other aspects of adult ministry.
In 2010, armed with an undergrad degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin, and a local pastor license, Scott entered into seminary at Asbury. We went to a Preview Weekend there and absolutely fell in love. You could truly feel the presence of God there in every building. And the people seemed to genuinely care that you find your calling and place of schooling, regardless of whether you chose Asbury or not.
Scott is not one who just loves school. Some people just aren’t cut out for it. He’d much rather be outside cutting down trees, fishing, or shooting something instead being in a classroom, reading a book, or stuck inside writing a paper. So to go back to school to get his Master of Divinity degree was a big sacrifice for him. But he saw it through and graduated in 2014. I was so proud of him. During that time, he was actually appointed to 2 different churches and moved from Tennessee to Alabama, but still finished his classes while taking on new responsibilities at different churches.
So at this point, he had gone through many steps towards being an ordained pastor in the Methodist church. He had gone through Candidacy, undergraduate studies, local licensing school, and seminary. The next steps are specific to the ordination process. He had to write a paper of over 20,000 words answering 26 questions, each dealing with topics about theology and doctrine, spiritual discipline, and his testimony. If your papers are good, then you proceed to the next step, which is a series of intense interviews with ordained pastors and lay people, who decided on whether you are fit to be a provisional elder (pastor).
Some people start this process before they are done with their seminary degree, but he waited so as to not get stretched too thin. So back in the fall of 2014, he wrote all the papers. He had people review them, including me. But he didn’t make it. His papers weren’t sufficient enough to pass him along to the next step. And I was ANGRY.
I was angry for many reasons:
- He (we) have invested a lot of time and money in the Methodist church.
- He’s called to be a preacher, not a writer.
- I always hear the Methodist church is desperate for young pastors. And here they are shutting one down.
- He had already been a pastor for many years and was effective. Couldn’t they see that?
- I had been one of the people who had reviewed his papers. I thought they were honest and well-thought out answers. Why would his papers not pass?
- I have been Scott’s cheerleader and biggest fan, always encouraging him on in ministry, reminding him that he is indeed called to be a pastor. Now with this, I just knew it would knock the breath out of him and I’d have to build him right back up again. And I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to build him back up after this.
But Scott was much more gracious about the whole thing than I was. He might have been somewhat ‘ticked’ for a day, but then he just let it go. Me on the other hand, not so much. I held on to that anger and pride for a long time. I’d let it go for a little bit, and then I’d grab that resentment back up and hold on tight, like a security blanket. Isn’t it strange how sometimes the things that are the absolute worst for us is what we hold on to so tightly? It might be absolutely destroying us, but because it’s what we know and are comfortable with, we’ll hold on to it for dear life. Anger and pride were truly eating away at my relationship with God, and I did nothing about it for several months.
So a year later, fall of 2015, he rewrote the papers for the second time. I was in Honduras on a mission trip when he wrote them. When I got back, I reviewed them once again, feeling aggravated that I even had to do this again. Not aggravated at Scott, but at the Methodist church and God.
This time, Scott passed, but only by the hair of his chinny-chin-chin. My interpretation of the phone call that he shared with me was, “Well, your papers weren’t that great, but you’re invited to the interview retreat. We think it will be extremely difficult for you to pass.” Well, of course, that answer did not help my anger or pride issues at all! But Scott still seemed to have much more grace and patience about this whole thing than I did.
The interviews were last month, in March, the weekend following the last blog I posted. He did his part to prepare. Re-read his papers, studied, prayed, sought God… everything I would think one would do in preparation for a very important interview. But I was preparing as well, and didn’t even realize it.
At the time, I was a part of an intense discipleship program, which was a month long. We had to wake up at 5:30 am and read scripture, write in a prayer journal, serve the church for 2 more hours a week than what you usually do, tithe, meet with the group weekly, and have a daily random act of kindness. And right in the middle of this program was Scott’s interview. God had it perfectly timed.
As I was writing the last blog about ‘And if not, He is still good’, I knew the interview was on the horizon. And I had to put that very statement into practice. ‘And if Scott does not pass the interview, He is still good.’ But this time, I was no longer angry. I was no longer prideful. I truly meant it. If he didn’t pass, I knew God was still good. I knew God still had a plan for the Smyths. I know this change of attitude and mindset was possible because of the time I was spending with the Lord due to the discipleship group I was a part of. Those early morning moments helped me truly let go of the resentment that had taken root in my heart. He even reminded me of a statement our very first pastor (Bro. Lester) shared with us in a book he gave us during our pre-marital counseling. “God has great things in store for you. Love, Lester 5/23/99”. I actually keep it up on our refrigerator now.
The closer you are walking with the Lord, the easier it is to say and mean that ‘He is still good’. By ‘walking with the Lord’, I’m talking about seeking His face rather than His hand. And it makes all the difference. I mentioned previously that my girls really got me to thinking about this when they seemed to ‘turn up the love’ when they got things they wanted. They were seeking my hand, rather than seeking me. But I found the other day a sweet letter Elsie wrote me a few years back. She wasn’t seeking my hand, she was seeking me. Please pardon the run-on sentence and misspelled words 🙂
“I love that you are my mother and when I am not with you, I think I’ll have butterflys and when I hold your hand, the butterflys go away and Tinkerbelle paints them blue and red and I wish that you were my teacher so we can be together and when you pick me up I will be abble to stay in your classroom untill your classroom is ready and I will be with you for hours and hours… – Elsie
That’s what God wants – for us to spend ‘hours and hours’ with Him. I know we may not have hours and hours to sit and pray and read our Bible every day, but we can absolutely include Him in every part of our day. And when you do, it’s amazing how different the things of this world seem to affect you. I’m not saying the bad things stop, but I recognize much quicker that someone is holding my hand through the bad things. And sometimes, when hand holding isn’t enough, He actually picks me up and carries me… He is that good.
So what happened with the interview? Well, I’m happy to share that Scott did pass the interviews. But we both had come to the place that ‘if not, He is still good.’ We knew that regardless of the outcome, as long as we are seeking His face, we would indeed see His goodness and know that His plans are indeed perfect.
So this time, God said yes. And it’s kinda funny – as I was going over the story of Scott’s journey to ordination, I realized that a couple of times, God was the one saying ‘yes’ while I was saying ‘no’. But regardless of whether His answer is a ‘yes’, a ‘no’, or a ‘hold on’, He is still good.