Moving Into the Light at the End of the Tunnel [ARTICLE – Shelby Pritchard]

Moving Into the Light at the End of the Tunnel [ARTICLE - Shelby Pritchard]

An Encouragement to Fellow Young Ministers Transitioning from College to Ministry

What began as a tiny pin-point of contrast in the distance soon shone brighter and brighter as it rushed my way. The light from the end of the tunnel was at once both strange and spell-binding. At last the the light blinded the darkness, and something was placed in my hand. A pat on the back, some cursory words, and the light suddenly ceased.

I look up. There is a steady hum. That is the old, familiar ceiling fan with the camo-colored blades. Light pours out from the two working bulbs as it almost always has. I blink. I am home. Everything looks just the same as four long years before…except, it isn’t. Four years ago, I had entered the tunnel of college with a naivete and ignorance that are now gone. The journey had come full circle. I had a piece of paper to show for my efforts, but the bright lights and cheers of graduation have faded into the history books of a week gone by. Now, I am home. I may greet the personhood of sleep as a long-lost friend and may indulge, for now, in lingering fellowship with him. I may salute the friends and family of old. But I am also doing something else. I am packing. I am planning.

Ahead is a challenge bigger than any I had faced before. The boundaries are indistinct, the duties spontaneous and nebulous, and the due dates ever-changing. I am entering the real world of ministry. And life. And taxes. And bills. And hospital visits. And worst of all, cooking for myself.

I’m headed for a small Texas town. I’ll be the associate pastor, with my duties mainly dealing with running and preaching the children’s church services. Then the obligatory cleaning of everything, mowing everything, decorating everything, locking up everything, painting everything, and pretty much doing anything and everything that pops into the pastor’s mind. In addition to working a secular job to help pay the bills. It could be worse, but it also couldn’t be any better.

Because it’s exactly what God has called me to do.

As much as the tunnel of school may have felt binding and restrictive at times, it was also safe and familiar and comforting in a way. Four years of college brought an experience that I was good with. I knew what was coming, could plan for it, and sailed through the rapids of tests and assignments more smoothly than some. But ministry is uncharted territory. It is a collection of untamed wilds where new adventures, new joys, and new dangers await at every turn.

How does one prepare for that?

Well, Bible college, for one. That’s kinda what it’s there for.

Practical Ministry, Apologetics, Pastoral Responsibilities with Pastor Jason Gaddis, all of the many hours of Homiletics–those are experiences that I would not trade away. I couldn’t imagine graduating Bible college and moving into ministry without those. I feel far more comfortable, and far more equipped and confident, thanks to the preparation and training I received at Heartland.

If you, like me, are commencing new ministry endeavors, here are some tips I have recently received. Perhaps they can help you as they continue to guide me towards God’s ministry goals for my life.

Don’t Panic!

I had a recurring problem through my college years. I’d get the syllabi, organize the assignments in my calendar, and promptly freak out at all the work I’d have to do. Eventually, I’d settle down, get to work, and make it through. But you know what didn’t help that process? The panic. It crippled my ability to look at things objectively or to organize and prioritize well.

I could quote verses like II Timothy 1:7, or old axioms like Corrie Ten Boom’s “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” Or I could simply point out the fact that the word “worry” comes from an Old English word that meant “to strangle or choke.” But I don’t have to. We know panicking is a bad idea. Worry and panic are hardly praised in our churches, and sometimes, are so condemned that we may find ourselves worrying about the fact that we are worried. However, as much as we panic when we are not in control, we can also find comfort in the fact that we are not in control. Why? Because God is.

When you call a plumber to your home, you don’t stand over his shoulder telling him what to do. He’s the expert. He knows what he is doing, (You hope) even if you don’t understand, or understand in the moment. Our God is the expert in everything. He is the Lord of time and space. As much as we say that, and say it often, it’s more important to choose to act as if we believe it. It’s freeing. It’s joyful. But it also means letting go.

Be prepared.

If there was one thing I learned from Bro. Ted Inman in “Youth Philosophy II,” it was to go into church work with a plan. Why? Because it will totally impress the pastor! If he asks you to preach, have something ready. If he wants to organize a new children’s church schedule, have one in your back pocket. If he asks for a way to organize and present the church budget, have a format prepared.

For Lighthouse Baptist Church, Pastor Rasbeary was looking into beginning a children’s church series that covered the entire Bible in around two years. (No small feat!) Leaning heavily on lessons of organization from one of my Homiletics classes, I threw something together. I shot; I scored.

Of course, it’s still probably trash. It will be going through heavy revision. Yet, if nothing else, he saw that I could, and would, and did, take it seriously.

Even in the littlest things, a little preparation goes a long way. You can’t imagine the help it is to write out a detailed calendar of assignments while in college, and I hear the same is true even in full-time ministry. As busy as life may be in the first few weeks of an endeavor, carving out a portion of that time to get ready will pay huge dividends.

Embrace what God has for your future.

Be proud of where you are going. Not in the stuck-up kind of way, but in the good kind of way. If you’re working for a big-name preacher, that’s awesome! If you’re working part-time for a no-name guy in the middle of redneck country, that’s awesome!

A lot of guys that I know, myself included, fretted that we would be “stuck” going home after graduation unless we scored a position somewhere. The true downer to be stuck in would be that attitude! Your pastor back home would love to have a reliable college graduate to minister alongside him. Don’t say “I have nowhere to go,” as you do have somewhere to go…Exactly where God wants you! Did God lead you somewhere else? If not, then he wants you home. It seemed that many of the chapel preachers my senior year were men that eventually returned home to work in their home churches for a time. You know what? God still used them!

However, if the Lord did send you off somewhere, then get there and get to work with all the glee and enthusiasm of a five-year-old with a fist full of markers near the only clean, white wall in the house!

Walk with God.

This is not your cliché, cursory mention of the obvious. This is not included because of tradition or administrator request. This is the only hope you have of transitioning well!

You know what’s really easy? Pushing off devotions because you’re busy and writing it off by citing your transitional state. Meanwhile, you promise to get back to God when things settle down. The truth is things will never settle down. The days that are under the most pressure are the days you most need your God. The times you have the least amount of time for Him are the days you need to make the most time for him. When you are transitioning, you are making changes. When you make changes, you make choices. When you make choices, you need wisdom and discernment. Job 28:28 defines wisdom this way: “…Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom…”  The Lord knows the path ahead, attain to his guidance, else you become lost along life’s way.

The duties are not the end; they are the means.

In school, I placed a very high priority on finishing assignments and getting good grades. However, the mindset I took into it was one of finishing the assignment but not actually learning from it. I got good grades but came out with little personal knowledge or development. Thankfully, God worked on my heart, and the last half of my time at Heartland saw that turn around, but it was too late for many classes.

Instead of preaching just to fill a timeslot, preach to change lives. Instead of holding door knocking times to mark off streets as you visit them, hold it to see lives changed. Instead of using children’s church as an extended nursery for the older kids, use it to grow them in maturity and knowledge of the truth. Instead of hosting a VBS because you always have, get on board, and use it to develop both the workers and the kids!

The only goal for everything done at the church should be promoting Christian growth for God’s glory. If a ministry or activity becomes regular and dull, consider how to bring it fresh life. God’s people need encouragement and life, and everything the church does needs to point them toward the end of Christ-likeness.

To Conclude

Willie Stargell, a baseball player whom I know little about, did say at least one, very true thing: “Life is one big transition.”

Now, few are as radical and extreme as the shift from college to church ministry. But perhaps marriage is on the horizon, and after that, kids. You may move churches and towns several times. Maybe more times than several. Eventually, retirement, and finally, death.

That one’s kinda the end of it, but you know what I mean.

Life is always changing, so get used to it. Learn to love it. It’s nothing to fear. God is with you through it all. While you’re in college, the tunnel seems to last forever. But one day it will end, and you’ll face the big, bright, wild world beyond. Only God can truly prepare you for that moment, and the many moments that will follow, but there are a few things that he may be trying to teach you now, to ready you for that big moment. Perhaps the suggestions above are just a few of them.

Shelby Pritchard is currently working as the associate pastor at Lighthouse Baptist Church, in Wylie, TX. He graduated Heartland Baptist Bible College in 2017. Saved on the memorable date of September 11th, 2001, he felt a call to the ministry five years later at church camp. He is dating his college sweetheart, Elisabeth Rasbeary, whose father, James Rasbeary, planted Lighthouse Baptist Church back in 2000, and remains the pastor of that church to this day.

 

 

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3 Comments
  1. Excellent writing, Shelby.

  2. One thing I can see in your future, Shelby, is God using your talent for writing. You created an interest in your article immediately and held my attention throughout. It was well done.

  3. Praise the Lord for the talent that God has given you in writing well, Shelby! This has been helpful to me even now during the summer! Keep allowing God use that talent of writing for His glory!

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