When I was 21, about to enter my senior year of college, I came home to Oregon for the summer to work construction and save money for my final year. My undergraduate major was biblical studies, with an emphasis in biblical languages, and my career track was pretty set in my mind. I sensed a strong call to be a preacher, and I had been receiving escalating affirmation from those around me toward that end. I figured it would be a good idea to seek some sort of ministerial credentialing, so I applied for a “license to preach” from the church network with which my home church was affiliated.
The process was pretty straight-forward. I took a few tests, filled out paperwork, and submitted recommendation forms from a number of people who could attest to my character and sense of calling. The final aspect of the process was a credentialing interview. I was told I needed to travel to Dallas to interview with a semi-retired pastor who was now a leader in the church network. I was kind of excited at the prospect of checking out the home city of the Mavericks and Cowboys, but then I found out that my interview was in Dallas, Oregon not Dallas, Texas.
The interview was pretty basic. He asked me a number of questions about my personal life, my sense of calling, and my education. He grilled me a bit on a few technical questions that I missed on the test, in the area related to church and denominational governance. It was a good dialogue, and my respect for this wise and experienced pastor grew the longer we talked. I began to feel confident that I would make it through unscathed when he asked me a question I had no idea how to answer.
“So Andrew, we’re almost through here, but I want to ask you something about preaching.”
He could probably see me shift in my chair, as I grew more attentive and my heart rate picked up.
“You like to preach?”
“Yes sir. I love it. I really believe I’m called to preach.”
“That’s great Andrew. I just have one question for you. Do you think it is necessary to read and study your Bible outside of preparing to preach it? And if so, why?”
…….[blank look]……[furrowed brow]……[tilted head]…..[squinted eyes]……
When answering an interview question that you have no clue about, always move your head in what could either be a nod of approval or a shake of disapproval, and then phrase positive or negative responses (vaguely) as interrogatives. Don’t make it obvious, but once you see your interviewer give away his/her desired answer, commit!
I really had no idea what he wanted to hear. And frankly, I didn’t have the life experience to know there was a difference between studying the Bible to preach it and just plain studying it. After a few seconds that felt like a few minutes I recovered:
“Well, I haven’t really had a ton of opportunities to preach yet, and I’ve never been in a full-time pastoral role in that regard, but I read and study my Bible everyday, and I would think that the necessity of that wouldn’t change once I regularly preach.”
Over the course of this answer his quizzical gaze gradually softened into approval. I thought, “Phew…nailed it.”
Although it didn’t take long to figure out the appropriate answer to that question in an interview process, it has taken a number of years to see how important this topic is.
You see, I think the reason he asked me this question was because he saw a young guy who loved to preach. His concern wasn’t that I’d make it as a preacher, but that I would make it as a Christian preacher. He wanted to be assured that I would live my life as a faithful Christian.
What that wise old pastor knew is something I have been learning every day since. I must be a Christian first. I must be growing more disciplined in reading my Bible, prayer, giving, loving others, and serving, not as a means to an end but as a response to the grace of Jesus in my life. The life-long lessons that every Christian learns, pastors must learn as well.
Pastor, be a Christian first.