Introducing a new writer for the blog: Jeremy Bouma
Two years ago, I was assessed to plant a church with a national denomination. During my assessment they asked me two questions that continue to hover just over my shoulder: “Why do you believe that God has called you to the ministry? What were the formative events that led you to this conclusion?”
Why ministry? What led you to ministry?
Consider these questions yourself, whether you’re a lead pastor, director of student ministries, small group leader, or passionate marketplace evangelist. Before continuing with my story, what’s the why and what of your story in ministry?
I’ve been sitting with these questions quite a bit lately. Really, since graduating with my Master of Divinity two years ago as I’ve struggled to understand where God is taking me in ministry.
Before I get to these questions let me first of all say, “Hi!” My name is Jeremy Bouma. Nice to meet you.
I am currently pastoring a church in Muskegon, Michigan, after completing the Master of Divinity (Church Planting/Development) and Master of Theology (Historical Theology) programs at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. I was fortunate enough to meet and then (ten months later) marry the most amazing woman on the planet, Melinda. I was born and raised in West Michigan, fled after graduating from Cedarville University (with a BA in Political Science) to Washington, D.C. (where I worked as an aide and later pastor to politicians), and somehow found myself back home again thanks to Grand Rapids’s Death Star-esque tractor beam. Along the way I’ve written a few books and I try to regularly blog at www.novuslumen.net.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me start with question two: What were the formative events that led me to the conclusion that I was called to ministry?
Well, I could point to several episodes, beginning with my childhood. Like most kids I had a vivid imagination and could spend hours pretending I was this or that. Unlike most kids I would pretend I was a pastor, complete with a stuffed animal congregation (that never dozed off during my sermons!) and little bulletins created using a Christmas-gifted typewriter. So I could point to that episode. Then during years 11, 12, and 13, I used leftover lesson material from our traveling Vacation Bible School missionary to run my own neighborhood VBS operation from my basement—complete with cool Bible verse memory prizes and flannel graph.
I might point to my teenage experience preaching and leading singing in my church’s jail ministry as a bonafide ministry calling event. (I still have the NIV Study Bible Ken Pelton, the director of that ministry, gave me from the trunk of his car as a reminder of this formative ministry calling event.)
College was pretty dry as far as ministry forming events goes: I wasn’t a Bible major but a Political Science major, which is about as opposite as you can get, and never caught the ministry bug like some of my Bible college friends. After college, though, is when I experienced the most significant formative event to my calling.
Six weeks after graduating from college with my PoliSci degree in tote, I set out from Grand Rapids to Washington. Thanks to my parents aging, sagging Plymouth Voyager, I arrived safe and sound with every one of my earthly possessions. I had a 4 month apartment lease, $1,000 in my bank account, and a whole can full of young adult ambition. Miracle upon miracle, I found an internship with a Senator from Montana and later stumbled into a staffer position with a Senator from Ohio. I was all set to stamp my Jesus-mark on Congress, by golly!
As one can imagine, it was quite an experience to work for Congress. I intended to be a political lifer, but God had other plans. Through a series of events I found myself working for a unique ministry, the Center for Christian Statesmanship, a non-partisan, non-political organization. Think Cru for politicians and their staff. In my ministry role, I had the privilege of delivering Bibles to Members of Congress and meeting with them for prayer. I spent most of my time, though, with the 23,000+ mostly twentysomething staffers that help run our country. And I got to walk through—and sometimes catalyze—the spiritual and life journeys of a handful of male staffers. Forget congressmen; these relationships were most important and memorable.
This experience was a foundational, formative calling event, a sandbox where I first learned how to do this thing called ministry. I grew in my calling as an “undershepherd” to the Chief Shepherd, as my friend John Frye says in his book, Jesus the Pastor—a highly recommended read for anyone in pastoral ministry. And I learned that ministry equals discipleship, because it’s all about people. On Capitol Hill, of all places, I was called to and prepared for a future in ministry.
Through another series of events I returned to my hometown to pursue seminary. Shortly after I returned God brought me to a wonderful small church outside Grand Rapids where I learned what it means to be devoted to a group of people as an undershepherd. After graduating with my MDiv I pursued planting a church, which fizzled—a ministry disappointment I may explore in a future post or two. I continued with the ThM program in historical theology, because I care deeply about helping a new generation rediscover the historic Christian faith. A few months ago a church invited me as their interim pastor. And each day I continue to feel my way forward in the cloudy fog of ministry.
But isn’t that the case for us all, professional ministry or not? Whether you’re a small group leader, a MOPS volunteer, a youth pastor, a director of your church’s jail ministry, or lead teaching pastor, aren’t you also feeling your way forward?
That’s why I’m excited for this opportunity to serve at the Engaging Church blog. We’re all feeling our way forward, we’re all searching for something that will help us along in our individual ministry callings to make disciples and teach people to obey everything that King Jesus has commanded. (Matt. 28:19-20) And sometimes we just need someone to acknowledge that fog, name that fog, and hand out a squeegee to wipe away it’s residue so we can see more clearly.
I can’t promise to offer stellar insights or solve your ministry woes. But what I can promise is to talk about my own experiences in a way I hope will encourage you in your calling by King Jesus and suggest some resources that are helping me clear away the ministry fog.
Again, hello, nice to meet you. I look forward to walking along the path of ministry with you wherever that is, however that looks—squeegee in tote.
Jeremy Bouma has spent a decade ministering among our postmodern culture, first in Washington D.C. and most recently as a pastor in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA—a hyperlocal idea curator dedicated to helping the 21st century West Michigan church rediscover the historic Christian faith—holds the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and writes at www.novuslumen.net.
*Editor’s note – Jeremy will be blogging every Monday on Engaging Church, be sure to catch him here, or at his own blog. I’ll still be blogging during the rest of the week. I’m thrilled to have Jeremy on board. -Andrew