The Taser's Edge


A Return to (a) Form
January 30, 2007, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

While I cannot say that the reason I have not been writing here has been that I have been writing too much elsewhere, I have indeed written a decent amount in the real world.  The longest piece was definitely the following.  It is an autobiographical statement that I had to do for my United Methodist ordination process.  Several people asked me to post it a while ago, and I said it was too long.  It is still too long, but I thought some people might be interested.  And at points where it seems a bit formal, it is, because it had to cover specific points.  Hope you enjoy.

BEGIN!

Growing up in the Jordan household, faith was foundational.  Even though neither parent was clergy or came from a clergy household, I knew that my parents made their life decisions based on Christian conviction, and that one of those life decisions was to have four kids. From a very early age, I remember my parents telling each of us that they believed that God led them to have us—not just children in general, but four individual children by four separate calls. It was a knowledge that informed the way that we viewed ourselves, and a knowledge that helped us to value ourselves.
All of my life I have been very close to my family, and my family has had a profound impact on my spirituality. My father, Mark, grew up in a non-Christian home and experienced a dramatic conversion shortly after high school. I do not remember a time when I did not know that Mark credited Christ for everything valuable in his life. My mom, Denise, grew up in a Christian home and very intentionally gave us four children one by staying home with us instead of working, a decision that was sometimes a sacrifice for her, but a sacrifice founded on faith.    My siblings are also strong Christians and very close friends. In my extended family, my mom’s mother and her mother’s sisters, in particular, are still inspiring. If I visit my grandmother and don’t have some level of spiritual discussion with her, then it still seems like we haven’t really talked. These strong family relationships are much of the reason for being a part of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference instead of another region.
When I was two years old, my older brother became interested in the Jesus that he had been hearing about at Sunday School. Right there, at the kitchen table in Louisville, Illinois, Zack asked Jesus into his life. Within two weeks, I was at the same table with my mom, asking about what Zack had done. I am not sure how salvation works for each person, and I know plenty of Christians who did not experience a “moment” of salvation but have simply always believed, but I have nowhere to place my own salvation if not then. Years later, when I was seven or eight, my father entered full-time ministry as an associate pastor and youth director at Aldergate UMC in Marion. Later that year, I was baptized by Jim Slone in the Lake of Egypt. The years from then to seventh grade that were surely spiritually formative in some way, but I remember little in particular. What I remember is that by seventh grade I had grown annoyed by the fact that I had to go to church every week. By this time the church was my father’s first appointment, as an assistant pastor at First United Methodist in Peoria, Illinois. And as a 13-year-old, I decided that I only called myself a Christian because my parents were believers, and that I myself was an agnostic.
I am not sure how agnostic anyone can be at age 13, and for me it was a lost cause—God had already begun moving in my life. Years afterward, I have discovered journal entries about seeing God in different places in those years, in certain sunsets or thoughts that I had. Still, in the spring of my sophomore year, I was completely frustrated with high school and life in general, and I prayed a good agnostic prayer: “God, if you are there, show yourself to me. Jesus, if you exist, show yourself to me.” God went to work quickly. Holly, a girl that I liked and with whom I shared all my classes (and who is now my wife) invited me to God Meeting.
God Meeting was a neighborhood Bible study held at Bradley-Epworth United Methodist Church across the street from my house. The church had no official ties to our group, except that God Meeting met in a Sunday School classroom there. All of the people who came were kids from my high school, many of them from the neighborhood, who wanted to meet and study the Bible. We met one night a week—Methodist, non-denominational, Lutheran, Catholic, anyone who was interested. We would open with prayer, taking praises and then prayer requests. Next, we would choose a Bible passage and just read it, a few verses per person in a progression around the circle. Everybody had his or her own Bible translation of choice, and a lot of what we talked about was how the different translations affected our understanding. The questions were personal: What does this mean to you? To me? To my relationship with my girlfriend, my friends, or my parents? At the end of the night, we would either play a CD, or someone would play guitar, and we would worship and pray some more. It was at one of those Bible studies that I began to hear God’s call into music ministry, a call which was shortly confirmed when I became the primary bassist for the Sunday morning contemporary service at First United Methodist in Peoria.
Eventually many of the people from God Meeting began coming to FUMC’s youth group. At that time the youth pastor was from Texas and had ties to a United Methodist camp in his home state. Thus, instead of traveling to a local church camp, our group traveled the fourteen hours from Peoria, Illinois to Happy, Texas. One Way Camp had great worship and seminars, the opportunity to meet and be encouraged by other young Christians (all of them, aside from our group, from Texas), and no cell phone reception—paradise.
Before the next summer, the Texan youth pastor had taken a new job in Texas, but we returned to the camp anyway. This time it was entirely incredible. On the way home, we stopped for the night at a church in Oklahoma, where our evening worship service turned into three hours of prayer. It was during this time that I found myself praying a different kind of prayer—by the Spirit’s leading, and often for things that I would not have known to pray for on my own. Today I believe that during that time God placed in me gifts of prayer, leadership, and prophecy. The next day, on the bus ride, we prayed several more hours. That weekend, after our normal Sunday night youth gathering, everyone wanted to figure out how to continue this emphasis on prayer, and we decided to start holding a prayer meeting that week. People showed up at seven and we ate together. At seven forty-five or eight o’clock we worshiped, and then we prayed for two hours—for one another, for our church, for our families, for our relationships, for any needs anyone had. And although it could have been a very heavy time, it was filled with joy.
Our youth group continued to grow, and I was the bass player for the evening youth service, further confirming the call to music ministry I had received while at God Meeting. During the school year, we had prayer meetings every other Friday and rotated the houses in which we held them. On Sunday nights, the youth band became very hard-edged, which attracted a lot of high school kids, many of them entirely un-churched teens who saw Christ’s reality for the first time at those worship services. My closest Christian friends today are not from college, but from that youth group.
My closest relationship, then and now, was Holly Herold (now Jordan). We began dating two days after the end of sophomore year of high school, and from the beginning it was very intentionally Christ-centered. Two weeks into the relationship, I knew that God spoke to me in my devotional time, saying that Holly would be my wife, something which I did not tell her until years later. Holly was very active in her Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregation. Sometimes she would come to FUMC youth group, but she was the main student leader at her own church’s youth gathering. The two of us dated through high school, met once a week before school to pray, and encouraged other fledgling Christian couples that we knew. As high school’s end drew near, we were unsure whether to look for colleges with each other in mind, but our ideas of the ideal college seemed completely incompatible. In the end, I committed to University of North Texas and she to Concordia University Wisconsin. While we weren’t happy about the distance, we weren’t sure what else to do, for the time being.
In the summer after high school, I joined Harvest Ministry Teams. We led worship at several camps and churches on the weekends. At one of them, a Cumberland Presbyterian camp, we were also campers due to the way the camp was organized. One night in our cabin, another young man my age told our group that he had received a call to ministry at the service that night. It was at the moment he said it that I knew that God was calling me to pastoral ministry as well. This was the first time that I had sensed a pastoral calling, although I had prayed for one since the middle of high school.
To condense a long and difficult two years, Holly and I became engaged days before we left for college. After a semester away, I returned to my dad’s new appointment, St. Matthews in Belleville, and began playing bass in yet another worship service. Over the next year and a half, miserable in one sense—not living in the same state as my fiancée—I also saw God accomplish tremendous things in that youth group. My younger brother, in particular, became a leader and they too began having regular prayer meetings. Two of the musicians from FUMC Peoria’s youth band, including the worship leader, were attending Greenville College nearby, and came to help lead worship at the youth service.  At the same time, I began the candidacy process with Jim Slone, the senior pastor at St. Matthews.
Eventually, members of the youth group took over the band, and I transferred to Holly’s school in Wisconsin. A year later, in 2005, we were married, and she is the greatest manifestation of God’s faithfulness that I have known. Those two years of long-distance would not have been bearable if not for God’s hand. Even with Him, they seemed unbearable much of the time. I enjoyed very little of my undergraduate career, much of that due to our separation, and did not look forward to three more years of seminary. A year ago, in Spring 2006, as I began looking at seminaries, it was more a matter of obedience rather than excitement.
I was in the candidacy process already, but had not found it to be very helpful in learning more of my calling than I already knew. I knew that I was called specifically to the United Methodist Church, because I had considered other denominations while at North Texas, still trying to discern exactly what my calling was. Each time I looked elsewhere, I felt God pulling back to United Methodism. At the time I was not sure why, but I have come to see that it is a good fit for me. In Texas, I attended an Assemblies of God church, which I liked for its openness to the Holy Spirit. At the same time it scared me—with little formal church hierarchy, I saw no system of checks on the individual pastor. And although I am certain that some AG congregations do not feel the same way, at Faith Tabernacle there was a distinct distrust of formal learning. An intellectual bent is part of my personality, and I believe that God wired me this way for a purpose.
In some ways on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have had a good deal of experience with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, both because my wife was LCMS and because I graduated from an LCMS institution. With my own background in mostly contemporary and non-liturgical settings, the chapel services at Concordia were a shock. Without Concordia, however, I would not have gained the love I now hold for formal liturgy. But although I greatly admire the tenacity with which the LCMS pastors and professors that I had clung to Scripture, I never felt that there was room for my own understanding of God’s Word based on my own experience. The United Methodist Church, then, came to make more and more sense. Within this denomination, I know that there can be freedom in worship, openness to various shades of Christian belief and expression, while retaining the belief that God still speaks through His Word.
Despite my lack of interest in further schooling a year ago, as I sought counsel from Christians that I trusted and admire—my family, my wife, pastors, the theology faculty at Concordia—it became clear that entering seminary immediately rather than taking time off was the best option. Because I felt that I had not really received the academic rigor that I had wanted from my undergraduate career, I began looking specifically at programs that were known for their strong academics. At the same time I was wary of institutions which might lack a spiritual focus. Now I feel like it was indisputably God’s hand that led me to Duke. Here I have found joy and a greater understanding of my calling, peace that I am definitely in the right place, fellowship with other believers, and God’s rest for my soul. Duke actually does have both the academic rigor and the emphasis on spiritual development that I wanted but didn’t know how to find.
Aside from the gifts of music and prayer with which I believe God has prepared me for pastoral ministry, there has also been an emphasis on teaching. While at Belleville St. Matthews I taught a college age Bible study for which I prepared my own curriculum each week. I always had a heavy emphasis on a specific Scripture, but much of the time I found myself teaching on prayer. My hope was that the students would begin thinking about and experiencing prayer in different ways than they had before. The summer before Holly and I married, I taught another college-age Bible study at Trinity UMC in West Frankfort, and it was much the same format. That time, however, the focus was more on developing a personal relationship with Scripture, because it seemed that many of the people in the group did not trust their own insights as they read the Bible. My intent was for them to see that Scripture is not only for designated experts, pastors and Sunday School teachers, but that anyone can hear God in His Word. Finally, in our last year at Concordia, Holly and I helped team teach a high school Sunday School class at Community UMC, the church we attended in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. That time around, we used a pre-selected curriculum which we would not have chosen. What we felt we accomplished, however, was to provide semi-peer mentoring to the kids in the class. Along the way, we also saw the veteran high school auto shop teacher, who had been teaching the high school Sunday School class for over ten years, experience his own spiritual renewal while team-teaching with us.
In the future, I intend to be ordained as an elder in the United Methodist Church, and to be a local pastor in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference. Although I had always, in the past, planned to enroll in doctoral studies as soon as possible after my M.Div. degree, since arriving at Duke I have felt a different emphasis. God has surprised me with how much joyful anticipation I feel toward the possibility of being a local church pastor. When I attend church, when I read, and when I attend class, I now find myself thinking in terms of, “How could I implement this part of the service into the church that I will someday lead?” or “This pastor has a very effective way of reaching the individuals in his congregation by the way he remembers names. I should do that” or “This Psalm would be a great Call to Worship when I design a service.”
Holly intends to join the United Methodist Church as soon as we are settled, and is still very encouraging to me as I continue to discern my calling. My parents have also been very supportive of my decision to enter the ministry because they have seen God’s blessing in their own lives during their years with the United Methodist Church. In addition, I have many close Christian friends, including some new ones at Duke, who will continue to support my wife and I in prayer and friendship as we continue in ministry in the future. I feel, in fact, that the personal relationships that I have are the most stable earthly supports now in place for my own faith life and professional future.


As I write this, it is the evening before the start of my first Spring semester at Duke. Last semester, God surprised me with joy at the great things that He had planned for me. This semester, I am starting hopeful, and I am confident that God will greatly exceed even my most optimistic expectations. And I think that, in ten or more years, I will look back on these three years in seminary and realize that they too were a life-changing event in my Christian journey


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