Alumni Op Ed Stories: Dave Schreiner
My father recently retired from 36 years of service to the United Methodist Church. In any profession, employment across 4 decades is a long tenure. So, I wanted to pick his brain on his decades of service. What follows is an edited interview that I conducted during the summer of 2018.
DS: Describe your decision that led you to pursue a vocation in full time parish ministry.
RS: One of the first steps I took was to discuss my sense of call with two other men in my local church, for these were men had already dealt with the issue of call in their Christian experience. Next, I discussed this with my fiancé, and finally with my pastor at the time. My pastor helped me initiate formal contacts with my denomination and familiarize me with procedures of ordination and licensure.
I’ve been asked on occasion, “How did I know I was making the correct choice?” On the one hand, my answer has been, “Well, I’ve been a local church pastor now for “X number of years”. So, I guess saying yes was correct.” More importantly, there is a sense that we need to make the decision. You can live with it and trust The Lord to confirm your choice as being correct. Or realize that he will guide you through the consequences of being wrong.
DS: So you don’t believe that everyone should be a pastor, or at least properly discern a call into full-time ministry?
RS: There are many who profess a calling to preach. But that calling must be verified in the context of living out one’s faith in the life of the church, in the presence of other Christian people. As far as I am concerned, you must be an active member of your local church while you process this call. In fact, I will say that there is strong Biblical precedent for this statement. Consider Stephen in Acts 6:1-7:60. He was already known to be a man of exemplary faith and lifestyle “from among” the Christian communities in Jerusalem, and his selection, or call, began as a table servant who distributed food to poor widows. It was precisely in that context of humble service to the local church that the Lord brought forth is abilities to witness, preach, and work miracles. Any person who will not perform humble tasks within the church is not fit to lead a church. Personally, I am skeptical of those who claim a call to preach and yet are reluctant, if not downright resistant, to submitting themselves and their call to the discussion, examination and verification to the local church and its members.
DS: So how did your fiancé respond?
RS: My then finance’s response was actually one of the ways in which I understood I was correctly hearing The Lord concerning this issue of being called to preach. Her response was immediately positive.
Now I am absolutely convinced that the pastor’s spouse must also be sensing that the Lord is calling you to do this. We are dealing with a job that will put you and your family on the forefront of spiritual conflict between the Evil One and the Holy One. So your spouse must also be willing and able to live into this call with you. But this does NOT mean your spouse, or you for that matter, must be free of any and all reservations or uncertainties. This does NOT mean your spouse must also be the pastor. This means is your spouse needs to see themselves as equally being called into this ministry. You spouse will be called to provide an invaluable and often unseen gift of ministry to you and your family.
DS: So what if your spouse is balking in a significant way at a sensed calling into ministry?
RS: If you sense your spouse, or soon to be spouse, is uncomfortable with this, especially if they are becoming hostile to this decision, such as giving you ultimatums against pursuing this further, my council is to deal directly with The Lord about these issues. Ask the Lord to work in your life and that of your spouse. Trust the Lord to work and clarify the timing. Your entrance into the ministry is a momentous event. It will be even more difficult to live out if not impossible if there is deep seated contention between you and your spouse over this issue.
So, be willing to wait and be patient. You must be willing to wrestle with the fact that you may be wrong. Sorry, but if you are a married person, this could be a complicated issue with which to deal. You must consider your spouse’s thoughts and feelings.
DS: You went to Asbury Theological Seminary. Describe your decision to attend Asbury Theological Seminary.
RS: It was influenced by the leader, who is still a friend, of the Friday Evening Bible study I attended. He shared with me how the answers given him from the folks at Asbury were clear cut and decisive on issues of theology and doctrine. Jesus was the Son of God, fully divine and fully human; they voiced support of the virgin birth of Jesus, his miracles, his ability to save men and women from sin; there was forgiveness and sanctification; there was also a conviction in the absolute reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and that the Bible was the Word of God, accurate, historically reliable, True, and essential for the Christian’s growth in faith.
I didn’t want to go to a school where the facility wanted me to believe that the miracles of Jesus were embellished myths instead of actual facts. Or that the Bible was riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. I already was a miracle, a small token of Jesus’ ability to change and save someone from sin and hell. My heart already knew how the Lord was using prayer and the Bible and fellow Christians to nurture my soul and draw me closer to the one who died upon the cross for me. So, Asbury was my first choice. Fortunately, I was accepted for matriculation.
DS: But your undergraduate degree had nothing to do with theology, correct?
RS: I received a four year degree, Bachelor of Arts, from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I majored in zoology because my interest was in genetics and ecology.
DS: So, how did Asbury Seminary prepare you for ministry, largely from square one?
RS: An oft forgotten benefit of seminary is that it gives the pastor in waiting an additional three years to mature. I was 24 years old when I began seminary, but I had been a Christian for less than 2 years. So, seminary meant I was three years older in life and in my faith when I began my first appointment.
I would also say that the rigors of seminary education are essential in developing critical thinking skills with the concomitant skills of reading and writing. Most notably, seminary helps you become more familiar with The Bible’s content as well as equipping you to read, interpret, and apply the Holy Scriptures for the Church as well as your spouse and family.
So, here’s my opinion. The Pastor should be the one who is the most adept and comfortable with the Scriptures in their congregation. Many years ago, I and a group of us new pastors were told in a preparation meeting for our denominational ordination, “You need to be the local church’s theologian.” Now that does not mean you have all the answers or that you should be able to quote chapter and verse each time a parishioner asks you a question. But a seminary education, generally speaking, will help you achieve a better grasp of the breadth and depth of the Bible’s contents than your parishioners. And, hopefully, a seminary education can also instill in you a desire and ability to continue expanding your knowledge of the world, its people, and how the Whole Word of God is for the Whole World!
DS: Seeing that we’re already down memory lane, what was your favorite class in seminary?
RS: It would be hard to list one favorite. There were many classes and professors I remember with fondness. Dr. Arnett and his “Basic Christian Doctrines.” Dr. Wang and his Greek NT classes were important to me—I still have Dr. Wang’s handouts and class notes from his NT History and Criticism class. In particular, I was introduced to the arguments that surround authorship, integrity, and history of the NT, something to which I was completely oblivious as a new Christian. I remember that it was in his class that the decision was made in my heart and soul that my faith in Christ was not illusory and the writings of Scripture were the Word of God, divinely inspired, nurtured, and protected. I have never wavered from that conviction.
I also deeply appreciated Dr. Kuhn’s wit, his commitment to Christ, and his genius in teaching “Philosophy of Christian Thought.” Even though I was totally inadequate for Dr. Mullholland’s class in “The Letters to The Hebrews,” that class opened up for me a “portrait of Jesus” which is absolutely essential to understanding Jesus fully, grasping his continuity with, his fulfillment of, and superiority to the OT priesthood. Because of Dr. Mullholland, I was later able to translate Hebrew, preach through the entire book, and lead several Bible studies in that book. It became for me an important resource in my teaching about Jesus and his relationship to the Old Testament. Believe me, all my teachers at Asbury were tremendous.
DS: Now let’s take things in a different direction. For what did seminary fail to prepare you?
RS: Maybe this question should be re-phrased like this: What is it that seminary cannot prepare you for?
You see, attending seminary is not the same thing as doing the work of a pastor in a real church with real people. Anyone who has been part of an apprenticeship program in the skilled trades, immediately understands this. You learn by doing. So, Dr. David Seamonds was right when he said at the Asbury Ministers Conference in January 1983; “The completion of your seminary education is just the beginning of your ministerial education.”
With that said, I must preface what I’m about to say may seem unfairly negative. Yet it was my real experience and the source of many challenges in my lengthy experience as a church pastor. Moreover, I confess that my pre-Christian behavior negatively affected my personality and social skills, making the task of interacting with my parishioners an eye-opening experience.
Nevertheless, I was completely “blind-sided” by my parishioners’ pettiness as well as their posturing for authority and control over the local church and its money. I was surprised and hurt even though I had a personal familiarity with the power of sin and the influential power of Satan to harm and warp humanity. I was not prepared for how the power and influence of sin in the human heart could make it difficult for church people to get along and live in the ways the Bible says we should live.
I realized that seminary and the class room experience could not save me from my naiveté in the area of local church politics and inter-personal dynamics. And I quickly began to discover why the various New Testament letters consistently addressed a whole range of bad behavior, bad attitudes, and faulty understanding about what the Gospel and faith is all about. Yet the Lord’s redemptive power is amazing. He used the arena of the local church to show me this and to show me that being a local church pastor would challenge and stretch and re-shape me as a Christian person.
In the end, I came to understand that being a local church pastor was the easiest job I ever had and at the same time the hardest job I ever had. Seminary could not prepare me for that. I had to learn this by doing it, day in and day out.
DS: Thanks for your honesty. I think that seminary students need to hear this. So, let’s end on a lighter note. Describe the most formative event in your ministry.
RS: I can’t give just one! There were too many. In fact, many formative events came out of both good and bad circumstances. And if they came out of bad circumstances, they eventually became good ones! You know, Genesis 50:15–21?
So, I will give you two quickly.
I was in the fifth month of my first appointment. It was an incredibly hot and humid night in July. There was no breeze whatsoever, and we didn’t have air conditioning. It was 2:00 AM and in six hours I had to be ready to begin my Sunday services.
Because of what my first appointment was like, it was difficult for me to make any real progress on my sermon during the week. So, after Debbie and the boys were asleep, I would force myself to begin my work late on Saturday night. On this occasion, I was having a real difficult time, and I remember complaining to the Lord, bitterly, about the futility of this. During that, I heard the Lord simply ask me, “Bob, who are you preaching for? Them or me?”
I never forgot that. And so, for the next 35+ years I reminded myself that I was preaching for Jesus. He was my principal audience. I crafted my sermons and delivered them with this focus: Am I pleasing the Master? Does this bring glory to His name? Is it faithful to the Holy Scriptures? You see, I became convinced that our sermons will not connect with our parishioners with the depth that they should unless we first focus on being Biblically faithful and Christ pleasing in the construction of and presentations of our sermons. When we honor Jesus first, we can minister better.
The next one came many years later and was born in the context of a parish ministry that became vitriolic and vituperative. In fact, it allowed me to see Psalm 139 in a new light. It gave me an insight into the depth and complexity of the human being who is trying to live with her/himself in the presence of a Holy God.
Verses 19–24 began to jump off the pages. Here was David declaring that the God he loved and served, who had created him in exacting detail with the deepest and purist intimacy, also knew everything about him. And yet David was also saying, “O that you would kill the wicked…Do I not hate…and do I not loathe…I hate them with perfect hatred.” (NRSV) I was shocked that King David would write such things and be so transparent about his emotions, his anger. I was even more shocked that I, a born-again Christian, would feel such things as those words from David expressed so completely what I was thinking and feeling. Here I was, the guy who would council his parishioners that if we want to get anywhere with the Lord we have to be honest with Him about what we are feeling and thinking. After all, since God knows us so completely, knows our situations so thoroughly, we better come clean and tell Him those emotions and thoughts and behaviors with which we struggle. I guess you could call it one of those “”get to practice what we preach” moments.
But let’s not forget that David closes that psalm with a re-affirmation of what was said in vv. 1-18. In vv. 23–24, there are the words, “Search me…know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (NRSV)
I guess I would say that there is hope for all of us. In those extreme moments of emotional response, of less than charitable thoughts, of the boundaries of Christian behavior being stretched to the breaking point, the Lord will not be shocked when we are gut level honest with Him. In fact, only then can He “lead me in the way everlasting.”
DS: Thanks, Dad. I really appreciate your time and your honesty. I look forward to hearing about the years ahead.