I love talking to young people about calling. I love when people ask, “how did you know God was calling you into pastoral ministry?” The truth is it was hard to miss. If I were to write about all of the circumstances and people God used to confirm His work in me, we would be here all day. Since I do not think anyone wants to read the whole story, I will not start from the beginning. Instead, I want to emphasize a few key events centering around significant individuals that played a role in shaping my life’s calling. In the end, maybe you will understand why I am reflecting on these events and individuals now.
In high school I played basketball with some guys from church. We played on a rec league and for all four years of high school I played with the same core group. I had no idea how meaningful the relationships forged on that team would become in my life and future.
In college I stayed in town to study youth ministry at Union University and interned for my youth pastor, Keath. John, one of the other guys from the team, stuck around also. John played baseball for another school in town and chose to serve in the youth ministry as well. Six months into that internship the unthinkable happened. A high school freshman from our youth ministry died suddenly. Her name was Sarah Beth. She was John’s little sister. This is when my calling started to become crystal clear.
Some of you may be wondering why I was already studying ministry if God’s calling was not crystal clear. Here is how I see it now. I knew in high school that I was called to study God’s word. I knew I was called to make disciples. I knew I was called to deep engagement in the local church because I have always loved the Church. We are all called to each of those things. We are called to know God in His word. We are all called to make disciples. We are all called to the local church. However, some are called to serve as shepherds of God’s people and Sarah Beth’s death confirmed that in me.
In that traumatic season I saw two shepherds, Jim and Keath, shepherd a family, a church, and a group of students well. I knew that was what God was doing in me. He was calling me to be present with people in their suffering. I learned that in a car ride from Murfreesboro to Jackson.
Just a few days after Sarah Beth’s death, a group of us went to Murfreesboro to watch some of SB’s friends play basketball in the state tournament. On the way home, John and I were quarantined to our own car because there was some fear that we had been exposed to the disease that caused SB’s death. For two and a half hours it was just John and I. I was present with a brother in Christ who was suffering. I have no idea what we talked about. He probably does not even remember the car ride, but I know God called me to that car on that day. It was significant because He didn’t just call me to that moment but He called me to be available to do it again and again and again. He was preparing me to walk with people through the hardest of seasons.
A few years later I moved away to work on a seminary degree, leaving behind my fiancé, Jess, to finish her undergraduate work. God again taught me more about my calling through tragedy, and he again used the same family.
On February 5, 2008, an EF-4 tornado destroyed two residential complexes at Union in Jackson. Jess was still a student and on campus that night. After the storm destroyed her home, she ended up at the home of Andy and Melissa Hall, John’s aunt and uncle. The Church of Jackson showed up in force on campus that night to rescue students out of the rain and give them warm beds, hot meals, and dry clothes. When I finally saw Jess the next day, she was wearing a t-shirt and shorts that belonged to John’s cousin William because she had nothing but bloody clothes from the night before. Looking back now I learned a lot about the function of the Church in the midst of tragedy from this storm. I felt God clarifying in me again what my ministry was to look like, and it looked a lot like Andy and Melissa.
Later in that same year Jess and I were married and began to navigate local church life as a couple. We joined our first small group together and God taught me another lesson about ministry within His Church. Guess what family was involved.
That small group included Bill and Nancy Jane, John’s grandparents, Andy’s parents. In that group, our young marriage was encouraged and challenged by multiple generations. Bill and Nancy Jane had 50 years more marriage experience than we did. I still remember listening to Bill share his testimony in that group. In the group, we had a couple in their 80s, Bill and Nancy Jane in their 70s, multiple couples in their 40s and 50s and two young singles. Just this week I was sharing my passion for local churches to be intentionally multigenerational and almost forgot where that passion came from. That passion came from this group. Through that small group, God called me to serve a particular kind of local church, a multigenerational church.
The truth is, I could say more about my relationship with this particular family and how God used them in my life to refine my calling. I could share about all the conversations John and I have had over the years in which God has taught me through his friendship. I could share about the integral part John’s wife, Becky, played in accidentally setting me up with Jess. I could tell how we returned the favor by setting her up with John from out of state. I could share about John’s parents, J and Tresa, and the ways they have treated me like family for so long. I could share how God used John’s cousin, Leah Claire, to spark Jess’ passion for ministering to young girls. I could even share how Andy, Melissa, Leah Claire, and William all accidentally showed up at the interview for my first full time ministry job at Fellowship Bible Church and gave me an impromptu endorsement for the job.
I am reflecting on my calling and the role this family has played because last week my friend and John’s grandfather, Bill Hall, went home to be with His savior. As Bill’s death has caused me to reflect on the role his family has played in mine, I am reminded of how grateful I am that God caused my path to intertwine with this family. I am grateful I saw God at work in three generations who loved Him and sought Him. And I am excited to see what He will do in the next generation.
Now my question to you is this: who might God be calling you to love and serve? Who can you love in the midst of tragedy? Who can you serve in your workplace? Does someone need a faithful friend? Does someone need to know the life-giving message of the gospel? Reflecting on this family and the role God used them to play in my calling, I wonder whose calling you may be impacting by answering these questions.
- Tim Chaney