The church sanctuary was empty as Jim walked in through the side door early this Monday morning as he always did. Just twelve hours ago the room had been filled with the sounds of church members singing, praying, and fellowshipping. It had also been filled with the sounds of him reading from the Bible, preaching his weekly sermon, and praying for the lost souls of the world. It was a weekly routine.
Jim had prepared for the ministry for a long time before being called by the church to be its full-time senior pastor. He was so pleased to get the call to be senior pastor at such a young age. It took most men a few years longer to reach this point. He was only 28. He had felt the call to the ministry when he was a senior in high school. As a faithful young man, he spent most of his weekends doing church work in his home church, the one his parents had taken him to as a young boy. He grew up in that church and felt safe in it. As the years waxed on, he moved his way through each of the Sunday School levels, and then into the church's active youth ministry, first serving as the president of the Youth Fellowship Council, and then as the youth representative on the deacon board. Although he was not an ordained deacon, he did meet with the elder men who were deacons twice a year and offered reflections on the church and its spiritual climate from the perspective of the youth in the church. When he was asked to be this representative, he was overcome with joy. He was even humbled at the thought of being trusted with such an important role in the church.
Then, during his senior year in high school he began feeling as if he could not throw this service down once he left and went off to college. He wanted to do more for his church, any church for that matter, and do more for the people who came to find solace in the teachings of the church. Yes, that was the most important part. He felt that God was calling him into the ministry in some shape, form, or fashion. That was when he approached his pastor and youth minister to talk it over with him. "I am so glad that you've felt this call from God, Jim, because we here at the church have felt that God was calling you to this for a long time now," his pastor had said to him when they talked in the church office. He was so relieved to hear this from Rev. Pearson, a man he respected and admired. His youth minister pretty much echoed the sentiment when he approached him with the same thoughts. So, in Jim's mind, it was clear that he was to train for a career in the ministry. He very much wanted to help people, and he felt that this was the best way to combine his strong sense of faith with a desire to help his fellow man. Once this was settled in Jim's mind he enrolled at a junior college there in the suburbs of Atlanta where he lived and then transferred to a large Baptist university that was so beloved by the people in his church. After he graduated, it was on to earn his divinity and theology graduate degrees in seminary. His mother and father were very proud of him, and of course they helped him financially.
After he graduated from seminary, he came back to the Atlanta area and was hired as the minister of education for a larger Baptist church in Marietta. The church was an older one and the membership included a mixture of older, seasoned members, and newer members who had moved to the area to seek jobs or advance in the fields in which they already worked. He loved the church and he flourished spiritually while he was there for the three-year period. Because he was young, he connected very well with the younger couples and singles that were members of the church. This, in turn, led to them inviting their younger friends and neighbors to attend the church because they felt so comfortable with Jim. He got along really well with the senior pastor, Doug Trowell, a man in his forties. In Jim's duties as the supervisor of the Sunday school programs and all the other educational ministries of the church, he was able to see lots of the members and forged a personal relationship with them. This was very essential in the ministry.
About three years after he had arrived at the church in Marietta, the senior pastor of a Baptist church of similar size inside the city of Atlanta passed away.
Jim had heard of the man and knew that he was well respected for his ministry, and indeed it was a long one. Rev. McDowell had been there at that church for a very long time. Everyone knew that he would probably die in the pulpit. Although that wasn't quite how it happened, the old man did die while still serving the church as its pastor. Once the funeral was over and the church had spent some time helping his family over their loss, they began to look for a new pastor. They wanted a younger man, one who could appeal to the younger generation of people who were moving into the rapidly growing city of Atlanta. After all, the church was inside the city and very few elderly people were willing to live literally inside the city limits of Atlanta because of the fast-paced lifestyle and the possibility of crime. So it was important that the new pastor be able to reach out to younger members of the community. Word reached Jim's senior pastor, Doug, about the search committee, and even though Doug hated to lose Jim in the church, he knew of Doug's goals and ambitions and decided to mention the opening to him. Jim was a shoe-in for the job, and after Christmas, he started his new position as the church's senior pastor. Everything was going well for Jim. His life felt almost complete, almost but not totally. There was a hole in his heart and it had been there for quite some time. It was a hole that would not be easily filled, but Jim longed to fill it even though he knew it might tear him apart as a person, as a man of God.