When I look back at my spiritual journey; which really began in earnest 31 years ago, there are a many incredible people who have made a big impact on me. The first was David Blanton, the Baptist campus pastor at George Mason University, where I went to school.
David mentored me, taught me, and modeled faith in God and a life of loving and serving others. I saw Jesus in him, and much of the good in me came from the foundation David helped build in me.
Mike Bradley took the baton and led me as I pursued youth ministry (along with Jay Wolf, Jim Witt, Cecil Frazier and Ray Bearden at First Baptist Church of Alexandria, VA).
In my ten years in Fort Worth, Texas, Harold Bullock, John Hawkins, Phil Herrington, Mike Poff and Randy Boyts became my mentors.
When I moved back to Virginia in 2002, Rusty Coram encouraged and challenged me as I continued in ministry, and as I moved toward marriage and fatherhood.
There have also been a few people who had great influence through their writing and speaking. The first was Brennan Manning. Brennan’s book The Ragamuffin Gospel opened my eyes to a new way of seeing God—as a God who loves me unconditionally.
Rich Mullins had a similar influence through his music and writing. His incredible desire to be completely selfless (and his honest struggle in that effort) challenged and guided me. His music held me and strengthened me when I was at my worst.
Over the last twelve years, the man that has had the biggest impact on me is Brian McLaren. I first met Brian when I was a brand new student at Leland Seminary in 2002.
I was returning to seminary after a six-year hiatus (a story for another time), and was excited be at Leland, a small, innovative new seminary outside Washington DC. Leland held a retreat for all students and faculty at the beginning of the year, and Brian was the retreat speaker.
Brian amazed me by articulating many of the questions and struggles I had been dealing with in recent years. He helped me see God and faith and the Bible in new ways, ways that felt more honest and real.
I began reading Brian’s books—one of them was about his friendship with a young woman and her reluctant journey toward faith in Christ. I soon found out that young woman was one of my classmates at Leland, and she became one of my best friends.
Brian and I crossed paths every few years. I went to several Conferences and workshops where Brian spoke, and though I doubt he always remembered me, he always greeted me like a brother.
I was working for a church network in Northern Virginia, and we brought him in to be the speaker at our annual meeting (which created a little controversy, as Brian was becoming more controversial in evangelical circles).
I remember running into Brian at a friend’s church one Sunday (we both just happened to be worshiping there) and having a wonderful conversation with him.
All during those years I read his books as he wrote them, and continued to be challenged and encouraged. All of his books, especially the New Kind of Christian trilogy, A Generous Orthodoxy, and A New Kind of Christianity, nourished my soul and helped me in this internal battle to hold onto faith.
I am in a challenging time right now, beginning work in a new field, feeling inadequate as I try to learn all I need to in order to succeed. I also miss being involved in ministry. I have had some ideas circling in my head for a while now, but haven’t moved from idea to action.
This week I went to Chicago for a training program with my new job. I keep up with Brian on Facebook, and knew he was on a book tour. He had been in Seattle a few weeks earlier, but my schedule didn't allow me to go down and see him.
On Wednesday I saw a notice on Facebook that Brian would be in Chicago on Thursday evening. It was nice weather, and a 1.5 mile walk to the church, so I went to see Brian. He seemed to recognize me, and when I reminded him of our past connections and common friends his face lit up and we had a nice conversation.
He read from his new book, The Great Spiritual Migration, and my soul was nourished. I sensed God’s spirit challenging me to step out and put into action some of the ideas I’ve had about really being a pastor in my family, and moving into the lives of our neighbors.
I’m not in a ministry job, but I think the opportunities for ministry have never been greater. I am eager to read Brian’s new book and try to live out some of the principals he presents in my family and other relationships.
This post was originally going to be about seeing Brian, but as I write, I realize it's about how God has reached into my life, using people like Brian, and many others, to love, encourage and use me for His Kingdom. I am grateful, and excited for what is next.