I asked myself this question perpetually throughout College (and Seminary): why would an artist become a pastor? My answer, in short, is because of Jesus.
My father is a pastor in the PCA (a conservative Presbyterian denomination), but as a child I never envisioned myself as a pastor. In fact, I wouldn’t have considered myself an excessively, or even mildly, pious child. By the time I was in High School I did tell others that I was a Christian, but I didn’t provide a good defense of the gospel, and I didn’t really pursue understanding it as objective truth. But, when I went to College to pursue Fine Art, everything changed. As I started learning about philosophy, literature, and art, I felt a great desire to understand what is true. Because of this, I read the Bible, the Qur’an, the Upanishads, and the works of various atheists and social theorists. I became overwhelmingly convinced of the truth of the Bible. In a paraphrase of one of Flannery O’Connor’s characters–if Jesus is who He says He is, then there’s nothing else that you can do but give your life for Him. I decided that I’d do whatever I was capable of doing to serve Him, and promote the well-being of His Church. It took a few years, but I sensed a call to the ministry as a pastor, and followed up on this by going to Seminary.
What exactly is the “call to ministry”? Some people talk about it like a voice cries out from the heavens, “Go, be a pastor,” but I never experienced anything like that. While there are debates about the exact nature of “the call”, I will say that my call to ministry included an overwhelming conviction to preach. “If I do not preach Christ,” I thought, “I will die.” It was like a fire was pent-up in my bones, and unless I proclaimed the works of Jesus I would be entirely burned. This in itself, however, is not a proper way of discerning whether or not one is called to ministry. Someone can have this desire but be entirely unsuitable for the role of pastor. Rather, this desire must be accompanied by the both the necessary gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as godly character. If one is incapable of understanding the Bible, or of living a godly life, then they shouldn’t go into the ministry. But it takes time to figure out if you fit these requirements, and so for about two years I weighed and discussed whether or not I was properly called to the ministry. I eventually accepted that I was, in fact, called to preach and pastor, and so after graduating from Belhaven, I started school at Reformed Theological Seminary.
Seminary was a difficult time. Looking back, I think there were three main things that made Seminary a difficult time. First, the transition from reading styles. Second, the transition from general lifestyle (roommates to wife/family). Third, the transition from fine art as a vocation to pastoral ministry as a vocation. While my Undergraduate degree was academic, Seminary was a whole other level of academia. My primary issue was actually with the amount of reading. As a creative writing minor, I had a love of words, the odd turn of phrase, the peculiar in writing. But in Seminary I was told: the goal of reading is general conceptual understanding, not complete knowledge of the book you read. This absolutely infuriated me, not because I believed it was wrong, but because I simply wasn’t used to the idea. I think I finally got the hang of this style of reading after about a year.
Second, I had a hard time managing the transition from living with a bunch of roommates to being married to my wife. Marriage has been both wonderful and challenging. We were married in the middle of my first semester in Seminary, and both found it a trying time for our marriage. I’ve talked to friends about it, and basically summarize Seminary as “the pressure cooker.” The time invested at the school and the church, the unavoidable financial tension, and the strain of study all pressurize whatever marital issues you are already undergoing. Because of our experiences, I recommend taking a year to two off from school before re-entering school, especially if you are planning on marrying someone right around your first year of Seminary. Thankfully, though, if the pressure cooker doesn’t blow up–it does a great job cooking some undercooked food! We both are grateful for what we learned in Seminary, and we now feel like we’re able to take a breath of fresh air after a deep dive into the ocean.
Third, I struggled with the transition from fine art to pastoral ministry. Anyone who switches vocations knows the difficulties associated with it. As a person without much development in my particular field, I only experienced a flavor of what a full-blown vocational transition can give you. I have friends from Seminary who had been called to pastoral ministry after 20 years of work in their previous fields, and my own experience will never quite match up to their own. At the same time, it was still hard on me. Where I once held a sketchbook, I now hold a notebook. I once read poetry and essays on art, and now I read tomes related to Systematic Theology.
But the difficulties were worth it. I now feel prepared to preach and teach, as well as to counsel and comfort the Church that I’m called to shepherd. The greatest privilege a person can be offered in this life is to serve the Lord Jesus, and I am so happy to serve by bringing the Word of God to bear upon my friends in Tunica. I’m a pastor first and foremost, and would never do anything to impede this high-calling of God. That said, fine art has provided me an abundance of resources: I feel like I have a grasp on world history through the study of art history; aesthetics opened a door for me into philosophy; and thinking imaginatively has been extremely helpful for apologetics and sermon preparation. The worth of Jesus compelled me to transition from fine art as a main vocation to pastoral ministry, and the worth of Jesus compels me to shepherd and to reach out to the fine arts community.