After the service at the youth camp, I decided to stay the rest of the week. I immediately reconnected with my former girlfriend. In many ways it felt as if I had never left. I knew that things would have to change in my life, so on my return to the ‘real world’ I called my boss, the lawyer, and announced I couldn’t come back to work. I called the university law school and withdrew. I just knew that law school wasn’t in the ‘will of God’.
My friend, the former youth pastor, was working in IT and convinced his boss to give me a shot. It worked out, and I had my first post-college job. It wasn’t long until I asked my new-old-girlfriend to marry me. I had no doubts that she was the one. Some months into the marriage I convinced myself that being in the ministry was the only way to truly be in the will of God. I confided this to my my pastor. Nothing happened at first, but soon I got a strange phone call from North Carolina. My friend, the youth pastor, had moved on to be an assistant pastor in Georgia. He had received a call from a pastor looking for a school teacher/youth pastor. He recommended me (I had my license to teach). The pastor called, and I immediately said we’d drive up, meet everyone, and consider. Twelve hours away from home, we arrived to find what seemed to be a vibrant church and school. This was where God wanted us to be.
Of course when we announced our decision to move when we got back to Mississippi, my parents took the news hard. My mom was very distraught and told us that the time frame would never work out. We had less than two weeks to sell everything we had, move and start classes. I told her that if it all worked out it had to be the will of God. Of course, everything worked out. We made the first day of classes in a new city, a new state, and completely cut off from the life-lines we had grown accustomed to.
We stayed in Charlotte for almost two years. The church was very different than the one we both had grown up in. There was more focus on externals – how one dressed, for example. But we quickly found ourselves adjusting, making friends and settling in. The school, however, came to be somewhat of a proving ground. The students weren’t all from the church’s families. There were constant questions about religion and about the church’s stand on many issues. I tried to focus on the subjects I was teaching, but the questions began to grate at me.
One day the assistant pastor (the pastor’s son) asked me to read something called the Church Fathers to hunt for evidence that the early church preached a standard of holiness similar to our own. The Church Fathers? I was vaguely aware of them, but I had never read them. My world was about to change. I dutifully researched (being a history major had equipped me well) and I did find several passages that buttressed our ideas, but man oh man was I surprised at the depth found in the Church Fathers. Hierarchy, eucharist, etc. It was simply confusing. So I walked away, but I walked away rocked.
I began to have those gnawing doubts again – that all I believed was resting on a flimsy foundation. An evangelist who specialized in campus preaching came to visit our church – a great guy, really, but his tactics were quite off-putting. I took my class to see him in action one day at the UNC-Charlotte campus. I even preached a little myself. I was surrounded by college students who were peppering me with very hard questions. I spouted out the answers I thought I knew, but deep within I remember thinking, “Do I even believe what I’m saying?”