Looking at my 'Weird life' I realize that the problematic issue of 'guidance' emerges at different stages. I say problematic because in my work with students this was one of the (obvious) hot topics - 'How can we know God is guiding us?' Good question! I am always careful to say how much God's guidance comes through a complex mixture of internal and external dynamics.
Reflecting on my story I have tried to be honest about God's guidance into ministry itself, and into the churches I served. Being honest means including some details that never made it into application papers and interviews. My first appointment after university to teach at Serampore College in India (which I described in an earlier post) seemed to be a God-directed step. I am pretty sure that in conversation with Christian friends I would have claimed that God had opened up this opportunity. He had guided me. But when the organization collapsed and threw me into confusion I think I began to realize how presumptuous I had been. How easy it is to presume God is endorsing our next steps?
I think that led to more caution as I approached the next major challenge - about Baptist ministry. The first time anyone mentioned this was on a student mission when a friend asked me whether I had ever considered it. Without hesitation I answered no - in no way. I had seen first hand in my father's ministry the personal cost of being open to a congregation's needs and of leading a voluntary organization where division of opinion seemed the norm. Who could possibly want that? No, I was emphatic that as a Christian I would serve God in other ways.
However, having lost the Serampore opportunity, my first (surprise) job in the Baptist Union landed me in a very Christian world. Working with students and chaplains inevitably involved me in pastoral work, speaking at conferences, giving a devotional word and sometimes even preaching. With all this Christian stuff surrounding me the possibility of ministry began to niggle away with more persistence. I still resisted the idea but a deacon counselled that I should at least do a little serious testing. I became involved with the London Baptist Lay Preachers' Association speaking to mid-week meetings and even doing some lame Sunday preaching. Niggles and nudges were increasing.
Then something happened that in retrospect seems bizarre and which never made it into the more formal explanations of my journey into ministry......