A Long, Winding, Non-Traditional Path To Pastoral Ministry

Note: Joshua Hughes serves as the worship pastor at Four Oaks Church. I’ve asked him to share his story of how God called him to ministry. His story is a wonderful demonstration that there is no “one” way to ministry. God uses a variety of circumstances and paths to bring a man to ministry. 

My name is Joshua Hughes, and I have served as the worship pastor at Four Oaks Church in Tallahassee, FL since 2007. It’s an honor to contribute in some small way to a discussion about calling. I wish a resource like this existed when I was wrestling through my own calling, and I hope you are finding it valuable.

A winding and somewhat nontraditional path delivered me to pastoral ministry. If you’re already launched down a career path and are wondering if you’re called to pastoral ministry, I think my story might encourage you.

Most of the pastors I know figured out they wanted to be a pastor in high school or college, went to seminary, interned somewhere, then got their call to a local congregation. Easy, right? Such a linear and followable path, isn’t it?

That’s not my story. My late teens and early twenties were spent pursuing selfish ambition, money and a career. Despite having been raised in a godly Christian home by wonderful parents, and professing faith in my youth, as a young adult I found myself highly disinterested in the things of God. While I still attended church every Sunday (the very same church I now pastor), money and self occupied the highest places in my affections. And so for several years I pursued a career as worshipfully and wholeheartedly as I could. I devoted myself to the praise of the unholy trinity of promotions, bonuses and reputation. Jesus got the leftovers of my time, resources and attention.

Things began to change for me when my church called a young, relatable, enthusiastic pastor who befriended me. In the early days of our friendship, I thought we were just hanging out; I now know that he was covertly discipling me. Through his friendship and leadership, somewhere along the way the gospel went from black and white to color in my life. Over a series of months, I was awakened to the beauty of all that God was for me in Jesus Christ. Suddenly, making money and building a career seemed less important to me than investing my life in the local church.

With the encouragement of my pastors, I began to immerse myself in good books and in service to the church. I was a musician, so I began leading worship for the high school students and discipling some of the student leaders. As it so often does, ministry begat ministry. Over time, as I continued to serve and grow, I was given more opportunities to lead and to participate in leadership development offered by my church.

In 2004 I became the worship director, working alongside our lead pastor to craft our Sunday gatherings. After taking this step, I began to wrestle through the inner stirrings of a desire for vocational ministry. At this point, all my theological training and education had taken place in an informal context in the local church. I hadn’t graduated from college let alone seminary, so I had very little to commend me to the pastorate.

But I was known by the people around me. My elders knew my foibles and sins, and had seen God pour out his grace in my life. I had submitted my life and vocation to their scrutiny, counsel and wisdom. I had pursued and married my wife under their care. And I had been raised up into leadership in the church over a period of testing and training. In time, we agreed together that, despite my many weaknesses as a man and a minister, it seemed the Lord had called me to pastoral ministry. It was and still is incredibly sweet to walk the pastoral path alongside men who love me well despite knowing me well.

I often describe my call to ministry at Four Oaks as the convergence of three streams. The first stream was my internal stirrings of calling. This was a subjective sense that God was drawing me to pastoral ministry. But that wasn’t enough – my impression needed to be tested by my wife, those closest to me, and my elders. This led to the second stream: external affirmation. Over time, all those around me affirmed these stirrings. They believed that God seemed to be setting me apart me for ministry. The third stream was opportunity. In 2006, the church experienced a season of tremendous growth in attendance, membership, and giving. It created the need and resources for a worship pastor position. As those three streams converged, I was installed as a pastor in January of 2007.

I think seminary is a great resource for theological training that is very necessary for many pastors. I am currently in the process of pursuing formal theological education through distance learning. But for me, my call to ministry was birthed, fanned into flame, affirmed, and realized all in the context of a local church. I believe this to be a healthy and biblical path, and my hope is that more pastors would be raised up through it.

All of this begs the question – what about theological education? How does a man who didn’t attend seminary grow in biblical understanding and equipping? I’ll give that subject some consideration in my next post.

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