Not every Bible college and seminary graduate becomes a minister.
At 17, I stepped forward at a Christ in Youth convention and committed to going into vocational ministry. From high school I went directly to Bible college. After my first year, I set my major as international missions. Having a servant heart and a willingness to do what’s difficult, it made sense to me to go do the hard thing of sharing the Gospel where no one else could or would go.
Bible college was where I met my wife. Through mutual friends, we started hanging out together and have been inseparable ever since. Before we knew each other, she had also committed to going to the mission field and so we both expected to live and work internationally as a couple.
Soon after marriage, we visited Niger in West Africa to see if we could live and work there. During two very hard months, we realized we needed to have certain gifts or skills to serve full-time in that country. What they needed were preachers, medical experts, and agricultural experts. Although I graduated from Bible college, I never envisioned myself as a preaching minister and obviously didn’t have a medical or agricultural background to meet these needs.
The whole experience was very confusing. It was certainly a shock to our world. We had both spent 4 years in school and had student debt to show for it. We had both traveled on multiple international trips, learning and preparing for international life. We both had plans and expectations for our future. But the whole movement and process toward missionary life had hit a wall and we didn’t know what to do next.
After we got back from Niger we were advised to rest and reset. While we rested, we also had bills to pay. Shannon got a great job working in an office and I was working here and there in part-time jobs. I hadn’t given up on the idea of serving in vocational ministry, so I applied at few churches for ministry related positions, but there was never a good fit.
In 2009, the whole world was in a recession. Everyone who had a job was staying put and everyone who didn’t have a job was looking for one. In order to pay the bills, I worked temporarily as a waiter, and briefly as a as a cell phone salesman. Finally, I landed a decent job working part-time at a bank.
About that time, we had been married for a year and half and found out that we were expecting. After the baby was born, Shannon switched to part-time. I was still part-time at the bank, but between the two jobs we could make it work financially.
I was struggling. I felt like a complete failure. I said I was going to serve God a certain way and my plans had failed. I was worried about what people thought about me and how I wasn’t in ministry. I had asked people for financial support to go on multiple mission trips and they invested in me multiple times. Had I wasted it all? Had I broken their trust?
What lesson was I supposed to be learning, and what were we supposed to do next?
I remember sitting on our secondhand couch in our musty semi-basement apartment reading a book about personal finance. Thoughts began randomly crossing my mind – “This personal financial stuff is cool.” – “If I can’t be a minister or missionary, I still really want to have a meaningful career serving others.”- “The bank is not going to financially work for us long term.” – “I should look into becoming a CFP® professional.” I closed the book, opened the laptop, and looked at the requirements.
After looking into it, I was overwhelmed by all there was to do. I was going to need to get a Master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university (my undergraduate degree wasn’t regionally accredited). Complete coursework on financial planning through a CFP Board Registered Program. Get three years of hands-on financial planning experience. Finally, pass a 6-hour 170 question test with a typical pass rate of only 62%.
Even though it was overwhelming, in my mind it would be worth it. I could provide for my family and continue to be a servant to families and individuals who want financial advice and services. I could serve in a way that would be meaningful and make a difference in people’s lives.
After 11 years of work – hours, days, weeks, and months of studying, more than enough failure, late nights, early mornings, I earned two credentials. The IRS Enrolled Agent credential to serve others in the area of tax preparation and taxpayer representation. Also, the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification to serve in the areas of financial planning and investments.
Because of relationships built at two Bible colleges and preparing for ministry, about half of the families and individuals I currently serve are vocational ministers or have graduated from a Bible college.
With my ministry background, I am able to easily relate to people in ministry. Their unique Biblical worldview influences their motivations and their spending. They have unique financial struggles and tax laws associated with clergy and with international life.
The 11-year journey from the missions roadblock to today led me through Lincoln Christian University. I served for 5 years as a financial aid counselor, offering students advice and services as they planned out how they could pay for their education. I also graduated from LCU with a Master of Arts degree in Organizational Leadership both fulfilling the accredited degree requirement for the CFP Board and learning to lead through a biblical model of service. The insights gained from that program have been invaluable in the workplace and in the various volunteer positions in which I’ve served in my community.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without answering that call to ministry back in high school. Looking back and reflecting on the 20-year journey from high school until now, there are two scriptures that come to mind:
“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well.” (Romans 12:6).
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (1 Peter 4:10) God is waiting for you to accept your place as a servant. He’s guiding you into the place that he’s equipped you to be in. Wherever you have landed – whether it be as a vocational minister, a missionary, a small business owner, or working for a big corporation, you’ve been created to serve and you’ll serve at your peak when you’re serving with the tools He’s given you. God doesn’t call all of us to vocational ministry, but he does call all of us to be His servants.
When I arrived on campus at Lincoln Christian College in the fall of 2003, I was not exactly sure what I was doing there, but I knew I was in the right place. I initially enrolled in the teaching program, but after my first semester in classes, particularly the challenging “Introduction to World Missions” class, I was rather convinced there was meaningful work to be done in a missional context, and that I was willing to be a part of the ongoing world-wide work. Throughout my time in high school, I had taken several cross-cultural trips to the inner city of Indianapolis and two trips to Haiti with missionaries from my church, so this class was a welcome confirmation of my desire to serve people around the world.
I spent my first summer in college at an internship with Mission Indy. The reality of the needs of people in “our own back yard” was solidified as I led many groups of junior high and high school students to meet the needs of inner city dwellers. My exact direction was still unclear, but I knew that I could combine my love for missions and teaching.
That fall semester, I returned to school and changed my major to Intercultural Studies (Bi-Vocational Missions) with an emphasis in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). As I worked through the program, my desire to work in cross cultural contexts continued to grow. The summer after my sophomore year, I was selected for a Christ in Youth internship along with several other students from varying Bible colleges. The goal of the trip was to expose college students to the needs, the ministries, and the possibilities of living life in West Africa. We spent that summer traveling through Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Out of the group of 16 students on that trip, there were four of us that desired to live and work long term in that area of the world.
I finished my junior year at LCU and spent the summer living and working in Lincoln to save money for my last year of college. In order to complete the requirements of the TESOL program, I needed to find a teaching practicum for that portion of my degree. This need led me to move to Joplin, Missouri where I could simultaneously complete my teaching practicum and live close to teammates planning to move to West Africa. I was able to complete my degree and graduate with honors that spring. That fall, I met my future husband at a Ramadan prayer meeting as we were praying for Muslims around the world. Our hearts were united over our shared desire to love and serve hurting people.
After a traumatic and difficult trip to Niger as a married couple, we had a sort of identity crisis. Our four years of academic preparation and life experiences with cross cultural trips had prepared us to live and work internationally. Yet once we arrived on the field, we realized just how underequipped we were to minister, when the people’s primary physical needs of medical, agricultural, and clean water couldn’t be met. Not by any shortcomings of our academic or experiential preparation, but because the needs were outside the skills we had to use in that area of the world. We returned stateside not sure what our next steps would be.
Over the second year of our marriage we became pregnant and planted roots deeply in Lincoln. It was my own experience of childbirth which not only changed me as a person, but also led me to explore an entirely new career in caring for pregnant women and families. After the birth of our son, I realized there was a great need for women and families to have a guide through the system of maternity care. While the maternity system meets people’s needs in a medical capacity, there is a huge hole in the area of emotional, physical and spiritual support. It was this side of the childbirth experience that our current system is not set up to meet, yet I was confident I could help fill. I began to research and discovered there was a professional role, called a Doula, that helped fill this need. By the time our son turned one and a half, I had completed the education and training to become a Doula, finished the reading requirements, submitted the required papers, and attended my first births.
In the last ten years of my Doula practice, I have had the honor of serving over 200 families in central Illinois, helping to provide individualized education prenatally so they better understand their options in childbirth. When a client’s birthing time comes, I am by their side, present to support them physically, emotionally and spiritually as they welcome their little ones into the world. I am a guide and teacher every step of the way, caring for their whole person by building a relationship with them throughout their pregnancy, and supporting their desires as the birth unfolds. Births are like fingerprints, no two are the same, and over the last ten years I have had my practice, I have been alongside clients in many happy moments and some very deeply tragic ones, too. Although my husband and I are not living internationally as we once anticipated we would, God in His own way, is using our original desires of serving Him. We are now firmly planted in the cornfields of Illinois and are doing the work he has set before us. God has gifted us three lovely children whom I have the privilege of homeschooling and raising to know their value in the Lord and His good plan for their lives. The work that I am honored to do with clients is truly bi-vocational: getting to minister the love of Christ as families are transformed through their birth experience and getting to develop and grow in my skills as a Doula. In every prenatal appointment and birth with a client, I am using skills of entering into their culture, loving them with the love of Christ, and helping bridge the gap by meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs in a time when they are incredibly vulnerable and uncertain. I am grateful for the foundation I gained at LCU for living a life in service to others. As Christians, we are called to serve as Christ served. At home I am discipling the next generation of our family. At work, I am able to combine my love for missions, reaching those I serve with the love of Christ, and teaching as I serve women and families in central Illinois as they have healthy and educated births.