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"We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours." - John of Salisbury
Anybody who has heard my story would be familiar with preachers named Paul Carrier, Tom Morgart, and Keith Davenport.
Paul Carrier was the preacher who baptized me when I was 12, gave me my first experiences with taking notes from the sermons and he showed me how to feed a congregation through Biblically based sermons every week. He also led a Men's retreat at my church in Mountain City GA before he passed away. I was able to visit him towards the end of his life and he encouraged me to keep going and told me that he was proud of how I turned out.
Tom Morgart was very much like Paul Carrier with the Biblically based sermons, and he showed me how to involve every member of the family as part of the ministry of the church. He also showed tough love at a time when I was not willing to listen. Now I realize that if I paid attention to his counsel, I would have avoided a very dark period in my life.
Paul Carrier was there at the beginning of my spiritual journey and Tom Morgart was there during the second half of my high school years. They were both special in my life, but Keith Davenport became the family minister after my parents joined his church.
Keith Davenport showed me how to be a great shepherd by building relationships with the people. He was there for me during the years after high school and he was there when I returned after my dark period that I call the Jonah/Prodigal Son years.
Those three ministers are familiar for those who know my story, but there is a fourth minister who was there for a season, and his name is Mike Portwood.
Mike Portwood recently transitioned, and he is now enjoying his reward for being a good and faithful servant. This event brought me back to the few years I attended Snellville Christian Church.
The years I spent at Snellville Christian Church were short, but they made a lasting impact thanks to Mike Portwood.
At that point in my life, I was arrogant, full of myself, and mad at the world because nobody wanted me to be a youth minister. Of course, I never actually applied for a position with the church and I didn't have any formal education, but I just knew that none of that stuff mattered, and my limited experience with youth ministry was enough for me to be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time) of youth ministry.
Looking back on that period in my life makes me laugh, but it also embarrasses me because my attitude was so poor and my ego was huge.
I decided that since the churches were not taking me seriously, I was going to "Go rogue" and create my own ministry to help the youth groups of the church. Yeah, as ridiculous as it sounds, my view was that distorted. I actually thought that even though churches would not hire me as their youth minister, they would allow me to help their youth groups through my own ministry to the churches.
I sent out a letter with several big names because I knew that the churches would take me seriously if I showed them how well connected I was with their favorite preachers. I was oozing with arrogance and that was when I received the wakeup call that saved my place in the ministry.
A few weeks after mailing the letters, I got a call from Mike Portwood who wanted to spend some time with me during the week. Since I was singing in the choir, I thought it may have had something to do with a recent conversation I had with the music minister who was looking to use me for some specials during the service. However, that was not the reason for the visit.
That one conversation I had with Mike Portwood in his office changed my course and my life was finally back on track.
I sat down on the other side of his desk, and he pulls out the letter I mailed to him. My heart sunk because I knew I got caught. He told me that he called the people in my letter to verify the references, and he had some interesting conversations. At this point, I was ready to walk out because I did not want to hear the lecture about lying to churches and ultimately to God.
Mike Portwood could have ripped me apart and destroy my chances of entering the ministry full-time, but he saw something in me that he knew was worth saving.
He was like a loving father helping his son learn the correct way to accomplish his goals, but I was like the rebellious teenager who knew more about life than any adult who tried to teach me. The conversation continued, and I was preparing for the punch in the gut, but instead, I got the hand on my shoulder and a word of encouragement.
I was told that if I became a youth minister, I would probably have about 2 years' worth of good material, and then the well would dry up. If I went to Bible college and earned a degree, I would deepen the well so there would be plenty of the Living Water to keep my youth group hydrated. That phrase "Deepen the well" became part of my vocabulary anytime I lead a Bible Study today.
After thinking about going to college when my friends have already spent most of their years attending classes, I was frustrated because they would be graduating while I would be getting started. It was not fair that I would have to suffer through college when I was old enough to work in churches. At least, that was what I told myself, and that was why I was sitting in the office watching my hopes and dreams break apart.
I decided to express my true feelings to Mike Portwood and told him that I felt like the train was leaving the station, and I was running to catch it. I just knew that he would be understanding and he would tell me to keep running because one day, I would catch that train and live happily ever after. Of course, that was not what he said because that was not what I needed to hear.
After telling him that I felt like I was trying to catch the train before it left the station, he said, "It already left. You have to wait for the next train and get on."
That was the wakeup call I needed. After a couple of weeks of sulking, I took his advice and signed up for a couple of classes at Atlanta Christian College. Eventually, I ended up transferring to Florida Christian College and then attending the seminary at Cincinnati Christian University. Now I have an MDIV and a great church where I am living out the upward call of Christ!
Thank you Mike Portwood for telling me exactly what I needed to hear at a time when I was not willing to listen. I heard you and eventually took your advice. When I make it to heaven, I will shake your hand and tell you what I never told you while you were still here on earth. Thanks for helping me become a full-time minister!