By MIKE MAHAFFEY
My call to ministry can be described best as a "creeping call." It sneaked up on me.
I was baptized in another denomination at age 14, left church at age 16, and wandered in the wilderness for more than 20 years.
Then my two adult children became very active in a denomination unfamiliar to me. I spent three years reading everything I could get my hands on concerning theology, world religions, denominational history, and more.
All that reading led me to "how" my children joined this denomination, but did little to answer "why" they were so involved.
One night, I awoke suddenly with these words ringing in my head: It’s not about them, stupid; it’s about you. I soon began looking for a church to call home.
In my reading, John Wesley’s theology of grace spoke to me in a way that I found missing in other faith communities. My wife had grown up United Methodist; her grandfather John Dennis was a retired Elder in the Oklahoma Conference.
She and I found our way to First UMC in Muskogee, and I vowed to give God an hour a week.
But we were invited to join a Sunday School class, and my one-hour vow began to change.
Members of the class rotated as volunteer teachers. After my first turn, the sign-up list mysteriously disappeared. I taught the class for five years.
I became a certified Lay Servant and taught a weekly adult Bible Study for three years. Then encouraging words from class and church members led me to "fill the pulpit" for vacationing pastors in smaller, nearby churches.
I was blessed to serve in these ways as an active lay member and concluded, "This is enough."
But others thought there might be more awaiting me, even a call to ministry.
I said, "No way."
One Sunday found us worshipping at Kingston UMC, celebrating Rev. Dennis’ 100th birthday. Listening to the sermon, I thought it rude when someone behind me said loudly, "You will preach."
Yet no one was there when I turned around, and none of the other worshippers seemed to notice. After the service, I told John about my church involvement and the proclamation that only I heard that day.
He prayed with me, offering a double blessing for what I was doing and what he knew would be unfolding.
That day my "no way" became "maybe" and, later, with encouraging words from trusted others, "maybe" became "Yes, Lord, here I am." So I contacted my district superintendent and started the journey into clergy ministry.
However, I thought it unlikely that I would advance much. I was 50 years old at the time, with more wilderness than church experience, and confident all this was just a misunderstanding.
The Ministry Inquiry Process helped me so much as I wrestled with my call.
I found the ministry path for me was as a Licensed Local Pastor. I seemed best suited to serve small and/or rural churches — if there was a need and if I was found worthy.
This is my 15th year as a full-time Licensed Local Pastor. I chose licensed ministry for several reasons, and No. 1 is the accountability factor. Annually I submit my ministry to examination by the superintendent and District Committee on Ministry. In addition, not having security of appointment adds an intensity to my calling.
I depend on my call daily while living it out, currently serving Fairview at Slapout and Catesby. I have been blessed beyond measure after finally saying yes.