You may not know who Greg Allen is. You may not know that he is the worship leader for the largest Christian Church in North America. You may not know that every weekend he leads tens of thousands of Christians to the throne of God through music. You may not know that the staff around him respected not only his musical abilities, which are profound, but they also noticed his walk with God, which was so profound that they moved him from worship leader to a new position: the Minister of Leadership.
You also may not know that Greg Allen nearly lost his voice… permanently. In the late 1990s Greg had three different surgeries on his throat and vocal chords to repair damage. Unsure whether he would ever speak, much less sing again, he fell at the feet of Jesus. The leaders at his Louisville congregation valued integrity more than talent and still used Greg at times to lead worship even though all he could do was talk barely above a whisper and lip sync the lyrics. It was at this time that Greg felt God saying to him, “I do not love you because you are a worship leader. I love you because you are my child.”
As I heard Greg share his story this weekend, I was reminded of my journey. I went to Bible College and got a degree in Bible and preaching. My first ministry was in northern Ohio. No friends nearby. No family around the corner. Cold weather that seemed warm compared to the culture of the congregation I found myself serving. Those first years were rough. My inexperience combined with feeling alone combined with overbearing leaders led to a lot of headaches, many of my own making. But I never wavered in my commitment. I was a preacher. I was called. I would not give up on my calling.
After Ohio came Kentucky. Everything Ohio was not, Kentucky was. Here I had friends. Here I had a network of ministers I could lean on. Here I was close enough to home to see family a couple times a year. But… these stories always have a but! But it was a difficult ministry. A church plant that had more going wrong than right when I arrived. I was hired as ‘the last chance effort’ to save the already 2 year-old plant. Long story short, there were internal power struggles that when confronted led to an already small church splitting. After three years the funding ran out and I was asked my honest opinion on what to do. What did I do? I fired myself! I told them to close the doors and relaunch. But my faith did not waver. I was a preacher. I was called. I would not give up on my calling.
Then came six long months of searching. Dozens of resumes went out (I stopped counting at 50!) and ‘rejection’ letters began to pour in:
“We’re sorry but…
…you’re too young to preach.”
…you’re too old to lead youth.”
…we can’t afford to support you and your family.”
…you preach too well to be an associate.”
Five months went by without a single interview. My wife and I each juggled part-time jobs as we tried to make ends meet during this dry spell, when finally a church in southern Virginia called. Virginia! Virginia was home! It was a youth ministry position under a well-seasoned and successful preaching minister that I could be mentored by and learn from his example. We could barely curb our excitement! We went and interviewed for the position. I prepared a lesson to teach to the youth and was told by elders and staff alike, “Pack your bags, the rest is a formality.” This had to be God’s will for us!
Turns out it wasn’t. Two weeks later we got the rejection phone call. I was broken. I was shaken. I began to doubt if I was really called. After all, if I was called then God would have a place for me, right? All my confident statements turned into questions.
Am I a preacher?
Am I called?
Will I give up on my calling?
It was soon after this that I attended church with a good friend in Lexington. It was a Wednesday night service at a large church and I wanted to hide in a corner and hope beyond hope for some revelation. There was worship, but my heart had no song. There was a lesson, but my mind did not feed. But… these stories always have a but! But then the teacher said they were going to do something different. He divided the crowd into groups of a dozen or less and told us to pray for each person. I tried to avoid a group, but God’s people have a way of sucking you in when you don’t want to be but desperately need to be included. My group was only five or six people. We introduced ourselves and agreed to pray for the person to our right. I have long forgotten the name of the gentleman to my left. I don’t remember every word he said, but I remember one phrase, “Lord let this young man know tonight that You love Him.”
He loves me!
Oh how He loves me!
After the amens were said I left quickly and sat in my car and wept openly. The message God gave me that night was the same he gave to Greg Allen, “I don’t love you because you are a preacher. I love you because you are my child!” I no longer doubted my calling; my calling as a child of God. Within a month I was employed in Maryland as a teacher in a Christian School and part-time associate minister. It was not what I had envisioned, but for four years God held me in a crucible of learning humility and obedience; two lessons I desperately needed to learn.
Then after four years God flung open the doors to preaching ministry. Today, I find myself in southern Virginia, doing God’s will and not my own. You see my story is really His story and this is my story: I am a preacher. I am called. I will not give up on my calling.
What’s your story?