By: Alex Blackwell, Pastoral Intern
When I was 16 years old I was adamant that I would become a pastor someday. I have no idea why – most sophomores in high school have barely started thinking about specific vocations. For me, it wasn’t even the top option among many… it was the only option. I had just decided to become a Christian, after a two-year process of looking into the intellectual foundations of a number of different worldviews. Long story short, after coming to stall at a crossroads between humanist atheism and Christianity for a few months, Christianity presented itself to provide the most viable explanation for everything. I began to read my Bible with a new passion and interest – and it wasn’t long before I took it in cover-to-cover. I ran into a lot of questions as I read through it, particularly the Old Testament, but my philosophical and apologetical mentors helped me through it. More than the questions that the process brought up, God revealed Himself to me over and over through His word, and a bond strengthened between us. My eyes were repeatedly opened to who God was, and who God continues to be in our lives today – and THAT is what made me want to become a pastor. I couldn’t keep those eye-opening moments to myself. I had to capture them and share what I had seen in every passage with the people around me.
College was spent with good community at Winona State University, discussing and taking in everything the Bible had to offer us. I loved to share my insights with people and I loved to hear theirs. My trajectory of becoming a pastor was becoming more and more clear to me. After college, however, an opportunity presented itself to me. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a ministry that works with college students around the country, invited me to work for them and reach college students at Winona State. I knew that this meant tabling my aspirations to go to seminary and become a pastor, but I had great relationships with the college resident hall staff as I was an RA in college. I couldn’t let these relationships and the influence that I thought I had go to waste – so I took the job.
I have now been working for InterVarsity for 7 years – 4 at Winona State and now 3 at the U of M. As I have been a pastor for college students, I thought that I was possibly still honoring the calling that I felt that I once had when I was 16. I do believe that God has used and continues to use my time with InterVarsity to shape me in great ways, but He had a more specific idea for me that He presented two years ago. I was meeting with a person I had never met before to discuss the possibility of him speaking at one of my events for my college students. After we had ironed out all of the details, he paused before leaving our meeting and asked me if I had ever considered going to seminary. As I considered my aspirations from years ago to one day go to Bethel Seminary, I said, “yeah I’ve considered it a lot, but I guess I’ve pushed it aside for six years for financial reasons.” This is where things started to line up. The man I was meeting with told me about a scholarship that I could apply for by the time I turned 27 – I was turning 27 in a few months. Then he explained that the scholarship deadline had been the week prior – but had just been extended two weeks. Then he disclosed that the scholarship covers 90-100% of tuition – there go my financial barriers. After two weeks of cramming in an application and an 8-hour interview with Bethel staff, I found myself with the 90% scholarship getting ready for my first day of school just a few months away.
When I stepped into my first classroom – I felt at home. I’m not a believer in everything happens for a reason or that every step I take is planned out by God, but when I stood in the seminary building, I knew I was meant to be there. Fast-forward to last year. I found out that only 2/3 of my required internship could be with InterVarsity and that 1/3 was required to be in a church setting – God continued to straighten out my trajectory in this direction. After thought and prayer we decided that the church my wife and I were involved in at the time was not the one for me to do my internship. Rather than find a list of internship opportunities and start applying for them, I wanted to make sure I was at a church I loved and believed in – so my wife and I started to hunt. In February, enCompass became the 5th church that we visited, and it was the first church that we felt we needed to visit a second time.
Nothing against other churches, but we had developed more community at enCompass after just a few weeks than some churches I had been involved in for much longer. We felt welcomed in. The second thing we experienced is that people at enCompass were not afraid to be real. My wife and I had experienced churches where people felt like they had to be someone else when they were inside the church – people at enCompass were refreshingly authentic. Finally, we found genuine continuous curiosity at enCompass. In other words, no one at enCompass claims to be done with learning from God. There is a hunger for growth and learning that is so evident among people here. My wife and I fell in love with our new church and everything that I saw in enCompass lined up with what I felt was going to help me grow as an aspiring pastor – and so I asked the guy that I knew to be the pastor if they had an internship available. The board said “yes,” and here I am – and that’s my road to becoming the pastoral intern at enCompass. I’ve loved the experience so far and I am greatly looking forward to the next semester here.