My son Jonah was born in July 2017. My wife and I had just purchased our first home in East Mesa, Arizona. As new parents, we were concerned about how we would raise our son. I had grown up in a religious Mormon home. Growing up in the Mormon church meant that, along with my parents, the entire community was involved in raising and rearing me. If I wandered off, someone was always there to find me—even if I didn’t want the wisdom of my own parents. Looking back, I desired the same community shepherding for Jonah, but not in the Mormon religious context. My wife agreed.
Before meeting my wife, I had left the Mormon church and found myself identifying as a humanist. My faith and hope rested in the hands and minds of humanity—science, reason and logic. Humanism led me down the road to becoming agnostic, and I eventually found myself at the dead-end of atheism. But our good and gracious God had a different direction for me. I lost everything in which I put my faith and hope. All of the things of this world that I held high as infallible sources of joy and security were taken away. God broke me down, almost to the point of returning to the dust, in order to hit my reset button and begin a major reconstruction. My life would become His.
I eventually found myself back at the Mormon church (for about 4 minutes), then studying Buddhism, then sitting in the pews of a Presbyterian church, going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at a Catholic church, and finally worshiping at a non-denominational church, which as it turned out, was actually a Baptist church. But no matter where I looked, I found flaws in theology when it was compared to God’s Word, and I was ready to give up again.
Several years later, my wife said, “We should look for a church to raise our child in.” I once again began thinking about faith and what it meant to have faith. Having faith means you trust, you believe…but in what? A historical institution? A campus with a hip coffee shop, flashing lights, and smoke machines? A gaggle of human leaders? Or simply faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ?
Before Christ ascended into Heaven, He built His Church upon the confession that He is Lord and Savior.
“Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:16-19)
Great! Now, I just needed to find a church that hung its hat on faith in Jesus Christ alone. Hello, Martin Luther! No, hello Jesus! My wife and I visited Christ Greenfield Church in Gilbert, Arizona. We were invited to attend their What We Believe class, where I was exposed to more of Luther’s teachings and the Book of Concord. My eyes were opened through Luther’s teachings of God’s Word through the lens of Law and Gospel, delivered to me by God’s messengers—Deacon Steve Ehrman and Pastor Tim Ahlman. My son and I were baptized soon after taking this class, and it was in Baptism that life truly began.
A couple of months later, my wife bought me a copy of the Book of Concord for Christmas, and within it, she wrote, “My dearest Ryan, I am so happy to see how you have grown so quickly in your faith in our Lord. I hope this book fills you with the Spirit. I love you more than you know. Love, Ashley.” I love my wife—my encourager and partner in the Gospel. If she only knew what she was getting herself into…
A few weeks later, I was invited to join a church leadership study group on Sundays at 6:00 in the morning led by Pastors Tim Ahlman and Jake Boessling. The leaders in this group poured into my life and carried me along as I was growing in God’s gift of faith. I began sharing the faith with our friends in the neighborhood. I prayed every night for my neighbors by name to come to faith in Jesus Christ. And then, two of our friends were baptized, and I was a witness to the power of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, by grace through faith, at work in real-time. I felt pulled to learn more, to teach more, to serve more, to be the hands and feet of Jesus as much as I could and as often as I could. I loved nothing more than talking to everyone I knew about what Jesus had done for me, for them, and why we should believe and rejoice! It is finished! CHRIST IS FOR YOU!
I looked to Pastor Tim and Pastor Jake. I thought, “Boy, I’d really love to do that. I’d love to spend all of my waking hours sharing the good news of Jesus, pointing people back to Jesus
in times of hurt and reminding them of God’s promises when all seems lost.” The people of the church body encouraged me to listen and heed God’s call to ministry. Within the LCMS, the answer to this call would require me to sell my house, quit my job, ask my wife to quit her job, sell all of our stuff, move to St. Louis, spend a couple of years at Concordia Seminary, move again for a year-long vicarage, move back to St. Louis for a year, and then, most likely, take a call at a church outside of our community—away from our families and away from our congregation. Many would say, “Yes, pick up your cross and carry it, Ryan.” Well, forgive me friend, but that was not what God was calling me to do. My ministry is here, where I grew up, where I am deeply connected to the community and culture—where I know and serve people in my neighborhood. This is where God was calling me to pick up my cross for Him.
As seen in Acts 6, Stephen was called by the local church to serve the people who he knew and cared for—the Hellenistic Jews and their widows. Stephen knew their language, their local customs, how to connect with the local people and how to best serve them.
“The apostles said, ‘Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:3-6)
Sometimes I feel like the church as an institution is neglecting the needs of the local church. Because of the high cost of tuition and lack of local education opportunities, there are not enough people able to raise their hands to say, “Here I am, Lord! Send me!” Pastor Tim Ahlman has written at length on this, and you can read more about it in his blog Why the Church Needs to Deploy Local Leaders (Part 3 of 3). Given the right opportunity, there are many who have and will raise their hands to say, “I will do this for the Lord and His people! Send me!” We see this evidenced at Christ Greenfield and the Unite leadership Collective through the growing number of seminary students studying and serving locally.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, the church body wants and needs to say, “We choose these people to bring us the good news of Jesus and to care for us! We chose these people to serve us!” But the institution has already said, “Great, but first, they must go to this far off place, scale these high walls, and once they’re inside, you may not get this person back.” If it were not for the leadership of ULC, Christ Greenfield, Kairos University, and the Luther House of Study, I would not be heeding God’s beckoning call to “Come follow me.” Earning an M.Div. through Kairos allows me to serve and work full time locally. I am able to study where and when I need to through online classes, in-person learning, and practical on-the-job training. The education I am receiving through Kairos and the Luther House of Studies, closely guided by my Christ Greenfield mentor team, is a top-notch, fully accredited seminary education that is challenging and applicable, but most importantly allows me and many others to raise our hands high and say, “Here I am Lord! Send me!”
We are doing our best to faithfully live out the Great Commission and our divine call to action in a rapidly growing community where so many need the gospel!
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the Age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Jesus has commanded this of His Church (all believers) and Jesus is with us—that’s a promise from God. If there is someone in your life who is feeling called to serve in ministry, I encourage you to point them to Kairos University. May we continue inviting others into ministry by bringing down high walls and offering vocational and bi-vocational opportunities to serve and care within local contexts. I thank God for opening the doors of ministry to myself and so many others who are to come.