Hey there! My name is Tanner. I’m a Pastoral Resident at Community Evangelical Church, which is somewhat like an internship but a little bit different; and this is my blog! I wanted to have a space where I could provide ministry updates for those interested, post content I’m working on, and just talk about how I’m doing!
I think a good place to start in this first post is with my testimony! I’ll start from the beginning, all the way up until the present:
My testimony starts, as I’m sure it does with many, with a childhood of growing up in the church. We were a “church every Sunday” kind of family, and I remember knowing all of the Bible stories from a very young age. I also remember knowing who Jesus was, that He died on the cross for my sins, and that through Him I could have eternal life, but what I don’t remember is this knowledge having an impact on my life during days other than Sunday.
As I grew older, my life began to resemble that of my friends who weren’t Christians. Eventually, around the time when I was transitioning to highschool, it was up to me whether or not I wanted to continue going to church. My three older siblings had all chosen to stop attending church, so, as the youngest, my decision was easy. In highschool, I just wanted to fit in. And I did just that; I fit in. I became just like my friends, and my life was marked by drinking, partying, mistreating women, and an addiction to pornography and masturbation. As I look back on this time, I remember one specific instance when a friend, who knew I grew up going to church, asked me if I was a Christian. I knew that the life I was living didn’t line up with the Christian life, and I thought that I might be made fun of, so I said no. I said that I wasn’t a Christian. I like to speak of my story in terms of “identity”, and at this time I was lost. I didn’t have an identity, and I was searching for anything and everything to find my identity in.
My senior year of highschool, I entered into a relationship. This relationship was good in some ways, because it pulled me away from my friends, but ultimately it was not centered around Christ, and we fell into the temptations of sexual sin. I was searching for something to find happiness in, to find satisfaction in, to find my identity in; and I tried to find it in this relationship.
The summer after my freshman year of college is the point that I call the “turning point” in my life. The point in which God clearly called me back into a relationship with Him, and the point in which I responded. I had gone to a Christian summer camp as a kid called Twin Pines, and one day I stumbled upon an advertisement saying that they needed male counselors. It’s hard for me to explain it, and it didn’t come as an audible voice, but it was so clear to me that God was calling me to do this. I presented the idea to my parents and my girlfriend, and while they were confused at the sudden change of life direction, they were eventually supportive; so I went.
Through ministering to campers, and sharing the gospel with them, I was also ministering to myself. Surrounded by other Christians my age, I grew in my renewed faith, and learned what it meant to truly be a follower of Jesus. Before this point I would not have considered myself a Christian, but I found myself filled with this indescribable joy, and my parents, and everyone around me, noticed a difference.
But the summer ended, and when I returned from camp my girlfriend and I broke up. I was furious with God. I thought to myself: “I devoted my whole summer to You, and this is how I’m rewarded?” and “Why would I want to serve a God who will just take things away from me?”. I was still young in my faith at this time, and did not understand God’s purpose for hardships in our lives. In rebellion, I turned my back on God and returned to the sins of my past I thought I had defeated.
I fell into what seemed like an inescapable depression, and I became very good at putting up a façade of seeming fine on the outside; but on the inside I was broken. But God, in His graciousness, reached into my life again to offer me a position on the leadership team for the next summer. I was incredibly confused by this, and even though I wanted to go back, I didn’t see how I could lead others when I looked at the life I had lived in the past year. I compare myself to Moses at this point, telling God that I’m not good enough, or that He should use someone else.
Eventually I did decide to go back, and while it was a struggle at first, the Lord was gracious with me and used it to renew my spirit. I became filled with the same joy I had felt the first summer, and God did amazing things through me once again. At the end of that summer, I was determined to never turn my back on God again. Peter’s words in John 6:68 rang true for me as well.
At this point in my life, I was transitioning to Penn State’s main campus for my junior year of college. Since I was determined not to turn my back on God, I was motivated to find a Christian fellowship on campus to join. The Lord led me to DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship right away, and I spent the remainder of my college career heavily invested in their ministry on campus. I joined the leadership team, helped to lead Bible studies on campus, and discipled younger students. And while there was much pouring out, there was also a lot of pouring in. I was taught how to study the Bible, how to lead a Bible study, how to disciple; all while being discipled myself. This period of my life was truly a time of deepening in my faith, and also the time in which God began to call me into ministry.
During my senior year of college, God placed a calling on my life to ministry. I spent many nights wrestling with Him about what that specific ministry was, but a future of ministry was incredibly clear. I was spending more time studying for my religious studies courses than for my major courses. I was spending all of my free time involved with our fellowship on campus. I felt that God had gifted me in areas that would lead to a fruitful future in ministry, and those gifts were confirmed by our older staff members. Pastoral ministry was a recurring theme in my prayers, as I had fallen in love with teaching, whether it was leading Bible studies or preaching for our fellowship.
But, upon graduation, the only job opportunity I had was a secular one in my field. I accepted it, and formulated what I called my “5-year plan”. I planned to work at this job for five years, pay off my debt, and then at the end of the five years re-evaluate my plan. All this time my calling to ministry remained, and I began to search for a Seminary I could attend online part-time while I was working.
God then took my “5-year plan”, and flipped it upside down about 9 months in. One Sunday afternoon my pastor asked me out to lunch, and proceeded to ask me to consider coming on staff at my church as a pastoral intern. Completely caught off guard, I lost my appetite and said I would pray about it over the coming weeks and get back to him. And, after much prayer and counsel from friends, I decided to accept the offer. I was hesitant at first, because I feel as though I had a romanticized idea of what a pastor does; but I grew to understand that a pastor is more than just what you see on Sundays. A pastor sacrificially serves their church through hospital visits, funerals, meetings, discipleship, prayer; all of which happening without the whole congregation seeing it. This was a weighty realization for me to make. I felt burdened by the weight of a potential pastorate in the future; by the carrying the well-being of shepherding a congregation on your shoulders. My friends and mentors were helpful to me in realizing this, and affirming in noting that God had gifted me in not just teaching, but also this sacrificial service behind the scenes.
Even though I had my own plan, God had His plan, and ultimately, I arrived at the place where I needed to surrender to His. The decision to accept His plan wasn’t without sacrifice on my part, but I know that He will prove to be faithful in ways I can’t imagine. So that takes me to where I am today! COVID-19 has made my pastoral internship look a bit different than what I anticipated, but the Lord continues to teach me. (Just not the things I thought I would learn!) After Seminary, I hope to continue to pursue pastoral ministry; whether it’s at the church I’m at currently, or if the Lord decides to take me somewhere else.
And that wraps up my first post! If you read this far, I just want to thank you for taking the time to read my story. I’m truly thankful for the ways God has worked, and is working, in my life. I’m looking forward to what the future holds, and I’m looking forward to writing more blog posts as well! I plan to post once a week on Wednesdays, so stay on the lookout for those!