“You’re not doing ministry, Richard”

This is meant to be a brief justification for my decision to join Teach For America.

I was met by some stares and pauses when I finally revealed my decision to join TFA. After spending two and half years at Wheaton College then four years at Dallas Theological Seminary, I believed the next step was a PhD and teaching at a Christian college somewhere. But I had been wearied physically and emotionally by my studies in grad school and knew I could not start a PhD in good conscience.

There were only a few people I told about TFA because (1) I didn’t want to apply and fail to be accepted, and (2) I felt I would be judged for joining a secular organization and pursuing a path many believed would be contrary to my training. Only my family and a few select people were in on my decision.

So when the dust settled and I was in, that’s when I let the cat out of the bag. To my surprise most people were positive. I think the best response was from the director of the Lay Institute at Dallas Theological Seminary, Caroline Buie, said, “What a ministerial way for you to use your education!” And she hit the nail right on the head.

Somewhere in the last month I realized how ministerial teaching in public schools could be. Teachers have an immeasurable impact on their students. In the three weeks I taught summer school, I spent 30 hours with my students (2 hours a day, 5 days a week, 3 weeks). Now stretch that to more hours a day for 180 days. My voice is stronger and my life is more transparent than the pastor they might be listening to on any given Sunday.

The kids I served all had stories that were different than mine. And one of the guys in my classroom had a parole officer and a court hearing—he was 12. I explained to him how to carry himself in court (how to dress, how to talk, and how to behave). That to me was a breakthrough moment in my relationship with him. I genuinely felt that he understood that someone cared for him.

Then somewhere in the last month I realized that if I taught at the college I have dreamed of teaching at for a few years, none of the students I served this summer would be able to attend. They couldn’t afford it and that school probably wouldn’t want them anyway. So my future ministry at a Christian college would only be serving the people who have had privileges in education all their life already.

What I have decided to do for the next two years is ministry. And the potential impact is heightened by my theological training and education.

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