Before I started attending Prairie College, I spent 33 years working in the Alberta Oil Patch. I lived a life that broke every one of God’s commandments, either by thought or by deed. I struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol. I was indeed an enemy of God. I wanted no part of him.
In 2010, with my marriage failing, I was at the lowest point in my life. It was that moment, when I was at my weakest, God sent a faithful servant to tell me I needed Jesus in my life. You see, I had quit drinking and drugs, but nothing changed. I was still the same miserable, self-centered, and selfish person. The humble servant God sent me told me I needed to change from the inside out.
Those words started an incredible journey of discovery. I found out who God is, and the salvation he offers through the blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. On May 24, 2011, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the truth about God and salvation. That night, I surrendered my life to Christ.
Almost from the time of my conversion, I felt called to go to Bible school. However, I fought God for four years; at 46, school was the furthest thing from my mind. As usually is the case, I lost the fight with God, and one by one, he removed all of my objections and all of the obstacles that were preventing me from doing his will. God was faithful through out the whole process.
I was living in Hanna, Alberta at that time. Therefore, when I decided to check out Bible schools, I looked into Prairie College in Three Hills because it was the closest one. The minute I walked through the doors of the Maxwell Center the first time, I knew that this was where God wanted me. That was the beginning of a 5-year journey.
I began college one week after I turned 50, and I do not know if I was ever more scared in my life. I walked across the grass from the parking lot to register, and about halfway from my truck to the registration tents and I asked myself, “What the heck are you doing here?” I saw all the young people lined up; they were so excited to be venturing out on their own for the first time in their lives. I felt like I didn’t belong, and just as I was about to turn and walk away Kelly Steffen came hurrying over to me and grabbed my hand and welcomed me to Prairie.
I always tell people I encounter that you will go to Prairie for an education but you will stay because of the community. In my opinion, there is no safer place to explore your personal relationship with God. Everyone from the staff and faculty to the dean of education and the president of the college are there to love and serve you. The people of Prairie quickly became a family in and through Christ.
I learned so much about our triune God, and I learned a lot about myself too. What I learned at Prairie has prepared me for my life after college in full time pastoral ministry.
I think the biggest lesson or skill I took away from Prairie is to love people. It wasn’t easy for me because I had lived such a selfish life for so long and my heart was so hardened. However, through the great people I encountered at this college, God began to cleave the scar tissue off my heart. My empathy and compassion grew, and I was able to love others again. We don’t always have to like what people do or how they live their lives, but Jesus tells us we are to love them no matter what. I am certain I was hard to love at times during my tenure at Prairie, but no one gave up on me.
The people at Prairie College really taught me how to deal with others in a God honouring, and Christ centered way. This has helped me so much as a lead pastor.
I am now serving in a small rural church in Two Hills, Alberta. That’s right; I lost a hill but gained a ministry. This church is fantastic, I am so grateful God called me here. My time at Prairie prepared me well to serve God by serving the people in my church, town, and county.
Just a heads up for all the aspiring pastors though: you don’t learn everything you need to about pastoral ministry at school. There is a steep learning curve when you are in a church. I learned from my mentor, Warren Charlton, that a pastor’s number one job, their biggest responsibility, the most effective tool they have, is prayer. Constantly be in prayer for your congregation, the people God has given you to serve.
No one school could ever teach you everything you need to know. As Charles Price told a group of us pastoral students, a reminder his wife gave him before every sermon, “Don’t forget to love the people.”
It is a privilege to be someone’s pastor; don’t ever take it lightly. Jesus, the Great Shepherd never took it lightly. Being open, honest, and vulnerable are keys to relating with people.
My best piece of advice or counsel to anyone, especial those who wish to become pastors, is continually try to strengthen your personal relationship with God. If your relationship with God is unhealthy, you cannot help others with theirs.
Which brings me to my final thought. While I was at Prairie College I was involved in the Prison Encounter Program, delivering college level classes to federal inmates. The college offers this fantastic opportunity to the inmates, but it is a ministry that also blesses the staff, faculty, and students of Prairie who help make it possible.
The inside of a prison can be a dark and spiritually oppressed place, but that just means the light of Jesus becomes more visible. You can see people’s hearts and lives changed without hindrance, seeing the power of God at work. All pastoral students should consider volunteering as tutors or mentors with this program. It is a great place to cut your teeth in pastoral ministry. It is also a place to get some life experience for younger pastoral students. As the men we serve in the prisons are fond of saying, “this is real life.”