I was a bleary-eyed wreck. I blame my wife. Maybe it wasn’t her fault but at 4:30am it felt so wrong to be so awake. Moving in a concerted effort after just 7 short years of marriage we worked well together even though we both still very much wanted to be asleep. The point? We were headed to Atlanta, home of the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the final step toward receiving a denominational endorsement for Naval Chaplaincy.
Rewind about 2 weeks and you would find me almost reluctantly shooting out an email to my endorsing agent at NAMB curious about when we could start the process over again for endorsement. I say reluctant because I half expected to be turned away. In the span of about 2 hours I received a reply with 3 short questions and an invitation to Alpharetta (a suburb of Atlanta) to the interview conference, the final step in the process of endorsement. That big oak door swung open so fast I think I heard a hinge snap.
To say NAMB is thorough would be one of the biggest understatements of the year.From memory here is a list of everything I needed up to this point.
- The usual applications and resume for starters
- References:Pastor,Chairman of the Deacon Board,Women’s Ministry Director,Local Denominational Reference,and two other character references.
- Doctrinal Stance on:Pretty much everything (expect 3-4 pages worth of about 12 question)
- Missional PositionHow you do ministry, how you witness, how often you share your faith, etc. (again another 3-4 pages).
Granted not all endorsers are created equal and some simply sign off on you. In a nutshell the military wants you to have 72 hours at the Masters level (essentially a Master of Divinity) and 2 years of ministry experience. NAMB, which is the endorsing body of the Southern Baptist Convention, has to decide whether or not you meet those requirements. Point in fact: a Chaplain serves in the Navy but serves at the pleasure of his endorsing agency. If the endorser pulls your endorsement at any point your career is over. There is nothing the Navy can do about it. To that end be very sure that you agree with the endorser on all essential matters of faith before you seek their approval, because they will be with you for a long time – it’s not just a piece of paper, it’s a contract that you will abide by for the duration of your career.
The flight was for the most part uneventful save for the landing which everyone around me thought was normal but I knew better! I think I have a fear of landing. Take off – easy, flying – fine, turbulence – meh. Landing? Please God let me live.By the way, the whole trip was paid in full by NAMB – they even made us promise to send them a receipt for the tolls we encountered driving to the airport to meet the plane (I don’t think we did – but then again we’ve always walked a little on the wild side). We found our ride which took us to the hotel and then on to the NAMB headquarters after we checked in. Can I just say that every single person associated with the Southern Baptist Convention needs to make this trip. I had no idea what NAMB was all about apart from needing a piece of paper from them saying I’m not insane and capable of ministry in the navy.
Welcome to NAMB
What I got was a ride through heaven. Not pearly gates and streets of gold but an overwhelming sense that what this place was about was identifying, equipping, mentoring and sending out men and women, shoot even kids, for the work of leading a dark, dying world into the brilliant life-giving light of the Lord Jesus Christ. Overwhelmed was an understatement. It was a God-breathed moment in my life. This was right – this was good. This was of Him, for Him and by Him.
The interview was about an hour and every single deep dark secret was on the chopping block – full disclosure was the rule of the day. However, to say that the trip was about the interview would be only half right. The knowledge, fellowship and friends made on that trip will last a lifetime. Three short days and it was over. Incidentally, or rather more on purpose, we did meet another couple headed towards the navy and God-willing we will be in the same class at ODS, navigating the wiles of the military as brothers united through the bonds of Christ.
On February 17th I received my official endorsement letter – it made my day. Men far wiser than I had stamped their approval validating what Angela and I had felt in our hearts months before:
God was calling us to the Navy.