The Chemical Reaction that Was, and Is, my Calling to Preach


It’s an odd shift from Engineer to Preacher, some might say. And I suppose they could be right. It has often felt strange to me as well. When I was eighteen years old and thinking about college majors, I was far more interested in thermodynamics than homiletics. In fact, I didn’t even know what homiletics was.

So how did it happen—how and why did my interest change? Well, I’m not actually sure I will ever know all of the factors that went into the transition. In my mind, sometimes I think of it like a chemical reaction. Chemical reactions can be strange things. Sometimes two ingredients that are unreactive by themselves, when combined, become explosive, especially when mixed vigorously. And now that I have had a decade to reflect on my transition from engineer to preacher, I think I know a few of the ingredients that became the unexpected chemical reaction that was, and is, my calling to preach.

My call to preach came, in part, through doing it—the infrequent opportunities to speak here, lead a Bible study there. And that makes sense; it’s a natural progression, I suppose. Someone sees something in you—some gifting, some potential—and eventually they ask you to give it a try. And it goes okay and you learn, and eventually someone asks again and you get another try. And then another. So, yes, I would say, in part, my call to preach came through doing it and the encouragement I received during those early years.

However, in large measure, my call to preach came not through doing, but having it done to me. What I mean is that the call to preach seemed to pounce on me, irrevocably so, while listening to other men preach and feeling my mind and affections doused in a kind of spiritual kerosene so that I just knew I wanted to, in fact had to, be involved in doing this for others. During the early days of this feeling, if I could have “hit pause” during a sermon by any one of a number of gifted preachers I was listening to in those days, I think I would have described the experience this way:

What God is doing right now, through that guy, on that stage, behind that pulpit, as he explains that passage, with those words and those gestures, and that tone, and with all of that love and passion and urgency, such that my heart is prodded and my mind is riveted—well someday, I just have to be involved in sharing that with others.

This is what I mean when I say that my calling to preach came not only through opportunities to preach, but also, even predominantly, through having it done to me. As I think back to the sermons that I was listening to in those days, I would say that this type of preaching made me say in my heart, “Yes! I want more of Christ; and our God is wonderful; and I’m so thankful for the Gospel; and now I too want to speak, and risk and serve and love and give my life for this Gospel.”

And this “reaction” to preaching still happens for me. Good preaching doesn’t get old. Still, as I listen to others preach (“that guy, on that stage, behind that pulpit, as he explains that passage…”), it still awakens longings.

So when people ask me why an engineer would ever become a preacher, I think they typically want a “sound bite” answer. And I’m not sure how to give them that. Someday maybe I will figure out how to do that. For now, I suppose that I could just say that it had (and has) something to do with vinegar and baking soda, corked and shaken.