It was the spring of 1982, a significant year for me. I had quit my job at Bell Labs in New Jersey and moved to Austin, TX to begin a new job with a friend of mine who was helping to start a new company. They were going to make deep oil well probes to check the pressure far below the surface. I would be the programmer, working alongside some engineers who would design the hardware. Coding is a hot topic now. Back then I was doing assembly language programming on 8086 Intel chips.
Within two months, the company dissolved and I found another job with Bausch and Lomb, a division of Houston Instrument, just before the advent of CAD/CAM. My division programmed these massive tabletop printers for architectural drawings. It was really cool to see the pens whip around a huge sheet of paper to render a drawing.
Anyway, it was during this time that I realized I enjoyed everything I was doing with the church more than anything I ever did with my job. The pastor who confirmed me told me I should become a pastor, but I never gave that any more thought. Till now, when a vicar at my Texas church said the same thing nine years later. Hmm. Is that even a possibility? After all, I didn’t study any theology as an undergraduate. Could I really do that? My vicar and pastor assured me I could. In fact, lots of seminary students were second career.
So I applied. I sent off my application to Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN, where there were more second career guys than system guys. “System” guys went to a Concordia undergraduate school and majored in pre-seminary studies. I wasn’t a “system” guy. I had a liberal arts degree in Math.
Well, if I was going to go to the seminary and study to become a pastor, I wanted to start doing things that pastors did. What could I do? I could go out and make evangelism visits. In the context of my south Austin church, this meant following up on Sunday morning visitors to worship. The evangelism committee consisted of the vicar and his wife, a couple of young women, another guy and me. I think we got together on a Tuesday night, divided up some index cards with contact information on them, and went out to knock on doors and thank them for worshiping at our church. Hopefully, this would lead to further conversation.
My memories are a bit hazy (and you’ll learn why in just a bit), but I think we had some good visits and good conversations. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I was just willing to learn. After we attempted our visits, we reconvened at a certain time and place to debrief. On some nights we would meet at a little Mexican cantina that served Everclear margaritas.
Some of you are thinking, “What’s that?” Others are thinking, “Whoa!” Everclear is 190 proof grain alcohol. (In college, I learned that grain alcohol was an ingredient in Purple Jesus punch.) As you can imagine, throw a shot of that into a margarita and it is definitely party time. I was told, you can only have one. Halfway through my drink, I knew they were right. No one needs more than one of those. Not even on evangelism night!
Few know it, but this is one of the factors that contributed to my deciding to pursue studying for the pastoral ministry. After knocking on a few doors and taking a few sips, I thought, “You know, I think I can do this.” Of course I had no idea all that would be involved in being a pastor, but this was certainly a plus.
I never got to be a part of an evangelism team like this again. I’ve gone out on plenty of visits with plenty of other people, but we never took the time to share our experiences over a delicious and potent beverage. Since I’ve been in Florida, I’ve had some fascinating theological discussions at Tiki bars and beachside wineries, but none of them were quite like my experiences in Austin. If you were to ask me who was most influential in my decision to become a pastor, these dear friends just might be at the top of my list!