This year’s theme is “The Life.” Today we explore that theme with….
The Life of a Grad School Student Husband and Youth Minister
Originally from Chapel Hill, NC, Daniel Potter serves as the Minister of Youth at First Baptist Church in Columbus, GA. He earned his M. Div from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity and a BS in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When not doing youth ministry, Daniel enjoys good music, laughter, spending time with his wife Rachel, cheering on his beloved Tar Heels, and recording podcasts. You can listen to Daniel through the Youth Ministry Conversations podcast or as a contributor to “The Irreverent Reverends” produced by the Everyday Exiles podcast network.
July 25, 2015 is a date I’ll always remember. That Friday afternoon, my wife Rachel and I joined our lives in front of loved ones of all kinds. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I reflect fondly on my first year of marriage. It was great! Let that be said first and foremost. Our first year of marriage, however, was quite unique. Here’s why:
First, Rachel and I were married the summer between my second and third year of graduate school. The roles of new husband and old student aren’t always compatible; especially when your token academic strategy is procrastination. Second, I was returning as a Graduate Hall Director at Wake Forest University, which meant that the new “we” lived in a residence hall with 350 of our closest, 18-21-year-old friends. I still say a silent prayer at 3:00am every morning that I don’t hear a fire alarm. Third, I had a couple of work study jobs through the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. These jobs helped me grow as a minister and put food on the table in my first two years of (single life) graduate school. Do you see where this is heading? Fourth, I was offered the opportunity to serve Knollwood Baptist Church, where I’d interned the previous year, as Interim Youth Minister. A proverbial “yes man” and an enneagram type 2, I couldn’t refuse. Needless to say, things were hectic.
I had an embarrassment of riches in terms of my theological education, my formation as a pastor, and our financial stability. The four jobs that I worked, in combination with generous scholarships, allowed me to graduate with minimal student loan debt. My work as a GHD helped me hone my administrative and supervisory skills. It also provided pastoral care situations beyond what I could’ve experienced elsewhere. Work Study, among other things, offered the chance to serve on the Chapel Committee – an experimental, spiritual laboratory for worship theology and experience. Knollwood gave me time and space to really understand the holy mystery of life in vocational ministry. But, the combination of these factors was draining physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was not the true person or minister I now know myself to be, in full transparency.
In some ways, it’s still a mystery to me how I juggled my various responsibilities with success. I do know, though, key factors that brought me through. I don’t want to surmise those factors with the Sunday School answer of “Jesus,” but the tangible, living Christ and Holy Spirit empowered me in incredible ways throughout. God became tangible through the people placed in my path. Rachel was, and is, a beacon of grace and supportive love with strength I one-day hope to have. My “bosses” (read – friends and close mentors) helped me to know when I was approaching my limits and to manage my workload. Those I served offered care in the most meaningful ways – meals shared, words of encouragement offered, wisdom shared. If seminary is supposed to be cemetery, I was in a zombie world. My faith was living and breathing in, through, and to me in by way of God’s hands and feet in my life – people.
Having shared with you a challenging, formative year in my life here’s what I hope you can glean: Overwhelmed students, I hope you’ll let God’s active presence in your life overwhelm the questions, thoughts, or doubts brought on by theological education. Remember how overwhelming God’s love and grace is. Nurturing loved ones, I hope you’ll feel nurtured in that your thoughts, prayers, texts, meals, and conversations truly matter. Your love is God’s love that sustains all of creation. Blessed employers, I hope you’ll continue to bless potentially overloaded student/interim/intern types with the grace that they are enough. Receive and give God’s blessings through a budding vocational minister. Generous congregational families, I hope you’ll recognize the gift you provide to young or new ministers. The return on your gifts will materialize in God’s kingdom, even if God’s call leads that minister in another direction.
To borrow from the United Church of Christ, God is still speaking. God speaks through students, loved ones, employers, and congregational families alike. Here’s hoping that God continues to help us all hear the manner in which God is speaking.