In the following talk, Epic staff Tom Virtue (serving on Field Ministry and Leadership Development teams) shares some reflections on leadership selection, as well as his own story of how he got involved in ministry, and what keeps him there. This is a great resource for anybody pondering a call to vocational ministry, seeking to know how to better follow God through who they were designed to be, or for those simply wanting to learn more about leadership and life.
Tom’s story of how he got involved in full-time ministry, and why he does it:
Let me tell you a little bit more of my background or my story, and you’ll understand why I’m totally an unexpected person (for leadership). I grew up on a dairy farm in North Illinois, and my high school graduating class had 29 people in it. So that gives you an idea of scale. So I was really high in my graduating class, cause you couldn’t really get low. Yeah, I grew up milking cows morning and evening for my whole life. It’s one of those jobs that happen everyday, twice a day, no matter what comes. And I grew up in a church, so I had a spiritual background. But in my church, during my high school years, there were some major conflicts within my church and it really turned me off to spiritual things. So when I went away to college, I began to see college as a period of freedom that was unbelievable, because there were things I didn’t have to do anymore. One thing was milking cows everyday, and the other was not going to church every week, because I was pretty much was fed up. I didn’t really know where I stood with the Lord. I knew about the Gospel but I did not really know where I stood. For all I know I might have been a believer, to be honest I don’t really know. But I know for sure I was uncertain.
That’s kind of the way my freshman year went. I was enjoying a lot of freedom and into my sophomore year. In the middle of my sophomore year I met a guy in one of my classes who started talking to me about the Lord. He used a little gold booklet which- most of you haven’t been around Cru long enough, but the Four Spiritual Laws was what Knowing God Personally used to be and it was gold in color. He was involved with Campus Crusade, he knew about the Lord, and he invited me to a meeting. As I started hearing some things in that meeting and the meeting the following week, it was like all of the background that I had began to come together. Really what I understood was God’s forgiveness. I really, for the first time, took in God’s love and forgiveness for me. It was significant because I grew up in a background where it was so performance based, so understanding forgiveness was revolutionary. Christ became real to me. I really caught that He resurrected from the dead and that He was alive and that He sent His Spirit to live in my life and that was unbelievable to me. This was an interesting Campus Crusade group, it was all student led, and at that point, I was the 6th guy involved. It was a brand new group on campus, so when I say 6 guys, I mean there were no women. It literally was us 6 guys and no women.
So I trusted Christ and really became sure of where I was in January. Literally, for the rest of the year, we prayed more for women to get involved than anything else. Very mixed motives, I’m sure, but that was what it was. The following Fall, as we got started on campus- meeting people, meeting freshman, putting out the table and all that stuff-some women started signing up for things! So we were so fired up. There was one gal in particular who had just become a Christian before she came to school. She saw us on campus, was very interested and got involved. Her name was Michelle. She’s one of the most gifted evangelists I’ve ever met, and she’s a passionate woman. As we got started, she started talking to all of us- she said there’s 80 women who live on my floor in my dorm, and I want to be able to share Christ with every one before the year is over. That’s what she set out to do. That was her goal- she wanted to share Christ with all 80 girls.
Throughout that Fall, she started telling us about different women on her dorm floor, especially about this woman that lived across from her in the hall, and she would ask us to pray for her. She would say this week she’s doing this, and she doesn’t really want to talk about this, but we’re still friends. What they had in common was that they were both dating guys who went to West Point. So throughout the Fall, we all prayed for this woman who lived across the hall. Then in January, after Christmas, she came. Michelle called us before we were getting together, and said, “she’s coming”. We were in shock that this woman was coming. She came out, and that night she trusted Christ. Her name was Karen, and I eventually married her. I met her the night she became a Christian. It took me a little while to start dating her, but not too long. We began to develop a relationship and then eventually she got involved. She was one of those who started thinking about doing ministry about two or three weeks after she became a Christian. I’ve been married to her for a long time now, and that’s kind of the way she does everything, she goes all out. That’s our background- Karen and I got married after we graduated, worked for a year, and then we decided that we want to invest… Well I’ll stop at this point and share a couple of things about why I do ministry.
There’s 4 points I want to share and they’re pretty simple. The first thing I kind of already mentioned- I can’t get over the fact that God put his Spirit to live in me. I think that’s a major part of why I do ministry. Just the fact that God entrusts his resources to me, really changes how I view life. I put it in the context of part of why I continue to do full time ministry, but I think to be honest if I were to leave Epic staff tomorrow, I think that would be what would keep me wanting to serve Christ no matter what I do. But that’s for sure part of why I keep doing what I do.
The second point relates to what I just shared about Karen and me. When we got married, we both talked about joining full time staff. Our conversations revolved around the fact that we really feel grateful that we came to Christ when we were in college, and that we really enjoyed doing ministry. We said to each other, well let’s do this for a couple years, and then we’ll come back. We were both teachers, we were training to be teachers, got our student teaching, and we were going to do ministry for a couple years and then come back and teach. That was basically the decision we made for going into ministry. So you know how people talk about “being called” to go into ministry, or “being called” to do this… I honestly don’t feel like I was being called to do anything. Some people are, but that was not my experience. I just felt like I wanted to do this for a couple years…and here we are 39 years later. So somewhere along the line… I look back, and I think we were on staff for about 10 or 11 years, and we were talking, and we said, “I think I’m called to do this.” But it took a while. I don’t know if we were just slow or… but our experience was not that we “sensed God’s call” or anything. It was just, “we want to do this, we enjoy it, and we think it fits how we want to invest our lives.” And I think that’s the second reason- the sense of gratitude and just that I enjoy doing it.
A third reason, for me, was that it fits who God designed me to be. It’s part of my make-up. My make-up fits in the ministry that I’m involved doing. I wouldn’t say that for every year of ministry. I would say that there are some years where I didn’t feel like I fit into the ministry I was doing, but I would say overall, it fit. I felt like what I have to offer, somehow God is able to use. That’s been a big part of why I’ve stayed doing ministry. I think acknowledged there, is that full time ministry is not for everyone. Ministry is for everyone. I don’t think full time ministry is for everyone, but I think when you sense that there’s a fit for you…well I shouldn’t say what’s true for you, but I’d say for me, I sense there is a fit, and that’s what kept me going in some of the years when things were discouraging. So that’s the third reason.
The 4th reason- I’ve had a great partner to work with. Working together with my wife has been an unbelievable experience in ministry. I’m getting emotional about it, because we’ve been able to work as a team in ways that you just don’t get to in other situations. So that is an incredible part of why we’ve stayed in ministry. We’ve been able to invest, together as a couple, into people’s lives in ways that change eternity. That’s a large part of why we’ve stayed in ministry. There’s something about- kind of a little aside here- what I’ve learned, I’ve learned more from my wife than I’ve learned from anyone else. And I think she learns some things from me too but not to the extent that I’ve learned from her. I think that speaks to God’s design for men and women working together- not just married men and women together- it’s an incredible picture when men and women work together in the kingdom of God because I think we have things to offer each other that we need. I get nervous when there’s all male leadership and they don’t listen to the women who happen to be involved. I also get nervous when there’s a lot of women leadership and they’re not listening to the men. So it goes both ways, but usually the second doesn’t happen as much, but in both situations I get nervous. God’s design is that we partner as men and women and there’s a synergy that comes from that. So that’s the last reason- that I love doing ministry because I love doing it with Karen. Karen really speaks truth like few other people- I don’t always like to hear it. But I really profit from it. So I wouldn’t trade all of the times she has just totally annoyed me by saying something I knew was true, but didn’t want to believe was true. So I’m really grateful that my wife has been that.
So those are 4 reasons why I do ministry. To summarize, for me, the reasons why I do ministry is really related to who the Lord is, but it’s related to more than that- it’s related to what I think He wants to do in partnership with me. I’m not one who wants to take “who I am” out of the equation. I think God designed who I am for a lot of reasons. When I say I am unexpected: I’m an introvert, I don’t speak very well and that’s why I think I’m unexpected. I don’t fit the profile of what people think of when they think of ministry. When Karen first met me, she started to become friends, and she told a friend, “it’s really safe to be friends with Tom because I would never marry him because he just doesn’t talk very well, he’s not very conversational.” But I think those are some of the reasons why I love being involved in people’s lives with the Lord.
Thanks for listening.
Tom’s devotional on leadership selection and the heart of God:
Note: Tom’s reflections are based on the passage listed below.
1The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David.
1 Samuel 16:1-13
One of the first observations I make is kind of what the starting point is for selecting leadership. You’ll notice that when Samuel asks, “What should I do? Saul is going to try to kill me after he finds out I’m going to anoint a new king,” what the Lord has Samuel do, is create a worship time and a purification process. That’s the starting point of selecting leaders. I think it’s a great reminder that the Lord is the one that is the author of any leadership in His kingdom. The Lord is the one who authors it, and so, worshipping him is the best place to start- acknowledging that he is ultimately who matters in the whole situation.
One of the funny things about this passage that I get a kick out of is the elders’ response when Samuel is coming into their town. Their response when Samuel is coming (he is the leader, the prophet) is “do you come peaceably?” Its basically “are we in trouble?” When leadership approaches you, what is your natural response? Is it kind of like that? “Am I in trouble? What did I do wrong?” I think its one of those things that is built into us as people, and that is kind of funny but its just a natural response. When leadership moves towards us, we figure, “I must have done something wrong,” and in the Old Testament their response is the same as ours.
Another observation I would make is one of the more obvious ones in verse 7, which is: how God thinks about leadership is different than how we think about leadership. He says it more clearly here in this verse than in anywhere else in Scripture. He makes a definitive statement that how He thinks about things is really different. And what He says is basically, “don’t look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, the Lord sees not as man sees.” What God is saying, is the way you all look at leaders is not the way I look at leaders. And this is especially true in the cultural context of this passage. This is way more unusual to them than it is to us. In their culture, the first-born son would automatically be the leader, no matter what. So there would be some built in assumptions that we wouldn’t necessarily have, although we would probably lean in that direction. But for them, it would be a no brainer. So Samuel’s response, when he saw the first-born son, Eliab, is, “This has got to be him.” And then God makes it clear that His thinking is different. The Lord makes it clear what He is looking for: He says, what I am looking for is what’s in the heart.
What that says to me is that He doesn’t necessarily look at personality, and He doesn’t necessarily look at physical appearance- well he says that He doesn’t look at physical appearance, so that’s pretty clear- like height. I don’t know if you know, but there are studies done on the height of leaders- basically, in the corporate world, some of us who are short have a much less chance of moving up the corporate ladder. So good luck! We’re kind of all in the same boat. That’s a fact of life based upon this study. That is very clearly, in God’s viewpoint, not in his criteria. So, it’s not personality, its not the types of gifts that you have, you could just make a list of what its not. Instead it says God looks at the heart.
A last observation I would make is in verse 13, at the end of that passage. What happened is that after David was anointed, it says, “And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.” That’s pretty dramatic language. What happened was, if David was going to be the leader, he needed the Spirit of the Lord. It wasn’t as if David was going to do all of this on his own. It was very clear that God was going to be the empowering source of his life.
So those are a couple observations. I think overall the reason why I like this passage- and the reason why, when these guys asked me if I would talk a little bit about why I do ministry or why I’m involved in ministry, this immediately came to mind- was because I think what this passage portrays is, that God chooses unexpected people. Whom God chooses are unexpected people, and I really relate to that. I feel like if someone were to say to me, when I was a freshman in college, “someday you’ll get involved in ministry, and you’ll spend the next 40 years of your life doing ministry”, I would have said, you have got to be kidding me. That was not on my radar, and wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. So I feel like I’m in that category- I really identify with being an unexpected person. I think all of us have reason to think, well why would I be somebody that God would choose to use? Whether it’s in full time ministry or otherwise.
- The passage above has one of the clearest statements in Scripture that God does not think about leadership in the way men think about it. How have you seen this to be true? What are some of the criteria you see for leadership selection in your context?
- Tom shares that a major reason he’s involved in ministry, is because he’s had an amazing partner and a team to work with along the way. Who in your life (whether a friend, spouse, or team) helps you to grow and see things differently, for your own good? What are some aspects of what you would value, and hope for, in such a partner? Reflect and share with others.