Before he entered Howard Payne University, Matthew Winn struggled between pursuing a business career or entering vocational ministry.
He chose the business route and achieved success as an accountant, chief financial officer, vice president of operations and senior consultant at a succession of companies in Georgia.
Within the last year, however, Winn, now 34, experienced what he considers a distinct call to vocational ministry. In answer to that call, he and his family have begun freeing themselves of previous commitments and preparing to move wherever God leads.
Winn continues to work for Pricewaterhouse Coopers in Atlanta, but he’s already begun studies toward the master of divinity degree at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.
Did he misread God’s will before entering Howard Payne?
Not at all, he believes.
“I felt clear guidance to pursue the business route,” he explained. “Even now that I have felt called to the ministry later in life, I believe I heard the first call correctly.”
Like many other second-career ministers, Winn believes his business experience will be a plus rather than a minus in his new vocation.
“I see God’s clear hand moving me into unique opportunities, and my rapid advance was certainly his doing rather than my own skill,” he said. “Now it is obvious that each of those opportunities taught me specific lessons and skills that will directly impact my ability to be an effective minister.”
That doesn’t mean responding to the call was easy, however.
“I felt my clear call while along on a one-week business trip,” Winn recalled. “While sitting in one of the training sessions, I thought, ‘I’ve heard all this before, and who cares?’ I walked out, found a quiet place to pray and let all my frustrations pour out to God.
“But one more thing was required. I had to let go of my own plan for the rest of my life, because I had life all figured out. I knew when I would retire, how much money would be in the bank. I had to let go of all these plans before I could see God’s plans.
“That,” he said, “was the scariest day of my life.”
Even after acknowledging what he believed to be God’s clear direction, Winn suffered panic attacks.
“These weren’t really times of doubt about the existence of my call; they were times of doubt about how God was going to make it work,” he said. “I just couldn’t make all the pieces fit, and it was scary.”
Now, however, Winn finds peace in his calling and affirmation around every new corner. Things appear to be falling into place, although not on a timetable he can control.
The biggest recent struggle has been identifying where he’s headed in ministry. Some want to pigeonhole him as a pastor or youth minister. Yet he feels a strong calling not to abandon his business experience but rather to build upon it for the sake of ministry.
Because he has experienced a highly successful business career, he’s not content with suggestions of some that he must “pay his dues” to learn the ropes in ministry. Some well-meaning advisers, for example, have said he ought to start off in a youth ministry position and “move up” to another ministerial role from there.
“The real issue,” Winn suggested, “is to find roles that challenge mid-life professionals, allow them to use the skills they have already developed and encourage them to reach out to the world in new and creative ways while also providing very experienced ministerial mentors as appropriate.”
That sentiment is shared by David Ivie, a Baylor University graduate who recently left his secular job in Dallas to enter seminary. As the former manager of a Chili’s restaurant, he doesn’t feel the need to get his youth ministry card punched just as a stepping stone to the pastorate if youth ministry is not where he’s called.
“If being a Chili’s manager isn’t youth ministry, then I don’t know what it is,” he quipped.
What that really means, he added, is that “I have learned ways to build teams, to motivate and encourage young people and to present a model of leadership that builds on young people’s energies, needs and desires.”
On another front, his secular work experience will help him provide better pastoral counseling, Ivie said. “I know what it is like to go to a job that is demeaning and exhausting. I know from personal experience how hard it is to be a Christian in the business world. … And I know how hard it is just to get to church every Sunday with your children after a long, busy week.”
Both Winn and Ivie acknowledge that second-career ministers may bring an accelerated sense of mission to churches.
“As churches begin to see a pending shortage of ministers, I think God is calling many of us out of previous careers to meet the needs of his church,” Winn said. “We will bring a different perspective on ministry but will continue to need the guidance of experienced ministers in our lives.
“We are going to expect churches and ministry to move faster than they have in the past and to try new approaches to spreading the gospel.”
Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Baptist Standard. Used by permission.
Executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global and the author of Why Churches Need to Talk About Sexuality.