I can say that it is only because of God’s providential working that today I look back on my ministry as primarily a pastoral and teaching one. If you were to ask my wife at the time she married me what she thought we’d be doing for the next 60 years, she’d probably tell you, as she has told me, that she thought I’d become a missionary or a traveling evangelist. Instead, I have, at various times, been a Youth For Christ Director, a pastor, a professor, and an author. I suspect that at the time when I graduated from seminary in 1948, I would have also thought along similar lines as my wife. But only one of these objectives was in view—the pastoral ministry.
How, then, did things change? Not by any deliberate about face. Rather, it was a multitude of little providential happenings that moved me out of one ministry orientation into another. Looking back, I can say that, if what has occurred in my life is typical, God surely rules over each one of us in ways that, at the time, we don’t quite understand, to bring about His will.
How did things turn out as they did? It was in that first pastorate that some of my writing began. And teaching, from the start found its way into my life. Because of my concern about the liberalism in the community I wrote a tract exposing error and contrasting it with biblical truth. The tract clearly indicted the apostate Presbyterian USA denomination, a congregation of which was in the community adjacent to our church. That caused something of a furor as the pastor protested to my presbytery—which backed me, but urged me to be careful about how I presented myself in such matters. Then, writing also became of an increasing interest as I did an exegetical study for Wednesday evening prayer meetings in the Book of Revelation. Some people got wind of this, and wanted me to explain my views. Others also wished the same. Soon, I found I would be doing little else, if I didn’t write it out and distribute it instead. To suggest that my first book, which was published in 1948, was the beginning of a writing ministry would have brought only laughter on my part at that time.
Interest in teaching also began in that pastorate in Eighty Four (the home of 84 Lumber) Pennsylvania. Two other pastor friends and I began a Bible school in nearby Canonsburg. There I began preparing syllabi, and learned something about teaching in a formal academic manner.
Things went on from there to the present, in unexpected and largely unplanned ways, until I found myself inextricably bound to the type of ministry that had been carved out for me long before I knew anything about it. Even the publication of Competent to Counsel, the book that made me more widely known, was not planned. I had no notion of publishing it. It was intended to be a text for my students at Westminster Seminary. But, since it was produced in the smeary mimeograph of the day, I asked a printer friend to make a stiffer cover and bind it for me. He was doing printing for P&R Publishers at the time, showed it to them and they asked if they could publish it. This, perhaps the most significant event in turning my ministry toward counseling, was likewise unplanned, as you can see.
Many, many other matters have happened this way. God’s providential work in my life has been noteworthy. I could never have charted such a course as I have taken—including a ministry of blogging in my old age! He alone could have fitted so many pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together so as to make some sense out of it! No wonder I think providence to be a significant doctrine to proclaim.