"I am doing the will of God. I know this in my bones, and I'm utterly enjoying it." How many of us long to find that deep level of significance in our life's work? That's how a well-known Canadian pastor describes his life, and he says attending seminary helped him find that bone-deep significance.
But Mark's isn't a typical seminary story. You see, Mark Buchanan had no desire to ever be a pastor.
Ask him today about his job and he says, "It is humbling and exhilarating to stand in the same lecterns inhabited by J.I Packer, Gordon Fee, Klaus Bockmuehl, Loren Wilkin-sonteachers I revered and whose influence changed my life. Recently, I spoke at an event. Dr. Packer came up and told me I did well, I nearly fainted from the honor of it. Regent College not only prepared me for this, it virtually blazed the trail for it to happen. I genuinely cannot imagine my life without its influence and legacy."
Pastor Mark Buchanan is now in the trenches of ministry, using his education to pastor a church, speak around North America, and write books, including the bestseller, Your God is Too Safe.
"I am lead pastor at a thriving and culturally diverse Baptist church on Vancouver Island, which is about as environmentally as close to Eden as you'll get on this fallen earth."
Buchanan speaks warmly of his job at New Life Community Baptist Church. "I have been here 11 years and feel like I'm just starting. This church is rich in love. We have a growing presence and influence in the entire community, especially among First Nations people and single parents. I hope to be buried here."
The job is an ideal fit for Buchanan. His books bring notoriety and lots of requests to speak at conferences. His congregation felt led to offer some of their pastor's time and gifts back to the Lord. "The church 'tithes' me. Approximately five months of the year I am free to travel and speak outside my own town."
Attending Regent College for graduate seminary also seemed an ideal fit. When he was an undergrad, Buchanan didn't have to look far to see and feel the call of God to enroll. At the time, it shared campus space with his university, the University of British Columbia. "Everyday on my way to classes at U.B.C. I walked by the Regent campus andslowly God grew in me a desire to do postgraduate work there." Buchanan was still a young believer at the time. "I had become a Christian in my first year of university, and increasingly felt the flimsiness of my theologya patchwork of catchphrases, mimicked postures, Christian radio tirades. It was brittle, brash, and piecemeal. In those days, Regent was housed in a hodgepodge of ramshackle portables, not in the architectural tour de force it is today, but I sensed its spiritual vitality even at a distance. Whatever it had, I both wanted and needed."
But Buchanan, a creative writing major, never planned to work in a church. "I intended to write novels and become insanely rich and outlandishly famous." He spent the year after graduation writing feverishly and trying to land a teaching job. He also began attending Regent, in their diploma of Christian studies program. The flexible, year-long program equips believers with a biblically-based understanding of the Christian faith. "I had no intention of being a pastorI wanted to write and teach literature. Yet here I had this theological training, and God was cooking up a surprise."
Buchanan eventually enrolled full time. That's where a professor helped change his mind about becoming a pastor. He was chosen as a teaching assistant for the late Klaus Bockmuehl, an influential theologian and a professor of systematic theology. "Just before he died he looked me in the eye and admonished me to 'not refuse the church if she asks you to serve her.' A few months later, when the church asked just that, his words rung with prophetic force."
Buchanan initially laughed when he was offered a youth pastor job at a nearby church. But as he and his wife Cheryl prayed about the opportunity, he realized his Christian seminary gave him the training to do the job, even if he lacked the motivation. "I needed work and we decided to try it for one year. That was over 17 years ago. It was in the midst of doing a job that I discovered a call."
"Bockmuehl's passion for God had, and still has, a deep impression on me."
Buchanan served as youth pastor and later senior pastor at that church before taking over his current congregation in 1995. He still feels the impact of his seminary professor. "Bockmuehl's passion for God had, and still has, a deep impression on me. He combined a scholar's acumen with a child's love, and that example has inspired, and sometimes rebuked, me from that day to this."
Leading a busy church, Buchanan had set aside his dream of writing, but God eventually opened that door. The pastor won first place in a writing contest sponsored by Christianity Today magazine. A publishing deal followed soon after. Now thousands are hearing his words, thanks in part to his seminary training. "The theological and historical foundation I gained [at Regent College] has proved invaluable. So much of the work I do requires a depth of perspective that can't be acquired on the fly," he explains. "Whenever I meet someone who is gifted and passionate about ministry but disdainful of theological education, I tell them that their giftedness and passion will soon wear thin, even get them in trouble, if they don't have a solid theological groundwork. That's what [seminary] gave me, and it keeps paying dividends."
Kara Miller is a freelance writer and TV producer in Chicago.