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My Wife Has Been Married to Five Men

Jun. 14, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Today my wife and I celebrate thirteen years of marriage. I don't think either one of use were "ready" for what was to come. Then again, who is? As we have grown up and learned to treasure the gospel and each other in different ways it is amazing to ponder the last few years. Is life and marriage momentary? More than we realized. Is our marriage a picture of the gospel? On some days more than others. Are we more committed than ever before? I think so. We are not the same. Not even close. My wife has had to live with five different men.

Fun D - My good friend I met when I came to seminary used to call me Fun-D because of my fundamentalist tendency. I certainly had passion for just about every issue one could think of. I stopped using charts to put together the end of the world, got rid of my $100 bill gospel tracts, and drank some wine.  Look - I am so thankful for the first few men who discipled me. Even though we don't agree on a lot of things today, we are still bound together by the gospel. That being said, I did not know very much. AW Tozer was my Bible. Apologists like Norm Geisler and Hank Hanegraaff were my heroes. This is the man my wife married. 

Confused Reformed Evangelical - Two days after we got back from our honeymoon I started six weeks of Suicide Greek. It was the beginning of a crazy four years at Trinity that included two degrees, a Christian school split we were involved in, five different jobs, hospital stays, 18 credit hour semesters, summer courses and more. Seminary forces you to think and causes confusion, but when the fog lifted I was a Reformed Evangelical that had left Fundamental Dispensational Christianity. For those who make the shift, it is a little bit of a culture shock. So the Lord changed me dramatically.  My theological convictions were deeper. My ability to relate to people grew and I was no longer angry at the world around me. I will admit I had a tendency to be young, restless, and foolish, but that too passed. I was no longer the man Amy married. 

Jobless Father - Two years after graduation I was asked to resign from my first vocational position in ministry. This has a way of changing a man. It is tempting to get cynical when things don't go your way. That is how religion works - if you don't get your way it must be God's fault. I was no longer the seminary graduate, but a father of two baby girls and had no way of providing for them. I think this is when I started growing gray hair on my head. The weight of fatherhood will change anyone who cares. Not knowing how I would provide for them felt like a yoke around my neck. This was a deep valley, lower than we had both been. Emerging from the muck took time and when we did I had scars from lessons learned. I was no longer the man Amy married. I was little more hardened, slower to speak, and more protective of my words.

Risk Taking Missionary

In 2009, with the help of friends, I founded TLI with no idea how to fund the ministry. The economy had been trending downward for three years, but starting a ministry tethered to sound theology with a desire to bring theological education to the nations in the midst of a recession seemed like a good idea. I laid my family’s life on the line. No promise of income. No supporting churches. A small network of friends who loved us, but were not sure of the ministry idea. Serious illness, vandalism, a fractured spine, and a furnace that we could not afford to fix one winter will make you cling to Jesus - there is nowhere else to go. It was not exactly been easy, but no way would the man my wife married ever consider doing such a suicidal venture. 

A Flourishing Ministry and a Big Family

It's now 2016. I write this from a retreat with 48 people that are associated with TLI. By the end of this year we will have 35 staff, 10-15 missionaries, 3 established schools, and 20 sites where we are sending teams. I have 5 children, started another company, and am in the midst of PhD research. People now ask me for advice - a strange phenomena for me. We are in pleasant fields, but the temptations are endless. Will I become enamored with the growth of a ministry or stay close to Jesus? Will I over-schedule myself and ignore my family? Will I try to make a name for myself? Can I be faithful in the small things that no one sees? Will these events foster pride? Will I be ok when people will think I am proud for boasting in the Lord? These are new temptations, not ones I could have handled 13 years ago. If I am honest I can barely handle them now. It was easy to be faithful in the small things when I knew no one cared.

Our marriage is not a perfect picture of the gospel. I don’t always love her as Christ loves the church. I have told friends that if my kids are minor prophets who expose my heart, my wife is a major prophet. Marriage has exposed, beaten, refined, and hammered my soul. Without my wife, the change would not have been as dramatic.

But here is the beauty of the gospel. The Lord saves us from devastating self-worship, sinful desires that seek to prop oneself up over others, and a tendency to worship created things over the Creator. And at the moment we become His child His loving discipline begins. Sometimes with a tap on the shoulder, sometimes with a push back onto the right path, and sometimes a punch in the gut to wake us up. As we grow and mature we no longer the person He saved. We are much different. We may have Christ's righteousness from the moment of our salvation, but that Spirit-empowered movement toward Christlikeness means we move further and further away from our old life. 

I am not the man Jesus Christ saved years ago. I am not the man Amy married. For this and more, I am thankful.

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Remembering the Day I Was Fired

Apr. 22, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

In the spring of 2008 I was brought into the principal’s office. I had been teaching at a Christian school for two years, where I had started working after I graduated from seminary. The first 18 months had gone really well and I truly enjoyed what I was doing. I had seen kids come to Christ, enjoyed teaching the students, loved coaching the basketball team, and was privileged to serve as a board member. At home, my wife and I had just welcomed our second child into the home we bought in 2006. However, the last six months had been pretty difficult and in the morning of a spring day I was asked to resign. We all know what that means - I was being fired. 

It is hard now to recapture exactly what happened. I write with eight years of perspective. The day will forever be ingrained in my mind. Getting called in. Sitting with friends who were letting me go. Telling my wife I was being fired from my first vocational ministry job. I had heard that only 1 in 5 people that graduated from seminary were in vocational ministry after five years. Would I be a casualty? Would people think less of me and wonder whether I was competent or qualified to serve in a role I had been trained to do? Most of what I say below would apply to all types of firing, but I am speaking specifically about being fired from a vocational ministry position for reasons other than significant moral failure or cut backs - I’m talking about the hard and unclear cases.

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The allegations, whatever they are, are probably not 100% false

The last six months of my job were difficult. I needed to wade through all that was being said about me and learn. Even if 99% of it was false, some of it was probably true and even if it was minor I needed to mature. Do some pastors get sifted by their people even though they are 100% in the right? Yes, but it is rare. I have sat with many people who have been let go from ministry positions, and as they have told me their stories I have usually been able to see why the whole thing went south, even if they can not see it yet. It took me some time, but I Iearned quite a bit about leadership, personal interaction, clarity in speaking, keeping better attention to details, and much more.

Submit to Authority

Almost everyone is under the authority of someone else. It is easy to submit when you agree with the decisions being made, but the true test of submission is whether you can submit to decisions you do not agree with. I am not talking about submitting to immoral decisions. Over the course of a job we are bound to disagree with someone making decisions in leadership. I am sure I could have reasoned that what was happening was unjust. Maybe I could have reasoned they were my enemies and prayed the imprecatory Psalms over them. Maybe I could count it as persecution. Maybe I could have planted seeds of discord in the staff, parents, and students and try a divide and conquer strategy. 

Or not.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Does Romans 13:1 only apply to the government rulers? I don’t think so.

Let no bitter root grow

Being fired by a Christian brother or sister is a terrible experience. I was sitting in a room with four people who took little pleasure in letting me go. They knew what it meant for my young family. Some of them were and still are close friends. I had actually taught or coached three of the four’s children. We had a relationship. They were parents, spouses and friends. They had prayed for me and the person who made the decision thought he was making the best possible decision.

There were also the colleagues - those who liked me and were on “my side” and those that were not. Again - all believers for whom Christ had died. For me, Hebrews 12:14-15 came to mind: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Even for the people who treated me terribly, I was responsible before God to be at peace with others and not let bitterness grow. 

Eight years later I can say that I have prayed with all four of the people that were in the room with me and keep in contact with two of them. As for the others who pushed for me to leave, I have prayed for reconciliation but life has taken us different places and I have no idea where they are. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt 5:9).

As a man and the only one who received income for work, this was especially important for my family. I needed to provide a safe and calm environment for my wife and kids. They needed me to not be angry, anxious, or full of contempt. They needed me to lead.

If it keeps happening, you really need some perspective from others your trust

I got some good advice from a wise man when this happened. He told me that if this only happened once it was not a big deal. If it happened again it was a cause for concern. If it happened 3-4 times it was a big red flag.

If you constantly find yourself being let go from ministry positions it is probably a sign that you need some perspective and feedback. It could be that you are not cut out or gifted for the type of jobs you are applying for. You may be taking jobs beyond your competency. You might need to learn to actually love people and not just on your own terms. It could be that you don’t know how to discern a situation that is a good fit for you. Whatever it is, find some friends and get some perspective. 

The Lord will take care of you, even if it’s your own fault

I had an immediate problem in that I had no job in April of 2008, which was beyond the hiring cycle for most churches and schools. It’s difficult to not be anxious when you walk into your home you purchased right before the market crash, look into the eyes of your wife who had just had a baby and tell her you were fired. Would the Holy Spirit carry me through?

In June of that year, I pitched the idea of Training Leaders International to a pastor at the church I attended. In July, I began an interim pastorate that lasted two years. And though the Lord extracted quite a bit of flesh from me, TLI was launched and now serves pastors around the world. 

The firing taught me a lot about myself, which the Lord used to shape me. The pastorate was one of the greatest blessings of my life. Now I am in a position where I have to ask people I love to resign. It is painful, and I remember what it was like to receive the news

The truth is, TLI would not exist if I had not been fired, nor would I have been ready to lead it. So Lord - thank you for firing me from a job I loved.

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Impact Video

Nov. 18, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio
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A Testimony of an India Pastor

Jul. 15, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Here is a moving testimony of one of the pastors we partner with in India.

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The Impact of TLI

Apr. 9, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio
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