By Will Raybon
The first time I visited Gardner-Webb University, I thought I was lost. I was traveling from Appalachian State University where I had just spent the prior four years learning about our criminal justice system. Upon graduation, I was set to join a prominent police department and begin journeying back to the U.S. Marshals Service where I had just completed an intensive internship.
Instead, I was asked to intern at a local church and found myself pursing a call I never imagined. Through Student.Church, I discovered that I might be called to ministry rather than law enforcement; and after completing a summer-long internship I enrolled in the divinity school where I first grasped that call.
I have written that paragraph in countless ways throughout my seminary career. It feels like every other class requires its participants to name their call story in some way or another; however, that initial paragraph has grown smaller and smaller over the years.
It used to feel like my initial calling was the biggest part of the adventure, but now I know better. These past four years have flown by faster than I ever imagined. I served college students at Appalachian State, UNC Asheville, and Western North Carolina before I transitioned into the role of Associate Youth Minister at First Baptist Greenville. I moved twice; once back home and once to our home in Greenville. Then, of course, I married my wife in 2018. All that time, remaining a full-time student at Gardner-Webb.
I initially believed divinity school to simply be a path to a goal, but it has been one of the most stable aspects of my life since 2016. Although I have learned countless facts and theories at Gardner-Webb, the classroom has not been where I have received the bulk of my education. Our professors are extraordinary, and each one of them I have shared a classroom with has been incredibly influential; however, it has not necessarily been the classroom where I have learned.
I learned how crucial self-care is to a minister when a professor asked me to play catch with him during the hectic season of final papers and exams. I am constantly reminded of the necessity for humor in ministry by my New Testament and Greek professor whose sarcasm is unrivaled. I have been struck by the humility and passion of our professor of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation who is quick to remind her students of their giftedness. Four years’ worth of lessons learned outside the classroom could fill a thesis.
As it turns out, Gardner-Webb was exactly the place I needed to be. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is right to take great pride in this extraordinary school. It saddens me to think that this adventure will come to an end in just a few more months. I was lost when I first visited this little school in the hinterlands of Cleveland County, North Carolina. I will never forget how the professors and people of my divinity school helped me to find my way.
Will Raybon is the Associate Youth Minister at First Baptist Church of Greenville. He is a fourth-year divinity school student at Gardner-Webb University School of Divinity.