Last week I mentioned that I am starting a new series of blog interviews entitled Where Are They Now?, highlighting some of our alumni over the years. I ask each alumnus a series of questions that show how God is at work in their lives and in their ministries (for the prior installment see here).
This installment will focus on Matt Howell (class of 2oo9), RUF minister at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville), and formerly RUF minister at Appalachian State. During his time in Charlotte, Matt was my teaching assistant and did a fantastic job (he also wrote a hilarious song about me for the senior banquet, but we won’t go there).
1. What are you currently doing?
I am currently serving as the RUF Campus Minister at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
2. Why did you originally come to RTS Charlotte?
One word: balance. I wanted a seminary that was balanced in regard to academic training as well as pastoral equipping. I wanted a seminary that was balanced in regard to both biblical and systematic theology. I wanted a seminary that was balanced in regard to shaping both the head and the heart.
3. Is there one thing that you learned at RTS that has come back to you as you have ministered to others? A phrase, encouragement or advice?
One the things that I took away from RTS was deeply believing in the sufficiency and power of Scripture. It is the key and central to everything in ministry: evangelism, counseling, equipping, preaching, etc. RTS gave me the confidence to bank my life on Scripture, to defend it, to teach it, to be personally nourished by it, and to offer it to others.
A phrase that has always stuck with me is a phrase from Dr. Cara – “Biases aren’t bad; bad biases are bad.” In other words, no one is a theological agnostic. And while this is extremely relevant for engaging people in terms of apologetics, it has also paid dividends in engaging with people pastorally. One of the implications of “biases aren’t bad; bad biases are bad” is taking the time to patiently understand someone else – getting a grasp of their worldview, the assumptions they make about life, their story, what has wounded them, what has shaped them. Knowing that everyone comes to the table with biases means that I as a minister have to slow down and get to know what those biases are before I can begin engaging them. Otherwise, I’m just throwing darts blindfolded, hoping that they hit something.
4. What do you enjoy most about your current ministry?
One of the things I enjoy the most about my current ministry is being deeply involved in real people’s actual lives. As being a minister on a college campus, I have the unique opportunity to come into people’s lives when they are asking a lot of questions. College students are processing everything. They are trying to make sense of their own story, upbringing, and experiences to determine what they believe to be true about the world. But not only are they trying to make sense of where they came from, they are also trying to make sense of where they going – what they will do vocationally, who they will marry, where they will be, who they will be, etc. I love (and find it to be a great privilege) when students will give me access to their life and to their questions. It is a great joy to be able to walk with students through the messiness, confusion and beauty of their lives with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
5. What has been a struggle in your ministry?
Simply put: me. I’ve been my biggest enemy. I often take myself too seriously – leading me to neglect my need for Jesus, leading me to neglect my family, leading me to neglect my need for others, leading me to distrust the Lord’s power in the life of struggling sinners. I often take what other’s think of me too seriously – leading me either to pride or despair.
6. If you could give any encouragement to a current student in seminary, what would it be?
Begin developing a life of personal piety now. It’s easy while in seminary to replace theological or biblical studies with personal, devotional time of communing with the Lord. The reality is – they are not the same. Theological and biblical study is enriching and absolutely essential. But don’t make the mistake of equating theological aptitude and biblical knowledge with a heart for the Lord. I’ve met many people who are theologically precise and yet spiritually dead. Develop a rhythm of regular time of feeding your soul on the word and communing with the Lord through prayer. Make these chunks of time non-negotiable. It’s better to leave seminary with poorer grades and a healthy soul than vice versa.
Begin to get to know yourself. This is surely a life long process, but begin that journey now. When I was in seminary, I’m pretty sure that I believed that if you just had the right information in your head and could communicate it clearly, you would be an effective minister. I’ve come to realize that is not true. You will not be as effective in ministry until you begin to figure yourself out. What are you naturally good at? Where are you weak? Do you get stressed easily? What are your fears? Where are your points of temptation? What is your reaction to your failures? Why would people follow you? Answering the question “Who am I?” must precede answering the question, “What should I do?”
In addition to the interview above, here is a great video about Matt’s ministry to college students through RUF: