Ethan Perkins, Elder Canddiate
My father was an associate of a fairly large Southern Baptist church in Columbus GA when I was born. So, naturally, I grew up in the church along with my mom, and older brother and older sister. I remember a church friend named Joel that always wore cowboy boots and camo shorts to church, and a gigantic gym the church had that included roller skates and interlocking gymnastic mats that we would loop together and roll around in. Using our imagination, Joel and I believed we were rolling around in an army tank together.
Imagination is an excellent way to describe my initial journey of faith. For me, Jesus was a cool superhero. In my mind, more like Luke Skywalker than Superman. Jesus used his powers for good and didn’t fight any crazy giant bad guys. Jesus was nice, and something very likable. But for a young boy growing up in the church, he was just part of a set of interesting stories. The main super hero if you will, but not the only one.
I recall observing as my brother asked Jesus into his heart, what ever that meant (I was 5), around the age of 8. The same thing happened to my sister when she was 9. I was the youngest and simply waited for my turn. Around this time, my father went on to become a senior pastor and we moved to a small town called Milledgeville GA. It became the great honor of the deacons to bring me to my father each week and say they had led me to Christ. I would nod and smile to them as they told my father that they had done it, they had brought the pastor’s kid to Jesus. Again, I had no idea what they really meant and my dad, knew that this was the case.
By the time I turned 12, I began to wonder what was wrong with me. My brother and sister had made decisions much younger and I didn’t seem to care that much. I was more about baseball, video games, and NOT doing school work. Jesus, again, was nice enough, but honestly meant nothing to me. I remember one night my brother was going to hang out with some of his friends. As he left, I could tell a storm was coming. I was terrified of thunderstorms as a child. It wasn’t the fear of being killed, it was simply the fact that they were big, and loud and uncontainable. Even now my parents recall the storm that seemed to rest on top of our roof as one of the biggest they’ve ever seen. Thunder crashed and lightning hit seemingly at our doorstep. I was scared, and to be completely honest, crying a lot. My father said “Ethan, it is ok. Even if we were all to die tonight, we would go to heaven” I replied with a snotty “NOT ME!”
So my father gathered me in his arms and we prayed. I don’t really remember the words of that prayer. I am sure it was the typical prayer but it wasn’t his words or my responses that mattered. In my heart I suddenly felt the peace of God. There was still a slight fear but there was also a strange comfort in that moment. In that moment, I knew Christ wasn’t just a childhood superhero. I knew he was personal and real, and I knew he invaded my little life.
I could go on in detail about my high school and college life. It was typical minor teen rebellion, followed by emotional repentance at the annual summer youth camp. Rinse and repeat. It was during my time in youth ministry is where I really started to feel that God was calling me to ministry. I never felt like I wanted to be a pastor but I’ve always enjoyed and serving the church in any way possible.
Fast forward, add a marriage and a couple of kids and several jobs and big moves in my life. In 2007, I was privilege to spend several years on the west coast, serving as the youth and music minister at Bay Marin Community Church right outside of California. A few years later, God called our family back home to the East coast, on staff at a church in Raleigh, NC.
It was here that I really began to understand what an elder was and how the elders lead and serve the church. It was a great call to be an elder at this church. I was on staff and I thought “man, if I could only be like those guys, I would be something.” It wasn’t a biblical call to eldership. It was an idol and while I went through their training, it felt more like a really long job interview than something God was leading me to. I was stressed, frustrated and felt like I couldn’t compete with the other “super holy guys” involved. Time moved on and I was fired from the church. Later I found out the guy that fired me was covering his tracks for some major sin in his life. Regardless, being let go hurt and I was scared and angry and felt like God was just being mean to me. My idol had broken.
I spent time living in my Grandmothers home with my family. It was as depressing as it sounds. I worked the best job I could find, selling pest control. It was hard, and I felt like a loser all the time. I would often go under peoples homes to inspect and spend time crying my eyes out. I continued to serve the church but my heart felt far from God. I had lost any desire to lead, to be in full time ministry and especially felt disenfranchised to idea of eldership.
Throughout all of this, I would have conversations with my brother. We both shared a similar feeling and perspective on ministry and while Todd moved forward and continued to invite me to join him, I often thought, “should I even be helping him plant? Won’t I just be in the way? Won’t I cause more harm than good?” Even with this hesitation, I felt God was leading our family to be part of the church plant in Greenville, SC.
As the story of East North Church began to take shape and evolve to what it is, I continued to serve. It was the teaching of grace and forgiveness that we hungered for and continued to hear each week that my heart needed to hear. Through this church plant, was God showing me that He loved me, as broken and needy as I was, and that his love was sufficient. This is how God led me back to embrace a call to pastoral leadership.
I can say with sincerity and clarity that I sense God is leading me to pursue eldership. While I am sure some men are beckoned and walk confidently into the role, I feel more like a donkey being pulled in. I have stubborn and cautious hesitations about eldership. Not because I do not desire it, but because I so often don’t feel qualified. I don’t feel like I am good enough. But God has been diligent to remind me that it is not I that am qualified in my own strengths, but Christ working his righteousness through me.
“Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [me!] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
God has called me, and I cannot refuse His call. To be sure, there are clear biblical qualifications for eldership and I do not take them lightly, but it is not my good works or righteous attempts that qualify me. It is Christ and Christ alone. My desire for eldership is not to lead but to serve and come alongside those that are hurting and afraid and proclaim to them the good news of God’s love. I love people and I want to be a pastor that loves others well. It is only through God’s grace that this transformation could happen.