The God of Many Chances

by Mike Spinelli, Perkiomenville congregation

Mike & Cheryl Spinelli

You might think I am crazy because I sat in the snow to pray or because I claim to hear from God.  On the first count, you probably have a point.  On the second, I will simply say it is never crazy to say someone can hear God speaking.

In March 1982, I was a high school senior preparing to choose a college.  I sat on a big rock outside my cabin at winter camp.  There was snow all around and it was cold, but it didn’t matter.  God and I were meeting.  I thought about going into education, but another vocation was pulling at me.  As I sat, I simply spoke into the air, “God, do you want me to be a pastor?”

And as clearly as I could hear the creek below me and the wind in the trees, the answer came back inside my gut, “Yes.”

That moment set the direction of my life.  Rather than pursue teaching, I enrolled at Fresno Pacific College (now University) and almost immediately declared a Contemporary Ministries major.

I want to say that God made it clear how the way forward would proceed, but he didn’t.  Part of that is simply due to my youthful over-confidence.  I was called to ministry and I knew how that would play out.  If I had taken a meeting with God about the plan while I was on that rock, maybe he would have been clearer about what I faced.

As it was, there was much work the Lord wanted—and needed—to do to grow maturity and humility in me.  When I graduated from college, I entered a Mennonite Brethren service program that placed Christian workers in churches that could not afford them.  In that two-year stint as a youth pastor, I failed spectacularly.  I was more of a program person than a pastor.  I worked at technique more than relationships.  I thought the kids would flock to my program if it was good.  I missed what it took to build community.  And I did not take seriously that I was still learning to be pastor.  I thought I had the answers.

Fortunately, we serve a God of second—and third—chances.  Through the help of friends and the work of God’s Holy Spirit in me, I stopped trying to prove my competence and learned to love people and help them engage with Jesus more deeply.  I learned my worth is not in my title, but in being a child of God.  I have made it my mission to love, serve, and lead like Jesus and help others to do the same.

The road from being that overconfident young grad to today has never really become straight.  There have been victories that confirm what I heard on that rock and challenges that left me questioning if it was a limited time offer.  But I have seen the Lord confirm time and again where he wants me to be.  I also continue to learn what it means to hear his voice and follow his lead.

Our most recent move is one of those confirmation stories.  In 2016, I was at a crossroads, forced to decide about future employment.  As my wife Cheryl and I looked, it just so happened that a church in rural Pennsylvania was looking for a pastor.  Other doors closed, yet this one somehow stayed open.  Now we call this place home and I serve Perkiomenville congregation as lead pastor. 

I believe in praying in the snow and listening for the God who speaks.  I thank God for his great patience with me as I stumbled into this call to pastoral ministry.  I feel assured that there is more happening around me than I know and that God will continue to use me for his purposes as I follow his lead.