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Dan Herron – Why I Joined the Ministry

Dan Herron

Dan Herron is formerly the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, Indiana.

We recently learned about Dan Herron’s journey to a life of faith and service. In Dan’s words:

“There are a handful of life "snapshots" that are essential in order to understand my story and God's formation of my life and calling. Each season of my life has been used by God to refine my character, further clarify and hone my gifts and calling, and propel Erica and me further into a relationship and mission with God for the flourishing of others.”

“I grew up going to a Bible Church in Champaign, IL, located on the fringe of the campus of the University of Illinois. My home was "spiritually bipolar"—with my father being a new Christian trying to find his way and my mother being relationally distant from our family (until she began seeing her own life transformation when I was 14).”

“When I was 9-years old, I was at a church camp in Indiana where I prayed a very small and childlike prayer asking Jesus to come into my life. Even as a 9-year-old boy, I already had a deep sense of the weight of brokenness, guilt, and shame from sin and longed for this to be relieved and healed. While God led me to this step of trust in himself, my young faith was never nurtured in the church, and my father, while trying his best, was never equipped and supported to mentor his own family in our faith. As a result, by the time I entered middle school through high school and several years beyond, I floundered. While I never outright denied my trust in Jesus and continued participating in a youth group, I had a duplicitous lifestyle centered around the accumulation of relationships as the capital I used to justify myself. I barely graduated high school. I was failing out of my first year in a community college and working at a pizza restaurant full time.”

“Then, in the summer and fall of 1995, a lot happened to shift my heart, mind, and the direction of my life. I built a house with my father, who gave me a taste of leadership, being entrusted with big responsibilities, growing through apprenticing and achieving success. I returned to community college, where an atheist professor (my favorite teacher I've ever had) taught me how to think and ignited my intellect, turning my academic path completely around. And, my girlfriend's (I'm now married to her) self-discipline and success began rubbing off on me.”

“God used all of this to stir my intellect and desire to seek answers to the primary questions of life, namely: what is good, what is truth, what is beauty, and what is meaning? I had been studying every philosophy and worldview I could get my hands on, and none of them but Christianity provided a satisfactory response to these questions that truly fit the way reality actually is. Eventually, through the patient and faithful ministry of 2 students involved in a campus ministry at the University of Illinois, Erica and I joyfully committed our lives to walk with Christ in the fall of 1997.”

“I was at the student Fall Retreat of 1997 when I had my first time of real prayer and Bible study. During that time was when I first sensed a deep comfort and assurance beyond anything I could manufacture. I also had my first sense of an inner calling to serve as a minister of the gospel. From here, Erica and I were immersed in campus ministry, where we focused on planting small groups in the dorms, and my internal sense of calling began seeing external affirmation through the church. This rallying-planting-equipping was my first taste of ministry and is an area that the Lord has built upon over the past 20 years.”

“After we were married in the summer of 2000, Erica and I moved to the North County of St. Louis, where I began a job teaching high school history and where Erica focused on graduate school at Washington University. God used this season of our life to shape our marriage by showing us our need to rely on him together for healthy interdependence as friends and partners in life and ministry. We served in the youth group of our local church while we worked and built relationships as God calls all Christians to. I taught and coached with my school. We remained connected with our old campus ministry, and in 2001, served as mentors for a full summer mentoring program in Estes Park, CO.”

“Through all of these experiences, my skills were continually shaped, but more significantly, my heart for pastoral ministry was shaped. I grew in love for Scripture, in my daily dependence on relationship with God just to survive my day as a teacher, and in deep compassion for the state of my students' lives and souls. I had a mounting desire to not only be their teacher but to shepherd them as a pastor. Then, when 9/11 happened, I was deeply moved and wrestled with whether to literally join the fight and enlist, seeking some special branch of the military. When I came home that day and told Erica my plans to join the Army Rangers, she responded, "Nope," and I had to find another way to exercise my desire to serve others and engage a cause bigger than myself.”

“I believe that it was this season, specifically, where my eyes were opened to the deepest need in our world: for the gospel of grace to transform all of life. And, I was led to see pastoral ministry as the place where "who I am" could meet this particular need. This was when Erica and I decided to return to the campus of the University of Illinois in the following Fall of 2003 to serve with our old student ministry, Illini Life Christian Fellowship.”

“From this place, the pastoral calling on my life accelerated as I was involved in a wide taste of ministry experience and eventually intensive continuing education seminary courses through Reformed and Westminster seminaries. The Lord lit up my intellect and widened my vision yet again as I learned about "Covenant Theology," "Cultural Apologetics," and when I learned that the phrase "Reformed Theology" represented God's sovereign love and faithfulness directing our salvation, rather than salvation coming from our own feeble efforts at goodness.”

“I was given opportunities to lead and teach publicly; I was able to lead trips to build homes for the poor of Juarez, Mexico; I had the opportunity to lead students to clean-out homes after Hurricane Katrina. This hunger to learn and grow combined with a desire to pastor, plant, and build, and God used this to move us to Covenant Seminary in 2007, where we were refined even further through soaking in a grace-centered culture. My continued involvement in ministry, along with my growing love for the Reformed theological tradition, and the persistent mentoring of men like Bryan Chapell and Jerram Barrs, led to our joining the Presbyterian Church in American in 2009 and the path toward serving the Kingdom of God in the Central Indiana Presbytery.”

“The calling to start a church in Bloomington, IN, fit perfectly with my and Erica's gifting, experience, and style. We grew up in a Big Ten university city, so Bloomington, as the home of Indiana University, was perfect. We served for years in a campus ministry at Illinois, so the dual focus of initiating a campus ministry was perfect. We love the outdoors, nature, and athletics, so living in a city situated in the beautiful forested hills of Southern Indiana was perfect. We loved the mix of academics, high culture, diverse cultures, global food, and art, all in a compact city. And, Bloomington seemed to need the sort of church we were designed to plant.”

“I first began getting an interest in entrepreneurial church works as a college minister at the University of Illinois with a group called Illini Life Christian Fellowship. This ministry is now part of a larger network called the Collegiate Church Network. I had many aspects to my role at the time, and many of them involved thinking in an innovative way to build relational bridges with people who were not Christians in ways that were genuine, honest, creative, emphasized thoughtful and reasoned engagement, and we're loving.”

“As a result of this focus, my wife, Erica, and I started the process of "planting" a small dorm group in one of the dorms at the University of Illinois. We started out by building a small leadership team, and then we developed ways to get to know as many of the 1200 residents of this dorm as we could. Over the course of a few years, the group grew to nearly 50 students. These students also started to exercise their own creative vision, and they began to spin off their own ways to build relationships, care for others around them, and engage people with conversations around faith.”

“Erica began a women's ministry. I was able to build a ministry that focused on short-term mercy relief work. I led two teams of 70 students to Juarez, Mexico, for two different years to work with a ministry there that sought to build homes for the families who had moved north to seek work in the many encomiendas that littered the border with the US. Many of these families were left impoverished and living in virtual garbage dumps with cardboard and discarded packing crates to construct their homes.”

“This was a huge endeavor and involved training these students to raise tens of thousands of dollars, grow into leaders who formed teams to gather all of our construction tools, plan and prep food for 70 people for ten days, plan a vehicle caravan to and from Jaurez from Champaign, IL, plan a kids camp, prep and lead our construction teams.”

“This large-scale leadership was thrilling for me and allowed me to help young people discover and exercise their strengths for the good of others. In addition to Mexico, I had the opportunity to lead a similar trip to the inner city of Memphis, TN, to work with a group there called "Service Over Self." After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, I was asked to form a crisis relief group from our leaders and send them down for immediate help in the relief work.”

“These young people and volunteer professionals were pivotal in developing FEMA's communications and organizational framework out of the Baton Rouge convention center. And later that Spring, I had the opportunity to lead another large group of over 70 students to partner with Samaritan's Purse & FEMA in order to "mud-out" homes in one of the wards hardest hit by the Lake Ponchatrain flooding after the Hurricane.”

“These experiences weren't merely incredible opportunities to serve other people. These also provided me the opportunity to develop as a leader—to learn how to exercise authority to benefit other people, to learn how to identify the giftings and talents of others, to equip and develop others, and to help others get into positions where their giftings could be maximized to advance a larger vision.”

“And, so in 2006 when I first heard of the concept of "church planting," I was immediately drawn to the concept as one of the most powerful, exciting, and necessary ways to help the church move forward in her larger mission of loving and sacrificial service to others in order to be a collective witness to the love and self-sacrifice of God in Christ.”

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