Minister in the Making
By BT Irwin
Minister in the MakingJul 27, 2022
Episode 40: Retrospective
Minister in the Making started out as a way for a son to give his dad something to do during the isolation of the first pandemic summer of 2020. It turned out to be the last thing they ever did together. Travis Irwin, the "minister" in 'Minister in the Making', shared his entire life story in 37 episodes that ran from August 2020 until May 2022. On June 1, 2022, Travis died at the age of 72 after his final struggle with cancer. He was only 15 months into his retirement from 45 years in Christian ministry. The lessons he learned and the stories he told in his own voice and his own words are now available to anyone in the world who has access to this podcast.
Since the "minister" in 'Minister in the Making' is no longer with us, the podcast no longer has its subject. This is the last episode.
For this final installment, the son, BT Irwin, who interviewed Travis for 37 episodes, does the answering instead of the asking. Bobby Ross, Jr., editor-in-chief of The Christian Chronicle sits in as the guest host to ask BT what it was like to record Travis's entire life story and what that story means.
'Minister in the Making' is not the only way to benefit from everything that Travis Irwin learned from his 45 years in church ministry. A year before he died, he wrote a book, 'We Are God's Masterpiece', to help Christians and Christian congregations discover and use their spiritual gifts for the good of the local church and its neighborhood. Learn more and purchase your copy here.
Episode 39: The minister's wife remembers the minister's life
Dad (Travis Irwin, the "minister" in 'Minister in the Making') died on June 1, 2022, before we could record the last episode with him.
In this episode, I took many of the questions that I wanted to ask him in that episode and asked them of the one person who may have known Dad better than he knew himself: Mom (Debbie Irwin).
Over one hour, Mom shared what she thought Dad learned in life, what it all meant to him, and what he hoped it would mean to those who came into contact with him. Nobody could better describe or summarize Dad's faith, life, and work than his best friend, companion, and partner for 49 years.
We also had a couple of surprise guests show up for this one!
This episode is the perfect way to look back on Dad's life and work and apply it to yourself.
Even though Dad's life on Earth is over, his work goes on in 'We Are God's Masterpiece', the book he wrote to help church leaders and members discover and use their spiritual gifts to build up the local church. Get your copy here.
Episode 38: The funeral of Travis Irwin
Travis Dewey Irwin (the "minister" in 'Minister in the Making') died on June 1, 2022, after a 10-month struggle with cancer.
In this episode, we bring you his funeral--his "celebration of life"--as an audience member recorded it on June 11, 2022, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
You may read Travis's obituary here.
Even though Travis is gone, his ministry goes on through 'We Are God's Masterpiece,' the book he wrote a year before his death. This book draws from Travis's 45-year ministry career to give church leaders and members applications, lessons, and tools they can use to discover their spiritual gifts for building up the body of Christ. Click here to learn more.
Episode 37: When the minister gets cancer (Athens, Tennessee, 2016)
Over more than 40 years, Dad ministered to countless people who were battling cancer. He ministered to many people who were dying of it. He ministered to their families. He eulogized them at their funerals. Then, in August 2016, Dad heard the words that so many of us dread hearing: “You have cancer.” Almost overnight, Dad went from being the one who ministered to cancer patients to a cancer patient needing ministry himself.
What was it like to be caught in this role reversal? How did cancer change the way Dad thought about the church, ministry, and God?
Check out Dad's book, We Are God's Masterpiece, now. This is a manual and workbook for church leaders and members to use to discover their spiritual gifts and how they work together to build the body of Christ.
Episode 36: All Together Now (Athens, Tennessee, 2008 - 2020)
Most young ministers start out dreaming of being “The Guy” at the head of a growing congregation. Dad had that experience. It burned him out and eventually almost hollowed out the congregation he served for more than two decades. By the time Dad was ready to go to work with his fifth and final congregation at the age of 58, he was humbler and wiser. He wanted to be just an associate minister, working behind the scenes to increase member involvement at the Athens Church of Christ in Athens, Tennessee. There, Dad put a lifetime of ministry experience to work to help members find and use their spiritual gifts to build up the church.
If you find these conversations with Dad useful and valuable, I recommend you pick up a copy of Dad’s book, We Are God’s Masterpiece, now on sale amazon.com. All of the lessons Dad learned about congregational health and the growth of individual Christians in the church comes together in this book. It’s a guide for church leaders and members to discover their spiritual gifts and put them to work together to grow the body of Christ.
Episode 35: Unicorn hunting (Brushy, Tennessee, 2008)
After almost three years as a part-time minister for the small Church of Christ congregation in Brushy, Tennessee, Dad and Mom both knew he was ready to go back to full-time ministry work. They committed to finding a situation that would make it easier for Dad to stick to the healthier lifestyle and ministry habits he learned after his burnout in 2003. He also had a whole new philosophy of ministry and he needed to go to work with a congregation that was open to it. Oh, and he had several more “must-haves” on his list (you’ll hear them in the interview). In short, Dad was looking for a situation that most Church of Christ leaders would have told him doesn’t exist. Dad, however, prayed and persevered and it paid off.
If you find these conversations with Dad useful and valuable, I recommend you pick up a copy of Dad’s book, We Are God’s Masterpiece, now on sale amazon.com. All of the lessons Dad learned about congregational health and the growth of individual Christians in the church comes together in this book. It’s a guide for church leaders and church members to discover their spiritual gifts and put them to work together to grow and strengthen the body of Christ.
Episode #34: "Finding a place to learn to walk again" (Brushy, Tennessee, 2005)
In this episode, we pick up around the start of 2005, a little more than one year after Dad crashed and burned after 22 ½ years ministering to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. After a year of sabbatical from ministry, Dad and Mom started to feel like he was ready to start easing back into his calling to serve the local church. They both wanted to be very careful to keep Dad from making the same mistakes at his next ministry that he made with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ. So they set some very specific boundaries and criteria and started looking for just the right place. That search led them to a little congregation in a place so small it doesn’t even show up on the map. But it turned out to be the perfect place at the perfect time.
Check out Dad's book, We Are God's Masterpiece, at amazon.com. It's a handy resource and study guide for individual Christians and for whole churches.
Keep up with Dad's ongoing battle against cancer at his CaringBridge page here.
Episode 33: "If you want to walk on water, you have to get out of the boat" (Ashland, Ohio, 2004)
The story picks up on January 5, 2004, the day Dad finished 22 1/2 years as minister to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. When Dad woke up that morning, he was burned out, exhausted, not even able to think about what he would do with his life next. Even as the next mortgage payment bore down on Dad and Mom, they knew that rushing into a new job just to pay the bills would not be the best thing for them to do. Instead, they committed to make space and take time to heal, rest, and seek God all over again. Even though 2004 was a lean year, it turned out to be one of the best years of their lives and just what they needed to go back into church work in 2005.
During their "sabbatical year", Dad and Mom drew heavy inspiration from their intense study of 'If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat' by John Ortberg. Click on the book title above to follow a link to buy or learn more about the book.
You can also check out Dad's book, 'We Are God's Masterpiece: Discovering How God Has Designed You for His Purpose' at this link. This book is a guide for congregational leaders and members to study together as they discover their spiritual gifts and how they work together to build up the church.
Episode 32: "I don't ever want to go through that again" (Ashland, Ohio, October 2003 - January 2004)
How do you separate after 22 ½ years together? That is the question that Dad had to answer starting on October 4, 2003, the day after he read his resignation letter to the elders of the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. His contract with the congregation stated that he had to complete 90 days after the date of his resignation, but Dad also wanted to make sure that he left everything in the best possible shape. Dad kept working hard for the congregation, but as you’ll hear Mom say in this interview, he was so emptied out that he was almost mechanical, robotic about his work. As I also learned in this interview, Dad’s last 90 days with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ turned out to be awkward, lonely, and strange. Listen to find out why.
If you are learning from listening to this podcast, please check out Dad's book 'We Are God's Masterpiece.' In this book, Dad brings together all of what he learned from five decades in church ministry in one resource for church leaders and church members. Dad's book will help church members discover their abilities and talents and ways they can use them to build up the church of Christ.
To keep up with Dad's cancer treatments, please visit his Caringbridge page.
Episode 31: Resignation (Ashland, Ohio, 2003)
By Fall 2003, Dad knew that he could not go on any longer in ministry with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. His body, heart, and mind were in total system failure. He could barely function as a human being, let alone as a minister to a growing congregation of 350 people.
So on October 3, 2003, Dad and Mom walked into the Monday night business meeting of the congregation's elders and read a resignation letter. After 22 years journey together, Dad and the Steele Avenue Church of Christ would go their separate ways.
In this episode, Dad and Mom describe that elder's meeting and the days that came after it. In their description, it becomes clear just how fragile and in danger Dad's condition got. But looking back on the events of that day, Dad shares some of the most important insights to ever come from him in the 31 episodes of this podcast so far. He pinpoints one thing that, if he knew better, he would have done different. And, if he did it different back then, perhaps his dream of retiring from the Steele Avenue Church of Christ would have come true.
Episode 30: Fetal position (Ashland, Ohio, 2003)
In this episode, Mom joins Dad to tell the story about the day he reached his breaking point as the minister to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. Before that day, Dad seemed to have at least some small sense that he was trying to do too much and that, sooner or later, something had to give. Then, on a normal workday in July 2003, Dad had a total breakdown. All systems in his body and brain just…stopped working. He curled into the fetal position on the couch in his basement and waited to succumb to whatever had him in its grip.
Those scary moments in the basement finally got Dad to admit that he needed help, but when help presented itself, would Dad take it?
This is the story of how one minister’s extraordinarily successful 22 years with the congregation he loved collapsed into a painful end. This is Minister in the Making Episode #30: Fetal position.
To participate in the upcoming live retrospective episode on Dad's time with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ, please email your questions and thoughts to email@example.com by Monday, January 24, 2022.
Please be sure to check out Dad's book, We Are God's Masterpiece, at amazon.com.
Updates on Dad's cancer treatments and prognosis are here.
Episode 29: "Healer, heal thyself..." (Ashland, Ohio, late 1990s)
As a Christian minister who has lived among Christian ministers since I was born, I notice something sad, scary, and strange. Christian congregations look to their ministers and pastors to model and teach spiritual health and strength. Yet, many times, these ministers and pastors become some of the most spiritually unhealthy and spiritually weak people in their congregations.
By the late 1990s and almost 25 years into his ministry, Dad was at the top of his ministry game. His congregation, the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio, was bursting at the seams and starting a building campaign. Dad’s ministries were multiplying and he was bringing more and more people to Christ. But even as Dad looked like he was bearing fruit, he knew a secret. He was neither spiritually healthy nor spiritually strong. He was just going through the motions. Even as he worked nonstop to fan into flame the spiritual life of his congregation, Dad had no spiritual life of his own. His flame was out. He was smoldering into a pile of ash.
How did this happen? What choices did Dad make that led him into this spiritual coma?
Send questions for future episodes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about Dad's new book, 'We Are God's Masterpiece', here.
Keep up with Dad's cancer treatments here.
Episode 28: "The ministry took over our marriage..." (Ashland, Ohio, mid-1990s to early 2000s)
As a Christian minister who grew up in a family of Christian ministers whose lives revolved around the church, I can tell you from first-hand knowledge: Shocking and staggering is the number of Christian ministers who cheat on their spouses or whose marriages end in divorce. Many more Christian ministers who do not actually get into affairs often entangle themselves in ministry relationships and ministry work that slowly takes them away from their spouses until they wake up one day and find that their marriage is all but dead.
Dad was a case of the latter. Over the 1980s and 1990s, the congregation he served grew and grew. As it did, Dad chose to take on more and more responsibilities. Each of those new responsibilities left less and less for Dad to invest in his relationship with Mom. Finally, the morning came when Mom woke up and Dad was gone. In the aftermath of that break in their relationship, Dad finally realized that he would have to make a choice he avoided for almost 30 years: Choose the church or choose his marriage.
Send questions for future episodes to email@example.com.
Learn more about Dad's new book, 'We Are God's Masterpiece', here.
Keep up with Dad's cancer treatments here.
Episode 27: "I had a messiah complex..."
When Dad started in ministry in 1975, he and Mom could not foresee how helping people in crisis would become a normal part of their everyday lives. Almost from the get-go, they had to get used to almost daily calls for help. As long as they worked with small congregations, they found that they could handle it. But by the mid-1990s, Dad was ministering to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. The congregation was growing so much that the elders decided to build a whole new campus to meet the need for space. As the congregation grew, so did the responsibility that Dad took on himself to be there for people who needed help. And the more Dad helped people in crisis, the more people in crisis seemed to find Dad. Even though he refused to admit it at the time, the strain was beginning to break Dad. Things finally got out of control when Dad got so entangled with one member of the church that it put Dad, our family, and the entire congregation in grave danger.
If you would like to ask Dad or Mom a specific question on a future episode, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn about and order Dad's book, 'We Are God's Masterpiece: Discovering How God Has Designed You For His Purpose,' here.
To keep up with news about Dad's cancer treatments, visit his Caringbridge page here.
Episode 26: Building up while being torn down (Ashland, Ohio, mid-1990s to early-2000s)
When Dad arrived in Ashland, Ohio, in August 1981, the Church of Christ that met at 323 Steele Avenue comprised about 150 members. Almost 20 years later, the congregation’s membership swelled to almost 350. The building was bursting at the seams, people could not find a place to park on Sunday mornings, and there was not one more inch of space left in which to grow. So, in the mid-1990s, the elders of the Steele Avenue Church of Christ began a long campaign to raise funds, purchase property, and build a new campus on West Main Street in Ashland. The congregation was enthusiastic in its support for this goal. But as hard work and hope pointed to a brighter future than anyone once imagined for the congregation, Dad’s world was growing darker and darker with each passing year. As the congregation gave more and more money and plans moved closer and closer to putting shovels in the ground, Dad was putting himself under greater and greater pressure to meet impossibly high expectations. The church was getting ready to build, but Dad was tearing himself down. What was happening? And why?
If you want me to ask Dad a specific question in a future episode, please email it to me at email@example.com.
Don’t forget to check out Dad’s new book, We Are God’s Masterpiece, at amazon.com.
Keep track of Dad's cancer treatments here.
Episode 25: Chest pains (Ashland, Ohio, 1990s)
The 1990s were the golden age of Dad’s ministry career. He was in the prime of life. His congregation, the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio, was growing so much that it needed a new building. People got along and seemed happy and peaceful. It was a picture of near-perfect congregational health. But did this healthy congregation reflect the health of its minister?
In this episode, Dad reveals the inverse relationship between the health of the Steele Avenue Church of Christ and his own mental, physical, and spiritual health. As each year went by, Dad more and more chose to tend to the health of the church and neglect his own.
Was it a good trade-off?
Remember to check out Dad's new book, 'We Are God's Masterpiece: Discovering How God Has Designed You For His Purpose'. This book is full of resources, teaching, and tools to help church leaders help the members of their congregations discover how their personal spiritual gifts build up and support the health of the whole church. Learn more and order here.
As Dad continues to battle cancer, you can keep up with his latest health news and treatments here.
If you have questions you would like for the host to ask in a future episode, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Episode 24: When Dad stopped counting people in pews and dollars in plates (Ashland, Ohio, mid-1990s)
What's in this episode
For generations, you could walk into any Church of Christ building in America and find three common features: The absence of musical instruments, a baptistry, and a billboard hanging on the wall next to the pulpit. On that billboard, you would see numbers. Numbers like how many people attended Bible class and worship the Sunday before and how much money they put in the offering plates. Church leaders looked at these numbers to measure the spiritual health and strength of their congregations.
Dad did, too. When he started full-time ministry at the West Side Church of Christ in Akron, Ohio, he got a diary in which he carefully recorded the latest church numbers every week. He kept that diary every week for the next 20 or more years, taking it with him from Akron, Ohio, to Cadiz, Ohio, to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio.
At the Steele Avenue Church of Christ, those numbers looked really good. Year after year of Dad’s ministry there, the congregation grew and grew.
But one day in the mid- to late-1990s, Dad decided to stop keeping his numbers diary. He just quit.
In this episode, Dad talks about how he started having strong doubts about how he and most church leaders measured the spiritual health and strength of their congregations.
Dad has a new book out: 'We Are God's Masterpiece'
In this book, Dad utilizes his experiences in church leadership to compile several inventories for individuals to complete in order to discover how they are intended to be used in the church. From spiritual gifts to personality types to passions, among others, God has made us each unique parts of the whole. This book will walk any individual through the steps of recognizing just how beautiful and necessary we each are to fulfilling His masterpiece.
Get the latest news on Dad's cancer treatments and health at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/travisirwin2
To submit a question for a future episode, email it to email@example.com.
Episode 23: The beauty and value of being together instead of being right
In this episode, I asked Dad what I thought would be a juicy question: Tell me some stories about how you handled conflict and criticism during your 22 ½ years with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ. To my surprise, Dad had very little to say about those things.
Did he block those stories out of his memory or forget about them because of his chemo treatments? No. As it turns out, conflict and criticism just did not happen much at the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in the 1980s and 1990s. When they did, they got settled and sorted out quickly and with very little fuss. Dad couldn’t take any credit for this because he said he had very little to do with handling conflict or criticism when they did arise. He credits the elders of the church for creating a culture, modeling behavior, and taking a firm but gentle lead when situations called for it. More than that, though, Dad said that church members themselves--even the ones who started conflicts--valued being together much more than they valued winning arguments against each other. For that reason, the Steele Avenue Church of Christ doubled in size and thrived during a period when most Church of Christ congregations were shrinking and struggling.
What lessons can church leaders and members today learn from that congregation's culture 30 - 40 years ago?
If you'd like to keep up with Dad's cancer treatments and health, please visit https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/travisirwin2.
Episode 22: What happens in church leadership meetings anyway? (Ashland, Ohio, late 1980s to mid-1990s)
This is one of those episodes that could be boring or interesting, depending on what you like to learn about. That’s because in this episode, Dad and I “nerd out” on church leadership. We start by talking about how closely leadership organization and practice in the church of Christ in 21st century America resembles church organization and leadership in the first century. Then we talk about the classic leadership structure of most Church of Christ congregations in America, a structure that revolves around ministers, elders, and deacons. On this point, Dad teaches me an old Church of Christ joke that actually makes a lot of sense. Finally, Dad talks about his experience working with the elders at the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. How did decisions get made and how did things get done? Dad talks about some things he wishes the elders of the Steele Avenue Church of Christ did different and how he wishes he did some things differently, too.
Episode 21: "I've never met another Dorothy Abels" (Ashland, Ohio, 1994)
The year was 1994 and Dad was 13 years into his ministry to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. The congregation was growing. Dad’s ministry was cruising. Then something happened that changed the direction of all of that.
Dorothy Abels died.
Who was Dorothy Abels? Most people around the congregation knew that she was a ladies Bible class and Sunday school teacher. She was kind, but quiet. Outgoing, but not outspoken. Just another woman doing what she could to help out around church.
But Dad knew something about Dorothy that most people didn’t know: She prayed for the church. And not just a word here and there. She prayed for the church every day. Sometimes for hours. She prayed for the members of the church by name. She prayed for Dad and his ministry.
When Dorothy died, Dad felt it as if something in his body changed. As if the air in the church changed. Dorothy and her prayers were gone. When Dad lost Dorothy’s prayers, he began a decade that would end with him losing his ministry and losing his way.
In this episode, Dad will talk about just how crucial one quiet person and her prayers can be to the life of a church. I call this one: “I’ve never met another Dorothy Abels.”
Keep up with Dad's cancer treatments and health here.
Episode 20: "I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed..." (Ashland, Ohio, 1988 - 1994)
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dad was hitting his stride with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. The church was active, growing, healthy, and seemed to be avoiding some of the problems that some churches face. Dad was happy, too, as he felt good about his family life, spiritual life, and work life. But even as all was going well, Dad was already making choices that would lead to difficulty and trouble in the years ahead.
In this episode, Dad will talk about church culture and church habits and how they lead to church growth. He’ll also talk about how he chose to manage his own time and workload (and how he seemed to think that he could find a way to work through any limits). Dad will also take us behind the closed doors of elders meetings. What goes on there anyway (and what is the minister’s job when he sits in that room)?
Do you have a question you'd like to ask Dad in a future episode? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To stay up to date on Dad's cancer treatments and health, visit his CaringBridge page here.
Episode 19: "I went down into the basement and wept" (Ashland, Ohio, 1984 - 1988)
In another episode, Dad said that everything was going well for his ministry with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in the mid-1980s. But at home, Dad and Mom were going through one of the hardest and scariest times of their lives. In 1984, tests revealed that their one-year old daughter, Bethy, had Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic disease that was the #1 killer of children and young adults at that time. On top of the overwhelming confusion, fear, and frustration, Dad and Mom had to face the financial hardship that came from multiplying medical bills and trying to buy their first home. When families in the church face this kind of hardship, they turn to their ministers. But where do ministers turn when they’re the ones going through hell?
Do you want to ask Dad a specific question in a future episode? Email it to email@example.com.
You can follow Dad's cancer treatments at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/travisirwin2
Episode 18: "People brought their friends to church...we baptized 98 percent of them" (Ashland, Ohio, mid-1980s)
In the mid-1980s, Dad was finding his groove as a minister and as part of the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio. While Church of Christ congregations nationwide were starting to shrink, the Steele Avenue Church of Christ was starting what would turn out to be two decades of trend-busting growth. How did this conservative congregation in small town Ohio manage to do what so many other congregations could not do in the 1980s? Dad will tell you what he thinks. We’ll also talk about the time that a woman in the congregation campaigned to get Dad fired and how he handled that situation and recovered from it. We’ll talk about how much education and training Church of Christ ministers need to do their jobs. I’ll also ask Dad if he thinks the things that grew the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in the 1980s will still work today.
Episode 17: "You don't go into ministry to make friends" (but friends sure do help) (Ashland, Ohio, 1981)
Study after study, survey after survey, shows that ministers have a hard time forming and keeping friendships in their congregations. On one hand, ministers and their families can never quite escape feeling like they are different from everyone else in the congregation, like they are expected to be a little better than human. On the other hand, church members often only show ministers their best side. The majority of ministers in the United States report that they feel lonely. Perhaps that is why so many ministers burn out, drop out, or flame out because of exhaustion, failing marriages, loss of faith, or personal sin. For their own health and well-being (and the health and well-being of the congregations they serve), ministers need good friends.
In this episode, both my dad (Travis Irwin) and mom (Debbie Irwin) talk about their experiences forming and keeping good friendships in the congregations they served for over 45 years of ministry. The inspiration for this episode is John Kerr, a member of the Steele Avenue Church of Christ who befriended Dad on the very first day of his ministry to that congregation. Dad and Mom talk about how their friendship with John and his wife, Jan, set the pattern and the tone for their entire 22 1/2 year ministry to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ.
Dad and Mom will also share their insights on what it is like for ministers and their families to make friends in the congregations they serve and what boundaries need to be in place to keep those friendships "safe." I ask them what they wish that regular church folks would know and understand about their ministers and their families.
This is a good conversation about the importance of friendships to ministers.
To keep track of Dad's battle with cancer and his latest treatments, please visit https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/travisirwin2.
Episode 16: How the Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio, practiced "the (almost) most important verse in the Bible" (Early 1980s)
Dad talks about what it was like to move to Ashland, Ohio, and start his 22 ½-year ministry with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ. How was Dad a different man and different minister starting with his third church at age 31 than when he started ministries at churches at age 24 and age 30? Dad will talk about what made the Steele Avenue Church of Christ really special as a place to do ministry. Finally, he will talk about what congregations and ministers should do for each other to get off to a strong start.
You can submit your own questions for Dad and I will ask them on a future episode. Simply email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For updates on how Dad is living with cancer the second time around, visit caringbridge.org.
Episode 15: God calls right on time (Summer 1981)
In the 12 months between the summers of 1980 and 1981, Dad resigned from two different churches. The second resignation came after nine months in which "things just didn't work out" and Dad and Mom grew more unhappy in Cadiz, Ohio. But what would they do and where would they go next? Would any church even want to look at Dad after he abruptly left two congregations in less than one year?
Then, out of the blue, a stranger called Dad from Ashland, Ohio, where the Steele Avenue Church of Christ had problems, too. The congregation was dealing with the difficulties that came from firing two ministers in two years and being rejected by the minister it chose to succeed them.
As if someone, somewhere scripted it, Dad and the Steele Avenue Church of Christ came together at just the right time.
In this episode, Dad talks about how it all happened and what it all meant. Today's story is a family favorite that my sisters and I heard over and over as we grew into adulthood. Dad and Mom often bring it up as an example of how God is always looking out for us (even when it feels like he's not there) and that his timing is always just right.
At the end of this episode, Dad will also talk about his recent cancer diagnosis and the low visibility of the days ahead. At the time of recording, the only information we had is that Dad's cancer from five years ago returned and is all over his body.
Please keep Dad and our family in your prayers. You may keep up with Dad's cancer progress at his CaringBridge webpage.
Episode 14: It's time to talk about the place where Dad preached 2,200 sermons (Ashland, Ohio, 1981 - 2003)
In this episode, we start the difficult task of unpacking Dad’s 22 ½ years as the minister to the Steele Avenue Church of Christ in Ashland, Ohio.
Most Church of Christ ministers work with one congregation for an average of three years. Dad worked with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ seven times longer than that. During his 22 ½ years there, Dad preached and taught more than 5,000 lessons and sermons and the congregation almost doubled in size. By the time Dad left in January 2004, the congregation was bursting at the seams and flying high from a successful campaign to raise funds for a new building. What went so right that Dad's work with the Steele Avenue Church of Christ lasted so long and led to such growth? What went wrong that Dad felt like he had to walk away from the congregation just as things seemed to be peaking?
In this episode, we'll start the long process of mining the meaning in Dad's long love story with Ashland, Ohio. We'll begin by listening to Dad talk about three of his milestone moments: 1) His last sermon at the Steele Avenue Church of Christ on January 4, 2004, 2) The "high water mark" of his life and work in Ashland, Ohio (around the early 1990s), and 3) His first sermon at the Steele Avenue Church of Christ on August 30, 1981.
Episode 13: 1970s Lightning Round
In this episode, we take a break from the usual format to take one last look at Dad’s life and work in the 1970s. I’m calling this our “1970s lightning round.” The questions are quick and cover everything from Dad’s favorite movies and music in the 1970s to how he voted in presidential elections to what church controversies kept him on his toes to what lessons he learned and wants to pass on. I ask him questions like:What Bible verse did you repeat most often in the 1970s? What was the biggest difference between how you prayed and studied the Bible in 1971 and how you prayed and studied the Bible in 1980? What were your best and worst moments of the 1970s? What advice would you give to newlyweds, new dads, college students considering ministry, and churches that hire first-time or very young ministers?
This one is fun and moves fast and ends with some really good advice. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.
Episode 12: "We grow where things are difficult" (Cadiz, Ohio, 1980 - 1981)
The episode picks up in Cadiz, Ohio, in the summer of 1980. Dad was the new minister at the Church of Christ congregation in this one-stoplight coal mining town on the West Virginia border. Almost as soon as Dad started his ministry in Cadiz, he started counting the days until he could move on from there. What happened? Why did Dad want to leave Cadiz before he even unpacked his office at the church? Was it something Dad did (or didn’t do), or was it the church and town itself? This episode is about knowing when it's time to leave.
Episode 11: "They told me I had to be out of the house in three weeks" (Akron, Ohio, 1980)
This episode starts with Dad’s knee-jerk decision to quit his ministry at the West Side Church of Christ in Akron, Ohio, in the summer of 1980. His mishandling of both his resignation and the situation that followed forced him to take whatever job he could get as fast as he could get it. That job turned out to be minister to the Church of Christ in Cadiz, Ohio. At first glance, moving to Cadiz to work with the church looked like it could turn out to be a good situation, but almost as soon as Dad arrived, all signs started pointing to bad times ahead.
Episode Ten: "I was just immature" (Akron, Ohio, 1980)
This time, Dad talks about one of the biggest mistakes of his life. A choice he lived to regret even 40 years later. After five years at the West Side Church of Christ in Akron, Ohio, Dad was happy and thriving. Then, in what seemed to come out of the blue to everyone--including Dad--he just up and quit one day. In this episode you’ll hear him struggle to answer the question “why?” even after four decades to think about it.
Episode Nine: "He took the credit card to the mall and spent $200 on toys" (Akron, Ohio, 1978)
This is a special episode because my mom, Debbie Irwin, is joining my dad for this conversation. We’re talking about the years 1975 to 1978, when Dad and Mom were serving their first church while starting their family. In the last episode, Dad talked about what it was like to be a 24-year old first time head minister for a church hundreds of miles from where he grew up. This week, Dad and Mom will talk about what it was like to be married and become parents during this time in their lives. How did church work change their relationship? How did their relationship help or hinder church work? How did becoming parents change their lives? Their marriage? Their ministries? Who was a better baby: Me or my sister, Michelle?
Episode Eight: Preaching from a 50 pound Bible (Akron, Ohio, 1975 - 1980)
This episode picks up in January 1975, when Dad was 24 years old and the newly-appointed minister for the West Side Church of Christ in Akron, Ohio. That Dad ended up here was a surprise to everyone. Just one month prior, he had no plans to be a preacher and no plans to ever live north of the Mason-Dixon line. In our conversation today, we talk about what it was like for Dad to take on his first full-time ministry as the “face” and “voice” of a local Church of Christ congregation. We talk about the difference between what Dad learned about church work growing up in the Bible Belt and what he found in the Rust Belt. Dad will talk about how he had to prepare and train himself to be a “pulpit man” and how he did it. He’ll tell us about the sermons he preached, why he chose to preach them, and whether he would ever preach them again. Finally, Dad will talk about what he did right as he began his life in ministry and what he could have done better starting out. We’ll even get into some of the strange expectations that churches place on their ministers, including an insistence that Dad preach his sermons from a 50 pound Bible.
Episode Seven: "I need someone to take care of me" (Nashville, Tennessee, 1972 - 1973)
We pick up soon after the calendar turned to 1972. Dad, a 21-year old college dropout, went on a disastrous blind date with a 17-year old high school senior named Debbie Sadler. Just one year after their awkward meeting, they were married.
Marriage, a new sense of direction, and a sudden job loss convinced Dad that it was time to go back to college. He was soon back at David Lipscomb College, in Nashville, Tennessee, majoring in church education.
When Dad graduated in December 1974, he got exactly the kind of job offer he hoped to get, but he passed it up to take a job he swore he would never do in a place he never imagined he would live.
Listen to this episode and let's find out together.
Episode Six: The year of wilderness wandering (1971)
In this episode, we pick up in the year 1971, the year Dad got kicked out of Christian college, almost ended up going to Vietnam, and really questioned his Christian faith for the first time in his life. You could call 1971 the year of Dad’s wilderness wandering. But in that wilderness, God sent the people who would help Dad find and form his own faith and point him in the direction that would eventually take him into Christian ministry, a role he never imagined or wanted for himself.
Episode Five: The 1970s Part One (1968 to 1972)
People who knew my dad, Travis Irwin, as a Christian minister may think that he dropped out of the sky that way. But in this episode, we find out that Dad went through a time in life when he wasn't sure that Christianity was even true. Growing up in a preacher's family himself, Christianity is what Dad and the rest of the Irwins...just did.
After spending his first two years at David Lipscomb College having fun, Dad's grades got so bad the dean told him to not come back to school. After a brief scare in which Dad thought he might have to go to Vietnam, he found himself just hanging around and wondering what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He even started wondering if the Christianity he always just assumed was something he could really trust. Some new friends started to show Dad new possibilities for his Christian life. Then, on a blind date in early 1972, he met the woman who would change the course of his life in ways that surprised even him.
Episode Four: The 1960s
In this episode, Dad talks about growing up as a teenager in the 1960s Bible Belt. He shares what he felt about living through history (Civil Rights, Cold War, and Vietnam), watching his dad give up on making a living as a Christian minister, and making the choice to become a Christian himself.
Dad's Decades: The 1950s
In this episode, Dad talks about growing up in a preacher's family in the 1950s (and how it shaped the man and minister he would become later in life).
Dad's Decades Episode Two: The 1940s
Dad was born on March 9, 1950, but we're not going to start learning his life story in the 1950s. To understand the world in which Dad grew up, we need to go back to the decade before he was born: The 1940s. In this episode, Dad talks about his parents, Walter and Doris Irwin, and what they were doing in the ten years leading up to his birth. How did their own families form them? How did they find their way to faith? How did they meet each other and what kind of relationship did they build? How did the life Walter and Doris made together in the 1940s become the world in which Dad grew up.
Dad's Decades Part One: Looking back at a life well-lived
My dad, Travis Irwin (70), is retiring from almost 50 years of Christian ministry. This seemed like a good time to ask him a lot of the questions that I've always wanted to ask about faith, family, and work.
In this first episode, Dad looks back at his life in one broad brushstroke. We'll get down into the details in later episodes.