Learning How To Be Weak
Garnett Slatton glanced out the window of his car as it sped across the Delaware Memorial Bridge. A huge gasoline tank truck had just pulled up beside him. How easy it would be, thought Garnett, to collide with the truck, ending the misery that was his life.
But he obviously didn't, electing instead to go home, close his bedroom door, and weep. The Lord had finally gotten his attention. Only two years before, in 1988, things had been perfect. He had been asked to run a small venture capitalized mortgage bank in Boston which was floundering. During his tenure as CEO it had multiplied its worth twenty-five times and had become one of the fastest growing companies in the country
Although he was very successful and making a lot of money, his personal life was a wreck. For a time after he moved to Boston to run the company, he commuted from Washington, D.C., where his wife, Michelle, and two children continued to live. With only weekends to give his family, his relationship with his children declined seriously from neglect, as did his marriage.
"In my own mind I was President and CEO of a very successful company," remembers Garnett. "But my personal life was falling apart. I was very self-centered; I essentially told Michelle she needed to be exactly what I wanted her to be or I'd get a new wife."
Ironically, during this time he and Michelle began teaching a two-and-half-year old Sunday school class at the church they were attending in Washington. As they taught the lessons each week, Garnett realized they were more for his benefit than the children's. Slowly, he began to feel God working in his heart, melting especially the coldness he had toward his wife and children.
In 1990, the beautiful dream turned into a nightmare. His associates with the bank had been dishonest with him and others, and suddenly Garnett found himself in the midst of a very messy situation. Garnett lost everything, and had to sever his ties with the bank in order to keep his reputation intact. With no job or income, Garnett abruptly had no authority or power. Then he looked around and saw with new eyes the damage he had done to his wife and children.
"It was the most despairing moment of my life," he recalls. "I spent about a week up in Boston while all of this was playing out, and the only thing that kept me going was a Bible someone had given me. I just kept reading it."
SUCCESS FROM THE START
That night in his bedroom Garnett thought back over his life, letting each scene etch itself into his mind. He had grown up in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida, and lost his father when he was only ten years old. Although the loss was hard for the entire family, it was especially bad for Garnett, who was very close to him. His mother had just left work to stay home with her children; his father's death put her right back into the work force to support the family
What had his life been all about? He had been a class leader - valedictorian and president of everything. Piling up honors and achievements had always been very important to him. Although baptized at age thirteen, when he entered Duke in 1973 he didnt attend worship, and it was 1985 before he saw the inside of a church again. He graduated magna cum laude from Duke and was then accepted to Harvard Business School, which required him to work for two years before entering. He spent those two years marketing software for a computer system he had invented while at Duke.
In 1979 he and Michelle married, two weeks before his entrance into business school. Almost from the start, thought Garnett ruefully, he had not made his marriage a top priority. Studying day and night while in school, he and Michelle barely saw one another. After graduation the situation didn't improve; he took a management consulting job in Boston which required him to travel three or four days a week.
Five years later, in 1985, Garnett and Michelle left Boston for a job in Salt Lake City, where their first child was born.
The arrival of children had caused the two to think about regular worship, so they began attending a Presbyterian church. The job was short-lived, however, and a year later the two moved to Washington, D.C., where Garnett accepted the lucrative position of CEO of the Washington Bullets, an NBA basketball team. Earlier Garnett had been a consultant for the Boston Celtics and had written a study on how to run an NBA franchise.
For the next three years he enjoyed a life of affluence and status. As CEO of the Bullets, he was in the newspaper and on television constantly and garnered the envy of his school classmates. But the meaning of life was still in achieving goals. Church had no place in their lives; their excuse was that they couldn't find one they really liked.
Then came a falling out with the Bullets' owner over how to manage the finances. Before Garnett's arrival, the Bullets had lost money for eleven straight years. Within one year of coming on board, he had turned the team around, and it made money for the next two years. To remain in solid financial shape, Garnett felt that the franchise needed to buy broadcast time and do their own broadcasting, including selling advertising. The owner vehemently disagreed, so Garnett left in 1988. The very next year the team began losing money again.
Curiously, after he left the Bullets to run the bank, Garnett did not miss all the glamour and money. What he missed were the service projects which he had spearheaded for the Bullets, such as various programs in elementary schools, the anti-drug campaigns, and a project designed to recognize scholastic achievement in schools.
A GRADUAL CALL TO MINISTRY
That night in his room, thinking about where his self-centeredness had brought him, Garnett realized that he had been doing things his own way his entire life. Then and there he rededicated his life to Christ and decided to do things the Lord's way for a change. In the months that followed, he and Michelle began to focus on their family, moving to Georgia to be close to her parents. Garnett went to work for them in a successful company which needed management help.
They joined a Presbyterian PC(USA) church, and Garnett began teaching an adult Sunday School class. Although he felt unqualified to teach, the Lord blessed his efforts, and the class grew from three to forty regular members. Garnett matured tremendously through that time, getting more involved in the church and becoming more interested in the Christian life. Two years later he felt the Lord calling him into the ministry.
"I really didn't understand what that meant, so I went to talk to my pastor about it," Garnett recalls. "I was considering a parachurch ministry, but my pastor asked if I had ever thought about the pastoral ministry. I hadnt. He encouraged me to start thinking about it. A week later our associate pastor announced he was leaving, and the session invited me to go on staff for a year while they searched for a full-time associate pastor I did, and it was a year filled with the most joy I ever had."
As staff associate Garnett gained valuable experience. He worked with youth, did hospital visitation, met with the men in the church, and helped in Christian Education. He also began supply preaching in the presbytery, a job he enjoyed tremendously.
In 1993 he began thinking about seminary, but Michelle didn't like that idea. She had not signed up to be a pastor's wife. So instead of going to seminary, Garnett went to work for a ministry called MAP International. For almost three years he was involved in their main activity of shipping medical supplies into Christian hospitals and clinics in the developing world.
His dream, though slightly faded, still was to go to seminary. More and more he began to feel that the Lord probably wanted him simply to use his managerial skills at MAP. What he didn't realize was that, over the years at MAP, Michelle's relationship with the Lord was growing and deepening. In 1995, while serving on a lay renewal team, he went for a drive with a pastor mentor; who wanted to know if Garnett was going to seminary. Garnett dredged up many spiritual reasons why he wasn't, but the pastor didn't buy any of them.
"He told me that the real reason I wasn't going was that I just could not believe that God would provide for my family to go to seminary;" says Garnett, with a sheepish smile. "That was like cold water thrown in my face. I knew he was exactly right. The reality of that kept me awake all night."
The next morning after church a couple approached Garnett, telling him that they had been praying he would go to seminary and that they would like to help him financially. He went home and told Michelle, whom the Lord had now prepared to hear such news. The two decided that going to seminary was precisely what the Lord wanted them to do.
In searching for seminaries, Garnett wanted above all to receive a solid Reformed education based on Scripture. Perhaps a Bible-based education was so important because Garnett's father had been a tentmaking Church of Christ pastor who had laid a foundation for believing in the authority of Scripture. Garnett feels that RTS/Charlotte has not only provided such coursework, but also wrapped arms of love around their family even before they set foot on the campus.
"As we were considering seminaries," says Garnett, "we were receiving phone calls and visits from RTS staff, some of whom went out of their way to see us. By contrast, another seminary didn't even return my phone calls. I was impressed with the amazing love shown to me by RTS/Charlotte."
Garnett currently works at The Good Shepherd Church and has numerous preaching and ministry opportunities, something he feels is critical to a student studying theology.
"Seminary students are frequently tempted to get over-involved in scholarly academics and to miss out on the ministry of a local church," notes Garnett. "Ministry opportunities allow a student to test what he is learning on real people. Therefore, his knowledge is practical and not simply the result of a theological debate."
Garnett plans to pastor in the Presbyterian Church PC(USA) when he graduates. He believes that a good number of people in PC(USA) churches are solid, Bible-believing Christians who are hungry for sound, biblical leadership under an evangelical, Reformed pastor. But such pastors are in short supply. Garnett wants to be such a pastor for a PC(USA) congregation. He also wants to build bridges between RTS/Charlotte and the PC(USA), a trend which has already begun with the seminary and numerous PC(USA) pastors in the Charlotte area.
The most important lesson God has been teaching Garnett so far at seminary is not to take himself so seriously. When he entered RTS/Charlotte, he was concerned about how well he would do after being out of school for fifteen years. When he started doing well, he fell back into the old achievement thought patterns of "I can do this" and "I'm pretty good at this." Slowly he began to focus on himself rather than Jesus Christ. Then the Lord gave him a thorn in the flesh in the form of a kidney stone that he had for weeks.
"I heard the Lord telling me that it was my weakness that He needed," says Garnett. "He was also telling me that His strength was made perfect in my weakness. It is not about what I can do, but what God can do through me. I hope Ive learned the lesson."
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 3