Second Career Choice Was Easy
| by MNU News firstname.lastname@example.org
As a university, MNU is finally old enough to have alumni who are considering or have entered a second career. When Joe Ledbetter (’81) decided it was time recently to retire from a 25-year career in the prison corrections industry, it was not a hard choice to find a second career.
He had always been interested in ministry and had been preaching occasionally at small Nazarene and Baptist churches near his home in the northern Missouri town of Maryville.
“One day I was preaching in Iowa and I felt the Lord say now is the time (to go into ministry),” said Joe, 62. “I knew it was God’s will, so I turned in a resume and was hired by Faith Baptist Church in Bedford, Iowa.”
For a year, while working part time as pastor there, he also continued working at the Maryville Treatment Center, a corrections facility where he had been warden for eight years. As he wound down that job, he looked forward to an exciting new future in ministry. After three years at Bedford, he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Maryville, where he now shepherds a growing faith community of about 100 people. He is paid as part-time, but he puts in more than 40 hours a week doing a pastor’s many duties, including hospital visits and preparing and giving sermons.
“It’s really rewarding to see how God is moving and teaching me,” he said. Joe knows a few other second career pastors like him, and they enjoy comparing notes. He, and most of them, did not go to seminary, but have relied on their previous education and extensive reading in theology to equip them for ministry. Joe says he has considered taking online courses or earning a Master of Divinity, but it is hard to find the time while working.
The St. Louis native says his degree in religion from MNU gave him a great foundation. “It taught me how to read and handle the Word of God. My professor, Dr. Robert Sawyer, had the greatest impact,” Joe said. “He had tears in his eyes when he explained what holiness meant. And the Christian community of brothers and sisters was just what I needed to make sure I stayed in the Word of God.”
Although he felt the call to ministry while at MNU, Joe did not feel a peace about it then. Needing a job, he started working nights at the Johnson County Juvenile Correction Facility in Olathe. That ended up leading him to his first career. In 1986 he went to work for the Missouri Department of Corrections as a case worker, then manager, and then warden.
Working in prison settings, Joe had a great ministry to convicts. “I liked to hear their stories,” he said. “When I became warden it was more of a CEO role, and I missed working directly with the convicts.”
But the Maryville facility provided rewarding work because it is also a treatment center where inmates are taught how to return successfully to society, including how to balance a checkbook, how to interview for jobs, how to handle drug addictions and how to avoid a criminal mindset that can send them back to prison, he said. Joe also faced some critics who told him not to use the 12-step program because it included God in its therapy, but he held firm and kept the program in his facility.
"But God is in that facility in many ways," he said. “People come in to do Bible studies. We also had a situation where an inmate died in a church service. We then had a memorial service and I gave the eulogy and talked about what it means to be a Christian. Attendance was optional, but many of the inmates attended and a lot came to the Lord.”
Joe has good advice for people considering a second career in ministry. “It has to be a calling, or you won’t last. God will qualify you if he calls you. God will also use your prior training,” he said.
And for those who simply retire and decide not to work, Joe says that is the time to use your gifts. “A lot of people retire and just go through the motions in their church. But now is the time to use your gifts. Know what your spiritual gifts are and use them. We are never called to fully retire from life.”
Joe is ready to keep working. His wife, also an MNU grad in nursing, is Barbara Ann (Moore ’87) Ledbetter. They have a daughter, two sons, and three grandchildren. When they have time, they love to travel.
Joe Ledbetter says his second career has been a blessing that he plans to continue in Maryville. “I’m walking day by day,” he said. “I don’t see us leaving here.”