Last updated: September 21, 2023

Pastoral Hardships

“Discipleship is critical to the future of the church,” says Rev. Dr. Shane Stanford. Having served as a pastor and church planter for over thirty years, he knows this deeply.

Shane’s life and ministry have been plagued by obstacles and trials. Shane was born with hemophilia. Due to his vulnerable health, he contracted HIV and Hepatitis C in his teens. After receiving his M.Div., his first UMC appointment was to a congregation who rejected him. The parishioners didn’t want someone with HIV baptizing their children, and one parishioner said he’d sooner burn down the parsonage than have him move into it.

Turned away from his first appointment, Shane was already learning hard lessons. “You can’t go into ministry just because you think it’s a great job. You can’t do that,” he says.

Shane pivoted to church planting in Mississippi, his home state, this time making sure his new community knew his health status in advance. Thankfully, Shane experienced 10 years of fantastic ministry in Mississippi as his church plant grew quickly.

Yet he faced a new challenge. As he has shared in his memoir, church planting is all consuming, and his marriage suffered during that time. In order to get it back onto a good track, Shane sought a ministry with a more predictable routine.

He transitioned to working for the United Methodist Foundation, which ran The United Methodist Hour, a television and radio ministry. Shane ended up the executive director and got into a love of media ministry.

Yet, in the midst of this positive track, health complications hit. One of the medicines used to treat Shane’s hemophilia caused a blockage leading him to need open heart surgery and experimental medications to control the bleeding. Shane made it through that and then went back to work, feeling thankful he survived.

Shane’s time with the UM Foundation culminated when he was offered a strong appointment in Florida with a two-campus church of over 4,000.

Yet when Shane arrived, he learned he would be the fifth senior pastor in just nine years. “I did not realize that that church was in such a deep place of struggle… The first Sunday I was there, the youth of a family member that had been let go from their job a few months before I got there—but thinking it was me who did it—he found all the cars from Forest County in Mississippi, which were four of them in the parking lot, and slashed all our tires,” says Shane. “And then he broke into the office and urinated on my sofa… You couldn’t make this up. And so I knew that I was in a really hurting place. I spent two years there, but it was really difficult.”

An Unexpected Connection

There was a silver lining to his time in Florida. Former Asbury Seminary president Maxie Dunman had a condo 60 miles away and, when in the area, would come hear Shane preach. When Maxie’s parish, Christ Church Memphis, needed a senior pastor, Maxie approached Shane.

Shane said he’d do it, but only if Maxie would stay on in his ministry role there.

Maxie agreed, and for the next 11 years, Shane served as senior pastor of Christ Church Memphis with an office next to Maxie’s. Shane describes his time at Christ Church Memphis as “one of the best things that ever happened. That church helped heal a lot of the brokenness that was in me.” Shane and his wife also had a chance to heal and become strong again.

From his time spent working alongside Maxie, Shane developed a love for Asbury Theological Seminary. In 2014, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the board of Asbury Seminary. “I’m a huge, huge Asbury [Seminary] fan,” Shane says. 

Health complications were not done plaguing him. About five years into his time in Memphis, Shane’s Hepatitis C kicked in, and his liver got to Stage 4 cirrhosis. Shane endured 108 weeks of treatment in three different programs. The last program worked, and he was cured in 2017. Then sight issues began. Shane’s right eye was removed in 2021 due to hemorrhaging, and his remaining eye has troubles. “It has been a sense of one thing after another, where I’d had to decide, “Why am I doing this?”” Shane says.

JourneyWise Launches Discipleship Resources

People would talk to Shane about all the reasons he could take disability. But he didn’t want to. In the midst of circumstances that would cause many in ministry to retire, Shane instead pondered his next phase of serving God. “I felt like I had something to offer, and I wanted to live out my calling,” he says. “I kept remembering a phrase my grandmother would tell me: “I want to be journeywise… I’d rather learn something from every step of the journey than be the wisest person on the planet.””

His grandmother’s words connected Shane to what was next. After serving 11 years at Christ Church Memphis, Shane, along with a couple families in his church, founded the Moore-West Center for Applied Theology, from which JourneyWise launched. JourneyWise is a faith-based media network that creates multimedia discipleship resources to help Christians “Love Jesus, Love Like Jesus.” Named from his grandmother’s words, JourneyWise content includes books, articles, podcasts, and a 365-day devotional; Servant School courses; and content for mental health support and wellness.

Shane’s challenges in ministry, health, and his personal life are the birthplace of all that JourneyWise offers. Its mental health care is inspired by Shane’s passion to help people in the church address mental health issues, especially after he suffered panic attacks following his heart surgery. “I learned that it’s okay to not be okay,” he says. 

But the most important lesson Shane took from his decades of ministry is that “it’s all about Jesus. It’s not about me. It’s not about the church. It’s about Jesus.” Through JourneyWise resources, Shane wants to “move people away from religion and more into being followers of Jesus Christ, and really put the emphasis back on Jesus,” he says.

Shane has observed that the emphasis can come off Jesus when we focus on church sustainability, or when our theology becomes an ideology. “We really can do great harm in the name of Jesus when we are not following Him deeply and appropriately,” he says. Shane has learned from his personal journey, and from what he’s seen as a pastor, “how critical it is that we live and make decisions really thinking not just, “What would Jesus do?” but really knowing what Jesus did.

JourneyWise is for individuals, families, small groups and churches who want to strengthen their journey with Jesus and—as Shane’s own journey has taught him—put the emphasis back on Him.

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