When he looks back at his path to ministry, Courtney Mitchell thinks of the story of Peter’s call to ministry in Luke 5. While preaching, Jesus asked Peter, a fisherman, to take him out on his boat so that he can better reach the crowd.
“For the longest time, I thought of myself as a devoted layperson,” he said. “Jesus uses Peter’s own profession, and his boat, and changes lives. We’re all called to ministry wherever we are.”
Later, Jesus gifts Peter with a miracle (the nets filled with fish) and a calling to a new life — but still connected to his old profession. As Jesus told Peter, “From now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10, NRSV.)
Now, the story has another meaning for Mitchell, who left a career as an attorney to enter the ministry. As a third-year M.Div. student at Perkins, he’s pursuing ordination as an elder in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“It’s that layering of Peter’s life, that’s how I relate to my story,” Mitchell said. “It helps me understand, in a Biblical context, my own life’s trajectory.”
Mitchell felt the first hints of the call to ministry while growing up in a United Methodist church in Waco, Texas. But he fell away from the church in college. After earning a J.D./M.B.A. degree from Fordham University, he practiced law in the areas of corporate securities and transactions, representing private equity and hedge fund managers, and handling SEC regulatory work.
“I felt I was meeting Jesus and the church again and for the first time,” he said. “This was a church where people lived and practiced Christian faith in their everyday lives. The community was serving each other and serving New York City. They fed the homeless and provided sanctuary to them to sleep under the church’s doors. They’re on Park Avenue, so this was controversial, but they would not let police arrest the homeless people on their property.”
The calling to become a pastor resurfaced. But the time wasn’t right.
“I had just graduated from the MBA/JD program a couple of years before, and I had a lot of student loans,” he said. “It wasn’t the financially sound thing to do.”
Life moved along. The couple’s first child was born. They moved to Texas to be closer to family and joined First United Methodist Church of Dallas in 2014.
“The call on my heart continued,” he said. “Then I got to a place where it would be possible and responsible.” He enrolled at Perkins. His pastor, the Rev. Dr. Andy Stoker (M.Div. ‘01), affirmed his calling and mentored him through the initial steps in the ordination process. Now, he’s interning at FUMC Dallas.
He’s never looked back. He’s more passionate than ever about becoming a church pastor.
“The local church is where everybody grows up in the faith,” he said. “It’s the most exciting and impactful place to do ministry in people’s everyday lives. It’s where discipleship formation is done. It’s where you work, as a church, for the transformation of the world.”
Pastoral Care and Preaching
At Perkins, Mitchell is pursuing a pastoral care concentration under Dr. Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner. He’s planning to attend the Health Care, Holy Care course at Methodist Hospital in Houston in January.
“Pastoral care is something that a pastor is going to do everywhere in a local church, and not just in the hospital,” he said. “You provide pastoral care when you meet someone in the neighborhood. It doesn’t even have to be a member of your congregation. I want to be available as much as I can be to everyone, regardless of their religious background. We all have common ground as children of God.”
His other key area of interest is preaching and homiletics.
“Preaching is an extremely powerful and sacred form of ministry,” he said. “As my professor, Dr. Wesley Allen, says, ‘You do the most teaching, the most pastoral care, the most healing, the most stewardship in that Sunday morning sermon — more than you will do the rest of the week.’ Good preaching is very important to the life of the church.”
Now Mitchell is putting his studies into practice, in an internship at his own church, First United Methodist of Dallas.
“The thing about the internship that has been wonderful for me is that I have reaffirmed that I really do want to be a pastor,” he said. “And I’ve had the chance to serve in a lot of different situations, with every age group in the congregation.”
Recently he created and led a re-engagement event for members who live at C.C. Young Senior Living, a joyous and emotional gathering as many of these members met for the first time since the pandemic. He has also taught Discipleship for the church’s Confirmation class, taught children in Sunday School and led chapel for church’s daycare program. He’s also been involved for the past year in a racial reconciliation effort in partnership with St. Paul United Methodist Church.
“And I absolutely love all of it,” he said.
Mitchell balances his full-time studies and internship with his family life. His wife, Sarah, also an attorney, is a partner with Vincent & Elkins. They have two children, Rose, 8 and Ian, 2.
To stay centered in all this, Mitchell follows a centering spiritual practice that Dr. Stoker taught him: a slow recitation of a passage from Psalm 46, followed by taking a deep breath, then just listening in silence for a few minutes. He starts by praying, “Be still and know that I am God,” then takes a deep breath and prays, “Be still and know that I am” and again pauses; then “Be still and know,” then “Be still,” then finally, “Be. Then he quietly senses God’s presence around and within and listens prayerfully for 5-10 minutes.”
“After all that, I say ‘Amen,’ and I’m changed, every day, every time I do this,” he said.