Spiritual Life and Leadership

Painful Pivot

8 mins read

We all have a story about an experience that changed the trajectory of our life. And while we also all likely know someone who was broken by one of those pivotal moments, some stories of tribulation actually lead to the perfect destination. 

Markus Watson’s story is one of the happy ones.

 Watson grew up bouncing around the United States, but he calls Southern California home. As a young man with a boyish grin that the camera and audience members alike were destined to fall in love with, Markus longed to work in Hollywood as an actor and director. 

 “As it turned out, I loved the idea of working in Hollywood more than actually working in Hollywood,” Watson reflected.

 The thing is, while he loved working on films and award ceremonies and found talking with celebrities fun, the class-based culture that valued “stars” and “celebrities” above the people who make them look good grated on him. The last straw came when a company expected him to work for free past his scheduled time in order to renew his contract.

 Out of work, Watson began looking for graduate school opportunities and landed at Fuller Theological Seminary. He thought he might try a semester and transfer out if something better came along.

 “As soon as I started, though, I was like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be,’” he remembered.

 Watson enjoyed studying theology and the patristics—the lives of the early church theologians. Then, he noticed that the school owned an Avid video editing system, which he had learned to use in his Hollywood days. He subsequently got a job in the video department and stuck around.

 Still, Watson was not convinced that he wanted to be a pastor. “My dad was a pastor,” Watson said. “That was his thing, and I didn’t want to feel like I was just following in his footsteps.”

 A friend encouraged him to submit his paperwork for ordination with the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA), and he did. But he dragged his feet on meeting the final requirements.

 Then, during a Good Friday service in 2003, his pastor led the congregation in a prayer written by one of those early church theologians—Augustine. The words “Late have I loved you” struck a chord in his soul as he finally admitted that God was calling him into pastoral ministry. He finished the ordination process, and by Good Friday the following year, Watson was serving his denomination at a church in Kentucky.

 After a few years, Watson had an opportunity to move back to Southern California and pastor a church in San Diego. Little did he know, the pivotal moment that would change his life would happen there.

 Watson served the church for seven years trying to build the congregation. According to his church’s policy, he took a sabbatical after seven-and-a-half years. Two weeks into it, the head of his presbytery called to inform him that an allegation of looking at pornography had been leveled against him. The situation was handled poorly by the presbytery and not according to the presbytery rules.

 “I didn’t know what was going on,” Watson recalled. “For the next several months, I was in a dark place.” 

Worried what would happen if he lost everything because of false allegations, Watson said, “I spent a lot of time praying and reading the Psalms of lament.” And then, one morning while praying, he sensed God telling him that even if he lost everything, no one could ever take away God’s love for him.

 At the conclusion of two investigations (since the first was mismanaged), Watson was cleared of any wrongdoing. The process yielded two major results: 

First, Watson was forced to find his own value in God, caring more about his own growth than numbers and budgets. 

Second, his church voted him out by a margin of two votes.

 Watson found work at a non-profit coaching pastors. The work was fulfilling, and a dream was planted: he wanted to help pastors lead from a place of inner health and wholeness, which he found after his ordeal. 

Podcasting could be the way, but he wasn’t sure.

 No longer concerned about growing his reputation or the number of church attenders, Watson returned as an interim pastor at a small church.

 With a surplus of time on his hands, he decided to launch his podcast, the Spiritual Life & Leadership show. His message?

“Suffering is transformative,” he said. “If we can lean into it, embrace it, and trust God through it, that’s where transformation happens. For pastors, if they can lean into it, that’s where they will find what matters.”

 Secretly, he hoped the efforts would be noticed by a larger entity. “I wanted to put myself in the place of greatest opportunity,” Watson said. “I hoped I could do this, help churches, and make a living from it,” Watson said.

 Two-and-a-half years later, Fuller Theological Seminary reached out. The school’s Church Leadership Institute has a vision to help pastors “lead change in a rapidly changing world,” which aligned nicely with Watson’s passion. Rather than start a new show on their own, they wanted to adopt his established show as the official podcast of their organization. 

The vision God planted and Watson pursued was finally bearing fruit.

 The first official episode of the new partnership launches on April 13, 2021 with episode #100!

 “You start at the beginning, and you think, ‘Now what?'” Watson reflected. “But eventually, it becomes, ‘I’m just going to do it no matter what anyone thinks.’ Podcasting has boosted my confidence. I don’t even get nervous anymore.

 Perhaps the biggest lesson in Watson’s turning-point story is that God has a way of using suffering to direct us to the desire of our heart.

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