by Selena Haynes | photos courtesy Tony Woodall
Tony Woodall grew up like many in the South, attending church on Sundays with a very conservative, far-right view of life in a very fear-based type of religious setting. You know the type where every move you make outside of the staunch will of the church will send you to hell? Yeah, that type of fear.
He carried these views, somewhat, and led others who believed the same for 20 years. The first 10 years of his ministry were in the Church of Christ and the next 10 years shifted to non- denominational churches.
But Tony, even in childhood, always had a hard time believing that God would ever reject a child. He said it would break his heart when he would hear the preacher talk about God sending anyone to hell.
“Of course, someone would say God is not sending them. People are choosing to go themselves by their sinful behavior. But I couldn’t buy that either because they would also say that you stand before God and He will judge you innocent or guilty,” said Tony.
Regardless of these questions, Tony went into the ministry with these teachings ingrained. But after 20 years of pastoring, he left the ministry.
Deconstructing a lifetime of beliefs
“Since the first 20 years ended, I kinda started going through my own personal deconstruction from what my life beliefs were. I found extremely kind and loving people where they weren’t supposed to be and living lives they weren’t supposed to be living. I didn’t know what to do with that. It was very conflicting. I had this system I had grown up in which I was told what God was like [but] then I had these people I was meeting who looked more like Jesus so I couldn’t figure out why God and Jesus didn’t look the same. Jesus was supposed to be the very essence of God so that started a journey of deconstructing my beliefs,” said Tony.
He began studying the Bible even more with a new, awakened mind. “You thought it was in there [the Bible], but it turned out not to be in there or it’s not at all what it said. Or the translations from Latin, Greek or Hebrew to English were a little messed up. So I was deconstructing for a long time. Then I started settling into what I did believe,” said Tony.
As Tony’s beliefs began to change, he knew that if he was to ever be in the ministry again that he couldn’t be a part of something that is not accepting of everyone.
“I had spent 40 years constructing – 15 years deconstructing. I fought a lot of the stuff, the new things I was seeing. Plus, I had a lot of fear of letting down all these people I had led all these years. What would they say? What would they think? Will I confuse a lot of them? At some point, I just had to decide to have more faith in humanity, have more faith in the presence of God inside all of humanity. There may be one or two folks who lose their trust in you, but if their trust was in you, it was in the wrong spot to start with,” said Tony.
While Tony had uncertainties about preaching again, it wasn’t meant for him to sit on the sidelines. He began attending Stones River Church of Christ (SRCOC). Shortly after, the existing pastor left to do mission work. Five months after beginning to attend SRCOC, Tony took the pastoral position.
Parables and the #UnderGet
During his tenure at SRCOC, he was invited to hear a speaker in Shelbyville. Tony considers this to be his true ‘aha’ moment. The speaker spoke of the three parables out of Luke 15.
One of the parables was about a shepherd with 100 sheep and one wandered off. He went to find it. The speaker asked, ‘why did he leave the 99 to find the one? Was there ever a time in the life of that sheep that it didn’t belong to that shepherd?’
Another parable spoke of a woman who lost a coin. She lit a lamp to search for it. Why? Not only was it her coin, but it never lost its value to her.
“All my life I was taught that being lost and found are opposites and cannot exist at the same time. You can be lost but you do not lose your belong,” said Tony in reference to the parable of the sheep.
Tony last pastored four years ago at SRCOC. He and his wife, Kara, now host a Facebook Live event every Wednesday night called #theunderget. The name reflects that to get to the good stuff, you will have to get under your skin. The good stuff is on the inside. The purpose of #underget is to encourage people to think for themselves and look deeper.
When asked if he would ever pastor again, Tony said, “My life now is simply about helping people become aware of who they already are.”