This theological reflection paper (updated November 2023) was prepared for a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I use it now to help students in ministry understand how faith matures and how to express Gospel transformation in their own lives. Thus, the paper seeks to introduce, reflect upon, and integrate the singular spiritual components in my life that have formed and continue to shape a holistic ministry of a wounded healer seeking to provide the ministry of the life of Jesus Christ to others, regardless of their faith or their background.
The biblical passages which provide a ruling motif for this theological reflection paper on my own life and ministry are:
- I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame.  (Joel 2:25-27 ESV)
- And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6 ESV)
I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a family whose history, more or less, follows the settlement record of the United States. Our family story, well-known and often repeated among our successive generations, recounts a typical American story of settlers, for us, in North Carolina (Orange County, Onslow County, Moore County, Anson County) moving westward after the American Revolution and the War of 1812 to take part in land grants for veterans; first in Baldwin County, Alabama, then, founding a place called Milton Old Fields (now, Walker, Louisiana and Livingston Parish, Louisiana). My father, Jesse Ellis Milton, was a World War Two officer, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine. His father, George Michael Milton, was a farmer. My great-grandfather, Joseph Austin Milton, was a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, having fought in Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley campaign and having returned home broken after Gettysburg and the destruction of the Louisiana Tigers 9th Infantry, Company G. My great-great-grandfather, Michael Milton, Jr., with his wife, Martha Milton, was the pioneer, a War of 1812 veteran, that left Baldwin County, Alabama to seek land in the American west. His father, Michael, was a farmer in Anson County, North Carolina (today, forming parts of Union County, where we now reside). His father, Isham Milton, was a Revolutionary War veteran, having served in the First Infantry of the Virginia Militia. Isham’s father, Robert, had settled in Orange County, North Carolina, after leaving their home in Hanover County, Virginia. His father, Richard, and mother, Mary Ross Milton, were farmers there and were descendants of the first Jamestown settlers who came from England on the shop named “Supply.” Yet, by the time of my arrival, much of our family’s accumulated wealth and former community prominence had been lost or devalued because of the American Civil War and, especially, the difficulties of Reconstruction.
I was born to this family in Touro Infirmary Hospital in the Uptown Garden District area of New Orleans in the Eisenhower era. Yet, the conditions surrounding my birth were not as stable as those halcyon years of the American 1950s. My biological mother abandoned me when I was nine months of age at a house on St. Charles Street in New Orleans. My father, a U.S. Navy officer who had returned to his pre-War Merchant Mariner officer status, brought me to his sister, a sixty-five-year-old widow who had never had children herself. My father then died when I was six. The courts awarded me to my aunt. Thus, I was reared by my father’s sister—Aunt Eva—in a very poverty-stricken, rural area of southeastern Louisiana. My Aunt Eva was a very godly woman who nurtured me in the fear and the admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). I cannot remember a day when she did not lay her hand on my head to pray for me. I say that without hyperbole. Yet, the dark spot on my soul and the great existential questions of life, in light of my early years of pain, which included severe physical abuse by a biological mother who came in and out of my early years until legally restrained, caused me to leave our humble home in my mid-teens; a veritable prodigal son seeking answers in far-flung places—metaphorically and geographically—answers that, in hindsight, were always as near as Aunt Eva’s Bible and her quiet, faithful prayers. However, the seeds of later ministry were planted in the mixed soil of agony and tenderness.
After a decade as a spiritual refugee, I heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Dr. D. James Kennedy. After moving to Kansas, I entered the Presbyterian Church with my wife, Mae.   We began a lifelong pursuit of following Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In the early years of this journey, I came to understand the power of Joel 2:25. In the Calvinistic theology of my newfound spiritual home, I began to see God’s sovereignty as ruling and overruling to bring about his purposes, even through the excruciating events—even the sinful events—of my life. This brought significant healing to understand that the things that sought to destroy me became in the hands of a loving God, the things that drew me to him. This ruling motif of the Gospel gave me hope. Paul’s gift of joy and confidence to the church at Philippi (Philippians 1:6) also became a theological guidepost that directed me from a painful past to a confident future.
God called me to the ordained ministry in a season of inner conflict despite my misunderstanding of the inward and outward call.   I thought of myself as “a lame priest” who was unworthy to bear Word, Sacrament, and Prayer for the spiritual healing of others. I experienced growth through understanding the concept of “wounded healer” taught by Henri J.M. Nouwen. My spiritual advisor and guide was my pastor, Reverend Robert E. Baxter, then Senior Pastor of Olathe Presbyterian Church (now New Hope PCA) in Olathe, Kansas. I was captivated by the theological insight of Nouwen when he wrote: “Once the pain is accepted and understood, denial is no longer necessary, and ministry can become a healing service.”
I was also introduced to the ministry of the English Puritans by Reverend Baxter, an interest that would become a lifelong guide for pastoral praxis, as well as research and even spiritual formation (“Pastor Bob’s” initiation into the world of English Puritanism was deepened and cultivated by my seminary professors and would, later, lead to Ph.D. studies). The writings of the Anglican Dr. J.I. Packer (1926-) and the famous Welsh Presbyterian Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), in particular, began to form my theology. My calling, eventually clarified and confirmed with the aid of my wife, my pastor, elders, and friends, led me to seminary, then to postgraduate school in the United Kingdom (Ph.D., Theology and Religious Studies, Seventeenth Century Studies, University of Wales Trinity Saint David), and, vocationally, to become a U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain, the founding pastor of two parishes (Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas; and Kirk O’ the Isles Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia), and to be called to First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. I grew more in my pastorate at First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga than in the other years of ministry combined. This was due largely to the Lord’s mercy and grace demonstrated through a loving congregation there and even through professional challenges. I had intended to remain in that pastorate for the rest of my working years. Yet, the Lord re-directed our lives for service to the Church in a new way. From there, I was elected to become president and chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary. While serving there, I sought to lead by embodying the pastoral values I wanted to instill in our students and by listening, learning, and loving our faculty, staff, board, supporters, and alumni.
Theological Integration for Ministry
After seven years of service in that seminary leadership role, I was infected by an African virus while on a seminary trip (at Lausanne Congress on Global Evangelization in Cape Town, South Africa, October 2010), leaving me with a chronic autonomic-related disability, and was, at length, required by the executive committee of that board to go on terminal medical sabbatical. The disabling features of the disease proved to be limiting but challenged me to discover new pathways to empathy with others. During that difficult, sometimes demeaning, and often depressing time of convalescence—difficult for me, but even more for my family who cared for me, especially my wife—I decided to invest my time, following prayer and reflection, in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), as well as a Master of Public Administration degree in public service at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My theological tradition and convictions taught me that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28), even though all things are not good. I did not want to waste this opportunity to grow in areas where I knew I was particularly lacking as a minister.
I documented my prior supervised, theologically reflective ministerial training to gain three CPE units. I completed a fourth CPE unit in March 2016. I am presently a candidate for board certification. My goal is to integrate life experience, sacred encounter, divine calling, and, now, almost three decades of pastoral work, along with certified clinical pastoral education, to better—more carefully, more thoughtfully, and under faithful credentialed supervision—diagnose and treat the pathologies of the human soul through the appropriate use of self, the sacred office, as well as my own tradition’s commitments and the greater Christian community’s shared wisdom in pastoral care and counseling.
I am honorably retired from the Presbyterian Church in America and on the rolls with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I retired as Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve in my final appointment there, Command Chaplain of U.S. Army Military Intelligence Readiness Command, Fort Belvoir, VA, the nation’s premier intelligence command for the Army Reserve. I retired in February 2018 after thirty-two years of service (Navy and Army). I am, at present, Chair of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary; President of the D. James Kennedy Institute for Reformed Leadership; and Senior Minister-Developer for Trinity Chapel Charlotte, a mission of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Weddington, North Carolina. I have entered that stage that is best characterized as “mentoring.” I want to shepherd shepherds who shepherd the sheep. Thus, in this reflection, I continue to see the transcendent vision of my life and the enduring promise of the Holy Scriptures:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Joel 2:25–27.
 Ibid., Philippians 1:6.
 Michael A. Milton, What God Starts God Completes: Gospel Hope for Hurting People (Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2007). Dr. Kennedy preached a sermon from Ephesians 2:8, 9.
 I was licensed in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1989. I was ordained in 1993.
 This spiritual reflection paper is not about my family. Yet, my wife, Mae Milton, is a key part of my theology as I see God’s constancy in her. We were married on June 8, 1985. As single parents uniting seven children into a blended family situation, with the familiar stories of struggle, identity, and, finally, settled and covenantally enriching family relationships—yet, a personal subtext that includes loss, renewal, and resettlement—the Lord God blessed us nine years after our marriage with the birth of our son, John Michael Ellis Milton on March 23, 1994. My family remains my first pastoral obligation and will surely, be the congregation who receives my final benediction.
 Michael A. Milton, Songs in the Night: How God Transforms Our Pain to Praise (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2011).
 I had previously been a lay preacher in the United Methodist Church along my pathway to seeking God. My failure there, my failure in almost everything that I understood, formed a self-identity that resisted the call to ordained ministry.
 John T. McNeill, “The Doctrine of the Ministry in Reformed Theology,” Church History 12, no. 2 (June 01, 1943), accessed March 04, 2016, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3159979?ref=search-gateway:4b287ec7fa89e272e2e3e703e797e38a.
 Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1979), 94.
 I would later be called to the James Ragsdale Chair of Missions at Erskine Theological Seminary and teach as an adjunct professor of theology at Belhaven University.
 Milton, Michael A. “Difficult but Necessary: Relinquishing Leadership in Winter to Renew in Another Season of Ministry.” Faith for Living, Inc. March 12, 2013. Accessed March 04, 2016. https://michaelmilton.org/2013/03/12/difficult-but-necessary-relinquishing-the-chancellorship-in-order-to-recover-future-ministry/.
 The Association of Professional Conservative Chaplains recognized the units in December 2015.
For me, art and music are alternative, though subordinate, modes of communicating the Gospel. Preaching is the ordinary means of expressing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and my own Gospel transformation. Here are a few examples of those expressions. I include them to share how a Reformed spiritual formation shaped ministry. We preach out of that “one sermon” that awakens us to a spontaneous doxological explosion (e.g., the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:12-17):
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
“In ‘A Windy Day at Windemere,’ my intentions were to invite the viewer into an experience of the wind, the openness, and the view from the young lady’s perspective, possibilities. Hope is before this traveling lass in the middle part of the twentieth century, although storm clouds encroach.”
“He’s in Control,” Words and music by © 2016 Michael Anthony Milton, Bethesda Music. All rights reserved.
“What God Starts, God Completes: A Testimony of Christ’s Saving Work” (Philippians 1:6). Michael Anthony Milton.