I first felt the call to ministry a few years ago and I did all the normal things one does. I spoke with family and friends, sought guidance from my pastor and eventually went to seminary. The church has been nothing if not affirming and welcoming. I have been leading a congregation for almost two years here now and things are by most measures going swimmingly. In fact, we sprinted to raise a large sum of money and are about to open a new administrative wing (including a new office for the pastor) that was built from the ground up over the summer, welcomed a new staff member, and seen our local impact grow in tangible ways.
So why was I feeling so very anxious about returning to the pulpit after weeks of being off on parental leave (a leave which has confirmed I’m no stay-at-home-dad and I owe my wife every form of respect imaginable for taking care of our children) that those closest to me have been praying because they can tell something is up?
The sort of anxious that has one tossing and turning in bed, watching the clock and thinking man now I have only X number of hours to sleep how will I get through the day tomorrow?
When I graduated I suppose I was like any other millennial leader being raised by the church. I had big ideas of church growth, of the power of God to see His churches make big changes in communities through soup kitchen, great programs, evangelism…and I was the one to lead it all.
The thing is attendance is up, the budget is up, a few wives have told me their husbands are praying more, and the building is expanding so for the most part I have had a front row seat to God’s acting here in Duncan.
But I still hear all the negative comments, often they roll off my shoulder, I can appear “cold” as I talk with people because I instinctively get into a sort of defensive stance, this has to do with my own personal history, and it also has to do with the little comments that add up (I know I should let the positive ones add up too, and I try to, but let’s be honest, the negatives ring longer in the ears). Yet pastoring is hard, even when things are going well, I suppose plenty of jobs are. The upshot? A capable person up at night wondering about what he is doing with his life and work.
A trusted colleague very helpfully reminded me that I am called to this position, that no one really doubts that and once I am back in the swing of things all will be well. I wasn’t certain why he went right to the question of calling but I appreciated the comment.
Part of my “swing of things” is a pretty serious devotional life, I don’t write or talk much about it unless asked (you know enter your closet and close the door…) but the truth is there have been several times when reading the bible in the early morning the voices come alive and as I read, not every day–not even very often–it seems like the people of the past are alive and speaking directly to me. It’s a feeling I crave and if I could conjure it up anytime I wanted to I would.
This week it happened that I was reading 2 Corinthians and Paul’s voice came alive for me. He was writing about how God loves a cheerful giver and I was thinking about how to return to the cheerfulness of my first days in ministry, full of hope and excitement and I was praying about how badly I needed a word from God as the day of return approached.
Then the voice came alive, “Now I Paul, myself and pleading with you…casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into the captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:1&5). And just like that I am reminded that the real accomplishments of the past two years have to do with my prayer life, my increasingly deeper relationship with Jesus, my constant struggle to discern His will for my life and the congregation he has placed me in, my attempts to ignore the “high and exalted” version of pastoring I might see others doing, or might know that some congregants desire of me, and instead turn to the pastoring that Jesus has called me to, a pastorate based on preaching, teaching, and leadership and encouragement for both lay and clergy.
I am reminded God called me into the ministry and that he meant for me to do it the way only I could and would. It isn’t better than any other way, and I will certainly still feel pangs of jealousy as I witness the Super-Pastoral Minister hugging their congregants, and desperately wish I could preach with the impact of some of my favourite preachers, but it is my way and I believe it is the way God intended me to do it. The way to measure a ministry is faithfulness to the call in a particular context. It isn’t numeric but perhaps our focus on numbers is giving in to that which would love to be high and exalted against the knowledge of God who knows what He is doing when he uses me with all my skills and flaws to accomplish His ministry of grace, truth, peace and love here in Duncan.
So if you are among those who will be asking me if I’m ready to be back, the answer is: by and with the grace of God, I am.