“As a prisoner for the Lord, then,
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
– Ephesians 4:1
I almost wasn’t a pastor. It was May 1994. I had gone through the candidacy process. I was enrolled in seminary. I had rescheduled my last semester’s college finals and skipped my college graduation to be there. I was attending licensing school for local pastors (in a different annual conference, due to a hold-up on my psych eval – process hiccups are nothing new). And I heard the sentence that almost sent me home, and in a totally different professional and vocational direction.
“If you feel like you can do anything other than pastoring a church, then you should probably do it.”
I understand why the teachers of the course, a clergy couple serving a large congregation together, said it. I want those who enter vocational ministry to be clear that God is calling them to that. As a matter of fact, part of my role on teams in our district and annual conference is to help people be clear about that. However, as I talked with two other candidates that evening, fully planning to leave the next morning to go home, I didn’t like it at all. Twenty-four years later, it still gives me a bit of a twitch. After all, I hadn’t come to this decision lightly. I had gone through four majors (all of which I did well in), two college transfers, and still finished my degree on time. I had worked with my mentor, my home church pastor, my friends to get me to this place. I had received affirmation and confirmation of that call both internally and externally. But now, because I thought that I could also follow Jesus if I had become a math teacher (major #1), an English teacher (major #2) or a medical doctor (major #3), I should run from this ministry thing, as to not be in the wrong place. While it may not have been what was meant, it was what I heard.
I heard it again, when reflecting with a clergy mentor on my way to ordination. I was thinking that maybe I would feel fulfilled serving in youth ministry full-time as part of a staff in a church. My mentor said, “Then maybe you shouldn’t be ordained an elder.” Again, I get it. In our tribe, it is most common for an elder to serve as the pastor of a local congregation – in a more generalist role than in specialized ministry. That’s not how it’s practiced in other places, and even we have many elders serving faithfully in extension ministries in and beyond the local church. But the seeming finality of the statement threw me for a loop.
So here’s where this leads me:
We have a tendency to assume that a calling from God can only lead us in one very specific direction. The assumption then follows, if I choose anything else, I’m outside of God’s will, and we all know that never works out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about Jonah choosing not to go to Nineveh. Sometimes call is that clear and that specific.
But sometimes it’s not. I think we do a disservice to ourselves and to God if we think that there always has to be absolute certainty and clarity in order for us to move forward. When we do that, we allow ourselves to remain frozen by indecision, which I don’t believe is God’s best intention for us. We can even spiritualize it, saying, “I still have to pray about it. I don’t have a clear answer yet.”
Again, don’t hear me minimizing prayer as essential to answering our call and clarifying God’s direction for our lives. Sometimes, though, I believe God allows us to choose our own adventure, in a throwback to my childhood reading obsession. There will be times when there are two (or more) options in front of you, and any of those you choose will honor God and fulfill your calling. In those times, say a prayer, take a deep breath, and move forward.
And when you do, I encourage you to offer up one more prayer – something that I’ve clung to throughout my faith walk and ministry life: “God, if this is the right decision, bless it. If it’s the wrong decision, redeem it. Either way, I put my trust in You.”
“In you, O Lord, I will put my trust.” – Psalm 25:1