What about my calling?
This post is part of a series with my reflections on the path out of pastoring.
Most people I know who became pastors did so out of a sense of calling. That is true for me. During my senior year in college, after a particularly painful breakup, I honestly and fully submitted myself to seeking and obeying God’s will for the first time. Almost immediately it was like a light flipped on–“I’m supposed to be a pastor.” It made sense of my gifts, interests, and difficulty landing on another career path.
So what happens when 19 years later I find myself on the path out of pastoring? What about my calling? This is a deep question I’ve heard from others who are no longer pastors.
The first answer is I don’t know. I could come up with “three reasons the end of your life as a pastor doesn’t mean the end of your calling,” but that wouldn’t honor the difficulty of this question. When you believe you are called to be a pastor but you cannot be a pastor, it creates so much internal strife. All I will offer here are some thoughts and emotions that have been a part of my journey in the nine months since my time as a pastor ended.
My calling was real, even though I didn’t choose for it to end. There’s a sense in which I consented to the end of my time as a pastor. I was in agreement with our leadership team when we voted to close our church. In another sense, I didn’t choose for my time as a pastor to end by moving on to do something else. This was handed to me by the circumstances. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a pastor again. I honestly don’t know right now if my calling to that is over or not. I’m at a point today where I can trust God to show me when I need to know. Whatever the future holds, I believe I became a pastor out of calling and the current circumstances don’t change that.
I know I can still be a “pastor,” but people telling me that isn’t too helpful. Many well-meaning people have told me I can still be a “pastor” without working in that role in a church. To be fair, I’m pretty sure I told numerous former pastors the same thing when I was a pastor. Of course there’s truth in that. The gifts God used in us when we were pastors can still be used in other environments or without the official role, but this minimized the reality of the struggle we face. I wish I had been aware of this when I was a pastor and engaged the real pain and difficulty my friends were facing more fully.
My work has purpose, even if that doesn’t answer my questions about a pastoral calling. For the last five years plus I’ve been involved with a number of organizations and people who have helped me see the rich theology about the deep purpose of work. I have come to truly believe that all work can be a means of loving God and loving neighbor. It can all contribute to the holistic mission of God in the world. (Of course excluding work that is inherently sinful.) This deep belief has honestly helped me to embrace the purpose in the work I’m doing now. It doesn’t answer my questions of what to do with the call I had to be a pastor, but it does help me find real purpose in my work.
My worth is not based on being a pastor. This is something God’s Spirit has done in me. Whether I would have named it or not, I found so much of my value in being a pastor. This led to a season of despair about my life and my future. By God’s grace he has helped me to see the worth I have in him, outside of whatever role he calls me to–past, present, or future. I’m not sure I ever would have experienced this as a pastor, so I’m grateful for what God has done in me.
Sometimes you just don’t know why. Some Christians hold to “there’s a reason for everything.” I tend more toward the theological perspective that bad things really happen but God can bring redemption even out of those. Either way, I think there will be times where things happen and you just won’t ever know why. We have to figure out how to move forward without all our questions answered. That’s an exercise in faith.
If you’ve walked this path or know someone who has, I’d love for you to comment about your experience and how you’re handling it.
Other Posts in This Series