The term “calling” is a serious topic, both for ministers and the people who call on them. It implies not simply a “hiring”, but an endowment of purpose beyond what the minister and the congregation have. It brings in a third party, the Holy Spirit, who acts as the one who inspires and confirms the direction of this person to that place for those people. It’s pretty strong stuff. It often brings up a lot of reflection and anxiety on the part of clergy: “What am I called to do?” “Is this my own desire or God’s?” “How can I be sure?”
Perhaps the most troublesome is the question that occasionally comes up after a call to a position of ministry, “did I just mess up?”
After I graduated from seminary I was “called” to a position right away. It seemed ideal – it was a church I knew, where I wanted to work, doing what I wanted to do. It was like a gift was just dropped in my lap. To confirm my call the senior pastor and dozens of others laid their hands on me and prayed over me. It was a spiritually and emotionally charged moment. I felt like everything was right.
However very soon I discovered that everything was not right. I immediately was bashing into other leaders in the church who didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I felt marginalized. I found myself not in agreement with how things were done but had no outlet within the church to hear me out. After a while, it got so bad that my wife actually quit attending the church where I was an assistant pastor! I remember thinking, “did I mess this up?” I wondered if I had mistook God’s calling for my own desires.
Looking back at it now I can see that I was called to that place for that time, but that the calling wasn’t what I expected it to be. I don’t think that God makes mistakes, nor do I think that this was somehow out of God’s plan. I was called to be there, but I think it was to show me that I was called to do something other than what I intended. God used me, and when that particular call was over He called me back out again to hospice ministry. That doesn’t invalidate the prior call at all. In fact, I don’t think I would be doing what I’m called to do now if I hadn’t been called into that mess.
I faced a similar paradigm shift last week. I found myself really struggling, both in CPE and my job. I felt stuck, frustrated, tired and emotionally drained. When I started CPE over a year ago, someone asked how long I was going to do that. I thought I could do it as long as I could foresee. I didn’t see any changes on the horizon, and didn’t really see the need to change. However as I began growing through CPE, I found myself getting worn out with the status quo at work. I wasn’t “feeling it” anymore. I still had passion for my work, just not passion for that part of my work. Like I told the group, “I’m just tired of all the ___ dying.” One member of the group later commented that it looked like I was in mourning. Indeed I was!
With the help of my CPE supervisor and the group I was able to see that I really was just stuck in this corner, unable to turn left or right. I needed to see that I had lost my passion and needed to refocus. In the past my instinct was just to try harder and push through. However there was no more pushing through. I had to back out and try a different direction. In doing so, I was able to see a new focus for ministry: the people I work with. I’d already moved into much more of a managerial role, and needed to cut loose some of what I was holding on to. When I did that, I found renewed energy and depth.
Had my calling been wrong? Absolutely not. God put me there for that purpose for that time. And I could not be doing what I am doing now if I hadn’t been there. My calling changed, and now I can even see that it is not a huge a change. The hard part in making that adjustment was seeing that I needed to make it – I couldn’t try harder, it was done.