When people ask me how I got into ministry, my typical answer is kicking and screaming. A good retort, and one I’ve never heard yet, would be, “then why are you in ministry?” It isn’t for the money. Even with my masters level education, it won’t make me rich. It isn’t for the honor. Clergy today are cartoonishly depicted in the world, and we probably deserve it. It isn’t for the power. Just because we get to talk for 15-20 minutes each week to an audience doesn’t mean they are listening or agree with us. Surely it only by the Will of God that anyone would do this job!
The Church spends a great deal of time talking about “the Call to Ministry.” While most acknowledge that there is a call for all Christians in our baptism, and we also say that certain professions have a calling (ie. teaching, fire-fighters, nurses, etc.). Still ministry gets lifted up as “the Call” in the way we talk about it. When did you receive the call? What is/was your call to ministry? How are you living out your call?
I have no doubt that there is a spiritual and divine action within our lives. God is in the mix. But that doesn’t mean we get to blame God for our choice in how we serve and live out our lives or go about making a living. God loved us enough to make following Jesus into salvation a choice. Why would God suddenly switch gears after you enter into the fold and force you to do something you really didn’t want to do?
“I’m sorry, Nathan, I know you had your heart set on being an organic chemist or bio-engineer, but I’ve decided you’ll herd sheep instead. Trust me, I know what’s good for you.”
Serving as a pastor, preacher, minister, etc. is a vocation, a calling, but it is also a choice. The Will of God is much more fluid than solid. The river is going to head downstream, but what turns and waves it makes are not determined by God alone. As Adam Hamilton states in his book, Why?, “God is more co-author than author of our lives.” God gives us choice. There are a variety of paths that God is happy with in our choices and lives. Sure, there are spiritual nudges to go this way or that way, but free-will still puts the ball in our hands, and we get to decide the sport we’re going to play with it.
Moses had a choice, he could take off his shoes or turn and ignore God and the suffering of his people. Esther had a choice, and she agonized over it. Her cousin Mordecai promised that even if she didn’t serve, God would find another way to bring salvation to his people. Even Jonah had a choice, and thank God he chose to ignore God’s calling or we wouldn’t have the beautiful conversation between the two on the hill overlooking Nineveh. Notice we are left not knowing what Jonah’s answer will be or whether or not he continues in the ministry.
Even Jesus was given a choice.
I don’t know how many times I heard, “If you can imagine yourself doing anything else other than ministry, you shouldn’t go into ministry.” That’s huckabuck and a load of crock. I think clergy like to boost our egos by believing that we’re somehow special. We’re not. We like to put ourselves in the story as the prodigal son or daughter who had a Paul-like moment in which we were kicking against the pricks and were blinded by the truth. The truth is that we call ourselves just as much as God calls us. Most clergy need to be needed. Most clergy have severe doubts about faith. Most clergy are in severe spiritual drought. Most clergy came to ministry just as much as they were called to ministry.
I came kicking and screaming into ministry. I didn’t want to put up with petty relationship arguments, entitled pew-sitters, and pathetic denominational programs and goals. “Then why are you in ministry?” I wanted to serve people at their holiest of moments, birth, transformation, marriage, sickness, death. I wanted to walk with people on the journey of faith. I wanted to hear their story as it blended into the Good News of Christ’s story. I wanted to serve. Thankfully, God was willing, nudging, and co-writing that into my story.