Monday, August 19, 2013

The Best Terrible Decision I Ever Made

One of the first questions that inevitably comes up within the first half hour of meeting someone, once they find out my job, is, "Ah, ministry, that's cool! Why did you want to do that?"

It's kind of a trick question, because I'm not entirely sure that anyone WANTS to do ministry, at least in the conventional sense of the word. I have heard more seminarians and pastors comparing the number of years that they ran away from God's call than I have heard telling stories about how they immediately responded in faith. More Jonahs or Moseses than Samuels or Isaiahs (if you don't get that comparison, here is your homework: read Jonah 1:1-3, Exodus 4:13, 1 Samuel 3:10 and Isaiah 6:8). I am definitely in the former camp (about 8 years or so of running once I first sensed the call).

BUT that doesn't mean that we are sorry. Most of us would say that as daunting of a task ministry is, we couldn't possibly do anything else. I was (am!) completely terrified at the prospect of being God's mouthpiece, and yet I feel most at home, in my own skin, and fulfilled when I am at church.

Before you read the rest of this post, I highly recommend that you read this one. I do not want to give the impression that ministry is a matter of responding to God's call and letting God take care of the rest. It takes work. But that being said, there are plenty of reasons why I am grateful for my own call.

1.) I would never have had such a close relationship with God if I weren't called to ministry.
I don't know how common this is (I would imagine more so that I might think) but I was not one of those "living for Jesus" folks in college and the years afterwards. I was deeply involved in my youth group, but that had at least as much to do with the boys who also happened to be there as with the God aspect (you all know who you are :P). I was also really involved in the extracurricular Christian communities on my college campus (PGR, Holla!) but I never went to church during those years (gasp!) and to be honest, I really didn't feel all that bad about it. But no matter how indifferent I thought I was, God waited patiently for my to get the picture and respond. And once I figured out that I couldn't escape divine insistence, I jumped in with both feet. If I hadn't sensed this call, I might never have felt the need to go back to church again.

2.) I would have far less faith in humanity.
This one isn't so obvious. Frankly, you see a lot of ugliness when you're engaged in ministry, particularly from people who take advantage of efforts to be generous. However, I have met the most genuine, loving, passionate, and godly people through my work in the Church on BOTH sides of the coin--clergy/seminarians and laypeople. This world is full of beautiful human beings, and they stubbornly refuse to fade away into the chaos of life. You just have to know where to look and how to appreciate them--this has been an amazing gift of my call.

3.) I would still have no clue who I am.
You know how they say your 20's are a time of self-discovery? That's only if you make an effort at it. I have changed so many times over the past 10 years that I might have wound up in the circus out of sheer confusion. But once I figured out that my faith is what centers me, no matter who I am at the moment, the rest began to fall into place.

4.) My sense of purpose and self-esteem would be in the negatives.
I remember for years before I gave in to God's nagging, I felt professionally mediocre at best. People would say, "Do what you love; you'll never work a day in your life," and I would try not to let on how depressing that was to me. I didn't feel strongly enough, and perhaps more significantly, I didn't feel talented enough, to succeed at anything in particular. But God doesn't call the qualified; God qualifies the called. And that overwhelming sense of purpose has been critical in some of the darker times of my life. And yet...

5.) It is SO HUMBLING.
Although I haven't generally had an unusually high opinion of myself, as a Enneagram type 1 (wink wink CPE) I have always pushed myself to do and be the best. The sad truth of life is, however, that that's pretty much an impossible goal. I am quite good at quite a lot of things, but I just can't be the best at everything. And that's TOTALLY OKAY! I can't preach without a manuscript (I break out into cold sweats just thinking about it) but I can write a children's sermon like a boss. I have learned that God's plan does not involve sending perfect little minions out into the world--who would feel inspired by that?--but sending out imperfect vessels of God's word who show one another that we can do plenty of things to honor God in beautiful ways without having to be someone we're not.

6.) I would not be a particularly well-rounded person.
For those of you who don't know, the ordination process is like spiritual boot camp, or a spiritual colonoscopy that takes several years to endure (sorry for the visual, but, you know...). There is a treat for everyone: Think you've got all the answers? A unit or two of CPE should clear that right up. Think you're mentally stable? Take 3 days of psychological evaluations and call me in the morning. Think you're a people person? Ordination boards, anyone? But the thing is, if the process is undertaken for the right reasons and with the proper amount of community support, every single (often excruciating) step has an important purpose. It's really tough to get through the ordination process without having had to work with someone that you don't get along with, or without having to deal with failure in some form. Seeking ordination has a way of wrestling with your perspective until you can't help but see things in a different way. And when you have a broader perspective on the world, you begin to see it through more Christ-like eyes.

So there's my (somewhat spontaneous) list of reasons I am thankful for my call. I know for a fact that there are others, but speaking of nagging, the cake I just ate is telling me that I really need to go exercise. And who am I to argue with cake?

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