When Susie and I moved to Nashville just over three years ago, Labor Day of 2013, we moved here on the condition that I would work for Ed Stetzer at Lifeway for three years to fund my seminary degree, then we would find a church close to home to hire me and move back in September 2016.
Well, it hasn’t quite happened that way, and that’s quite all right.
The first year in Nashville was not without its trials. It was our first year of marriage. I was working my first real job, and Susie found her first real job, too. We dealt with growing pains of every kind, and physical pains, too, as Susie sliced a nerve and tendon in her finger and had surgery on it that first year of marriage.
We, or at least I, severely underestimated how difficult it could be to move away from everything we had ever known. It is odd that this surprised me because I’ve always been a homebody. I’ve never been the kind that would like to move to completely new places and experience new things without some sort of support system. But, somehow, the social and emotional difficulty we experienced moving to Nashville surprised even me.
Fast forward a couple of years, and here we are. I’ve been at Lifeway just over three years now. I just had my third annual review a couple of weeks ago, and I always planned on that meeting being more of an exit interview than anything else. When we moved here, we weren’t staying any longer than three years, period.
Things change in the most unlikely ways, sometimes.
Now, we have a beautiful home, we have great friends, I finish my M. Div. in May, and we have no plans to leave Lifeway.
God has blessed us in so many ways, but a question keeps prodding me, “Am I being faithful?”
Wrestling With My Calling and the Will of God
In May 2009, my freshman year at Taylor University, I had been struggling with the fact that I liked reading theology books more than the 19th century literature I needed to read for my English education major.
The Lord had been calling me to ministry for some time, as friends would regularly tell me, but I was resisting it because I feared the unknown. As an English education major, I knew I would teach high school English. But as a Biblical Literature major, I had no idea what I would do. This fear kept me from paying attention to the Lord’s calling.
I remember the moment the Lord called me to ministry. I was sitting under a tree outside the Zondervan Library on Taylor University’s campus that spring reading John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, which I bought from a student who was selling everything he had to go to the mission field.
When I was reading, I came across a story from Pastor John about a time someone approached him and said, “Pastor John, I think the Lord is calling me to ministry, but I have a solid job and provide for my family. Would it be unwise for me to pursue this call to ministry?” To which Pastor John replied, “It would be unwise for you to not pursue that call to ministry.”
This wrecked me, because I could see myself being the man asking Pastor John that question in 20 years if I didn’t listen to the Lord’s calling now.
That day I changed my major and pursued what I believed to be a calling to be a pastor.
So, in the last year or so, as my work at Lifeway showed no signs of stopping upon hitting the three-year mark, and as opportunities within the organization presented themselves to me, I asked myself:
“Am I being unfaithful to the Lord’s calling on my life if I stay at Lifeway and don’t go to a church?”
I’ve been wrestling with this for about a year now.
God Called Me to Be Available
Now, looking back at when the Lord called me to ministry, I believe he did just that: called me to ministry.
At the time, I only understood “ministry” to be a vocational pastor role in a local church. Doing ministry through an organization like Lifeway, or any other such organization, wasn’t even on my radar as a means of pursuing the Lord’s calling on my life. I thought, wrongly, that the only way to do vocational ministry was to be someone who works in a church.
I was explaining this line of thinking to a mentor of mine this past week, and he reminded me, “The Lord called you to be available.”
As I have wrestled with my calling and whether or not I am being faithful, I realized that this has been the latest example of a common exercise in my life:
A Constant Re-Opening of the Hand
I am a passionate person. Depending on if you know me personally, and at what stage of life you have known me, you may know me as either a loud or quiet person. I’ve become quieter over the years, I think, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still get riled up about some things.
When I dive into a project or a ministry or a job, I dive into it hard and I’m bought in 100%.
What this means is that when I get an idea or a plan, which is often, I grab it and hold it as tightly as I can with a closed fist.
Some of the most formative seasons of my life have come as the Lord has had to pry open my hand and rearrange or completely replace the ideas or plans I have for myself with different plans and ideas of his own.
Staying at Lifeway longer than I planned is simply the latest in a long line of times the Lord has forced me to open up my hands and allow him to continue tinkering with plans I thought were set in stone.
Now, this is not to say I will never be in a church full time. To make such a statement would be to be re-closing my hand on that which the Lord is still working.
The last month or so, as my three year anniversary at Lifeway has come and passed, the Lord’s been reminding me of what it looks like to yield my will to his, and my hope is my brief reflection on this will help you recognize where he may be doing the same with you.