If my life expectancy as an American male is 76 years old, I’m overdue for a mid-life crisis. Then again, I don’t have the faintest desire to leave my family or spend a small fortune on an impractical sports car. The relatively minor confusion I’ve felt the last four years may or may not qualify.
I began my story arc entirely resistant to the idea I would ever become a church pastor. Despite my mother’s prophecies to the contrary, I felt neither qualified nor called. That didn’t stop God from placing a burning bush in my path and directing me into the ministry, but I didn’t exactly plan for it. I was halfway through my ordination before it occurred to me that I wasn’t a Midianite shepherd any longer. I was a different kind of shepherd whether I planned for it or not.
Pastoral ministry was my lot for the next ten years. You may not be surprised to learn that it also became a core part of my identity. While I was always a disciple of Christ first and husband and father second, pastor was a close third. When someone asked me to introduce myself, I’d say, “Hello, my name’s Jeremy. I’m the pastor of—“ Just ask my wife, who rarely had my full attention, for better or worse. My mind was consumed with the next sermon, the marital troubles of John and Jane, the rebellious teenager on the back pew, or the almost-persuaded “Christian” with whom I chatted every morning at the local coffeehouse. I lived and breathed this vocation for an entire decade.
Even so, I walked away. I voluntarily returned my family to our former hometown, taking an indefinite sabbatical from pastoral ministry. As I told a friend before I left, I would always accept opportunities to preach but would not actively pursue a pastoral role for a while. “If God opens a door,” I said, “I pray I have enough wisdom to walk through it. Until then, I’ll strive to serve him and his church in other ways.”
Four years later, my resolve remains the same, yet I’m prone to doubt myself. Should I be actively seeking? Have I buried my talents in the sand? Am I ignoring God’s call? Or perhaps God called me out of that ministry just as he called me into it. I’m unprepared to answer these questions, though I have felt clarity slowly inching toward me. Regardless, my struggle has been sincere. Am I supposed to be a pastor or not?
To be clear, my so-called crisis isn’t much of one. I don’t go to bed each night fearful that I’m pulling a Jonah. I’m content where I am and believe the providence of God led me here, but I carried the burdens and blessings of the pastorate long enough that it still feels unnatural to be without them. To this day, I’m tempted to say, “Hello, my name is Jeremy. I’m the pastor— Wait. No. I’m a chaplain and part-time Bible teacher.” Old habits die hard.
Setting aside my mild confusion in this area of life, I am learning invaluable lessons. God has taught me a measure of humility I didn’t know I needed. I’m reminded of what it’s like to be on the other side of the pulpit every Sunday. A pastor can easily forget the daily struggles of a working man’s attempts to balance all of his duties—church, family, employment, personal discipleship, and so on. My faith has increased at the same pace as my uncertainty. My vision of the future isn’t as clear as I once thought, so I don’t have a choice. I must trust God with tomorrow because my presumptions have proven faulty.
If nothing else, I’ve learned the value of preaching 1 Corinthians 10:31 to myself daily. “Whatever you do,” I say into the proverbial mirror, “do all to the glory of God.” A pastor is just one member of Christ’s body. We all have the privilege of working for the glory of God in whatever he’s called us to do. Whether prince, pauper, or something in between, whatever our lots, God has taught us to say, “It is well with my soul.”