I don’t seem to fit the pastoral mold. They could see it. Too “full of searching.” Too much “wildness” in me. Too much intensity or anger. Too many unfulfilled goals.
Not pastor material. Really.
It’s not surprising that God pulls us in from other fields, really, as many in ministry today have held different jobs, or walked varied career paths. It seems rare, doesn’t it, that anyone any more sets their sights on one job and stays with the compass unmoved their whole journey? Truth be told: I never wanted to be a minister. Never. I started with a business degree and a desire to build something. I worked for others building buildings and I built buildings as CEO of my own company. I was challenged intellectually and I was rewarded financially. I loved adventure, so I added a job as a part-time firefighter/paramedic to my construction path. Pagers in the middle of the night, with red lights and red blood became a way of adding both adrenaline and value. I engineered steel for buildings during the day, and felt my way along the wall of a smoke-filled hallway searching for a door in the middle of the night. Sounds like fun, right? It was a good, full life. Church was a place I enjoyed being, and faith was a foundation that you could build all sorts of things upon.
In the middle of this, with a family of small children and a Kindergarten teacher wife, I was asked by my church leaders to consider going to seminary. Seems that they saw a “teacher” and “pastor” percolating under my skin. I was unsure (read “shocked”). My wife was even more unsure. I loved my secular jobs, and the freedom they offered. I had so much to do still. So much I had to achieve. I was still selfish and distracted. Not at all “holy.” Ministers had wise eyes over beards and read coffee table-sized Bibles. Ministers heard God speak in the night, and got up to drive His car and do His bidding. Ministers stood on mountains waiting for tablets to carry down. This is not me.
None-the-less, I agreed to give seminary a try, but I refused to give up my regular career in the process. I lived simultaneously (and over-committed) in many worlds at the same time. I studied, taught Bible classes at church, dragged hoses and med-kits, and oversaw the erection of steel and sheet metal. In between I was a dad and husband.
Times moves quickly. Seminary ended, and was followed (who knew?) by ordination, a counseling degree and practice, a doctorate, a professorship. Two churches and twenty-five years later–I am now the quintessential pastor, the spiritual guide, and shepherd of a large multi-staff church. Over the years, our kids grew strong, the business was sold off, the bills got paid, and I changed. No more “roll over” auto accident calls, just hospital visits for prayer in the night. My “CEO” business cards now were ordered with a picture of a Celtic cross on them and the title “Senior Pastor”.
Whoa. I didn’t really see this all coming. My spiritual journey has been more encountered than planned. This “career path” has unfolded and emerged. Some people are called into ministry, or pushed. I feel like I went for a drive and ended up on a road which was never even on the map. This life as a pastor and seminary professor–has come as a surprise, like the new views one sees as one drives along a highway carved into the mountains on a road few drive. “Scenic Overlook Ahead,” the green sign reads. Wow. Look at that.
This is the how I became a Christian pastor. But it is not really the why.
Why did I do it? Why did I give up running a company? Why did I give up the rush of running fire calls? Why did I stop helping counseling patients? Why change careers?
Honestly, I’ve come to see this change was motivated by God’s love of me, in the end. I was searching, and dragging lots of baggage through my life. I was trapped in old thinking, old emotional losses, and old spiritual repetitions. On the inside, my soul was deadened and hollow. In almost every way, I needed to be set free. Is it any wonder I was driven, searching for more every day in every direction? I felt I needed to find something. To prove something. No. To be something. To my parents. To my peers. To myself. But after reading my story–you knew this, didn’t you?
Note to self: the chase for personal worth and value never ends until you honestly face the hollowness inside yourself. It is the truth which sets us free.
Honestly, I became a pastor for me. God saw that I needed a fresh gift to be whole. A new direction. The seventeenth century scientist Blaise Paschal wrote:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
The “wins” will never be enough. Adrenaline and adventure are not enough to fill the God-shaped hole. I found that the only answer to my restless searching for meaning was found inside the Church with Jesus. Not money, or success, or passion, or becoming a valued leader. Not education or degrees.Not even friendship, marriage or parenthood.
For me, personal significance in each day, and the inward peace which followed, came only through learning about and following Jesus. A trite and common story, perhaps. But Jesus made me different from what I had been, and everyone noticed. I noticed, too. I became less brash, less in need of “wins”, and less insecure. I became more authentic, more comfortable in my own skin, and in my love for my family. I found time for important things. Somehow, surprisingly, I found that I was wrapped in Jesus more than in the world. People, smart people, said God spoke through me. Wow. I could–with God’s empowering–help others find this place of spiritual significance and security. Who knew?
And so this is now who I am: a pastor. It is what I do. Surprise, Brad. No scenic overlook signs, but, “Wow. Look at that view.”
What road are you on? What are you searching for? What hole are you trying to fill? Sometimes the best views are just around the bend. Sometimes, the smoke clears and you find the door.
And all that many ever find
is only a wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
with outstretched, groping hands,
feeling for a door, know there must be a door,
yet they never find it…
so I stand by the door.
-Samuel Moor Shoemaker