For most of my life, I’ve been pursuing one thing – call it a career path or a lifestyle choice or a calling – vocational ministry.
I served like crazy at church, did an internship at church, went to Bible college, then served some more at church. One time I even thought I was close to being hired on at a church.
It started when I was young. I started going to my brother’s church in fifth grade, and as a shy kid, this small place was the perfect environment for me to be involved and make friends. It was my outlet. Some kids get involved with sports, others various business or farming clubs, others drama and choir or band. Me? I put everything into church.
I loved it. I felt accepted and was able to be involved in things that in the outside world I couldn’t – or felt I couldn’t because I was an overweight girl. I helped with worship, drama, lighting for plays, and anything else I could do. This was all in my teenage years – the time when you learn more about who you are and start making decisions about what you want to do when you “grow up.”
I saw the ultimate option right in front of me. I loved spending all my time at church, so of course vocational ministry was it for me. I loved singing and being on stage, so I wanted to be a worship pastor.
Through the years, that passion has come and gone. I would be certain that I was “called” to vocational ministry, and other times I would feel like I wasn’t built for it, that something else must be out there for me. I won’t lie: it’s been one of the biggest struggles of my adult life.
About seven years ago, I thought I was close to getting my dream. I was helping a lot with a ministry, and they were hoping to get the go-ahead to hire someone to be on staff to do what I was doing as a volunteer. While volunteering I both loved it and hated it. It frustrated me and elated me. It was a roller coaster ride, but it taught me a lot. In the end, they got the go-ahead to hire someone.
And they hired someone else.
A big part of me was relieved. I had been anxious about the idea of having this be my full-time job. Would I possibly be miserable? How does one “quit” a ministry job if it’s not working out? But I know deep down, my heart broke the day I found out. I smiled at everyone and congratulated the person who got the job. That’s what we’re supposed to do right? Celebrate with those who celebrate?
A wall went up that day that took years to tear down. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I was deeply hurt by not even being offered an interview for the position. Again, like many times before in my life, I felt unwanted, and used.
I tried to stay at that church awhile, but realized I had no real connection to anyone there, and it was time to move on – to start fresh somewhere else. I spent the next few years exactly where I needed to be – a church where I could heal and re-learn everything about following Jesus.
I still felt confused about God’s path for me. I tried to get involved with worship, but it didn’t work out. I tried to make friends, but it seemed that no real connection was being made. I moved my entire life to go to this church – how could it not be working out?
I finally gave myself permission to look for another church. I started at a small church when I was a teenager, but since then, I had gone to what people call “mega-churches.” I loved the production value, the excitement of the services, and feeling like I was a part of something huge. But in all those bigger environments, I never really found my niche or “my people.”
I realized that church is not the place I need to find a big show or production. Church is meant to be a community. That’s what I’d been so desperately needing for years. So I set out to find a place that I could thrive and find community. And boy did I find it.
I’ve been in a church for two years now that has exceeded all of my expectations. Each time I’ve held my breath waiting to hear or see something that would remind me of past issues in church, I’ve been able to let out a relieved sigh as the opposite happened. I’ve never felt so loved, welcomed, or safe in a church before. I’ve met friends that I connect with on a real level and my pastors actually know and want to know me. My heart is glad.
This safety, this family, has allowed me to be able to open up again – to be vulnerable. I still had a wall up – protecting myself from being hurt again. But I didn’t want to end up where I ended up seven years ago – feeling hurt and used. Hardened. So, I jumped in with both feet – I got involved in some opportunities for worship. I even allowed my pastor to speak into my heart about calling and ministry.
I opened myself up to the possibility of vocational ministry, but instead of coming at it from a career-path perspective, I let my heart lead. I started to see people and love people. I started to see church as not just about me, but about “us.” I even stepped into a ministry opportunity at a different church for a season, to see what God would do.
All the fear I’d had about what would happen if I opened myself up and tried new things disappeared the instant I walked forward. Fear is not as scary as I thought it was. Fear was not a giant towering over me, but a mosquito I only needed to flick off my arm.
In being involved with worship and ministry, and in being truly honest with myself and God, I’ve discovered something:
I don’t want to be in vocational ministry.
I’m relieved. In the past I’ve avoided worship and have turned away from vocational ministry out of fear. But this time is different, because this time it isn’t fear that I’m running from – it’s truth and freedom that I’m running toward.
I’m discovering what I really want to do, and I have no idea what, if anything, will really become of it. But I know that I love Jesus, and He loves me. I know that I’m in an amazing community of people that will cheer me on in victories and comfort me in failures. And that, is priceless.
I feel so light. I feel like a heavy burden – that I was never meant to carry – has been lifted off my shoulders. Part of me wonders why I went through all of the volunteering and training in the past – I know God led me through each step on my journey – but I trust that God has been building me into the person He created me to be.
So, here’s to truth and being honest with ourselves.
Here’s to walking through fear, instead of running from it.
Here’s to finding your community.
Here’s to exciting, new seasons.