He said, "If you can do something else other than pastoral ministry, do it."
At the time, I thought it an awfully cynical remark. He seemed to be putting down the ministry, or suggesting that pastors were people who were inept at everything else and just couldn't get a "real job." Either way, I discounted it. I was caught up in a view of pastoral ministry that unconsciously cherished many bright misconceptions about what it involved and promised.
But I remembered what he said, because it bothered me.
And now, some thirty-plus years later, it still bothers me... but now I think I agree. I see it as related to 1 Timothy 3:1 — "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." The two Greek words translated "aspires" and "desires" (ὀρέγεται, ἐπιθυμεῖ; oregetai, epithumei) combine to depict someone with a strong drive, almost a compulsion.
So I've come to see that statement differently. I think his point wasn't that pastoral ministry is a lousy job; nor that pastors can't get "real work" (he himself was a full-time High School teacher at one point in his ministry). His point was: if you can stand doing something other than being a pastor, if you're not driven to do pastoral ministry, if it's just another job — then by all means do something else.
Which brings us to your humble servant: me.
For the past decade-plus I've primarily done-something-else. Family circumstances required that I switch gears as 1998 dawned, and I was soon providentially enabled to do some crash-training in IT and get a couple of really nice jobs in the industry.
But my heart has always yearned towards the ministry of the Word. I've just looked for ways of doing it, no matter what else I was doing: filling pulpits every chance I'm given, doing a web site, blogging, email correspondence, men's fellowship at church, conferences. All that has been a great blessing to me. But rather than satisfying my yearning to minister the Word, it has only increased my desire to be devoted to the Word full-time.
I have a great job from almost any angle: great manager, great co-workers, good work-environment, terrific benefits, nice salary, and startlingly good bonuses. I don't take it for granted, I'm grateful to God for it and how it's met our needs — and my heart just isn't in it.
By contrast, the more I fellowship with pastors, the more I've had the opportunity to encourage and help them via blogging and email, the more I'm exposed to the state and need of the church today, and the more I grow in the Lord, the more the compulsion has grown. It isn't so much what I want to do as it is what I need to do in the service of the Lord.
So after long conversations with my dear wife, coupled with hours of praying and thinking and weighing and internally debating and working it through, I've made the Big Decision:
I am seeking full-time ministry of the Word, in earnest. My hat's in the ring.
(Perhaps your reaction will be like my beloved oldest child's, as reported to me by Valerie, which amounted to, "Well, duh.")
All this to say, please pray for me and my family. And if you know of any opportunities, the answer is "Yes, I'm interested."
To be specific:
- Pray for God to guide our thinking, and to open doors
- Pray that God will put us together with a group of believers who (A) will be well-served by the gifts God has given me, and (B) can provide what is needed to support and make a home for my family.
- Let any seeking bodies know of my availability. We are willing to relocate and, while we have preferences, aren't ruling anything out offhand — as long as #2 obtains.
Acts 20:24 — 2 Timothy 4:1-5 — Jeremiah 20:9 — 1 Corinthians 9:16
UPDATE: I have a growing list of posts and post-ideas on tap, but plan to leave this one at the top through the rest of the week. Hope you understand! Thanks to all of you who've been encouraging to me, to you who have sent me suggestions and alerted me to openings, to you who have made my family a matter for prayer in your families and churches. I'll keep you posted.