I was at my lowest point in ministry. Big problems faced our church with no apparent solutions. From what I could see, the only sure thing was catastrophic pain in people’s lives. The church I’d planted was about to split wide open under my leadership.
I sat on the leather couch in the church conference room and cried into my hands. I’m not a sobber, yet I sobbed (despite my midwestern sensibilities). I. Was. Low. I felt trapped by circumstances. This wide-eyed optimist arrived at a new place: the quitting point.
I don’t want to do this anymore, I thought. For the first time, I imagined life outside the pastorate with desire. “Church member” instead of “pastor” sounded great. Where would I attend church when the one I was leading split or threw me out? What was the best way to minimize conflict and allow my wife and children to keep relationships they loved? Did my gifts make me more ready for sales or an entrepreneurial start-up? Or should I settle for a simple paycheck and rest for a minute?
What Is Your Calling?
I thank God I still had to work that day. A podcast with Ray Ortlund played in the background and, in the hands of the Spirit, what landed with me on that Wednesday morning was, “Remember your call.”
What does it mean to be called? Why was I in the ministry? Why are you? Good biblical wisdom reminds us that calling involves the internal work of the Spirit to create desire and spiritual fruit. Calling also involves the external work of the Spirit moving church leaders and a congregation to recognize and affirm.For the first time, I imagined life outside the pastorate with desire. “Church member” instead of “pastor” sounded great. Click To Tweet
For a dark moment, I lacked feelings of desire. But as I prayed, the Spirit began to stir deeper desires even while my feelings floundered. The gospel of Jesus was still beautiful news that deserved to be proclaimed. The local church was still the bride of my king and worthy of sacrificial love. The task of shepherding was still a good endeavor I was gifted to do.
My robust objection to these truths boiled down to “I don’t wanna!” My calling, on the other hand, was a powerful counterargument. It was Jesus saying, “I do wanna, and it’s my church.” Jesus wants his glory in our cities. He wants this broken and beautiful church to flourish. There was simply no reason, beyond my flickering desires, to think Jesus didn’t still want me to shepherd his people.
Don’t Abandon the Sheep
Being a disciple means you listen and follow. Jesus’s words had to win in my life. At that moment, following his words and his priorities for his mission felt so much like a cross. “Take up (your) cross and follow me,” he says to each of us who would come after him (Matt. 16:24).
I’m not quitting, at least not today, I thought. My despair and desperation turned into a gift. Deciding to move forward as a shepherd when it was an undesirable task was the death I needed. Jesus calls those who abandon the sheep a hireling (John 10:12–13). The hireling in me was dying off a little more. Laying down his life for his sheep was the path the Savior demonstrated, and he calls his undershepherds to follow him on that path.
The Spirit continued his gracious, strengthening work as I stepped forward. This is the Lord’s church. He doesn’t need me to solve any problems, and he’s called me to shepherd here. The Chief Shepherd gave me his strength as I took his cross. By the Spirit’s strength, I can continue in the role the Lord gave me for his people. This is a far different conviction than I don’t wanna.
The Path of the Good Shepherd
Jesus laid his life down for my sin even when “take this cup from me” sounded like a great option. Jesus rose from death, and his empty tomb is undeniable proof that the cross was not the wrong path. It was the path Jesus took to offer us life! He poured out his Spirit to give new life to those who trust him, guaranteeing the coming new creation and a day of unending joy with him.Calling involves the internal work of the Spirit to create desire and spiritual fruit. Calling also involves the external work of the Spirit moving church leaders and a congregation to recognize and affirm. Click To Tweet
Pastor, rehearse these truths in the despairing moments of ministry. The Spirit Jesus gave you can enable you to follow the Good Shepherd’s path as you trust in him. You’ll not be condemned. You’ll not be overcome by death. You will have the strength to get through this. You’ll not miss out on the fulfillment of all God’s promises. And these promises are for the church, too—all because of Jesus!
When Jesus says, “I’ve grown you, gifted you, and called you to feed my sheep—and it’s my church” while your circumstances shout “QUIT!” remember what he’s done and who he is, and listen to him. Remember your call and keep going. Jesus Christ will never leave you or forsake you—he will be with you to the very end of the age (Matt. 28:20).