The hardest part of discerning a call to ministry for me was believing it was possible.
I was raised by parents who told me I could be anything I wanted when I grew up, so it wasn’t that I didn’t think the sky was the limit. And yes, I was Roman Catholic, and so I’d never actually *seen* a pastor who was a woman, but I knew such people existed. No, the hard part was that I really didn’t think I was a good candidate, spiritually speaking. At the the time I heard my call, I’d never read the whole Bible, I wasn’t much of a churchgoer, I was pretty new to that whole taking-religion-seriously thing, and I had a lot of doubts about a lot of the things I thought Christians Are Supposed to Believe.
So really, why in the world would God allow, much less want, me to serve as a pastor?
The first thing that really helped was actually reading the bible, particularly the prophets. In their call stories, I heard a lot of my own doubts mirrored (like Jeremiah, I am young; like Isaiah, I feel that I am a person of unclean lips), and in their accounts I also read God’s repeated response: “hey, dummies, it’s not about YOU; I’ll be with you.” Ah.
Along my journey, I met many wonderful pastors who also gifted me by showing their humanity and imperfections, too, and I realized that we are all serving God as best we can, warts and all. Powerful women, particularly my mother in law, my first mentoring pastor, Karen, my supervisor for my internship, Carol, my candidacy mentor, Michelle, and my back-to-back Bishop Susans (Morrison and Hassinger) modeled a variety of ways of being a strong woman in ministry, and I learned a great deal from them. Oh, and there are some guys I look up to, too.
I wish someone had told me how hard ministry is sometimes, not in terms of the endless tasks and the way everything seems to be a top priority, but how draining it can be emotionally, and how there can be dark nights when you’re sure that you are in the totally wrong place in your life and ministry and faith journey. The first time this happened to me, I was in seminary, and I thought I’d made a huge mistake; I wasn’t holding up well emotionally, and I thought that *obviously* meant I wasn’t fit to continue, because pastors have to have it together all the time. It took a while to work through that. I read Renita Weem’s book Listening for God, and now I read it about once every three years. It never fails to speak to me and remind me of the dawn at the end of the darkness.
Out of seminary, my doubts weren’t totally erased; my first six months in parish ministry, I found myself hating my job, constantly trying to fill out paperwork, manage crises, and figure out interpersonal struggles, and hardly ever having time for the creative, spirit-nourishing stuff I love. What someone *did* tell me, a neighboring pastor (now D.S.) named Henry, was that I had to stop trying to tackle the crises of other people, stop filling my time with the minutiae of the job that I hated and do the ministry I was called to do. Henry set me free to answer my call again, to do the ministry I loved and let the rest take care of itself. He is in many ways the reason I remained a pastor at all.
The greatest surprise came three years into my ministry after a particularly difficult week which I struggled through. Looking back over the past seven days, I had the strangest realization: I did a good job. I was good at this. Not just part of it, not just the stuff I liked, but the whole package. With congregants who stepped up and with a rawness in all of us that forced us to be dependent on God, we had managed to come through a crisis together and I had exhibited some pastoral leadership that, when I really looked at it, revealed that maybe I wasn’t such a lost cause after all. Maybe God didn’t mess up in calling me. Maybe God was going to–already had and always would– make good on that promise to be with me in the calling.
I won’t say I never doubted again. I have good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. But I remember that there are dark nights that lead to dawns, and crises that give us opportunities to come together in loving community, and a God who is present every step of the way.
It’s a roller-coaster of a journey, and one I wouldn’t trade for the world. Blessings to you as you explore it!
I talk more about my call to ministry in a sermon you can hear here.
If you are a young adult (high school senior-age 24) interested in exploring a call to ministry of any kind, please consider attending Exploration 2009 this November, a chance to learn more about how God’s call might play out in your life! We’ll be praying for you.