I graduated from seminary six years ago. I have: two biblical studies degrees, student debt from seminary and Bible College, sent out more than 70 resumes for prospective pastoral positions, made good grades in Seminary, and I even got into a PhD program in England. I served in pastoral ministry (on a volunteer basis) and have great ministry references.
None of this has resulted in me obtaining a full-time ministry position.
The Wall I Beat My Head Against
If you are anything like me, you go hard after something you want. This is how I treated ministry after I graduated. Obtaining a ministry position was the proverbial wall I beat my head against over and over again. This attitude came to a head about a year ago when the pastor in the church where I served retired and suggested I apply for his position. “Here it is,” I thought, “Finally, the opportunity I had wanted for so long was within my reach.”
I put my name in the hat and began pouring myself into prayer and preaching during my candidacy. I did my best to place the position in the Lord’s hands (or so I thought). The choice was between myself and another candidate. My home church went with the other candidate.
The disappointment and disorientation was intoxicating and palpable. I was not prepared for it.
Crash and Despair
For the next eight months, I felt like a zombie walking through a war zone. Doubt about God’s goodness, love, existence, the validity of my own relationship with Christ, and my calling crashed down around me. I was terrified God had a horrible future for me and it was waiting for me right around the corner. Despair began to take over my mind and heart, though at the time, I couldn’t put a name on it.
There was also the immediate and constant barrage of the Enemy’s lies to stoke the fire of my insecurities and fears. It seemed like the Garden of Eden all over again every day:
“Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1)
- Are you completely self-deluded?
- Your entire education and desires are meaningless
- God is capricious and unaffected by your sorrow and suffering
- He is going to leave you where you are
- You are going to be made a fool of
- You will suffer if you trust Him
You Think You’re a Pastor, Huh?
In the middle of suffering and loss, one question to ask yourself is, “What do you turn to when the desires you long for, and that God has seemingly given you, are shattered and crushed?” (Dave Harvey, The Quest for Contentment)
For me, I ran toward self-pity, pornography, anger, frivolous spending, isolation, laziness, pride, unrepentance, murder in my mind and heart due to envy and jealousy (not a real person), rage, coveting, suspicion of God and His plans for my life, and many, many more.
Loss and grief with God can be the catalyst to: walking away from the Lord, running ahead of the Lord to grasp what we want, changing our theology about an issue to get what we want (divorce, greed/idolatry, same-sex relationships, adultery — in-person or on a screen).
In the end, these all lead down the road of exalting ourselves above Yahweh, the creator of heaven and earth, who, because of His desire to share His sweet and glorious nature with us through the act of Creation, caused us to exist. In her article, God is Working in Your Waiting, Jen Mazarin explains this well. Our absolute rebellion and depravity is deadly poison, running deep in us, to the very core of our souls and hearts.
Thank God for Jesus Christ who put to death our rebellion by dying the death of a rebellious criminal. It is by His satisfaction in God at the cross that He purchased and granted us the ability to be satisfied in God again.
The Worst of Times Also Became the Best of Times
This last year has been the hardest for me by far, however it has also been the most fruitful. This is God’s grace working in my life to keep me from falling away from Him. Here’s what He’s been doing when I haven’t been running toward vocational ministry:
- I started reading and teaching the Bible to my family almost every day. I never did this before and likely wouldn’t have had I not experienced the loss of that position. The fruit of reading the Bible together is sweeter than any ministry position.
- I began talking to people at work and in my neighborhood about Christ and engaging them with a Christian worldview. Please pray for my co-workers and my neighbors with me.
- I serve in my local church without a title, in weakness and trust. God brings ministry opportunities to me in my local church which align with my passion to preach, teach, and make disciples. He is taking His time to let others get to know me and (possibly) confirm the call to vocational ministry.
- I stopped applying for ministry jobs. I love the Bible; I want to teach it, preach it, write about it, explain it, and exult in the God in it until I am dead or he returns. The desire to shepherd people in Scripture is still there, however, it must be God who brings that about — He is “holding my lot” (Psalm 16:5).
- My wife and I started praying together (on her initiative) and now it is a regular rhythm for us to get on our knees and seek the Lord in prayer together. I’m sad to admit this never would have happened if I had gotten the teaching pastor job at my old church.
God Himself is Our Joy, Delight, and Hope
Many other things have come as a result of the grief I experienced. I hope this was helpful and encouraging. I know there are other young (or not so young) men who are in the same boat.
In God, there is so much grace and hope. Do not throw away your trust in God. You are being kept by his power in trial and He is working in you. None of your time is wasted because, ultimately, it is His time. The gift of faith in Christ Jesus is God’s sustaining power. Trust in the God who is never late and never fails. Set the Lord always before you as the one who is worthy of your praise and obedience and you will discover Him at your right hand like a comrade in battle in your time of need. You will not be shaken (Psalm 16:8).