Called Again, Right Here
Two years ago, I was grappling with uncertainty. I had served nearly 20 years in full-time ministry, the last seven as senior pastor of a thousand-member church. Whether it was just the seven-year itch or post-D.Min. depression (the degree work had left me exhausted), or whether I was intrigued by the possibility of a teaching post opening for me, I found myself wondering if it might be time to move on to a new, and perhaps more satisfying ministry.
At a conference I heard Harry Heinz, a pastor from Brunswick, New York, say that he'd shepherded the same people for 27 years, almost as intimidating to me as my immediate predecessor's 31 years.
"How can you stay someplace that long?" I asked him.
Harry replied, "You know, I've experienced four distinct calls, all to the same place." He explained that in addition to his initial call, at specific transition points in his life and ministrythe need to enlarge his ministry team, perceived pressure to begin a building programhe had sought, and received God's confirmation that he was called to minister in the same place.
What an insight! I thought, That's where I am. My unrest is a reaction to the transitions I'm passing through. I was dealing with three significant transition points. In addition to D.Min.-related fatigue, I had guided my church to reckon with the sexual misconduct of a former associate pastor. It was horrendous, and although I'd led the church through the experience, the aftermath had left me asking, "Is this what the Lord called me here to do? Is it time to let somebody else take over?" Finally, on top of that, I faced the prospect of marriage, a huge transition for a single woman in her forties.
In the midst of discovering the connection between transition points and call anxiety, I attended an Alban Institute conference on "Clergy Self-Assessment" that cured me from the myth of greener pastures. A second conference, entitled "Waltzing with the Gorilla: Leading the Corporate-sized Church," gave me new ministry tools that, along with my new perspective on transitions, caused me to realize, "I'm not done. God still has things for me to do at this church."
I accepted that as a minister grows, his or her call will need redefinition. Even though I am still the senior pastor of the same church, my call has changed. I've refocused much of my energy and attention away from the entire congregation and toward pastoring the ministry team. So in a sense I did get the smaller church I longed for. If I can foster a sense of community among the staff, together we will be far more effective in ministering to the larger church.
Finally, I had to learn again that there is one Lord of the church, and it isn't me. Peace came when I reminded myself that God is God in every sense, and that he is capable of caring for Christ's church. So I could wait, and listen, and relax.
If you live in the confidence that God cares about your life and your church, you can trust that all will be made clear.
Heidi Husted is pastor of Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Washington
Room for a View
When I have become uncertain or confused about my ministry, or if I am bored, frustrated or stagnant, sometimes it is because I have confused my "job" with my calling. My particular job, whether as pastor or educator, is only the setting within which I can fulfill my calling and use my gifts as they have come from God. When I get caught up in the meetings, the finances, the politics, and the trivia of the job to the neglect of my particular ministry with people, I lose energy and passion. Usually I need one or more of three things to confirm and refresh my call to ministry.