“You’re called in until you’re called out.” I’ll never forget the words my mentor spoke over me when I found myself at a crossroads, wondering if I should stay or go in ministry.
My calling in had been clear: after four years of teaching high school English, I knew God was calling me out of the traditional classroom and into full-time outreach ministry. Sitting in the back of an auditorium one night, I felt the speaker’s words directed solely toward me. If you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life, maybe this is God’s way of directing you into full-time work ministry.
Two and a half years later, I stood at another crossroads: this time, I wondered whether I should return to the classroom, accept a ministry position close to home, or pursue another ministry position hundreds of miles away from home. Soon enough, I heard the words, clear as day: You’re free, my dear. You’re free! Free to follow my heart, I pursued the position eight hundred miles away from home and didn’t look back for another six years—until it really was time for me to go.
By that point, I clearly felt called out. Even though saying goodbye felt like a wrench to the heart, my time was over. Although the pain of leaving sometimes overwhelmed the joy of staying, a single choice to go remained. This time, God didn’t whisper words of clarity to me as much as God sat in silence beside me.
I’d been called out, just as I’d been called in.
Perhaps like me, you find yourself at a similar crossroads in ministry, wondering whether you should stay or go in your particular ministry context. You love the church, and you don’t have to think too far back to remember that moment of calling, when you said the only “yes” your mouth could muster.
But now, just as much as you were called in to ministry, you wonder if you’re being called out of ministry.
Before Amy Ickes began coaching women in vocational ministry, she served as Adult Ministries Director at a large Evangelical Free church for two years and at a previous church for two and a half years. Although the decision to leave wasn’t ultimately hers, Ickes has found words for the discernment process, particularly when it comes to discontentment in ministry.
“Unholy discontent is usually accompanied by anger, bitterness, resentment, gossip and the like,” she wrote in an email. “Holy discontent is characterized by a genuine desire to do whatever God wants us to do, even if it means making sacrifices. As we pray about our discontentment and the idea of staying, if God wants us to stay put, we’ll have real peace whenever we think, pray, and talk about it.” Practically speaking, Ickes also recommends the practice of journaling. In the writing process, be completely honest with yourself, so that when you return to your thoughts, you can look at the situation objectively. Ickes also suggests talking to a trusted mentor; this, she says, is critically important because “leaving a job in ministry is somehow not like leaving an accounting job.”