Thursday, June 30, 2016

My Calling to Be a Pastor

Praying on a Sunday morning at Redeemer

Moses' calling by God changed his life forever. Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"When God spoke to him out of the burning bush, he was asking Moses to take the difficult journey of “rising to personality”—rising to the full purpose of his being here on earth—in order to realize the meaning of his life. He was asking him to become more fully the person he had always been and at the same time to transcend it." (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 83) 

My transcending moment came through a church bulletin announcement. It altered the course of my life forever. I was 21 and a brand new Jesus-follower. My heart was untainted by church politics (or any politics), and my knowledge of the Bible and Jesus was slim. I just knew I had been rescued by Jesus and loved him for this. 

The line in the bulletin read: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." This was Tabor Lutheran Church, in Rockford, Illinois. I grew up in Tabor. I liked my church family. My father served as a deacon. He was a quiet man, so it still creates wonder in me to think that he taught Sunday School, and I was in one of his classes.

I was never involved in Tabor's youth group, being consumed with playing sports and practicing guitar. I never led anything like a Sunday School class or a Bible study, nor would have wanted to. I'd never prayed out loud. I rarely prayed at all. I didn't turn to God for anything, ever, until the day when, in my desperation, I said "God, if you are real, help me." And he did.

For two Sundays in a row the line in the bulletin read: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." You mean we haven't found one yet? The kids in this church need a leader! Having been spiritually leaderless myself I knew this to be fact. Every kid needs a mentor. I had been mentored by my peers, did a lot of self-mentoring, and the results were disastrous. I was "lost." But now, at last, was "found." I wanted Tabor's teens to experience The Rescue, as I had.

On week three of the announcement I came to Sunday morning worship service looking forward to, of all things, reading the bulletin. There it was: "Please pray that our church would find a new youth leader." I felt an urgency about this. I began praying. Throughout the following week this was on my prayer list: "O God, please, please bring someone to help our church's youth." And then it happened. I told God, sounding like Sarah, "Surely you are joking?"

I called Pastor Harvey Johnson and made an appointment to get together. I had never done anything like this before. (The words "I've never done something like this before" were to become thematic in my life.) I wonder what he thought I wanted to talk about?

I admired and respected Pastor Johnson. I was nervous on the day I met with him. Part of me felt foolish, a rookie with zero job experience applying for a job that begged for credentials.

"I have seen the announcement in the bulletin. Has any progress been made on finding a youth leader?"

No.

I can't remember the words I used next. Somehow I expressed my idea, my sense, that God was appealing to me to work as Tabor's Youth Leader. I remember feeling how unwise this sounded to me. I told Pastor Johnson about my new life in Christ, and confessed that I had not even heard the words "seminary training" before. After much listening and sharing he affirmed my calling. "I think God wants you to do this, so let's do it." He seemed genuinely grateful that God had finally answered his prayers.

Sometimes I have wondered what my life would look like had that announcement not been in the bulletin, or if Tabor found another youth leader, or if Pastor Johnson had told me "John, you don't have the training and experience for this." That would have been understandable. I am still amazed that he supported me in this! T

Barton quotes Greg Levoy:

"Calls are essentially questions. They aren’t questions you necessarily need to answer outright; they are questions to which you need to respond, expose yourself, and kneel before. You don’t want an answer you can put in a box and set on a shelf. You want a question that will become a chariot to carry you across the breadth of your life." (Ib., 84)

This was my calling to be a pastor. I began to shepherd Tabor's teens. In a few months Linda would join me. Now I see God's hand in it all, and I have never wanted to rewind my life so that things would have turned out differently.

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See my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.