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Now What?

(Another post about my journey in, out, and back into ministry.)

Now what?

I’d spoken that Sunday at church, telling my story and what I’d been through, the process God had brought me through, and it had seemed to go well. People came up and talked to me afterwards, expressing their appreciation for the message and telling me how God had used it in their lives.

The following Monday, I drove to work at the investment company and sat at my desk.

Now what?

After experiencing this “breakthrough,” after telling about my journey to the entire church, after understanding my past and the choices I’d made, was I supposed to pick up my life where I’d left off and pick up as normal?

Or did God have some other purpose in mind?

Not that He needed another purpose. Just because you have experienced a monumental shift in your perspective and outlook on life, on your view of yourself, and on your understanding and relating to God doesn’t always require or demand additional changes to your life.

Opening my eyes to the direction I’d been headed, to the feelings and thoughts within me, was more than enough. I did not feel as if I “owed” God anything after this or that I had to do something for God. He had done more I’d ever expected or imagined. He had broken through and demolished a wall of anger, malice, and bitterness that I had built up.

God had gotten through to me.

That was more than enough.

But, this nagging though persisted with me, “Now what?”

Over the previous twelve months, I had grown increasingly discontent with my job. For nine years, I had jumped out of bed every morning to make the long commute to work. Most days, I didn’t mind the traffic because I so enjoyed my work, the people I worked with, and our clients. I counted myself as one of the few lucky people who loved what he did for a living.

But that had started to change.

I liked what I did, I found the world of investments to be intellectually fascinating, but I no longer loved the work.

At this same time, I had been descending into that numb emotional state. I didn’t have the wherewithal to consider the possibility that maybe my emotional state had begun to affect my feelings for my job. I only knew one thing: while I found the work to be interesting and challenging, it no longer held meaning for me.

A part of me wondered if I needed a change of scenery, a different job within the same industry, and maybe this would lift my mood. I looked at some postings, talked to a few friends in the business, but I never applied for a position.

I couldn’t leave just for another company. The friendships with my-coworkers and the owners ran too deep and had existed for years. They had given me loads of responsibility and allowed me to grow as an individual. They compensated me generously and gave me lots of freedom in my work.

Why would I want to work anywhere else?

Maybe, I thought, I needed to switch industries and go to work for a non-profit. If I did that, then maybe that might lift the malaise that I felt. Perhaps working for a non-profit would prove to be more fulfilling.

I inquired with one non-profit but that effort didn’t yield anything, not even an interview, and I quickly gave up that idea.

My responses were typical, I think, of someone who is experiencing something internal that they cannot comprehend. Initially, a person, like me, thinks that a change of scenery, a change of the external circumstances, will fill whatever is wrong on the inside. I don’t know that such is ever the case.

Thankfully, before I could do something that would have made my situation even worse, God broke through my walls.

With that stuff exposed and erased, feeling renewed about life again, I drove to the same office and sat in the same desk and did the same job that I had been doing for the past ten years. I discovered one thing immediately. With the lifting of that dark mood, the passion for my work had not returned.

Now what?

A single, initially absurd seeming thought, trickled into my mind.

“What about the ministry?”

I stopped and pondered this crazy idea for a moment. If it had seemed far-fetched to me in 2001, now, in 2008, it seemed outright ludicrous. Really? Work for a church?

Yet, I now understood why I had run away from every possible church position over the last thirteen years. It had little to do with fears about finding a position or fears about additional successes or failures, and it had more to do with anger and grudges that had been building up for a long time. It had to do with old injuries that were still exposed and festering.

But with all that behind me, having learned a great deal from the experience, could I once again consider the ministry?

Pictures and words entered my mind.

My prayer with that rock in my hand, “Lord, let me never forget.”

That phrase, “You belong up here,” rattling around in my head after I gave the announcements at Lakeview, after having vowed three years earlier to never preach another sermon again.

Another phrase, “Stay here, even though you feel uncomfortable,” our first Sunday at CrossRoads.

And then, “That’s what I’m trying to do. I want to expose all the squeaks in your life.”

I had never been able to escape the sense of calling to ministry. In the deepest recesses of my soul, I had believed it, but in the intervening years I had struggled with what to do or make of it.

And now I knew why.

My anger.

My malice.

My bitterness.

Having dealt with that stuff, being wiser and hopefully smarter, could ministry be a possibility for me?

If it were possible for me, what would that entail?

I would have to take a drastic pay cut. Depending on the amount of the cut, that would probably be okay. We could live on less, we had lived on less. We didn’t have any debt besides our mortgage and we’ve tried to be responsible with our money.

I would probably, at least starting out, need to work on a staff with other people rather than be the only guy. Actually, I preferred it that way. I figured I still had a lot to learn and wanted to be able to lean on others in that process.

Of course, the position would likely have to be full-time. I couldn’t foresee any scenario in which I could keep my current job, have a family, and work part-time at a church. I drove forty minutes to work and it took an hour to get home. I didn’t arrive home until at least six at night. If I had to then work part-time at a church, I’d need to do some of that work in the evenings. When would I see my family?

And it might take a long time for this happen. I didn’t want to rush in and take the first position from the first church that offered me anything. I wanted the right situation. I didn’t want to find myself in a bad situation where things got worse quickly.

(If you don’t know, there are churches that are bad places to work. Hostile, angry, difficult. It doesn’t seem like it should be that way, but there are some out there.)

Would I be okay with waiting?

“I think so.”

Then, that old question, the one I’d faced time and time again, reared its head: Who would want me? Who would want to take a chance on a guy like me who’d whose last professional ministry experience took place thirteen years ago and who has been in the business world since then? A guy who admittedly never wanted to work in the ministry again, who’d spent the last few years being angry at God. Those traits don’t seem to be on too many job descriptions.

But, I noticed a change in attitude. I no longer had that same fear, because this was my response.

“Somebody will.”

And then I wondered, would we be okay leaving CrossRoads to go work somewhere else? We had been a part of CrossRoads for five years and had developed some close friendships. It would be hard for us to leave, but if the right opportunity came along, we could leave and still be okay.

As an elder at CrossRoads, I did not expect them to hire me. The thought never even entered my mind. At the time, they had one full-time staff member supplemented by a number of part-time people. There were other pressing staff needs, and being the elder who oversaw the financials, I didn’t see them being able to hire a second full-time pastor anytime soon.

Joe and I met once again, this time near my office for lunch.

I explained as best I could what I had been thinking.

“With this barrier removed, with this burden unveiled, and with a better understanding of myself, I think, I believe, that I could and should pursue this calling to ministry. In fact, I want to do so. I don’t know how it can or might take place, or even when it might, but I believe I have something to offer.”

“We’d love to have you on at CrossRoads,” he said.

“Yeah,” I answered, tentative, knowing that a “but” was coming, knowing that a “but” should be coming.

“But, we’re probably two years away from being able to afford it.”

“Yeah,” I said again. He was right.

“Do you think you could do something part-time? Part-time at the church and part-time with your current job?”

“I don’t see my current employer going for it. My job is to be in the office Monday through Friday, taking care of whatever might happen, so they can be out of the office meeting with current and prospective clients. To keep that job it would have to be full-time. I don’t know how that would work either. I’m work thirty-five miles away from the church. I wouldn’t be able to meet with anyone or do much on my lunch hour or before work. That would leave evenings and weekends, and that wouldn’t be fair to Angela and Samuel.”

It was his turn to say, “Yeah,” which he did.

We talked generally about what such a role might look like, more specifically what the church needed or might need, someone who could help people “connect” with one another in the church, like overseeing the church’s home groups. At first glance, the role didn’t even seem right for my skill set. It might be forcing a square peg into a round hole.

I departed the meeting a little discouraged. I hadn’t gone into the meeting expecting there to be a position with CrossRoads, but hearing him say it made it had raised my hopes a little only to bring them back down.

Sometimes, when I make a decision, I’m ready to go. Today. Right now.

Yet, this time, which part of me figured might me my last chance at ministry, I wanted to make the right choice. I didn’t want to take something to take something. I didn’t want to take the first offer that came my way, be miserable there, get angry about being miserable, and then go back down the path I’d already been down.

So if it took two years, then it took two years.

If the right thing came along in the meantime, then the right thing came along in the meantime.

If it never happened, then it never happened.

And I was content with whatever happened.

In the meantime, I would continue with my current job. They liked me, I liked them. I had job security, or as much job security as a person could have. They paid me well, and there were far worse places to be while I waited for a ministry position to arise. Once more, I’d involve myself heavily as a volunteer.

I settled in for the long haul.

***************************

Although Joe and I talked frequently by phone in my role as an elder, we began to talk even more. He called one afternoon when I was at work.

“The church is doing pretty well, financially, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

The church had always been relatively strong financial shape. We operated with a lean structure, hence only one full-time staff person with plenty of part-time positions. We had accumulated a decent amount of savings for the future for what we envisioned would be moving to a new location. At the time, we were renting space in a business center.

“I’ve been thinking and praying a lot. I think if we wait until we’re ready to make a move to hire you, we’ll never be ready.”

Come again, I thought.

“I’m thinking we might need to take a leap. If the elders were to agree to this, do you think you could start September 1st?”

That wasn’t two years away, that was two months away.

Two months.

Two months.

Two months!

“I think it’s highly possible, but I need to talk with one person first.”

Before I took any other step towards this possibility, before Joe even presented the prospect to the other elders, I had to talk with Angela.

I needed her approval.

To some, it may seem odd to give one’s wife such control over a life-altering decision. A person might think that if God has called you and if God has opened a door, then you ought to rush through that door before it shuts. I understand that viewpoint.

However, Angela and I developed a trust over a period of nineteen years. We’d met in 1989, started dating, and then married in 1992. I trust her like no one else. She knows me better than anyone. It’s not even close. She had been there through the ups and downs, knew my strengths and weaknesses, and had experienced the highs and lows. She’d been there at the other churches with me.

Whatever happened or whatever took place, we were in this together. Any decisions that were made affected the both of us.

Most of all, I didn’t want to put her in a situation that she didn’t want or even desire.

When I arrived at home, I walked into her home office and stood in the doorway. We caught up on one another’s day. My heart pounded.

“I need to talk to you about something,” I began.

It probably wasn’t the best opening but I couldn’t think of another way to start.

“Okay.”

“I’ve been talking with Joe, and there is the possibility of me going on staff at CrossRoads.”

“Yeah, you said it might be a couple of years.”

“There’s been a slight change. He called me today and asked if I could, if I would, be willing to start in two months.”

“That’s fast.”

“Yeah,” I said.

Neither of us said anything.

“Here’s the deal. I think, I believe, I can do this. I think my experiences of the last few months have been enlightening as to what went on in the past. I believe that the one negative experience was a unique situation. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t or couldn’t happen again. However, I’ve grown up a lot since then. I was in my early twenties then. I’m a little more wise. I didn’t handle the whole situation right. I probably wasn’t equipped or mature enough to handle what was going on. I don’t know. But, at CrossRoads, I would be on staff with other people. I wouldn’t be the only guy. We know the people. What do you think?”

She concurred with my thoughts. “It does seem like a good situation.”

“I realize that this is a huge change. Monumental. Some people won’t understand or even agree with this. It’ll be less money. It might mean more nights away from home. I don’t know how it will work out. I’d be walking away from a great job with great people with incredible security. On the other hand, my schedule should be more flexible and the commute is only ten minutes as opposed to forty.”

Once more, she concurred with my thoughts. More evenings would be okay and we could always get by on less money. We had in the past.

“Going to CrossRoads is a huge leap. There’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to afford my salary in twelve months and I could be out of a job. So, if you have any objections, if you don’t want me to do this, if you don’t think this is a good idea, if you want me to stay where I’m at, then you can say so. I will stop and be content exactly where I am. Us is more important than that. I know that I’ve put you through this too many times before and I would perfectly understand if you said no more. My feelings will not be hurt. If you don’t want me to pursue this opportunity at CrossRoads, then say the word, and I won’t. Believe me, I’ll understand if you are tired me putting you through this ringer.”

Without hesitation, she answered, “Go ahead. I’m behind you one hundred percent. I support you.”

Only her opinion mattered. Parents, in-laws, siblings, friends, co-workers, their opinion really meant nothing. They could offer it. I would listen. But only person’s opinion mattered and she’d said “Yes.”

The next day, I called Joe and said, “Let’s talk to the rest of the elders.”

Wheels in motion.

*************************
Other posts related to this journey
When A Little Squeaking Brought Down The Walls
“Stay Here” and A Strange Conversation
That Which I Don’t Understand
You Belong Up Here
When They Wouldn’t Accept “No” As An Answer
“No thanks. I’m really busy.”
“I’m done. I quit.”
“Why me? Why here?”
“I Give Up!”

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