I’m a church “re-planter” and a pastor. Those words still seem a bit foreign and awkward when they come out of my mouth. I grew up as the youngest of my siblings and the youngest in my classes in school. Although I didn’t recognize it until more recent years, my birth order and age among my peers was hugely influential on the formation of my identity. I developed a paralyzing sense of inferiority and insecurity around others. I never felt I had a leadership potential; I had learned to default to others for direction and decision making. Over these last 12 years, God has been faithfully healing and restoring my identity. I’m finally in a place where I’m believing God has put something in me that he wants to use to expand his Kingdom. Who am I to deny that?
I’m finally in a place where I believe God has put something in me that he wants to use to expand his Kingdom. Who am I to deny that?
I often go through stages in my life when I identify deeply with the personality and struggles of a particular person in the Bible. Moses’ story has been mine over the past few years. Moses’ arguments in Exodus 3 and 4 are just like the ones I’ve had with God many times. Who am I that I should plant a church and pastor it? I can’t say things right or lead people; my life’s messy. Please send someone else. I can think of a hundred people more qualified than I am. Moses went through all of that. As I’ve wrestled with Jesus’ calling, I’ve found three actions helpful in my journey of identifying my calling: asking, surrendering, and being obedient.
The first thing I had to do to identify my calling was to ask and listen. After many people told me I had a leadership gifting and that I should explore church planting, I decided I should probably go to my Father and ask him if there was any truth to it. He answered my question with vision, passion, broken-heartedness, and an intense desire to see the beauty of his kingdom expand. He has also spoken a clear “yes,” over and over again to my incessant questioning of “are you sure I’m supposed to be a leader, a church planter, and a pastor?” I had to hear these directives straight from the Father, and I still regularly ask him for reassurance in what I’m pursuing.
Surrender has been the second part of my wrestling. I’ve never been someone that has loved a great challenge, or discipline, or hardship. I’ve been a person who prefers a life of security and ease. As I was growing up, my childhood church would occasionally have missionaries come and share how they spread the gospel and how difficult that work was. I remember thinking how much I didn’t want that job. I wanted a little bit of adventure and to travel and then to settle into the typical American dream with the white picket fence, financial stability, and happy family with three kids and a dog. That was really what I was striving for as I was growing up. It was nothing inspiring, but it was just something safe. Asking Jesus what he wanted for my life has required me to surrender what I wanted, to lay it on the altar and offer it up, and to admit that his ways are higher than my ways. Oh, and by the way, I did end up with three kids and a very large dog!
The final part of my journey is simply being obedient to the voice of the Father. Obedience comes down to trust and my willingness to engage in the hard stuff. When Moses asked the “who me” question, God’s response was “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain (Exodus 3:12).” The Father said I will be with you, and the evidence of that was going to come after Moses walked out his call in obedience. Moses wasn’t going to see the proof of God being with him until he actually did the work! He had to trust that God was with him, for him, and that he loved him. He had to be willing to do the hard work in order to be obedient. When I know the character of God and am sure of his love for me, I am able to walk the path he has chosen for me, not because it is easy, but because I know he will be faithful in leading me to green pastures and still waters.
My good life is now not the American dream, it’s abiding with Jesus and following where he leads, because I know my good life is in him. My fulfillment will be found in pursuing his assignments for my life. I know that as I do that, his promise is that he will bear good fruit out of me, influence those around me, and change the landscape of the community I live in.
Lesley Patterson co-leads the Great River Vineyard church in La Crosse, WI with her husband Wes. She loves to nurture and see things grow as a church planter, momma to three young kiddos, a flock of chickens and a St. Bernard, and with dirty hands in the garden. Seeing things flourish as God meets her in the work she does is her joyful satisfaction.