On the day before I was ordained as a co-lead pastor, I was uncertain, insecure, and afraid. I was an educated, competent speech pathologist specializing in brain injury rehabilitation. My work carries with it a master’s degree and specialized training. The national licensing board could vouch for me and say I was approved to diagnose and treat. But I had no formal training to “do” ministry.
So, how did I get here? It all began on a walk on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa, where I was working as a clinical instructor.
As I passed a tour guide leading a freshman orientation group, I began reflecting on my own journey as a student and all the ways God connected the dots to call me to my profession. I felt a mix of gratitude and unsettledness, and wondered, “God what are you doing?” Immediately, I heard him say, “I’m going to give you fresh calling.”
Shortly after, God asked me to leave full time employment and practice part time as a therapist while pursuing training as a spiritual director. It was a very disorienting time. I struggled to be still and not “produce” or “do” anything. While I really thought I had outgrown people pleasing and perfectionism, God was showing me at deeper levels that my identity and worth was still in what I did and how well I did it. I was being exposed, and it was painful. With the help of my spiritual director, and mentors and friends, I learned some really key things about discernment and calling:
It’s worth it to stay in the tension.
Discernment will create emotional turbulence. Stress and resistance to change are normal, but they deserve a close look. What am I feeling and why? We need to be willing to stay in the tension and notice our hidden motives.
You can’t earn your calling.
Unlike earning a degree or certificate, the specific design of my life is a gift from God that I simply receive. Do I do this willingly or do I resist? Paycheck or not, calling will eventually spill out of my life if I let God endorse his plans for me instead of relying on external validation.
Pastoring is an invitation to do it with Jesus.
The temptation is to perform ministry on my own, but the invitation is to enter more fully in his. If we follow the needs and affirmation of people, it is easy to get sidetracked and even sidelined. There will always be more needs to meet and more to prove. I had started to believe that if I could just avoid letting people down, then I would be worthy of a title. This actually leads to burnout and resentment. Following Jesus leads to life and peace. Jesus withdrew, even to the disappointment of the multitude of people who were waiting for his help.
Clarity comes from God’s reassurance.
If you’re a planner like me, it’s easy to get caught up in strategies and models, thinking that these details alone will produce the clarity we need to move forward. But I found that rearranging the externals of my life only caused confusion. What I needed instead was to hear God’s voice reassuring me, saying, “you are a pastor. Watch me and do what I do.”
Over time, God helped me realize that I had been pastoring in my work as a speech pathologist all along. It was what I was made to do. The path for me was not first through the doors of a church or seminary, but into the hospital room, the nurses station, and the therapy gym.
If you are discerning a call to plant a church, don’t discount the value of the ministry you have in your current job. Ask God to show you how to lead and pastor people in your line of work.
No matter the place, the invitation is to respond to the Spirit’s work right in front of you. 1 Thessalonians says, “The One who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” God is ruthlessly committed to setting us free to do what he has for us. All we have to do is settle into it and say yes.
Explore what God has created you for.
About the Author
Alison and her husband Amos are the co-lead pastors of the Vineyard Church in Chester Springs, PA. As a trained spiritual director, Alison is at her best working with individuals and small groups in the areas of spiritual formation and leadership development. She loves good coffee, reading medical journals, hiking and watching football. In April, Alison and Amos welcomed their first child, Aisla!