What do you do when you find yourself at the crossroads of life and there are no signposts? What happens when you lose your pastoral call and you think you should change vocations? Or what happens if you graduate from seminary and after a number of years you still haven’t been able to get a call? Should you hang up your cleats? Making such decisions can be difficult and heart-wrenching. You spent years getting ready to serve, believed you sensed a call to the ministry, and even had others seemingly confirm your call. The thought of quitting the ministry can therefore be quite devastating.
I think the most important thing to remember in such circumstances is the fundamental nature of your identity. Your life’s activities should not ultimately define you, rather your identity should define you—your union with Christ. Your union with Christ is the foundational bedrock of your identity—this will never change. You will never lose your salvation, or more importantly, Christ will never let you go. There is nothing in this whole creation that can separate you from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8:31-39). Christ has neither forsaken or abandoned you just because you will no longer be a pastor. Your vocation might change, and in fact, has changed throughout your life. You were once a full-time student, perhaps then an engineer or police man, and then you became a pastor. Just because God determines that you will better serve him in a different vocation does not mean that he does not love you or is casting you aside. People regularly ask my wife, “How does it feel being a pastor’s wife?” And she always responds, “I am first and foremost a wife, not a pastor’s wife. I know my husband’s vocation might change one day. I hope it doesn’t, but if it does, I don’t want my identity so wrapped up in being a pastor’s wife that I no longer know who I am if my husband’s vocation changes.” I think this is the right way to approach our vocations. Remember that your union with Christ defines you no matter what you do.
Second, we must remember what the apostle Paul says regarding providing for one’s family: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). You may be very depressed at the thought of changing vocations, but your union with Christ tells you that you must first provide for your family, it doesn’t say how. You may not want to hoof boxes for UPS or go back to your career as an insurance salesman or accountant, but if you can provide for your family through a secular vocation then you are doing a godly and honorable thing.
Third, just because you will no longer serve as an ordained minister does not mean your service to Christ’s church is done. Give thought to the idea that God may have you serve as a well-informed lay person. Might you teach Sunday School? Might you serve as an experienced and well-informed and educated ruling elder? Might the Lord use you to help your pastor navigate the challenging labors of ministry. As a wise counselor, a former pastor who has been through the School of Hard Knocks, maybe you can be an invaluable resource to your local church? Regardless of how you serve, just because it is no longer as an ordained minister does not mean your life is over. Granted, this might be a very bitter pill to swallow. If you try to pursue the pastorate regardless of the circumstances, even if providential signs are pointing in the opposite direction, you very well might make yourself and family miserable. I do not pretend for one second to assume that changing vocations will be an easy thing. But I do know that, no matter what, God always has us right where he wants us even if that means leaving the pastorate and serving in a secular vocation. There is nothing worse than serving in the pastorate when you aren’t supposed to. If you find yourself in these circumstances, pray for wisdom, humility, and courage to change vocations.
In next week’s post I address one of the more challenging questions for pastors, namely, when is it time to retire from the game?