Eleven years ago I was sitting in a chapel packed with 1,000 people. My name was called and I walked forward. I was about to discover where I would be a pastor.
I thought I was going to Denver. Or possibly back to my native Minnesota or nearby Wisconsin. Instead, I was headed just a few miles south of the seminary campus. I forced a smile in front of a thousand people as I returned to my seat in disappointment.
Today is Call Day at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO. There will be many sweaty palms as candidates find out where they will relocate their life and ministry. Many will probably say what I said. "That's not where I wanted to go."
Here are three things I learned from Call Day. True for pastors, or anyone called to a place they'd rather not go.
This is not about you.
I had friends going to cool cities, or returning back "home." Some classmates rejoiced that their call was exactly what they wanted. I wasn't nearly as excited about staying in the same city I went to seminary.
Disappointment reveals our motives. My call was a gut check for why I wanted to become a pastor in the first place. It reminded me, "This isn't about you." It forced me to shed all my selfish desires and grand ambitions.
"If you didn't choose it, it's probably a divine call."
In our country, a sacred value is freedom of choice. “Follow your dreams.” “Do what you want as long as you’re happy.” “Let your heart be your guide.”
Someone told me, "If you didn't choose it, it's probably a divine call." How often have we chosen a golden path that ran into a dead end. And then God leads us down a thorny path that takes us to a garden. His ways humble our feeble imagination.
After 11 years, I'm one of the few in my class who's in the same place. I found that I am uniquely positioned to make a difference right where I am . Only God could have made that call.
Love your people.
I've spent over a decade devoted to a particular people and place. I used to admire the guys whose resume' had multiple career moves all over the country. But it's hard to effectively serve a people when you move every three years.
We had confirmation last Sunday. I was able to look at 20 teenagers and remember when they were in preschool. I've walked with kids who've lost their dad and kids who've experienced immense trauma. I get to be with them at the most critical times. I get to speak profound words into their lives.
Any vocation, or calling, is about people. God’s intention for your callings is not to make all your dreams come true. That’s Disney’s goal. His intention for your vocations is to bless others (Gal. 5:13). We submit our gifts and abilities to his purpose.
Our callings will naturally lead us into pain, disappointment, and suffering. Bad days on the job make us wonder if we shouldn't find another career.
I have found that challenges validate my calling. They are exactly the reason I'm called there! I'm called to love people in their challenges. My unique role is intensely needed by a particular people in a particular time.
No matter what your calling, believe that God is at work through you. He whispers in your ear, “You are vital. You are necessary.” Our unique skills and experiences make us a valuable commodity for our family, neighbors, community, and congregation.
I still get nervous around Call Day. I feel the terror, disappointment, and uncertainty. Yet here I am a decade later. I love my city, my congregation, and my role as a pastor. Only God could have orchestrated such an assignment.