Every once in awhile, Matt over at The Church of No People writes something that rocks my world. A couple of weeks ago, he posted this gem about “The Poisonous Myth of Finding the Highest Calling.” It’s worth going over there to read it before continuing here.
I related to this post on so many levels: the whole idea that a perceived “high calling” makes a martyr of you, or even imprisons you. Then there’s the pitfall of getting your whole identity wrapped up in some aspect or expression of your calling, or simply feeling like you have so much to live up to.
I wrote several posts awhile back processing these very things (here, here, here, and here, if you’re interested), because this has been such a huge part of my personal deconstruction. I won’t go into too much detail now, but I grew up under a weight of great expectations (whether self-imposed or by others, I’m still unraveling that–but I felt it nonetheless), and when I felt a call to ministry in my early teens, it only made the weight heavier. I was supposed to do something “big” with my life (whatever that is). It was my destiny. It drove me to achieve greatness. I was filled with passion and a mandate.
It all sounds sort of good–unless you’re the guy carrying the weight.
It wasn’t that I was resistant to the burden–I wanted to fulfill my “calling,” with all my heart. But all my life, I’ve struggled with the expectations that I associated with my calling. I didn’t realize back then that a calling is something God invites us into; I only thought of it something I had to live up to. And when I perceived any level of failure, it was absolutely devastating.
I’m convinced that this is common among folks “in the ministry.” I think that one of the reasons so many pastors have fallen into sin is that they feel so burdened with the weight of living up to expectations that sin becomes a release valve of sorts. A warped sense of entitlement comes into play, a feeling that they deserve to mess up a little. It’s a form of acting out.
I didn’t realize how deep this went in my own soul until the point in my deconstruction when as a pastor–and particularly a worship leader–I became alienated from the institutional church, the only place where my gifts had had any platform. What does a worship leader do when there is no more platform for it? How do you pastor a “church” when your whole definition of “church” is changing drastically? And when you’ve identified your “calling” with these specific tasks, and you can no longer do these tasks…you get the idea. It becomes an identity crisis.
For me, this was a catalyst to set my thinking in a different direction. At no point did I “run” from my calling; I simply couldn’t fulfill it in the way I once thought I would. If “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable,” I must have misunderstood what my “calling” actually was. I had to revisit this.
And that’s what I did; and the posts I linked to above are part of my thought processes during that time. I began to realize that “calling” in Scripture is an invitation to participate in the work of God. It is irrevocable in the sense that God will never withdraw the invitation, but He doesn’t force us. Nor, as Matt points out, is “calling” some inflated sense of destiny that makes the thing we feel “called” to do more important than something someone else is “called” to do. God is doing some awesome things in the earth, and He invites us to join in with the particular gifts He has given each of us. That’s how I see it now.
At least, that’s how I see it in my rational mind. On an emotional level, as I’m now realizing, I still have some reflexes in place. Someone can say the wrong thing to me, and it can trigger a relapse into old patterns, of feeling pressured to live up to an expectation.
Where am I going with all this? Time for a bit of confessional…
Last year, I began to slow down doing some of the things I’d been doing within the music scene. I wasn’t going to shows, I wasn’t talking to people, I wasn’t looking for opportunities to minister, not like I’d been doing before. Looking back, I realize now it was probably because I was just tired–after all the punishment I’d gone through in the last season, I hit the ground running when I got to Denver, and I never really gave myself permission to rest–so eventually I think I just ran out of steam. I just couldn’t move anymore.
This created a sense of crisis in me. What was I doing out here? Wasn’t I supposed to be “in ministry?” Had I gone AWOL? All of a sudden, a wave of guilt and fear came over me because of what I wasn’t doing. I felt lost, I felt cut off. And I felt like somehow I was failing my calling.
Panic-stricken, I started to pray fervently and started desperately trying to re-imagine some new ministry structure, some new organization, that would put me back into the saddle. A lot of good ideas, but still no energy to make them come to pass, because I was still worn out. I had forgotten what “calling” meant, and I had defaulted back to thinking it was something to live up to, rather than something I was invited into.
There are two things I think I’ve done right during this time of personal crisis. First, I prayed; I asked God for guidance and wisdom. And second, I didn’t get in a hurry; I didn’t try to make something happen just because I thought I should be doing something. I gave myself permission to wait and listen. And over time, through various channels, God has been calming my soul, speaking to me afresh. Through conversations with The Wild One. Through Matt’s article. Through personal impressions. Through revisiting my own blog. Reminding me that this is an invitation that won’t go away, not a mandate to fulfill. Reminding me that God is more in control of my destiny than I am. And reminding me that ministry can (and should) happen as I go, not because there is some structured thing with the word “ministry” nailed to it. What we do is primary; what we name it is secondary.
Things are still incubating in my soul, and I’ll have some more cohesive things to say about it soon. But being reminded of this simple truth about calling has inspired me with some ideas of how to move forward, now that I’ve actually given myself some time to rest. I’m still sorting them out, which is why it sounds a bit vague. But something’s changing.
I won’t lie: I still feel an inner push toward greatness (again, whatever that is). I still want to make a difference. I still dream big. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all; it gives me energy, gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. But what is changing is the expectation. I’m not commanded to pursue it, but I’m released to pursue it–without any mental trappings attached as to what it should look like. In a paradoxical sense, being released from the expectations of what my calling must look like is restoring my passion to step into it.