I missed my call to ministry

Keep family and friends informed by sharing this article.

(This piece finds itself written for three reasons. 1) It’s a story to be told. 2) My desire to communicate tends to leak out one way or another. 3) I can’t help but cling to some sense of hope. This is perhaps a way of articulating what I mostly find myself unable to pray.)

The Adventist Church has been home to me since cradle roll. I remember praying to invite Jesus into my life when I was seven or eight. I then experienced a deeper conversion experience in my late teens that led to my baptism.

Running thick and strong with my conversion was a call to ministry.

This is not a statement I make lightly. My call had all the markers I’ve read and heard about. I was deeply convicted. I had a vivid experience of God’s presence on one occasion, a holy ground moment if you will. I acted on this call and was soon leading youth small groups, Sabbath school classes and taking other roles.

People commented, frequently. I can recall many occasions where people asked if I was going to be a pastor. Many just assumed this would be the case. Deep down I agreed. I had given myself to God. I was thrilled by the new purpose in my life. All I wanted to do was to follow and serve Him. I believed that He had gifted me for this purpose.

So here I am 20-plus years later, working in a secular place of employment, reflecting almost daily with a significant measure of pain and regret.

I’m not a pastor. I’ve never been a pastor.

I have missed my call to ministry.

How did this happen? I don’t have an answer, but there are some things that stand out.

The retired pastor I studied with in my late teens was a spiritual giant, a veteran of many years of service in the Pacific islands and Australia. He had studied with my mother two decades earlier. I visited him weekly for two years and he baptised me also. He was patient, faithful, full of encouragement. He was responsive to the growing call of God on my life. But he had one paramount piece of advice. Don’t go to Avondale College!

This was a position he did not waiver from in the years following and he reinforced it through various letters and conversations. He had his reasons, and they were genuine and heartfelt. No-one craved the growth of God’s kingdom more than he. I mourn his passing and still crave his influence and prayers. But I regret the advice he gave me. My life might have been different otherwise.

Secondly, I have a risk averse personality. I’m indecisive and prone to procrastination and overthinking. This was reinforced by various influences. One of my mother’s maxims in life was “wait“. It is very much a biblical idea. As, of course, is going forward, stepping out in faith. But I was busy finding cold comfort in the obedience of waiting when the way was not clear. Avondale was a long way from home and expensive for someone from a frugal country family.

Nobody ever actively discouraged me from following my call. At times my parents tried to suggest some ways that would enable me to attend Avondale for ministry training. But inertia had already ground me to the spot. My mother was a champion of faith and left behind a wonderful and unique example in many ways. I mourn her passing also and wish that I could have better honoured the decades of prayer and belief she poured into me.

And lastly, somewhere along the way, my call became coloured by a sense of my own uniqueness. I heard God speaking to me through some of my reading and study. Most notably was this passage: “Many are still tested as was Abraham. They do not hear the voice of God speaking directly from the heavens, but He calls them by the teachings of His word and events of His providence . . . He calls them away from human influences and aid . . . Who will accept new duties and enter untried fields, doing God’s work with firm and willing heart, for Christ’s sake counting his losses gain? He who will do this has the faith of Abraham . . .” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p126).

I believed that we are to listen for God’s voice as He speaks to us personally. I sensed that God was calling me to something different. A path to ministry that differed from the usual pattern of ministry preparation at Avondale. So, in faith, I waited for this path to manifest itself. 

And I kept waiting . . . I was obedient. I was patient. I was faithful. But this different path didn’t materialise.

I was active in other ways, preaching frequently and leading various Bible studies. I attended a US-based Bible college intensive program on one occasion. I did some semi-volunteer mission work for 15 months once and preached overseas in evangelism programs on a couple of occasions.

I wrote to a bunch of pastors once. It was quite a rambling letter when I read it again now. It reflected both a deeply held desire and a conflicted mind. I received a bunch of replies. They were measured, kind and encouraging, but didn’t resolve my conflict. They couldn’t answer questions that I couldn’t really articulate.

To this day I know in my heart I was doing what I believed was right. I was genuinely, earnestly trying to follow the will of God. But my decision-making capacity was fundamentally flawed. My executive functioning, as it is known in psychology, was misfiring.

Then it happened. The door closed.

I suddenly found myself without any pathway to ministry. None of the options were open anymore. God had come up short. I had believed He had a plan for my life. I had waited, mostly patiently, for Him to show up but He didn’t arrive.

I had no concept of how gut wrenching this would prove to be. In hindsight, perhaps it just confirms His call on my life, but those thoughts were lost on me then. Soon I was completely gutted, wracked with anger and disappointment, bewildered and alone. These were matters I had wrestled with God for a decade of my life. I didn’t discuss them with anyone else. I felt too stupid and guilty.

More than a decade on, the door is still closed. My faith in the meantime has stuttered, stared for a long time down into the dark abyss of its own demise, then slowly set about the arduous task of rediscovering itself. And in the ebbs and flows, I find the call still present. 

I have a thousand sermons in my head. They jump out at random moments. In the shower, driving to work, in the middle of someone else’s sermon, when I go running. I can’t help it. The impulse to communicate the gospel won’t go away.

I watch people within church and community. I see their strengths and weaknesses, watch their efforts and witness their fears. I imagine their journey and want to be part of it, encouraging them along their way. 

I read my Record and Adventist World, joining myself to the bigger family I’m a part of. Silently cheering them on. Shedding tears as I read the latest story from Dick Duerksen. Wishing for a bigger role in building this movement and influencing its direction.

I am involved in my local church in small ways, but everything feels like I’m sitting on the sidelines. I’m not playing the role I was meant to. I’m a part of the body but doing someone else’s job. And I constantly see a vacant space that was meant for me.

In the meantime, I journey on. I have a career in an allied health field that is interesting and rewarding in many respects. I am good at what I do and have the respect of numerous colleagues and clients alike. I question myself constantly if my call was just some naivety or childish dream that was never realistic in the first place, like there was an emotional need that was unmet. But, while there are probably some of those elements, they don’t explain the longing with any measure of adequacy.

I don’t blame anybody else for my predicament, and I’ve mostly stopped blaming God. Nobody is responsible for my choices but me. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about people in general. I’ve learned a lot about faith. I’ve unlearned and relearned. 

I’ve become slower to make attribution judgements about others. People experience all manner of difficulties in a broken world, both within and without. It is not fair for us to grade them against what we think they should be doing.

But I haven’t yet found a way to be as kind on myself. I failed to answer God’s call and this loss of identity makes it difficult for me to be open with people. I’m fortunate that I have changed churches twice and most of the people I associate with now know little of my past. But I still feel like people are looking me up and down and asking, “What is he still doing here?”, even though I know they are probably not. I’ve lost my confidence and don’t know where to find it.

Some might say I’m only seeing part of the story. They may quote the reassurance that “God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning” (Desire of Ages, p224). These words just don’t speak to me. I have not followed the directions I have been given. No, not on purpose. But my response to God has been flawed, misguided. I am not now going to imagine, as I used to, that honesty before God is enough. I’ve done enough imagining in the past. It is better that I be realistic and take responsibility for my own failures, understand my weaknesses. 

More meaningful are the words of another giant of faith. “Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do” (Corrie Ten Boom, The hiding place, p20). This gives me hope. Mistakes can be lessons learned. New opportunities can arise. Doors are never closed forever. And a missed call once may not actually be a missed call forever. Just ask Moses.

Another quote from a book impacted me a few years ago.

“Ministry is awesome, challenging, joyful, sad, rewarding, frustrating, creative, and fulfilling. In our post-Christian world, ministry calls for brilliant scholarship, clear understanding of the human predicament, and courage to break moulds that no longer meet the needs of a sin-sick world community. Gospel ministry calls for fearless visionaries who are willing to tap the power of the gospel in a manner in which it has never been tapped before” (Larry Yeagley, Touched by Fire).

I was one of these people God called. I mourn the years of service I have not given. The years I have not lived up to the gifts God has given me. The opportunities missed. The people who have invested in me through my life that I have let down. The vacant space I have left behind. I regret that I am not now in the fray—in the role God called me to—on the front-lines, driving the movement forward.

There may be someone reading this who is on the sidelines, waiting vaguely like I was. Please take my story as an encouragement to go. Fulfil your God-given purpose and calling. There will not be a perfect time or place. Don’t be afraid to seek out the help you need. Your weaknesses are an opportunity for God to display His strength. Follow the call. You will be happier for it and the Church will be blessed by you living out your gifts.

Please don’t miss your call to ministry.

Anonymous is a busy, allied health professional who manages a small practice in an Australian city. He attends church nearby with his young family and helps out in a couple of different departments. In his spare time, he enjoys running the local roads.

Related Stories