I knew it immediately. My family had gathered at church, and it was time for the evening service to begin. The teens were filing into the section where we typically sat in the sanctuary. Probably 30 of us were crowded onto three long, hard pews. As we were settling, I glanced over to see who had slid in next to me. Although I was only a sophomore in high school, I had this feeling that I was sitting beside my future husband. At the time, Eddie was preparing for pastoral ministry at Mount Vernon Nazarene College. So I realized that if we eventually dated and married, that meant I would become a preacher’s wife. I thought I knew what that meant. We had wonderful pastors’ spouses in my home church. They gave of themselves in ministry and impacted my life. I saw the way they loved people and poured themselves out serving others. Especially Kathleen—she was kind and she wasn’t timid about her testimony. Her walk and talk reflected what the Lord had done in her heart. So, at the age of 15, I began imagining what life would be like married to a pastor. I decided I would begin preparing for this life in ministry by doing everything that I thought would be necessary and was expected of me. I mentally made a checklist of what I would need to do and be in order to be the perfect pastor’s spouse.
You may be familiar with the list: must know how to play the piano; must know how to entertain the masses; must know the answer to all of the questions in Sunday school (and you get bonus points if you can give the scripture reference); must be friends with everybody—all the time, no matter what; must raise children who are perfect. Other things were on that list, but you get the idea.
I figuratively hung that list around my neck and used it to measure what I thought was expected of me.
Over the past 35 years, I’ve learned a lot about ministry and expectations—both self-imposed expectations and assumed expectations from people in the church. One important lesson I learned for myself—and for those with whom I minister—is that I be who God has called me to be.
You and I are at our best when we are living life close to the Father so that we are able hear and respond to His voice. We must be shaped by who God is calling us to be, instead of functioning from lists of expectations we’ve creatively hung around our necks. God knew exactly what ministry assignments we would encounter, and He has gifted each of us for each season, even when we feel confused about if or why we were called.
God has given all of us abilities, passions, and dreams that we are individually called to fulfill. Some of us are outgoing, some shy. Some of us love working with children, while others of us enjoy ministering to young married couples. Some of us are gifted in singing. Some are great listeners. Every person is gifted and called to carry out Kingdom work. If you don’t live out your personal calling, who will?
God asks us to be faithful to Him and to serve Him in such a way that we point people to Jesus. It really is that simple and the only thing required from us who are living beside those called into ministry. I’m not sure we realize how important our role is in ministry. At times, in ministry, however, we may be asked to do a task or take up a lead role in an area we may not necessarily feel called or gifted. The task simply needs to
be done, and no one else is available. How do we respond when we are called on to do something we generally don’t feel called to and may even despise?
I’ve learned that all of us can pick up the baton and carry it for a season.
In our first pastorate, we occasionally needed a piano player. The congregation was in luck—I knew how to play. But the church members had to sing one of the five hymns that I knew how to play! Every time I was called on to play, I gave the music leader the same list of songs to sing. I made it through with sweaty hands and plenty of missed notes. Bless that congregation’s hearts for what they endured. Eventually, that season ended, and I haven’t been called on to play since. So, what do you do if you’re in a season where you are carrying the responsibility of something you don’t feel called to? Here are some steps I’ve found helpful when I don’t feel called.
1. Ask God to equip you for the challenge. Isaiah 41:13 says: “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.”’ I remember being in a large crowd in Rockefeller Center in December. I looked at Eddie and said, “If we get separated in the crowd, we’ll meet across the street. I turned around, grabbed his hand, and headed for the corner. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the corner and found it wasn’t Eddie’s hand I was holding. The grandfatherly man whose hand I was holding was amused. Me, not so much! Make sure your hand is in God’s hand. This scripture reminds us that if we pray for God’s help, God will give it!
2. Raise someone to take your place. One of the beautiful opportunities we have in ministry is to help raise leaders. Begin looking around for someone you can invest in to lead the ministry you want to hand off. The generation after us is looking for a place of service, a place to lead. If we give them an opportunity and invest in them, we will see leaders begin to emerge in our churches. They may not do everything the same way as we would have done in the past. That has to be okay. More than likely, we are doing things differently than the generation before us!
3. Tell someone. Being able to share with a trustworthy friend that you are living in a season of frustration is important to moving through and beyond that season. If you don’t feel you have someone like that in your life right now, ask the Lord to either send someone your way or to give you the courage to seek someone out. That person may be someone in your congregation, or it could be someone who attends the church across town. Both Eddie and I have prayed for the Lord to send us friends over the years, and He always does.
4. Continue to serve in that capacity, for this season, with gladness. Psalm 100:2 (ESV) says, “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing.” You may need to ask the Lord to help you with the gladness part. If you do, He will! I went through a long season with my gladness meter running low. If you tapped the meter, it didn’t budge. But when I asked the Lord for His help, it was as if He were saying, “Finally!” and the gladness came!
If you’re carrying the responsibility of something you don’t feel called to, I understand exactly where you are. Thank you for your willingness to serve in an area where you don’t feel you’re best gifted. You are making a difference even though you may not think so!
As we learn to live in response to God’s voice, may our creative lists of expectations fall away. I pray we simply say “Yes” to what God calls us to do. It may be that God has placed you where you are for such a time as this!