I think I made the wrong move. At least that’s how it feels.
A few weeks ago I resigned from my job as the teaching pastor at a church, a role I’ve held for the last two years. In the days immediately following the decision and announcement, I met with several people to explain my decision further. One meeting was particularly probing, a concerned acquaintance who was intense in his queries, almost investigative.
What will you do next?
Was your decision based on fear or fleeting emotions?
What was God telling you about your calling?
“I don’t know,” I answered, again and again. “I really don’t.”
Weeks later, I still don’t know. The best I can offer is a shrug and acknowledge that what’s done is done.
I’d love to wake up to a pillar of cloud or fire. I’d be happy to come across a burning bush. I’d appreciate a talking donkey, even a burro who could connect with my elementary Spanish skills. Instead, all I’ve had for months is a heightened level of anxiety and negative emotions that led me to make the decision that I did. And now it’s done.
To be candid, it’s exactly how I felt taking the job in the first place. Two years ago, I was approached about going back into ministry after a six-year absence, one I believed to be permanent. I’d certainly thought about jumping back into church work over the years, since I love teaching more than any other vocational responsibility I’ve ever had. It’s the place I’m most confident and comfortable. When you’re not doing the one thing you’re gifted to do more than anything else, there’s a nagging void that takes up space in your mind and heart.
So when the inquiry came about my potential interest and availability, I decided to look at the job description after some family discussion. That led to a prolonged interview process during which I even backed out, nervous about what I was getting into. During the process of answering the church’s questions about my calling, I made it quite clear that I wasn’t entirely sure I was up for this again. But they seemed nice. I missed teaching. I also felt well-rested from previous ministry experiences.
Am I called to vocational ministry or am I addicted to the validation that comes with it? Did God place me within a community of people to teach or did I figure out how to scratch an itch? Should I have stayed obediently to learn a hard lesson or did I make the right call by walking away? Matt Conner
The best I could offer was “let’s give this a try.”
Two years later, the friction became too much. Working in a church, or any public sphere for that matter, is going to require thicker skin than what I’ve developed. Over time, my ability to handle expectations as a spiritual leader, criticism as a public speaker, and demands as someone helping to run an organization all eroded. I began to hide on Sunday mornings to avoid crowds. I dreaded leaving my house for an event I knew would be entertaining and filled with people I legitimately love and appreciate. The same fears, emotions, and anxiety that caused me to resign from my last ministry position slowly crept back until they occupied my mind at all hours.
So I quit.
The reality is I haven’t seen a pillar in several years. I haven’t felt called to anything in a very, very long time, and even then I look back and wonder whether it was the emotions of the moment or religious jargon I learned to employ. Am I called to vocational ministry or am I addicted to the validation that comes with it? Did God place me within a community of people to teach or did I figure out how to scratch an itch? Should I have stayed obediently to learn a hard lesson or did I make the right call by walking away?
I cannot tell the difference. I wish I could. I’d love to feel connected to any sort of symbol to which I could apply meaning. I’d love for my heightened senses to see or hear something unexplainable. I’d love to discern some internal compass that points undeniably toward its own magnetic north. Instead I’ve been wandering in a professional wilderness for the last decade or more, uncertain of when and where to settle or keep walking.
The best I know to do these days is to simply lean in where I sense energy, toward the creative tasks that currently excite me, while remaining open to the places and people God may use to shape and mold me. Maybe I will teach again someday. I love it and know I will miss it. I also know that I’ve been a shadow of my best self for quite some time, without any real plan to claim it again.
Maybe someday I will tie a nice bow around all of this and even teach some lesson learned about the beauty of not knowing. For now it’s a daily discipline of leaning into the unknown.