“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”
– Wendell Berry
I found my calling, or it found me, early in life. As a teenager, I felt God’s call to be a pastor. Caring for, teaching, and guiding others towards Christ deeply resonated with me. Now, over 30 years later, that calling is deeper but far different than when I began. Vocational church ministry was my life. I loved it, but also secretly hated it. While the transformation of lives by Christ was exhilarating, it often seemed like the bureaucracy of the church was an impediment to this change. Coupled with this was a growing frustration in my own inability to lead my congregation to a better place. Finally, the dissonance caught up with me. After years of plowing on, I hung up the phone and it was over. I quit. At the time I thought I had simply resigned as an associate pastor, but it turned out to be bigger than that. The truth was I had left vocational church ministry and wasn’t going to return.
Disoriented, yet hopeful, I dabbled with my calling over the next few months. Serving as an interim pastor of a wonderful congregation was comfortable, but strangely never felt right. Investigating positions at new churches felt like dating someone with no real spark between you. Ultimately, I remained “without call,” as pastors say. A pastor “without call” is a stigma (and a misnomer). Like a teacher without a class or a salesperson without a product, to be “without call” feels like a billboard announcing that something is wrong with you. I grew increasingly panicked. As the economy was collapsing around me, I felt my calling collapsing as well.
“How did I lose my way in all this?” I wondered as I sat at our dining room table reviewing ministry openings. Nothing felt right. It was as if God closed the door of the ark and I was drowning in the flood. I just couldn’t find my place any more. Amy Sherman, in her book “Kingdom Calling,” speaks of flourishing in our callings; of finding our “sweet spots” vocationally. Over the years in ministry, it seemed just the opposite had happened to me. For reasons I still do not fully understand, I wilted in the pastorate. With my severance pay running out, I was desperate and confused. How could I live out my calling if I wasn’t a pastor in the traditional sense?
Our callings, it seems, change both others and us. God called me out of church ministry, in part, to search and lay bare my heart. To do so, He had to strip away the fig leaves of professional ministry that I had covered myself with for so many years. Without “Rev.” in front of my name, I no longer had any place to hide my fears, unbelief, and questions. If we are to “intentionally grow as people who see,” as Amy Sherman describes it, I think we first have to see the truth about ourselves, and groan for unconditional grace.
But Sherman’s emphasis is correct. We must also strive to hear others’ groans in this broken world. So, instead of trying to get back to the safety of the walls of the church, I began to listen outside the walls and look for a place where “business itself was a means of ministry.” Changing my thinking in this way surprisingly opened up a whole new venue for my calling as a pastor. Technology has always fascinated me. While serving as a pastor I often supplemented my salary by helping people with their computers. I enjoyed the challenges inherent in the work and found great satisfaction in serving people in this way. But it always felt like a guilty pleasure – something I did when I should have been doing “real” ministry, such as sermon preparation.
But what if this was ministry – making broken things work again, learning how things function at a deeper level, and helping people with tangible, practical problems? I loved doing these things. Would it be possible for me to do them as a business that itself was a means of ministry – that this was my calling from God? I am grateful to say that three years later the answer is a resounding “yes.” Each morning I wake up with the opportunity to give my clients a “foretaste of the coming realities of Christ’s kingdom” through my business, MacPro Services.
I spend my days in homes and businesses, helping people with their technology and listening to their lives. My connections expanded. I have the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life; not just church members. In particular, I have enjoyed a growing friendship with retirees. These people are hidden gems in our culture. I am enriched every day by my interactions with them.
But it is not just that my work gives me opportunities to minister to others; rather, my work as an IT professional is ministry. It honors God and helps others. It is integral to the missio Dei – to what God has called me to do. As I perform my work with diligence and integrity, I find myself saying, “I was made for this!” I still wake up some mornings surprised at the new path I am on. Taking a hard turn into the unknown, I have found my place again. Our callings are rarely a straight line.
As Sherman explains, “For most, the journey to where they are now, with what they are doing now, has required much effort, intentionality and perseverance. The way has not always been linear.” I think Sherman is being kind. Sometimes the path God calls us to walk is inscrutable. It often makes no sense. But the gospel is always clear: out of despair comes joy (Psalm 30:5) and the losing is integral to the finding (Matthew 20:17-19). Today I am more a pastor than I have ever been. I am a pastor who lost – and found – his calling.
Ed Hague is the owner of MacPro Services, an IT service company, and an instructor at Christ Classical Academy in Tallahassee, Florida.