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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Finding Your True North in Ministry

Truenorthby John Koessler from Pastors.com:

During my second year of pastoral ministry, I attended a pastors' conference. Of the many speakers, I now recall only one, and all I remember is his conclusion. At the time he was the pastor of one of the largest churches in the nation, a successful author, and renowned speaker. His message reflected on his lifetime of experiences as he approached the end of his very long ministry.

He listed some of the benefits he had enjoyed as a pastor. He described the free suits one of the members of his church had purchased for him and the free car provided for his use. He mentioned the beautiful house in which he lived at the church's expense and the generous salary.

The list was long and impressive enough to make me, a pastor of a small and struggling church, both envious and cynical.

I grew increasingly uncomfortable as he continued, because I knew where all this was heading. "What if I had not been given all these benefits?" he was going to ask. "Would I still serve my Lord?"

I knew what the answer would be. He would say, "I have searched my heart, and by God's grace, I would."

It was a muggy summer evening, and my clothes were limp from the heat. The auditorium was crowded with more than a thousand pastors, and I was feeling out of place, overwhelmed by the parade of celebrity speakers. I was wishing I hadn't come.

Things weren't going well in my church, and I had come to the conference harboring a secret hope that I'd make some connections that would open the door to a different place of ministry. The last thing I wanted to hear about was his large salary, free suits, free car, and beautiful house.

Sure enough, the question came. "What if I had never been given all these things?" the speaker boomed. "Would I still serve my Lord?" I slumped lower in my seat.

There was a long, long pause.

"I don't know. God help me," he said. Then he left the platform.

I was shocked.

I was devastated.

I was convicted.

I avoided the ice cream social afterward and went to my room. There I fell on my knees and begged God for help, because I knew he had spoken the truth about me, too. I wondered how I would ever make it to the end of my own course of ministry. I had just begun, and already I felt like I was faltering. What hope was there for me later on? How could I find my way?

That was nearly two decades ago. My ministry context has changed. But I still find that I must revisit these questions in those moments we all have when we wonder if we have lost our sense of direction. Over the years, I have found four compass points that help me to reorient myself.

First and foremost is my sense of calling. I feel most confused when I am not sure that I am doing the right thing. Am I making the right choices? Am I investing myself in the most strategic areas of ministry? I am surrounded by people with diverse expectations, but what would God have me do? I need a sense of duty.

Eugene Peterson has noted that the place of the pastor is before God's people, as one who proclaims God's Word, and beside God's people, as one who lives it out with them. This does not simply mean focusing on the right things. It also includes a sense of being "in place." It has a military dimension: We are "on duty" until we have been given liberty to leave. During my years as a pastor, I had other opportunities to change churches. Most of them seemed like "better" opportunities – larger congregations, more staff, nicer locale. Some were opportunities I had solicited.

In most cases, the thing that kept me from accepting a call, even when I wanted to say "yes," was the lack of a personal sense of release. Yes, this is subjective. But I did not feel that I could go until I sensed that the Holy Spirit had said, "You are dismissed."

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March 30, 2006 in Leadership Issues | Permalink

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That was definitely worth the read and will be forwarded to several individuals!

Made me think of the book "Before You Move -A Guide to Making Transitions in Ministry" by John R. Cionca.

Speaking of "true north" - This is sometimes used to describe how one regards the "love of their life".... Okay. Call me crazy. Shouldn't the love of our lives as a Christian and ESPECIALLY in ministry be God? Be Jesus? Shouldn't HE be the compass of life and living?

Okay. I'll stop preaching.. er speaking to the choir now.

Posted by: Camey | Mar 30, 2006 1:42:43 PM

I have been wrestling through this sense of "calling" to ministry for several months. I've felt called for more than a decade - probably at least 14 years, in fact. I grew up "in ministry" as an MK. The woman I married felt - at least then - that she was to be a pastor's wife. I was licensed by my church as an affirmation of a call to ministry. I went to seminary a dozen years ago and quit while I was ahead (I got a B+ in my one class!). Then I embarked on what became a successful business career, rising to senior management in large and rapidly-growing national firm. Then, through conflict on a church board and failure in my job, I felt "tugged" back toward full-time church ministry, going so far as to quit my job to launch a new ministry that has gone nowhere. Now that we're looking again at going to seminary (and the 1000-mile move it will require, along with all the sacrifices that my wife and kids will feel far more than I), the sense of God's call remains both strong and elusive. It's like being on the trail of a big, 12-point buck - I've seen it, I can track its footprints, I know it's nearby...but I don't know if I'll get it today. Daily I am faced with my shortcomings, my sin, my incompetence ... all of which compete with this nagging sense that God has called me to something as nebulous as "full-time ministry" and that if I respond in faith to that call, then the kingdom of heaven will be expanded through whatever I offer to God and his service. True north? If the compass dial would stop spinning, maybe I could find it!

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 30, 2006 2:04:04 PM


Man.. that was beyond raw. Thank you for your honesty and vulernability in sharing from the depths of your being.

I am reminded of something you did the other day... Of how you reached out to someone who was in pain even though you stood nothing to gain in doing so... except for the fact that you knew you were supposed to. You were being obedient to that "tugging"....

"Full-time ministry" means different things to/for different people.

The question I ask you is this: Could it be that He has already told you what it means for your life - it's just different than what you thought it should mean?

Thank you again for sharing so openly. Know telling how many individuals you were speaking for... and gave them a voice.

Lifting you up,

Posted by: Camey | Mar 30, 2006 3:01:32 PM


My friend and brother you spoke on my behalf and I'm certain there are many others who if allowed to speak freely would admit that's their situation as well. I grew up a PK and have seen so much "stuff" that I cannot bear the weight of simply being "called". Just like you I feel my choices have brought nothing but pain. At times, I feel more like a reed bent under the wind of my own demise. I can't help but think how many times I have been through the storm. I say to myself, "If only I had kept silent maybe I wouldn't be here." Guilt starts to pour in seeping through the cracks of my wounded heart. That's when it really gets tough. I start to actually blame myself and think I must have missed the right train; that's why all the difficulty. Things haven't always been this hard. I must have just missed it somehow. Maybe it was when I did this or did that. Maybe I should have gone instead of staying. Who knows. All I know now is I'm waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Like so many, I wait for a reason, rhyme, or purpose for my loss and still nothing. I can't even find comfort in my grief. That's when I realize that I have two choices. I can hold on to the hope that one day I will fulfill God's plan for my life or I can continue to try to find true north with a broken compass. Now I realize the line between these two choices seems smaller than our spiritual eye can see but the suttle difference here is hope. I have hope that I will get there because God's word says I'll get there. Until then, I write with my pen or in this case my computer the story that is my life. The book isn't closed and the end isn't finished. At night, when I lay my head down against my pillow this thought comforts me. It isn't finished.

Posted by: Pete King | Mar 31, 2006 10:51:59 AM

Thanks for sharing both your loss and your hope, Pete. Even when we can't see the finish line, we must press on not just in hope, but in faith - for "faith is the ASSURANCE of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". (Heb 11:1, NAS)

My parents - with 40 years of full-time ministry under their belts - have told me on several occasions that life doesn't usually get easier (some encouragement, Mom and Dad!). The trials we encounter today make us stronger...and often lead to or at least prepare us for greater trials tomorrow.

My mom also recently pointed me to something that Oswald Chambers wrote in "My Utmost for His Highest." I'm not quoting, but it went something like this: "obedience to God costs those whom we love, sometimes as much as or more than it costs us." We don't often think about it this way, but "hating" our mother and father to follow Jesus will have a big impact on them, too. I am experiencing the truth of that - the reality of going against what my in-laws have counseled, the reality of a move on my wife and children...all to follow what I believe is God's call. It's not easy...but Jesus never said that following him would be easy.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 31, 2006 12:10:07 PM


I'm glad to call you my friend. God bless.

Posted by: Pete King | Mar 31, 2006 12:17:57 PM

Every job has it's "perks", if you will. The trick is to work, not for the perks, not even for the salary, but for the satisfaction of doing whatever we do to the glory of God. When it's the perks and the money and the respect we work for, we're not focused on why we do what we do.

I wish you the best in your wrestling match with God's call. As for me, I wrestled for 17 years before I finally submitted. And I'm still glad I did, twelve years later.

Posted by: rev-ed | Mar 31, 2006 2:14:24 PM

The blessing is to be in the ministry. I entered the ministry with both eyes open. I was not an MK or PK. I retired from the Army {Master Sergeant}, worked for the county for a couple of years while studying for the ministry, and have served in two small churches. I am blessed because God found me worthy to serve these churches. That was how I felt in the beginning. I did the rat race up the ladder in the Army out of survival. I was not satisfied. Serving Him and His flock is my satisfaction.

Brothers and sisters, let me state it like this. Ministry is like a marriage. It is a covenant of service and a commitment of love. It is bigger than the pastor and the church. When I accepted the call to my second church I knew it would be a long ministry. One thing I notice about a lot of large, growing churches since the 1950's is this one common denominator: long term pastorate. That is no guarantee of church growth but it is a guarantee of influencing the lives entrusted to the undershepherd and the community one lives in.

If my wife and I can put up with each other for 32 years...I believe we can endure the bumps and scrapes of ministry with a church for however long God desires. Should God bless me with a larger congregation or not...I serve with gladness because He finds me worthy...Nuff said.

Posted by: Dan Moore | Mar 31, 2006 5:14:48 PM

Do you all know how an Armour Tanker determines North. Staraight up... just kidding.. Just an old military joke there.

To pray that God's will, will be done in your life and not your own. Ask Him to reveal to you what is good and perfect will is. Seek it will all your heart and he will show you exactly what your true north is. He will reveal this to you through his word, prayer, other Christians, and of course sermons.
I have learned that my true north is those things that I am truly good at and the things that really motivate me. For example.. Here on this blog there have been several to tell me I need to do comdey for the Lord, as well as some in my church. I had several tell me espically with the inpersonation I do. Then I had several to tell me that my gift was writing songs. I had some to tell me this after singing a song I wrote. After doing that I ended up writing 5 more songs.
Next, I have a way of bonding with teenagers. I never knew that I had an impact on them until several parents told me that their teenager's are really impressed with me and they really look up to me. I was humbled by this and grateful that God has used me in this way.
But the main indrindgent to finding your true north is this.


Man I hope what I said made since to you all.

Posted by: Clairvoyent 1 | Apr 1, 2006 12:15:09 PM

My ministry experience was completely different. I felt "called" to ministry (through my pastors urging) and truly believed and made that heart felt commitment to God and was ordained in my church. I continued to serve Him, but man did hard times come. I was so disappointed in my pastors and in the fake walk/talk that didn't match. They seemed definitely in in for the perks. I began to disagree with some of the decisions made and get frustrated with the lack of true leadership there was (but man- great "speaking" on Sundays). It seemed like more like a country club gathering than a church staff. And of course, like any country club, only certain members can be accepted- ones who always agree (on the outsied at least, and very loudly) and don't ever question or expect anything. Poor management, poor communication, focus of the "show" for the weekend, etc... but here is my dilema... I was forced to make a decision to leave or they will give me a minimal task (one which was not doing what they had suggested "my calling" was in years previous) because there was no cause to actually fire me- I just didn't agree and would speak up when the talk became inappropriate, the focus was on the show instead of the people, etc... So I made the decision to leave. But here I am 6 months later- no job... no income and they are continuing in "success" and "being blest" with a growing congregation (even if they are just other "church" people following an employee that is now on staff at our church from another large church in our area). How do I settle that with God? He called me, I stood up, so now I am done and they are blesed? The rest of my "team" made at least double what I did, I never complained, I did it for God, but now I am left feeling used, betrayed and honestly bitter. I am truly desiring to "get over this" and let God just do His thing, it is so hard, when it seems I am the one getting punshed and He said He would be our protecter and that the truth will always come out- yet that doesn't match what has happened in my life? sorry, so long.. just struggling...

Posted by: has-been | Apr 3, 2006 3:31:04 PM

Dear has-been: from a brother in the midst of it, I assure you that Jesus is true to his word. "He will never leave you or forsake you." How often it is that I must remember that and accept it on pure and simple faith, because it sure doesn't FEEL true. As I learned from studying the book of Job - long before I ever "needed" the lessons - God is always in control; even when Satan is wreaking havoc, he is only able to do so because God allows him to...and he is limited by God's command.

It may be scant comfort to acknowledge that God allows Satan to torment me, but the comfort should come from remembering that God is still in control. He is not surprised by anything, his will is not thwarted by anything, and he really does work in all things for good. My problem - and I think it's a common one - is that I can't see the good that is in the future, and I desparately want to.

My parents are godly people who this summer will mark their 40th year in full-time ministry. They left family to follow God's call; moved five times in their first 12 years of ministry; buried a teenage son in Germany (cancer); watched from a distance and helped as they could as their own parents succumbed to the illnesses of long life. Their counsel to me, as I have struggled with the cost of following Christ, has been borne in real life. It's not always been particularly encouraging, but it's real and it's helpful. In short, they've said this: It doesn't get easier. God never promises easy; quite the opposite, in fact. He does promise his faithfulness, though, and in his plan to work in everything for good, he will redeem the difficulties that I experience. Perhaps that will mean that I can help others learn to rest in him even in the midst of struggles. Perhaps I can help churches avoid the conflict I experienced. Perhaps....

A good friend of mine, some time after I left the church where I'd been embroiled in conflict, asked me, "Randy, can you let it go?" He wasn't saying I should, just asking if I could. It was a good question. I need to answer Yes to it, but that can be a frequent struggle in itself. In Paul's words (approximately), I need to "forget the past and strain toward what is ahead".

Brother (sister?), my prayers are with you as you learn - perhaps in new ways - what it is to rest and abide in Christ.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Apr 3, 2006 4:25:20 PM

Wow Randy, That was good. I did the same thing. Knew I was called, choose a sucessful business career, and opted out on God. He never stopped tugging. I relented. Finised seminary, while still working my day job and "doing outreach ministry." Then I got a church. The treasurer ran off with all the money, numbers were down, building was shot and all they could offer in salary was $800 dollars a month. I took the call and "Bi-vocationed" for four years. Could not take the preasure of two full time jobs so I leapt out on faith and now live on less than a fourth of my former income, but am now "full time" in ministry. Numbers are still not great, but the building is remodeled and I ask myself every day "what was I thinking!" I still would not change a thing even if I got the mega church offer (like that would ever happen.) God uses us where we are and we are blessed.

Posted by: Pastor Proseus | Apr 3, 2006 9:58:45 PM

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