It’s your call


Sometimes people sense a call to be a church leader through some sort of mystical experience, but most of the time it’s something much more mundane than that. It’s when a pastor says, “Have you ever thought about going into the ministry?”

And you look behind your shoulder and think, “Surely, she must have me mistaken for someone else.”

But the question sticks to the back of your neck. It starts to follow you around with some persistence. Then, you think about it so much that the question crawls inside of you. You try to ignore it, you try to fight it, but it’s there, until it begins to feel at home inside of you.

We have to explain over and over again how we got into the job to anxious committees in the ordination process, to interested interviewers in our church searches, to confused friends at loud parties. Sometimes we tell the truth, but most of the time we tell half of it. Because there are those moments that we can point to, and then there are the moments that we’d rather not point to.

Sometimes negative things woo us into our unlikely professions. Like that time when we’re sitting in church, listening to a sermon that really, really sucks and we think, I could do better than that.

Here are a couple of moments for me:

I was twenty years old, in Uganda, visiting with a group of thirty students as part of an internship with my evangelical Bible school. I was working with the Anglican Church and somehow, I ended up being one of the main speakers. By the end of the summer, I was preaching three to four times a day. Along the line, the Archbishop of the region dropped the name “Carol” and just started calling me “Preacher Lady.”

He would say it often and loud, with a wide smile and devious eyes. And his voice, which could easily be confused with James Earl Jones’, seemed to echo inside of me. He was educated in Cambridge and had no qualms with women clergy, but it was scandalous to me, as well as my Bible school classmates.

“Aaahhh yes…here comes the Preacher Lady. That’s a good outfit. Befitting of a preacher,” his voice would boom in front of the group of students. I turned pink. “You need to sit in the front seat of the jeep. The preacher always sits in the front.” I turned deep red and ducked into the seat while he laughed and laughed. I felt like a Bible school girl who was hiding a bottle of whiskey in her duffle bag.

There were many negative things that propelled me as well. A couple of years after my trip to Uganda, I finally gathered the nerve to apply for seminary. As I was collecting referrals, one of my references told me (after he sent in my forms) that I didn’t have the intelligence to go to seminary.

At first I swallowed the statement whole, and it sat in the pit of my stomach, like a rock, grating heavily. It scared me. It haunted me. After a couple of years (it takes me a while…), it made me angry. Then, finally, after graduating from seminary, I realized that he was wrong. But one thing’s for sure, throughout every stage of the process, that one statement propelled me. I really, really wanted to prove that he was wrong and that I was smart enough.

So, what’s your story? What motivated you? What inspired you? What made you angry? Why are you a church leader? What’s your weird story that you would never tell a committee?

the photo’s by youngrobv


11 thoughts on “It’s your call

  1. I am not a pastor, but I have been and am a leader in the local church (and at the Conference level too). First off, you sure proved you were smart enough = in spades! Amen!

    I was a PK and at first didn’t think I would ever get involved in the church. But, there was always something inside nudging me. When I was a teen I had a Sunday School teacher who embarrassed me when I asked seeking questions. That spurred me on to be there for others who are seekers.

    Many times I don’t feel like I am like the rest of the people who go to church and it makes me waffle from wanting to be a leader and not, but I always seem to end up speaking out and getting involved. I ask myself sometimes – why? It just feels to me like life with church and a faith community is better, rich than a life without. Even with all the frustrations.

  2. right now i am spending a majority of my time hoping to God that there is no call on my life despite that i have been infatuated with christianity, denominations and church history for most of my life, specifically told by multple people that did not know each other spread out over years of my life that in fact i was a leader, despite the fact that i cannot seem to escape having numerous churches and church people constantly in my life, despite the fact the i sincerely and deeply love and care about what happens to the Church and am completely obsessed with God and all things related to God, despite the fact that my current job has certain things in common with a pastors job and frankly, makes me deal with just as many stranger and split segments of different social classes that a pastor does, despite all of this i hope still that there is no call on my life even though i find myself in almost absurdist scenarios involving churches, church people and/or situations that i can only interpret as messages from God…..I am sort of a PK in the sense that I spent most of my teenage years living with a pastors family and saw what people go through, and because many of my friends are in the ministry and I know what THEY go through. Also, I really need some kind of clearer message from God. Should I KNOW for sure and not just suspect? Also, I’m just not the pastor type. I’m too self-absorbed and unwilling to continually submit myself to God and I think thats a pretty important part of it. End rant!

  3. Uh oh, it sounds like… you might have a call….

    You never know for sure. I mean, at least I don’t. Some people do. But I still question my call all the time. And the messages have rarely been clear. It’s just when I look back on them that they make any sense at all.

    Is there any way that maybe you were exposed to pastor families that weren’t healthy? I mean, there is a way to do the job and still have a life. I promise.


    Thanks. I hope my daughter comes to the same conclusions about the church someday… and I think you’re right. In the end, even when we feel out of place, it’s usually worth the frustrations.

  4. Fantasizing about preaching at age 10, hand copying Halley’s Bible Handbook at 8 and being told by others are what got me into this. They however are not enough to sustain me.

    Thanks Carol for sharing so much of yourself. I know that this is not as easy as you make it seem.

  5. Carol,

    thanks for your comments. I thought about what you said. Not being able to have a life is part of it. What I saw that really bothered me though was that ministry is something that in the end, breaks you down until you just can’t give anymore. On top of that the family I stayed with was doing a funeral a week (sometimes more) the year before they retired. They always gave everything they had, every part of themselves to the congregation and community. People would call at all hours of the night, stop by unannounced at night, etc. Maybe it was unhealthy. I never really thought about that as a possibility because I love both of them so much. That never really crossed my mind.

    So thanks for giving me something to think about! I deeply enjoy reading your writing and want to thank you for giving all of us such a wonderful gift by sharing it!

  6. They sound like wonderful people. And, wow. A funeral a week will drain the life right out of you. There are times when the job feels like it’s taking every part of you. I’ve certainly gone through those months… But then you just have to be careful, and take time to be restored.

    You know the book that helped me the most with all of this? It was Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. I recommend it all the time…. It’s a short, sweet gem.

  7. I am angry that in the same breath folks will say you are called and be silent with their support [not necessarily monetary]. I offer this comment and gratitude to you in light of my fast. I appreciate your honesty in this post. Blessings!

    p.s. the care and ordination process of the PC(USA) need to be reexamined. It perpetuates a system of status quo/ Where is the, Ecclesia semper reformada est?

  8. Pingback: Uganda _DSC13787 | Politics Blog Online

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