When I felt God’s call to start a business, I was very, very excited. I had dreamed of doing something like this, but had come to a place in my relationship with God where I was very submitted. At his leading, I laid down several dreams that were important to me. The vision for our business came from him, not from me… as Vanessa and I prayed through our decisions, we were absolutely sure this was his plan, not ours. I felt as if God was saying, “Yes! Go get ’em!” after years of “No. Now’s not the right time.”
Within just a few months of launching our business, I felt very frustrated with my life. The learning curve for a new business owner was incredibly steep (the pitch would continue to rise over the coming years), and my life seemed to be consumed by all that needed to be done. I wasn’t unaccustomed to being very busy and working long hours. I served most of my ministry years as a youth pastor of a large church; I led a ministry of 100+ teens and 50+ adult volunteers, organized massive community youth events, participated in a dynamic and ambitious church staff. The busy-ness of my business was not really the cause of my frustration. I was asking myself a very disconcerting question: Am I working like crazy, sacrificing family and friendships, just to make coffee and teach kids to play “Sweet Home Alabama”?
I wasn’t only questioning myself. God led me into this… I was asking him a few questions, too. For several years before opening the store, I had been praying things like, “Use my life to make the most impact it can for your kingdom.” A dangerous prayer, I know. When he called us into business, I was certain it was an answer to that prayer. Before long, I was unhappy with God and the direction he led us, praying a different kind of prayer altogether:
God, is this really how you want to use me? Are you wasting my life?
I’m pretty adept at internal dialogue, so I began to evaluate my motivations for this frustration with God and his apparent plan. I realized that some of my discomfort came from doing something totally new and foreign. I tinkered with side businesses for years, but the only career I had ever known was vocational ministry. Business was considerably different. One huge difference was the mission, or lack thereof, for my work. I could feel justified and purposeful when working 60-80 hour weeks for the church. We were expanding the kingdom of God on Earth! It’s not difficult to see the purpose in those crazy work hours. However, I was now working harder and longer than I ever had before, and for what reason? How was my life really making a difference? How did my business really have anything to do with God’s kingdom? I understood and passionately espoused missional, incarnational, organic ministry. However, my enthusiasm for business was straining under the weight of actually making it work, and I was still questioning God:
God, you called me to be a pastor, then you called me into business. I feel like you have misplaced me. What are you doing?
The feeling of being misplaced comes from the tension between what I thought God wanted to do with me and what he was actually doing. I know that I heard his call into business just as clearly as I heard his call into vocational ministry. However, I had adopted a definition of what it meant to be “called,” a definition of myself that revolved around vocational ministry, and now it felt as if God had either misplaced me or was redefining me. I lived in this tension for several years. I wrestled with God, doubted his trustworthiness, and became angry toward him.
There was a turning point for me, a series of events that God used to show me his plan in my perceived misplacement. I began to become more comfortable in my new skin, to embrace the role he has called me to fill, and become an advocate for the kingdom of God in the for-profit sector. If I am honest with myself, I was always a bit uncomfortable with my role on church staff. I never liked the title of “preacher.” I would tolerate “pastor,” but I felt that both of these titles reminded people of overweight, long-winded men whom hard working laypeople suspected of sleeping a lot and living the easy life off of the support of the church… an unfortunate but common stereotype. I did not want to be that.
I also struggled with justifying my pay as a pastor. Looking back, I realize that the work I did definitely justified my salary. However, I was very aware that my income came from the generosity of people who started businesses from the ground up, worked dawn-til-dusk in the field, or clocked in faithfully every day at jobs they didn’t particularly like. I couldn’t help but flirt with the challenge of creating my own income. I loved the idea of knowing that every penny in my bank account was there because I made something happen to produce it.
I always had a bent toward business and entrepreneurship. I liked to start things. I liked to take failing systems and make them work. I struggled through the early years of transitioning from church staff to business, and eventually came to a realization:
I believe I was more misplaced when I served as a vocational minister than I am as an entrepreneur and business owner.
As I have become more comfortable in my entrepreneurial skin, I have also become thankful for where I am. I still identify myself as a pastor, if by “pastor” you mean passionate disciple who is also a leader in the Church and community. I know that God has called me to do more than just go to church and be occasionally involved in a ministry program, but my vision for his work has expanded beyond the walls of the church. Most of God’s activity that I see around me is not through the direct work of a church initiative. Though I’m not as active in my church’s ministry programming these days, I am more active in his work in the community than ever before.
I have also found many parallels between hiking the trail and following Jesus. When on the trail, I feel “lost” in the woods, misplaced from the civilized world, but incredibly “at home” at the same time. When am I truly misplaced… in the forest or in my office?
The journey is full of tension, whether it’s the journey from vocational ministry to business, from civilization to the forest, or from the fishing boat to the early Church. The reality of following Jesus is that we will always feel misplaced on this side of eternity. Our ultimate call is not to ministry or to business, but to faithfully follow the one who calls… regardless of where the trail leads or how the journey redefines us.
I am happy to be misplaced.