He looked straight at me and said he didn’t think I’d last very long in ministry.
Now, everyone has their critics. I think this is true in pretty much any line of work and ministry is certainly no exception. In this job you can be assured that no matter what you do, someone is going to be unhappy with you.
But this wasn’t some nameless face in the pew or someone lobbing criticism from the balcony. This was a coworker. And not just any coworker, but the long-time senior minister at my church. So even though I knew some of the reasons behind this proclamation — personality differences, past disagreements, my own mistakes — it still hurt.
Because it wasn’t a proclamation about my performance. It was condemnation of my personality. It was an attack on my character. And as much as I wanted to dismiss it, this one stuck with me for a long time.
It really affected the last few years of ministry at that church. Even though I was already contemplating my next step and could see my time in youth ministry coming to its natural end, a large reason I was searching for something else is because I had begun to question myself. I was wondering who I was and doubting whether I really had anything to contribute. I was questioning my place and my purpose.
It’s amazing how on mean-spirited snowflake can become an avalanche of self-doubt.
One of the greatest blessings I’ve received since moving to Oklahoma City is space to work through some of this baggage. The shepherds at my church have been proactive in not only identifying my gifts, but providing the opportunities to use them in the most effective ways. The staff has spent a lot of time discovering who we are as individuals and how we fit together as a team. They applaud my strengths and exhibit loads of grace for my weaknesses.
I’m at a place that wants me to be me and believes that I have a unique fit in the community. It’s made all the difference.
The other day Trevor mentioned how we tend to dislocate God. We interact with God like something “out there”, an object that is separate from real life that needs to be studied or visited in a holy place instead of a reality to participate in. It reminded me of this from Luke’s gospel:
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21 (emphasis added)
Our first experiences with the Kingdom of God are within ourselves. This is where our journey with God begins.
Because I simply cannot grasp the ways in which God is redeeming and changing the world before I understand first what God is doing inside of me.
So when we talk about vocation we begin with knowing ourselves well. There are tons of resources that can help us with this. Standard personality tests like Myers-Briggs can be helpful in understanding our temperament and worldview. The Gallup StrengthFinder is something that has been transformative for me. It can help you focus on your strengths rather than worrying about your weaknesses.
Perhaps the best tool is something I am still discovering called the Enneagram. This ancient tool goes way beyond your personality to help discover your motivations and who you truly are. I suggest you check out the great work Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile are doing with their project called The Road Back to You.
Regardless of which tool you use, knowing yourself better can protect you from those avalanches of self-doubt or ambushes of criticism. It can help you discover who you are and what you’re passionate about.
But it’s about more than self-knowledge. It’s about finding the uniqueness of God’s imprint upon you so that you can understand your vocation in the world, how you participate in moving the world God made forward.
It’s the first step in a journey that is decidedly inside-out.