My Place in this World

now-whatMy blog posts are not often intensely personal. That’s as it should be, I believe, because cyberspace is no place to broadcast your deepest struggles. People get hurt that way. But I want to share something very current that I’m struggling with because someone out there might identify with it. Plus, at some level, it helps to put it into words.

I have a calling of some kind, but I don’t know what to call it — how to label it. I can describe one aspect of it his way: Something drives me to ask hard questions, think deeply, and do my best to get to the bottom of things in order to understand them. Along the way I also feel compelled to verbalize what I am discovering. Back before I learned to pathologically distrust myself, I would have told you that I have a knack for taking what I find and expressing it to other people. I also discovered early on that I can pretty comfortably address a large group of people, even numbering in the thousands. It came very natural to me and I was told that I was pretty good at it.

So I should be a preacher, right? Well, not so fast. As I look around, I find that what we call being a preacher doesn’t work for me at all. The popular version of the pastoral office flies right in the face of many of my most deeply held convictions about the priesthood of all believers, and about the need for the whole Body of Christ learning to function rather than a handful of specially certified people.

For another thing, I never got officially ordained. My childhood pastor, Frank Pollard, didn’t believe in ordaining people for ministry. He considered it the Holy Spirit’s job to do that, and it was the job of the local church to recognize it. Since he had been a seminary president and a mainstay on the Baptist Radio Hour, I figured I was on safe doctrinal ground listening to him about that. I’m comfortable not having a piece of paper to prove my calling (although I do have a seminary degree–does that count?).

All that aside, a calling remains. I have things wired into me that could be of great benefit to the Body of Christ. But I see no place in most churches where my gifting fits. Most places, it turns out, don’t respond very well to people “thinking deeply” about stuff. On the contrary, if you question enough things, you just disturb the status quo. Folks don’t appreciate that, it seems. It doesn’t matter how gently you do it, how nicely you put it, or how articulately you express what’s on your heart. Most seem to prefer what Brian McLaren once called “the massage of familiar words.”

Well-meaning people often advise that you should pick your passion and pursue it. They say you should find work that you would do for free and find a way to get paid for it. That’s a fine idea, really. I’d love to actually get paid for what I’m good at. But there’s hardly a place for what I’m good at in most churches, let alone an actual paycheck. I reconciled myself to that reality a long time ago, but I still have to make a living. So I teach high school. I don’t teach what I love because my real expertise is in Bible, and you can’t teach that in most public school settings. I have to support a family of six, and I can’t get by with a private school teacher’s salary. So I’ve had to learn to teach Math, History, English, and Science–four subjects about which I know just enough to “fake it.” As a school teacher, I’m mediocre because my passion lies in teaching stuff that nobody pays you for, or at least not enough to pay the bills.

In the end I feel ill-fitted for the kind of work I do. It probably doesn’t help that I’m also teaching a population of students whose cultural world doesn’t value school for anything other than providing social connections. In fact, many of the kids I teach only come to school in order to stay connected to their drug supply chain.

I could live with professional mediocrity a whole lot better if that were it. But it really eats at you after a while if your passion is the church, yet your church environment doesn’t value your gifting, either. Before long you, too, learn to devalue your gifting. That leaves you pretty deflated. It’s no wonder I’ve become so bad at accepting praise from other people (see my last post). I’ve fallen into the habit of thinking that people could only approve of me or my actions if they are either misinformed or delusional. That sounds more like an insecure teenager than a grown child of the King of Kings.

True happiness comes from being a blessing to other people, benefiting others by serving them according to your unique gifting. My problem these days is that I’m having a hard time finding, as Michael W. Smith once sang, “my place in this world.” I’m starving from a lack of opportunity to function in the Body of Christ according to the shape of my particular calling. There once was a time that I felt I was heading toward a fulfillment of my calling, but circumstances changed. It’s a long story, one that will have to wait for probably a long time. All you really need to know is that either God closed some doors on me really slowly, or else I just didn’t notice they were already closed until recently. Ultimately, I know that his hand is behind it, and now it falls to me to trust him in what he is doing. I hope I can hold on to that one responsibility.

All this introspection is meant to serve a useful purpose. As long as I can remind myself that God has his own reasons for putting me in all these circumstances which are so incongruous with how he wired me, then I can find comfort. I can try to take a deep breath and trust that God hasn’t shelved me permanently. Maybe I’ll be like a wine that gets better only after it’s had time to collect dust in a dark cellar somewhere for a long time. I only hope he sees fit to pop the cork and let me breathe once in a while :-)

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12 Responses to “My Place in this World”

  1. jennysgoodlife Says:

    Sometime, I would be interested in hearing more of an articulation of your calling… what would the job description say? Kind of a teaching pastor or someone who leads in depth discussions? Maybe you could be the kind of pastor that would blow the current pastor paradigm out of the water? I don’t know if that’s possible in our culture, just wondering.

  2. brotherjohnny Says:

    As you know, I relate to this on so many levels (although not all…I have an aversion to large crowds in most instances).

    It’s always easy for us to say ‘amen’ to the fact that the Lord holds us in difficult places for our good (His good) until He actually does it to *us*.

    I have felt, for quite sometime, utterly perplexed about….well… everything!

    This doesn’t mean that we don’t have our particular callings/missions/places…

    It just means that the Lord is very interested in thorough preparations while we prefer ‘The American Way’.

  3. Bill Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Neil. I have three comments.

    1: I might have assumed you’d remember that gifting, calling and sending are three separate things… to say nothing of vocation, which is once again a whole other matter. For instance, you’re very good at making babies, but I don’t suggest you self-employ in that arena. ;-)

    2: Happiness is about getting (or ‘getting to do’) what you want. You’re very good at caring for others as well as thinking and talking about stuff. You should interact on other people’s blogs more often. (Hint, hint!) But in the physical realm I understand. I hope you find a way to do what you enjoy most in a way that others are able to appreciate and benefit from.

    3: Happiness can be overrated. In that regard, I love the last two paragraphs. Amen, amen. Crush Neil, Lord. And comfort him too. :-)

    Love ya, brother. ;-)

  4. cindyinsd Says:

    I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, Neil. Nobody likes that kind of stuff, and of course I don’t know what’s going on with you in any depth, but . . . since you are musing . . .

    Joseph had a great calling, and sat in prison for how many years? Moses herding sheep for 80 years or so, Saul in Tarsus becoming Paul and meantime being lashed regularly, despite the fact most of us would have considered him ready-to-use, no assembly required, batteries included, right out of the box.

    Don’t let yourself despair. In due season, God will fit you right into that place in His house that He’s finally chiseled you and sanded you and knocked off the rough bits to make you fit with absolute perfection–if you “faint not.” (I know I mangled that verse, but I think God’ll overlook it for once–just for me. ;) )

    Love, Cindy

  5. brotherjohnny Says:

    Jethro gave Moses some sound wisdom and so…

    “Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens”.

    We could totally write this off as “Old Testament” and pretend as if God no longer calls and appoints local men to oversee and minister to their respective communities, or we can see how this ‘shadowy’ passage points to a similar, yet more clear reality which we should embrace here and now.

    Just something to consider.

  6. Richard Says:

    Neil,

    I love hearing your heart and to that end I would like to offer this, it’s a quote from someone that imo is speaking truth in love to any who have hears to hear.

    “The inability to see God was the great dilemma of the Israelites after they departed Egypt. They saw His “work for forty years” but went “astray in their heart” (Heb. 3:9-10). They were blind to see that the circumstance in which He placed them was the very avenue through which He intended to bless them. In resisting the circumstance, they resisted God. They either forgot or didn’t know that all spiritual life is conceived in the barrenness of an empty womb. Sons and Daughters know their lives are empty, and that if they do bring forth a bounty or blessing, it is because, in the midst of their barrenness, the Father plants within them that which is born of Him!”

    Also if you’re interested I just posted something that ties in with what I think I am hearing you say.

    http://andthenlifehappened.blogspot.com/2009/11/identity-theft.html

    Love,
    Richard

  7. zoecarnate Says:

    Your inner turmoil is over, Neil – do I have a link for you!

    Only kidding. Even as someone who’s ostensibly found his passion and figured out a way to get paid for it, the road isn’t easy. Some of the most beautiful & innovative expressions of church these days are also the ones that pay the least, if at all. It’s a conundrum to be sure. Of course, it can be even more compounded when you don’t even find a community where your gifts & contributions are valued for free. But take heart – lo, I am coming soon. :)

    • christinyall Says:

      I can always count on you to keep me in touch with the outer fringes of the faith.

      • Bill Says:

        I thought Mike *was* the outer fringes of the faith.
        ba-dum-bum, psssh

        Ah, another cheap shot for old times’ sake.
        It sure feels good when the gang gets together. ;-)

    • zoecarnate Says:

      You’ve never heard of the Universal Life Church?? I’m pretty sure my friends and I knew about them since high school days – the ‘easy, free ordination’ people.

      Bill, I think we should all hold an international brothers’ conference…

  8. D.L. Webster Says:

    I’m wrestling with this type of thing too.

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