It seems like every pastor goes through a wilderness experience. I don’t know if that is true or not but it has been a part of my story. In 2013, I felt like I was a toy in the game “The Claw” from Toy Story. Yes, that would make God “The Claw,” who picked me up out of everything that was familiar and brought me to Sid’s house. In reality, I was 27 and in a very good church position for my age. The questions that I had about multi-site were not good for me to have as a multi-site pastor. On the night we parted ways with my former church, I remember crying together with my wife and she looked at me said, “I don’t understand, but I trust you.”
God was Fathering me. I couldn’t make myself go against my convictions or bend on personal integrity. I would rather have a clear conscience before God than money made dirty by me being half-heartedly in a position. I had to follow Jesus into the unknown. Jordan was amazing through it all, but we did not know what we were going to do. Without clear direction, I started putting resumes out to churches and prayed for guidance.
In the meantime, I had to get a job. I landed a gig with a friend of mine at a plumbing supply warehouse. It was a good job but it was a challenge. Not that the work was a challenge, it was my internal life that was difficult. I remember a moment, it was freezing outside, I was counting pvc pipes for inventory, and I had been getting crickets in return for all the resumes I sent out. Hard questions and thoughts were stirring around in me: “Am I done with ministry? God did I miss this thing? Do you even want me to preach? What am I doing in life? I am a failure!” Looking back I can see I was wrestling with identity stuff. Who am I when I am not pastoring? I didn’t know.
The “wilderness” time at the plumbing warehouse only lasted three months. Gosh, that is not very long. But, wow, did it feel longer than that! Again, not because the work, because the questions. Then I got a call. It was a pastor friend of mine one town over. This older pastor said, “Jared, I have known for five years now, you are the guy who is going to replace me as pastor.”
To say I was excited is way too much of an understatement. Jordan and I were both thrilled, God was directing us! But then we were told about the process and the pay. From every external judgment, this move was a step backward. I was told this process would be done in stages. First I would come on as the pastors assistant (aka Dwight Schrute), then associate pastor, and after two years, pastor. This story will develop over the next couple years but you will have to wait till the Year 8 article to hear about that.
I learned two big things I think other pastors need to learn as well. First, the pastors identity cannot be in his title. Who you are is not what you do. Life with God followed me beyond the title “Campus Pastor” and into the warehouse. You are not your gifts, you are not what you do. If you never preach again, it’s going to be okay. Christ is not for you because you do His work. God is for you and loves you apart from what you do, because of Christ work for you.
Secondly, I learned that ministry success is not like business success. Often, greater trust in Christ comes not from the greater position but in being forced to sit in the lower seat. Others may look at you and think, “Wow you are moving down the ladder of life.” But, don’t forget, the Kingdom of God always looks upside down. More times than not, when we have setbacks, it is God calling us to himself. So take heart, wondering pastor. God is not done with you. That may not mean you ever pastor again. But he is not done with you.