I saw a survey once of the least respected professions. Among the “winners” were lawyers, pastors and used car salesmen. Is there a joke for this? “A lawyer, a pastor, and a used car salesman walk into a bar…”
When I tell people that I have entered seminary, expecting at some point to enter ministry full time, the most common response is “Why?” Except for my sister, who said “Yeah…I wondered when you’d cave.” She characterized the situation aptly. Imagine a cartoon panel in which I am clinging by my fingernails to the door frame of a house, God (just out of frame) pulling my feet, with the caption “But God, I so love it here!” The next frame reveals the house I “love” so much: a dilapidated, rotten, termite-infested heap of rubbish.
Graduating from college (in 1989), I discussed plans with a close friend with whom I had also graduated high school. I told her I was considering going to seminary, to which she responded, “Yeah, I was considering it, too, but I grew out of that.” Today, she is a well-educated history Ph.D., former Methodist, and present atheist. It seems that she “grew out of” more than she imagined.
Many people “grow out of” ministry aspirations. Many even “grow out of” their faith. But a faith that one can grow out of is not the faith of Scripture. It is not the faith of the patriarchs. It is not the faith of the Apostles. It is not, in short, faith in the risen Christ, who is the author and finisher of faith. That faith is the faith one “grows in to,” the faith that keeps expanding the more you think you’ve filled it, whose vistas grow the more you see, the wonders of which multiply the more you grasp.
So, twenty years after that conversation, by God’s grace, I am still growing into faith. And, by providence, growing into ministry.
When people ask why I am leaving law to enter ministry – with a wife and four kids, to boot – what they mean to ask is why I am leaving a respectable profession (note the change in perspective!) and comfortable life to preach. When Jonah declined God’s offer to preach, God made his preferred life unbearable. God has made my preferred life progressively uncomfortable, leaving me no alternative but to plead his mercy for wanting to dwell in the proverbial ruins so long. For when God wants you somewhere else, your perspective on what you “love” changes, as well as your conception of what is truly lovable.