A friend shared with me he thought I was not being used to my greatest potential. I am currently not in a senior pastor position or even a church staff position. That’s where circumstances have me, but it’s also my choice. Well-meaning cohorts who know my situation feel my gifts under-utilized, that I’m living beneath my potential. Others who don’t know my situation are probably saying things like, “What a shame. It seems he’s left the ministry.” Such a notion is probably sparked by my desire to earn a living from something other than vocational ministry. For some of them, not being paid by a church to exercise your gifts as a teacher/pastor, etc. is tantamount to “leaving the ministry.”
The truth is, I feel perfectly at peace with where God has me right now. I am fulfilled in using my gifts in other expressions of ministry. In some ways, I am more fulfilled and feel more freedom than I ever did as a staff member or senior pastor. The trap we fall into is thinking of ministry as a completely separate thing from a relationship with God. We see the relationship with God as “being saved.” It’s all about being forgiven and going to heaven and doing your religious duty while you’re here on earth. Ministry, though, is deliberate actions of preaching, teaching, leading, visiting, planning, meeting, caring, etc. The result is that church members view ministry primarily as something the leaders do, and the relationship with God is what the regular Christians do–being a good person, going to church, then going to heaven when they die.
I believe ministry and your relationship with God are one and the same. Your relationship with God should motivate you to live as Jesus did. And His life was one of pure ministry. The reality is that all those who sit back and say what a shame it is for someone to “leave the ministry” are probably not living up to their potential. They fail to see that all of life in Christ is ministry. It’s not tied up in the role that you play in a church, but in your relationship with the Savior. Ministry is simply an outward expression of your relationship with God. And it can be expressed as a hair stylist who shows interest in her clients, as a teacher who prays for his students, as a neighbor who builds relationships with other neighbors, as a volunteer in a community organization, or as a pastor of a local church.
If you are confident you are doing exactly what God wants you to do at the moment, don’t allow others’ evaluation of your use of your gifts to discourage or guilt you. Your potential is not defined by the expectations of others! It is defined by your trust in God’s leadership and obedience to His assignments.