For two years I had the extreme honor of working on the staff of one of the fastest-growing churches in the country. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it was having a front row seat to seeing peoples’ lives change. I also can’t describe the struggle I went through, facing attacks and challenges I’ve only read about in books or seen on the movies. As a result, however, every struggle brought me closer to God, little by little, and I would never trade those results for any amount of heartache.
One of the biggest lessons I learned (or didn’t learn) is how to “turn it off.” I was single for the majority of my time at the church, so it was very easy to push myself to keep working long after I didn’t think I could anymore. Once I was married, it became easier to leave at 5:00 and focus on my family for the rest of the evening. But it took a good year and a half for me to get to that point. You go into the ministry thinking you have to win souls for Christ 24/7. With something as serious as eternity on the line, how can you stop? If your work means people get to experience intimate relationships with Jesus, your work will never be enough. It’s a lot of pressure, that thought. Then you realize you aren’t saving souls. God is saving souls, and sometimes he uses you to lead them. And when he’s not using you directly, he’s using someone else. Or he’s preparing you to be used again. I tell you what. Those few sentences back there? It took me two years to figure that out, and I am lucky to have learned it in two years. I know people who still haven’t learned it, after spending way more time than me in the ministry.
For the past several weeks, I’ve been alluding to the things God’s been showing me lately, his plan for my life. So here’s the full story on that:
I came across the Chazown project LifeChurch is doing somehow. It’s a website (also book, sermon, etc.) that takes you through steps to figure out what God’s ultimate vision (“Chazown”) is for your life. So I went through the website. Then I read the book. And by the time I was done, I knew exactly what God wanted to do with me.
The Chazown project (you can find it at www.Chazown.com) starts with determining what those things in your past are that influenced you the most. You know, the people, events, and circumstances–for better or worse–that made you who you are today. I’m going to be honest: I almost quit right then. I Hate (capital H) when people ask questions like, “Who are the most influential people in your past?” Well, heck, there’s tons. Every past experience I had, big or small, made me who I am today. How do I pick a few out?
But I went into the project with prayer, seeking God’s voice. And he opened my eyes to focus on the aspects of the past I needed to see right then. I organized them chronologically and gave them “chapter” titles. And it was so clear the chapters I had lived, I couldn’t believe it.
The first chapter was when I realized that society’s definitions of certain things were wrong. Immoral. Damaging. We’re all born with an innate sense of God and godliness and God’s laws. And as I grew, I began to notice things were not as they “should” be. Relationships, family, church, friendships, religion–all of these things had been incorrectly defined in my life in one way or another by the time I graduated high school. So that was chapter one.
Chapter two was a period of about seven years where I tried searching for the right definitions. If I couldn’t find a definition that fit what I thought was right, I made my own. During this time is when I began drinking, among other self-destructive behaviors. I didn’t know what “right” was, what “should” be; all I knew was what was wrong, what seemed wrong, what felt wrong.
Chapter three started in August of 2007. I was in Omaha with a friend and attended his church. In the middle of a praise and worship set, God opened my eyes to see that everything I was doing, everything I’d built my beliefs on, was still not right. I listened to him, and I was instantly changed. Shortly thereafter I recommitted my life to Christ and, for the first time, actually understood what that meant. Chapter three is where I, led by Christ, have begun to redefine the things that were so brutally misdefined by both myself and others.
And this is where my Chazown was realized, my next step: I’m supposed to let people know. Through writing books, devotionals, study guides, and even this blog, I will be sharing what I’ve learned and continue to learn. And I’m going to be speaking, to small groups, large groups, individually, with friends. Everything about my Chazown made sense. All of my spiritual gifts, my core values, and my passions fit into this plan. And once I realized it, God made sure I couldn’t forget it. He constantly brought me more and more encouragement, reaffirming his plan for my life.
So I found an accountability partner and made one of many goals to blog once a week. The other goals fell by the wayside as I had less energy and motivation for other things by the time I got home from work every day. And then, this past week, God got my attention once again and said, “It’s time to move on from your employment at eLife.”
“So, okay, God, now what? Get another job and focus on my writing in my downtime again?” Nope. God gave me a very clear vision of sending out support letters to family and friends and, with that, being self-employed while I finish the book I’ve already started and focus on writing and teaching more about what he’s taught me.
“So, just to be clear: I’m leaving a great job with the best friends a girl could ask for and going to be working from home without guaranteed pay, relying solely on the faith of others to believe me when I say I have a specific vision from God?” Nope, wrong again. “You’re not relying solely on the faith of others,” he said. “You’re relying solely on me.”
Triple whoa. Also, some apologies to God.
And with that, my time on staff at eLife was over. Let me just say: this has been harder than breaking up with a boyfriend. My life has been intertwined with eLife’s for a good year and a half before I even came on staff. It was sad, to say the least. But God has kept my eyes focused on him and his plans for me. And my excitement to be free to study his word and share it with others is incomparable to anything else. I am giddy beyond reason.
And now, for the original point of this post. In the day following my resignation, several times I made a joke along the lines of, “I can cuss now, because I don’t work for a church.” Or, “I can be a bad driver because I’m not in the ministry anymore.” Then suddenly, walking out of Target, this is what God said: “Your ministry is your life.”
Mmhmm. Let that one hit you in the face like it did me. My ministry is my life. My ministry was my life before I ever came on staff at the church, and my ministry will continue until the day I die and, hopefully, by the grace of God, will continue on long after I’ve gone. My ministry is the way I represent Christ in my life. Period. It has nothing to do with employment or coworkers or non-profits or income or health insurance. My ministry is 24/7, as I’d suspected all along, but not in the way I thought.
So, before I end this one, just a word of encouragement to anyone who, like me, just “got it” about the ministry. Before you freak out and think you’ve already messed up your ministry and will never be able to win someone to Christ because you’re a sinner and a screw-up and seem to fail more times than you succeed, remember the lesson God taught me: you aren’t saving souls. God is saving souls, and sometimes he uses you to lead them. So even when you sin and screw-up and feel as if you’ve ruined your ability to be a credible witness for Christ, remember these things allow people to view the grace of God in your lives. And the way you handle your screw-ups is part of your ministry. So be encouraged. The pressure’s off you, and it’s all on God, and believe me, he can handle it. He didn’t create you to handle that kind of pressure. He created you to let him bear it instead.