I never wanted to do this.
Growing up as a pastor’s kid, I made one decision fairly early in life: “I am not going to be a pastor.” Don’t get me wrong, I love my Dad and I never had—like many other people I know who grew up in a pastor’s home—a bad experience where he chose his ministry over us. I loved having him around with his office being in the same house we lived in.
But imagining myself in full-time ministry? No, thank you.
Over ten years later, I am sitting at my desk, thinking about how to best start and grow a new church in Toronto. As the pastor and only full-time employee of our church, I have to wrestle with questions I never had before, try to problem-solve for our next event, plan for our next core team meeting, connect with people who don’t know Jesus yet, all while trying to deal with personal struggles in the lives of both myself and the people around me.
How did I end up not only in a different job than I imagined, but also in a different continent from my home in Germany?
One of the toughest things for many of my Christian friends is to decide what they want to do with their lives. I heard phrases so often from well-intentioned people: “You need to find out what God’s calling for your life is!” Or even better “I just know, God has a great plan for your life!” But rarely were these assurances very helpful.
For me, it was always the opposite—I had a plan of what I wanted to do (and what I didn’t want to do). So, I told God I wanted to be a lawyer. One of the good ones of course, that gives a lot money and helps people who need legal counsel. It all sounded very pious in my head. But if I am honest, I mostly liked this plan because it was my plan. I had control over it and the job would give me the security for the future that I craved.
And then, a few years on, my sister started to tell me that she was praying for me to become a pastor. This was not the thing I wanted to hear from her at all, but how do you stop prayer? At the centre of the Christian message is the gospel of grace. I am helplessly lost without the grace of God shown in Jesus. I can’t add anything to it to earn it. But if that new life in Jesus is fully given, that also means it’s God’s to use. I didn’t earn it, so I don’t have a right to it. Grace has an edge to it.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:14b-15).
So, I had to learn to lose myself (and I am still learning that), but I came to the point where I was willing to let go of my plan, my dream. And then I asked for peace; not the normal peace of mind we have on the third day of a three-week vacation, but the peace that would sustain me if I would be going into full-time ministry. God gave it to me, and I knew this was the new plan—His and not mine. There was no great epiphany or a voice from heaven, just peace and the knowledge that I would not have to do it alone.
Being a Christian means foremost being a follower of Jesus. So make plans, dream big. But never forget it is always about Him and for Him. Our lives don’t belong to us anymore.
Our calling is to follow Him and do what He did. Love God and love others. Give ourselves for the sake of others, so it might be for His glory. Maybe that means you will become a pastor, but most likely not. Who needs that many pastors? What we need is people that are living their lives in a way that draws people to Jesus. And that usually starts with losing your life, so that you can find a new life in Jesus.
Joerg Wacker is the pastor of Reach North York, located in Toronto, Ontario.