Who I Am Is Not What I Was

I remember, remarkably well, feeling totally lost and confused. I had left the ministry – or maybe the ministry had left me – and I was a train-wreck of a man. Since I was 16 years old I had been knowingly, and unknowingly, building the matrix of my identity around the idea that I was called to full-time, vocational ministry. In my mind, and in many ways in the church culture I was a part of, this was not simply something I was called to do but it was essential to the fabric of who I was as a person. Being a pastor was not just a calling, it was my identity.

How wrong I was.

Years ago, I heard a story that illustrates this notion well:

There was a large church in which the lead pastor and one of his members came across each other in the church offices. Upon seeing his beloved pastor, the member – let’s call him Bob – called out to the pastor by name. “John!” he said excitedly, as he waved vigorously in his direction.

But John didn’t respond. In fact, John – the pastor – did not even look Bob’s direction.

Bob persisted, this time a little louder, and again called out, “Hello John!” This went on a few more times before John finally looked Bob’s direction and said, “it’s Pastor John.” And then went back to whatever business he was attending too.

Bob, thinking John was joking around, laughed and said, “Oh, I get it. Well, you can call me Builder Bob!”

Pastor John retorted, “My name is Pastor John and if you want me to respond to you, you will have to call me by my name.”

Bob, now feeling embarrassed and frustrated, said “So, does your driver’s license say Pastor John White? Because mine just says Bob Smith.”

Somewhere along the way, John’s calling had become his identity.

I have a friend named Matt. He’s my personal physician but he has also become my friend. He calls me by my name, Jake. And sometimes I call him Doc but usually I just call him Matt. But, regardless of what I call him, he still gets paid the same amount of money at the end of the appointment.

This leads me to my point: we live in a culture that has done a terrible job of mixing one’s worth with what they do for a living. Nothing could be further from the truth.

POSTED ON November 7, 2013
  • dougmurphy

    I heard Rick Warren talking about identity the other day and he echoed this but added that often times God uses what we do to help develop or define who we are. So what we do is part of the process but the result. Do you think that is correct? and if so is that why its so easy to ge them mixed up because there is such close proximity

    • I think everything in our life helps to develop us a person (and that God uses it all), but I stand solidly in the place that what who we are, at least largely and fundamentally, is not about what we do for a vocation. Does that make sense? Identity has to be about “being” not “doing” first and foremost.

  • Thanks for sharing your story! Powerful, heartfelt and very helpful. I agree with you (and the Bible) that we are defined by who we are in Christ first and foremost. Our earthly vocational identity and experience help define our carnal nature and certainly can and will shape us. But we have to be bound to our spiritual identity.

    I’ve been teaching Ephesians to my SS class and stressing the dual aspect of positional truth (who we are in Christ which is dominant in the first 3 chapters) and temporal truth (what is our response to positional truth and how we apply it in our lives which is thematic in the last 3 chapters). That helps remind me of the need to maintain the God-connection for my identity and let that shape the rest of my life (rather than vice versa)

    I’m very blessed by your post and glad to have found this blog!

  • Ruslan Vilkhovyi

    Thanks! Your experience touched my heart to the deep. I’ll pray for you.

  • Jessica Zhuo

    Thank you for this. I left pastoral ministry in church 3 years ago and finding healing and making sense of all the incidents during the time I was a paid staff in church took a while. This article really resonates with me and has been a great encouragement. I’ll be marking this as a favorite for re-reading !! 🙂

    • Bo Lane

      Thanks, Jessica. Please feel free to share this with those you know of that are still in leadership. I appreciate you joining the conversation.

  • Jill McMillin White

    Very very good article. After being in full-time ministry (more or less) for 30 years, last fall we resigned a church we had pastored for 10 years. And are now seeking to find our way apart from that “identity”. It’s good, but so tough too. I loved the way you worded things in this article. Thank you….

  • Diggs

    In the midst of sorting this all out right now… Please please pray

Jake Ray is a former Pastor and Church leader. Today he is a father, friend, consultant, coach and entrepreneur. He loves CrossFit, live music, Roller Derby and bacon.