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.