So, I’ve been thinking about my “call” a lot lately. Presbyterians understand that ordination requires that one be “called” in to ministry by God and that call has to be affirmed by others. For me, my “call” was to the First Presbyterian Church as a pastor. It was affirmed by a unanimous vote of the congregation and by the Presbyteries of Elizabeth and Monmouth. How does my decision to leave the pastorate affect my call? I am certain that God called me to Tuckerton in 2005. I am certain that God was with me as I wandered in the wilderness in Israel. I’m certain that God is with me now. Thankfully, I’ve never felt far from God. So is God calling me out of Tuckerton?
As I’ve talked about it with friends, more than one has made the comment that “God usually calls us toward something — not away from something.” That’s mostly true, I think, especially if you’re already serving God in some capacity. God did call the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, but I can’t think of any circumstance when God told a prophet to stop being a prophet. Not that I’m a prophet — far from it.
Even though I’m not retiring, that’s the closest thing I can think of, so I just googled “What does the bible say about retirement?” Google referred me to Numbers 8:23-26:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall begin to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting; and from the age of fifty years they shall retire from the duty of the service and serve no more. They may assist their brothers in the tent of meeting in carrying out their duties, but they shall perform no service. Thus you shall do with the Levites in assigning their duties.
It seems God is saying there is a time when we should stop doing regular, full-time work, even when we understand that work to be God-ordained. When I googled “What does the bible say about burnout” I got this:
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28 – 30
Jesus knows all about burn out. Yes, I’m weary. Yes, I know all too well about emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion. It has affected my health and caused me to withdraw socially. I have been diagnosed at times with a chronic, low-grade depression called dysthymia. And even though I was wildly happy to be called to Tuckerton as a pastor, the question on my lips from day one has been, “How long, O Lord?” The mantle has never fit very well.
I think it’s very possible that this “call” business is overrated. Maybe it’s not so much a call to a particular position, as a call to serve in general. I can embrace that. I think it was Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, who suggested God’s “call” on our lives is more like an ice cream shop, with lots of wonderful flavors to choose from, than a specific directive. Whatever we choose, God will bless us in that. Black Raspberry, Mint Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Ripple, or Coffee? God is pleased to offer all, the choice is ours.
So I think God is actually calling me out of Tuckerton, but not out of ordained ministry. When I first told the General Presbyter that I was leaving, she said “So, are you renouncing your ordination?” Good Heavens! No. I still feel very “called” by God. The only question is, "Called to what?" I’m not sure. But I am fairly certain that I have to leave Tuckerton to find out. It may well be advocacy, which will be my next “official” role in the domination. But that might just be a pathway to something else. Time will tell, and I have faith that God will tell me, when I need to know.