God’s Self-Revelation and Pastoral Vocations

Some time ago, I had a friend who asked if a family member could call me to discuss chaplaincy (throughout the year, I’ll have a few of these conversations with people who want to know more about corporate chaplaincy).

The family member called and shared her interest in the work of the chaplain. As I heard her share, I wondered what compelled her to this unique form of ministry. After all, she was young (very early 20s), attending college, and trying to figure out next steps. And I don’t get a lot of late teens/early 20’s calling me and asking about how to be a chaplain. I was very intrigued to hear more of her story.

“Can you tell me a little more of what is drawing you to chaplaincy in this season of life”, I asked.

Without disclosing too much information, she had experienced great losses in her family and was moved by the idea of helping others process their losses, their medical heartaches, and walking with families through these difficult times.

I still remember sitting in my home office and wondering, “Wow! This chaplaincy work will continue well beyond me!” It’s the first time I had this sense that, 1) I’m getting older and will not be a chaplain forever, 2) God is calling young people into the ministry, 3) What is my responsibility in passing down what I have learned.

After we finished our conversation, I sat in my chair for what seemed like hours, praying for her, wondering about God’s Kingdom, and how God will continue to call people to serve His purposes for this world. I felt very small and humble.

As I’ve been reading John’s first pastoral letter, one get’s the sense that something special is happening: “That which was from the beginning…”

God not only is the chief creator of the world and the cosmos, but He is also in the business of revealing Himself to us, to humanity. God has been doing this since the beginning.

In his letter, John is making a case that God did indeed take on the form of flesh that He might dwell among us (the Gospel of John, ch.1). Simply put, God is in the business of self-revelation!

Two stories: the young woman feeling a call to pastoral vocation and God’s self-revelation.

The young person feeling something happening inside her heart, something calling her to be a certain type of person in this world.

A God who so loved the world, His own creation, longing to liberate, heal, redeem, and renew…this God is not hidden from us.

God will continue to reveal himself to humanity and will not stop calling women and men to the ministry of shepherding, proclaiming, bearing witness, and being in fellowship with God and others.

Tonight, I’m grateful for the conversation I had with this young woman and for John. I’m deeply grateful that God longs to reveal himself to us.

A verse of vocation for Roy

A verse of vocation for my life.

One that is filled with wisdom, power, and love.

God already did the choosing and appointing. That won’t ever change. It’s me believing that word and deciding to live into it as I obey Jesus.

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.

The Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

The Challenges of Pastoral Ministry

What follows are some reflections on chapter 1 of “That Their Work Will Be a Joy”, by Cameron Lee and Kurt Fredrickson.  (Amazon link:  http://a.co/0lWeM08).  It’s part of my first Doctorate of Ministry class at Fuller Seminary.  All quotes are from the book.  I wholeheartedly recommend it to everybody in ministry!


In premarital counseling, we talked to couples about idealistic distortion. Basically the idea is that both persons go into a marriage thinking that it will be perfect, joyful, blissful. They hold the other person and such a high regard and believe all of their needs and wants will be met. I lovingly try to burst that bubble.


I had some idealistic distortions about ministry. When I was younger, I thought that I only needed to have the love of Jesus in my heart and everything would be okay. I pictured myself praying, teaching, and caring for those who were seeking God. I am in my 11th year of pastoral work and am now feeling the effects of joy and challenges in ministry.  I love what I do.  I believe I’m called to it and that I have the skillset.  But I’ve struggled with anxiety, fear of disappointing others, fear of disappointing God, not getting enough rest, focusing on the job and not the vocation.  

Pastoral work is both fulfilling and challenging.  There are practices that pastors can engage in order to focus and deepen on the satisfying aspects and look for ways to cope with the challenging ones.  I’ve been wrestling with the challenging aspects for the last 3 years or so.  And compared to other stories I’ve heard, I feel like my challenges are petty.  Some of the challenges includes who I give my time and attention to.  Doing pastoral work in the marketplace in a 600 employee setting has its challenges.  I don’t have an administrative team.  Much of my work is doing pastoral rounds throughout the company with people that don’t have a faith background.  Some may not even value the pastoral presence, thinking that I’m just trying to convert them.  I’m good with all of this. It’s how I can be creative in my vocation in this setting.

I’ve tried to build relationships with as many employees as I can and make myself available to those that are hurting or in crisis.  There are others who want more pastoral presence via discipleship, 1-1 counseling, and mentoring.  

Some want me to visit more.  Others may not care.  Some feel like having someone in my role onsite is a gift and are grateful.  Others would care less to have someone in my vocation at a company setting, with the mindset work is for production, not presence and care.  Some have engaged in dialogue, with times of attending a local church.  Others have poked at me, asking me why I’m even at the company.  But even the ones who could care less or have poked have become good friends and there is a deep respect both ways.

Working out my vocation has been tough and creative.  It’s been very fulfilling.  Trying to figure out how to stay to the vocation among people who may not value it has been tough.  And yet I think that’s more about my inner trappings than external ones.  

I’m experiencing joy in the midst of the challenges.  I see it most when I focus on discerning God’s redemptive presence at work in people’s lives.  I was moved by this quote:  

Joy is first and foremost a theological issue, a question of faithful imagination and the ability to peer behind and beneath the surfaces of ministry. p. 15  

I’ve been thinking more about faithfulness and creativity to the vocation the last few years.  To be honest, I felt like quitting last year.  We had three employees pass away within an 8 month span of each other.  In 2015, there were 40+ employees who lost a loved one or a close friend.  I was becoming exhausted.  The work was getting larger and my pastoral rounds were diminishing.  They’re a job expectation to do every day, but I wasn’t able to physically and emotionally do it.  I then realized that much of my vocation is to pray, intercede, study, and practice spiritual disciplines that keep me attuned to God’s presence and activity.  I also noticed that my work was changing.  I was a lot more joyful about attending to certain aspects of the work and struggled with others.  

At present, I’m focusing on juggling SquarePatch, my main client that I serve, and my new Fuller Seminary adventure.  Trying to figure out time management for this endeavor has a been a source of prayer.  I want to stay creative and curious in my vocation.   Going to school, reading, learning more about the classic spiritual disciplines and formation, and practicing Sabbath are helping to do the former.  

Underneath any discussion about the nurture and care of pastors in the local setting is our strong and profound conviction that God is at work in the church and the lives of his people. p.15.

This truth has saved my life…literally.  I’ve had to visit the emergency room a few times when I first started this work because I thought I was having a heart attack.  It turned out to be panic attacks and anxiety.  I was working on the premise that I was in charge, not God.  Since then, I’ve learned to trust God’s active work and learn listen, observe, and respond.  God cares more about the people I serve than I do!  And I care a lot about them!  My focus has shifted to prayer and the three previous postures I just mentioned.  I’ve seen more joy and hope when this happens.  

When I think about my “marriage to ministry” and the idealistic distortion I’ve been wrestling with, it makes me wonder if it’s possible to experience joy and fulfillment in this work.  Eugene Peterson has been quoted as saying that ministry is the best vocation and most joyful if we’re called to it.  And that it’s filled with many challenges. A change in perspective–to look at something from different eyes–can help us to see with clarity that problems will arise, waves of change will swell, and stuff will hit the fan.  

Is it possible to be joyful amidst the challenges?  We believe that it is, provided that joy is not equated with the promise of continual smooth sailing or a problem-free ministry. p.16

But as we lean into the ways of Jesus, taking on His yoke and learning from him (Matt. 11:28-30), we begin to experience the greater work happening.  

By far, one of my favorite lines in the book is to tease out pastoral vocation and the job of a pastor.  These are two different elements, but both connected to the pastoral role.  

…ministry is experienced as more burdensome when the job obscures the vocation, and is experienced as more joyful when one’s vocation is discovered and rediscovered amidst the demands of the job. p.17

I think of what originally pulled towards ministry:  I get to partner with God’s redemptive purposes and presence in the world.  I’m not trying to say that pastors have a better vocation than others.  Certainly when I see the work of psychiatrists, medical doctors, mechanics (whom I’ve seen first hand do their holy craft), I’m in awe.  For me, I feel a deep meaningful purpose in this world when I picture Jesus shoulder to shoulder with me, asking me to feed His sheep.  There is a “other-worldly” type of call in pastoral work.  It’s beautiful, slow, creative, and has stretched me beyond anything I’ve ever done.  

Discovering and rediscovering my vocation has been a challenge.  I remember about 5 years ago thinking, “Okay, I’m in the promised land.  I’m doing what I always wanted to do.  Now that I’m in the land of the living, what now?”  I had this great opportunity to pastor people in a non-traditional setting and felt a lack of direction of where to go from that point of entry.  But then I remembered that in Hebrew tradition, the word shalom was about a whole life transformation.  It was about learning the ways of a God who wants humanity to flourish.  So I turned my attention to aiding others to flourish in their lives.  

I also feel pretty lucky to work with the people that I serve.  They have showered me with gratitude, love, and care.  Gerald May, a renowned psychiatrist, once said that we need to learn the art of giving and receiving in our professions; that we can be deeply gifted by those we serve.  Without a doubt, I feel like I receive a lot from the work community.