When You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

By

I think I made the wrong move. At least that’s how it feels.

A few weeks ago I resigned from my job as the teaching pastor at a church, a role I’ve held for the last two years. In the days immediately following the decision and announcement, I met with several people to explain my decision further. One meeting was particularly probing, a concerned acquaintance who was intense in his queries, almost investigative.

What will you do next?

Was your decision based on fear or fleeting emotions?

What was God telling you about your calling?

“I don’t know,” I answered, again and again. “I really don’t.”

Weeks later, I still don’t know. The best I can offer is a shrug and acknowledge that what’s done is done.

I’d love to wake up to a pillar of cloud or fire. I’d be happy to come across a burning bush. I’d appreciate a talking donkey, even a burro who could connect with my elementary Spanish skills. Instead, all I’ve had for months is a heightened level of anxiety and negative emotions that led me to make the decision that I did. And now it’s done.

To be candid, it’s exactly how I felt taking the job in the first place. Two years ago, I was approached about going back into ministry after a six-year absence, one I believed to be permanent. I’d certainly thought about jumping back into church work over the years, since I love teaching more than any other vocational responsibility I’ve ever had. It’s the place I’m most confident and comfortable. When you’re not doing the one thing you’re gifted to do more than anything else, there’s a nagging void that takes up space in your mind and heart.

So when the inquiry came about my potential interest and availability, I decided to look at the job description after some family discussion. That led to a prolonged interview process during which I even backed out, nervous about what I was getting into. During the process of answering the church’s questions about my calling, I made it quite clear that I wasn’t entirely sure I was up for this again. But they seemed nice. I missed teaching. I also felt well-rested from previous ministry experiences.

Am I called to vocational ministry or am I addicted to the validation that comes with it? Did God place me within a community of people to teach or did I figure out how to scratch an itch? Should I have stayed obediently to learn a hard lesson or did I make the right call by walking away?

Matt Conner

The best I could offer was “let’s give this a try.”

Two years later, the friction became too much. Working in a church, or any public sphere for that matter, is going to require thicker skin than what I’ve developed. Over time, my ability to handle expectations as a spiritual leader, criticism as a public speaker, and demands as someone helping to run an organization all eroded. I began to hide on Sunday mornings to avoid crowds. I dreaded leaving my house for an event I knew would be entertaining and filled with people I legitimately love and appreciate. The same fears, emotions, and anxiety that caused me to resign from my last ministry position slowly crept back until they occupied my mind at all hours.

So I quit.

The reality is I haven’t seen a pillar in several years. I haven’t felt called to anything in a very, very long time, and even then I look back and wonder whether it was the emotions of the moment or religious jargon I learned to employ. Am I called to vocational ministry or am I addicted to the validation that comes with it? Did God place me within a community of people to teach or did I figure out how to scratch an itch? Should I have stayed obediently to learn a hard lesson or did I make the right call by walking away?

I cannot tell the difference. I wish I could. I’d love to feel connected to any sort of symbol to which I could apply meaning. I’d love for my heightened senses to see or hear something unexplainable. I’d love to discern some internal compass that points undeniably toward its own magnetic north. Instead I’ve been wandering in a professional wilderness for the last decade or more, uncertain of when and where to settle or keep walking.

The best I know to do these days is to simply lean in where I sense energy, toward the creative tasks that currently excite me, while remaining open to the places and people God may use to shape and mold me. Maybe I will teach again someday. I love it and know I will miss it. I also know that I’ve been a shadow of my best self for quite some time, without any real plan to claim it again.

Maybe someday I will tie a nice bow around all of this and even teach some lesson learned about the beauty of not knowing. For now it’s a daily discipline of leaning into the unknown.

Matt Conner is a former pastor and church planter turned writer and editor. He’s the founder of Analogue Media and lives in Indianapolis.


9 Comments

  1. S

    Wow. I cannot tell you how much this resonates with me at this exact time in my life. I’m trying to avoid the temptation of leaping simply for leaping’s sake. Action always *seems* wiser than inaction. It’s hard to sit still. Hard to wait on God’s leading. Or, thinking that God already told me what to do already and I missed it, or maybe I didn’t miss it at all. Maybe I’m avoiding it and being disobedient. So many murky, confusing thoughts. Glad to know I’m not alone.

  2. Rachel Maison

    I am going through something incredibly similar at the moment. My last day at my current job is tomorrow, and I am wrestling with all of these kinds of question.  Thank you so much for writing this!  It is so reassuring to know I am not the only one! I do know and trust that God is with us,  and will be loving the world through us, every step of the way, wherever we go and whatever we do.  <3

  3. Trinity Person

    As a member of Matt’s church, I will say that I read this with a heavy, yet joyful heart. Heavy because I love the stories he told, his biblical knowledge, how he resonated and connected with us week in and week out. But most of all I love his HONESTY. Oh Lord, his honesty. When we try so often to hide the fractured, broken messes of our lives, he poured out his at the altar with grace and humility few people I know could muster. Heavy because I do not know the future of our church of misfits. We are all seeking something deeper, yet this year has felt like a battle. Lines were drawn, people were lost. And we were weary. Matt was weary. I cannot blame him for stepping aside.

    But oh, I am joyful. I am joyful for Matt to stand in the truth. To be so self-aware to know when he can no longer be the one up front every Sunday. To know that this calling, at this time may not be the right space. I know how daunting it can be to want that pillar of fire, or the compass, or the talking donkey, even. For me, I have always wanted a BLINKING neon sign to illuminate my way. Because neon alone is not enough, it needs to be blinking so I know for sure that is the correct path. I am joyful that Matt will be relieved of some of the pressures. I pray that the shroud of anxiety is lifted from him.

  4. Jud

    Am I called to vocational ministry or am I addicted to the validation that comes with it? Did God place me within a community of people to teach or did I figure out how to scratch an itch? Should I have stayed obediently to learn a hard lesson or did I make the right call by walking away?

    Brutal questions, my friend, which apply similarly (though to a lesser degree) to volunteer ministry. I ask them of myself nearly every Sunday. Thanks for sharing your soul.

  5. Beverly

    Wow, stumbled on this one. Feels like tumbling out of the wardrobe right into the lamppost! Strange new place, but a light is on. Thank you for this. I am so going through a similar place and it is indeed, like others have said, so comforting and encouraging to know this is not an empty train except for me. Praying God’s light will give you the grace steps one at a time. Me too.

  6. Moriah

    I heard a wise man once say that it’s above our pay grade to ask God why- and a wise woman say, trying to demand of God understanding is like an ant trying to demand we teach it algebra. Then my Dad’s wonderful calvinism always leaves me feeling like I’m exactly where God wants me- I tend to agree that the deepest joy in God comes in knowing our lives and breath and experiences are a gift from a giver, not an earned salary from slogging through workaday existence. Then there’s the power of now philosophy- not looking to the past or the future, but being enamored with the feeling of summer sweat or fill-in-the-blank. My prayer for you and for all of us is that we find a deep, satiating joy in God’s spirit, and instead of striving towards fill-in-the-blank, we do what you have done, and “lean towards the energy”. I’m adopting that into my lexicon. Another wise Matt-ism.

  7. Leah

    Thanks so much, Matt. I hope you know how much this means to me. I wish there was some formula for how to deal with this. My life of the past two years was such an emotional roller coaster of trying to get over all of the time I’d wasted and mistakes I made in the past, and trying to rapidly plan for the future I was sure I wanted and was sure I had missed somewhere along the way. God made himself clear in the midst of my confusion (and it took a LOT of humbling) and He showed me somewhere totally new and amazing, and I am sure of where He is calling me, and that is a blessing. But even now I am still afraid of the past. Did I waste two years of my life? Where would I be now if _____ had been done differently?

    I am working through it, and every time I read something like this–something just letting me know that God takes other people on the type pf journey I am on–I am brought that much closer to full redemption. Thank you. It has been an encouragement to me this evening.

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