I have talked with quite a few pastors who from a very early age knew, with quite a lot of certainty, that they wanted to be pastors when they grew up. There are even more pastors who found that certainty by the time they were in high school or college. These pastors took all the right classes to ease their way into seminary; they sought out mentors to prepare them for a life of ministry; they recognized the calling God had placed in their hearts, and they answered it. Mine was a somewhat more circuitous route to ministry.
It is not that God was unclear about the calling He gave me; in fact, as I reflect on my life I know that he placed many large billboards along the way telling me where to go. It is simply that I saw those signs, and decided to continue going my own way. I knew that I loved God and wanted to serve Him through my work, I just did not think my gifts were a match for ministry. I heard the people in my church tell me to consider becoming a pastor, but they did not erase my fears about taking up a pastor’s responsibility to give spiritual guidance. I think deep down I knew what God was calling me to, but I was too afraid of failing to even try to answer it. So I convinced myself that God had another plan in mind for me, and that if I just went my own direction long enough, surely He would get around to confirming that. We all know how that worked out for me.
After a psychology degree, an aborted masters of Christian leadership, a year of working in education, and a few good arguments with God about letting me know what the future held, I found myself studying for my MDiv, and I was not quite sure how I had gotten there. Being the type A person that I am, I like to plan things, well in advance. I used to have five and ten year plans, with contingencies. Seminary had not been in any of those plans, so I would sometimes wonder where I had gone astray. But it was very clearly the Spirit working step by step to lead me to a place where I could embrace God’s calling. I worked other jobs, but was never entirely fulfilled. I served others, but found myself longing to do so in God’s name. I experienced the grace and the humility of various pastors and found a renewed hope in the work of the church. I struggled and triumphed and found a new confidence in myself. I looked to the future, but I also learned to live in the moment, a trait I might never have learned if I had seen the big picture right from the start.
When I first came to Calvin, I lamented the time I had spent fighting the call God had placed in my heart. I saw the time and money those wanderings had taken as a waste that could have been avoided if I had only been more faithful and more obedient. Today, however, I understand the necessity of that time in my life. God had called me to ministry, but He needed to equip me for that calling, and that involved me learning to trust in Him. God had always been a part of my life, but He had not been first in my life. It was not until I had wandered so far, lost and alone, that I truly realized how much I depended on His presence in my life. It was when I had no one else at hand to turn to that I learned to seek His company first. And it was when I saw only dead ends before me that I gave myself up fully to God’s love and guidance.
Kelli recently completed her M.Div. at Calvin Seminary. She is the Director of Discipleship at First Cutlerville CRC.