I was taught in seminary that the most virtuous thing you can do for your whole life is to serve the church with an undivided heart. “The church needs you!” my classmates and I were told over and over again.
Sometimes our instructions included more details like this: “Take care of the church like nothing else matters. Live in the community where you serve, join every local board you can, and know your neighbors. Those who give their whole life to the church will not be disappointed.”
And I tried. I really tried to become the best local church pastor I could be. I attended neighborhood meetings. I sat at the bed of the sick. I climbed into the pulpit week after week. And for a while it was my calling.
I wanted to fit into the one-size fits all church box forever. I wanted to come back to my 30-year Duke Divinity School reunion and tell stories about the pastoral life just like I’d heard out of my beloved professor, Dr. William Quick.
But after six years in full-time church ministry I found that I could not– even as much as my heart really wanted to. My time was up.
Walking away from what I once felt was my dream job (as a solo pastor in the Baptist tradition) last Christmas became one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make.
I heard recently that when newcomers ask the church I formerly pastored why I left they say that “She become a writer.” While I’m flattered with being identified as a writer (and I love writing), this is not quite it.
Furthermore, the change had nothing to do with the lack of joy in little congregation as they were great people. Nor was it all about my husband’s job in another state. Or even about the grant I received from the Louisville Institute to write a book, though these reasons seemed like legitimate ones on the surface.
No, I left local church ministry last year because I was finally ready to say yes to a calling. I was ready to be a nobody (if that is what folks thought of me) in order to be the somebody that I really am.
Right now, I am following that calling (though the “what do you do?” questions at parties now are harder to answer).
In the world from which I came both as a child of a pastor and also of a local church pastor making seminary– to leave the church for something else felt to me like treason.
But in the past several years, I come to believe that being a whole person is much more important than a respectable career even if you have to feel like an outcast upon leaving. I took some cues from Barbara Brown Taylor here.
And for me to be a whole person, this is what I know:
I am not made for a job or type of job that lasts me my entire career.
I am not made to immerse myself into a particular local church community for a long time.
I am not made to just do one thing all the time or even just one thing at once.
I am not made for denominational life or ministry that values institution building over freedom of the Spirit.
Yet, with all of this said, I am made however for bolts of energy into new projects that need a leader.
I am made for community building with the global church.
I am made to multi-task my way through a variety of vocational pursuits that often on the surface seem like they have nothing to do with each other, but actually do!
I am made to speak the truth about systems that are broken.
And in all of this, I still feel ordained. I’ve not stopped being Rev. Hagan. I still feel like I’m in ministry.
I’m a writer sometimes.
I find myself in pastoral care conversation sometimes.
I’m a preacher sometimes.
I’m a strategist for creating community both in person and online sometimes.
I’m an administrator sometimes.
I do the laundry all the time. And I make dinner most of the time.
I’m thankful for the chance to do all of this “outside the church” but never too far from its larger mission.
And it fits. It really fits. The restless whispers of my heart have stopped yelling at me. I’m finally at home.
I feel settled even as pace of our current travels and activities make my family’s head spin when I inform them what I’m up to.
In this non-traditional life, I am happy. Truly I am.
I love supporting the communications department of Feed The Children. I love writing in a variety of different venues. I love having quality time for friends. I love traveling alongside my husband. I love preaching in settings (like next week in Hawaii!) that a local church schedule would normally not allow. I love that I have the freedom to find God both in and outside the church walls on Sunday morning– depending on the week.
Lesson learned: when the whispers come, listen. I’m so glad I did. I hope I have the courage listen sooner next time. It’s ok to be different. Actually it is really wonderful even if some of my friends in the church don’t understand.