When I was in professional ministry, I used to envy those who weren't. I would publicly declare to the congregation that graciously listened to my sermons that they are in a better position to live God's dream and represent God's culture as normal, everyday people that I can as a professional minister. I would tell them that they were encountering people every day outside of the church's four walls that needed the love of God that they could represent. The people they daily encounter in their unique frames of reference would probably never hear one of my sermons. I believed that true followers of Jesus not only would let their lights shine, but would actually want their lights to shine. Professing Christians could actually do not only what I preached to do, but what I myself dreamed of doing.
Over the years, I discovered that most American Christians would rather come to the church to fulfill their obligation as "disciples" rather than to reach their unique worlds. The excitement and anticipation of being among the great unwashed seemed to elude the weekly pew-sitter. They didn't seem to grasp that they possessed the kind of evangelistic opportunities that professional ministers miss out on. They might hear the knocks that opporutunity was making on their door but they refused to open it and let it in.
As a minister, I sought ways to be "in the world" and outside of my institutional bubble but even when that occurred, it was hard to shake the label I wore as a minister. After all, I was doing what I should, right? I wanted to be a "regular" follower of Jesus who loved others because it reflected who I was, not what I did. I dreamed about what I thought all followers of Jesus dreamed about and that was to be in the world as salt and light, mixing among others who would only know me as a person, not a minister. I wanted to simply be Jesus' ambassador without the usual agenda to either get someone to my church or to "save" them. I wanted to do what Jesus said to do: Love God and love others, leaving the results to God.
While I certainly hoped that as a minister I was loving God and others, all too often as a paid professional I found myself trying to keep the institution that hired me solvent and hopefully inspired.
Was this what God had called me to 30 years ago? Or was my calling different than my profession? No one ever told me these two things might be different. I seized my calling and did with it what I was supposed to do with it: Get a ministerial education and then get a job in a church. I followed that conventional path for 25 years and during that time, I was always envying the non-professionals who had the best opportunity possible to be "missionaries".
I may finally be realizing that the calling I received from God in 1976 was perhaps to share the love of God to my world- whether in or out of the institutional church. After leaving professional ministry almost two years ago, I am now in the world being a "normal" follower of Jesus. I get to wake up everyday and wonder how I'll be able to love and influence others without a "sermon". How might the life of Jesus in me splash over on to the "others" that are uniquely in my life at any moment?
I make far less money and have less time for golf but I feel fulfilled like never before. I am living not just my dream, but possibly God's as well.