Purpose vs Part-time
The other day, I was talking to a friend about ministry and they said “now that you’ve dipped your toes in the water…” Meaning … into ministry.
You ever been in a conversation and as soon as something is said, you can’t even hear anything else? And the last words kinda echo in your mind? “Now that you’ve dipped your toes in the water” … you mean… of ministry? You mean me? Joel? Toes in? Oh naw… you must be thinking about someone else.
I definitely had to set that straight in the conversation, but not because I wanted credit for more. I think that would be prideful. But… I had to set that straight because it’s the biggest part of my life. If I’m being TRULY honest, ministry is my whole life. I’m all in. But, what I realized in a moment like that, is that my full immersion into one-on-one, real shit, daily ministry… that doesn’t ever stop… that doesn’t have a set schedule … that doesn’t have a 501c3 or a paycheck… that walks with people DAILY… isn’t just dipping my toe in. Imagine if someone said to Jesus “now that you’ve done a few miracles” you should focus on your ministry plan. Or, “hey Jesus, I know that all you talk about is a way back to Your Father but, have you filed for your 501c3? I mean. What are the metrics around how many lives You’ve saved? Can we put a running total up of how many people have committed their lives to… um… You… in quarter 1 of the last calendar year?”
Hell naw I’m not comparing myself to Jesus… BUT… what we’ve made “count as ministry” is kinda bullshit. Not kinda… it’s 100% bullshit.
I know that you’ve gotta do certain things to procure support from people. I get it. I mean… I had a friend… a real friend, tell me one day that she couldn’t really support me until I had a 501c3 because she needs the tax write off. That’s why I’ve been clear that, at this stage… what I’m doing and the way people support, is directly supporting ME. Yes, I have plenty expenses for Share. The Ministry. But I absorb those and I use the support money to literally keep the lights on and put food on the table. We are SO far off from there being even a dollar over monthly bills. And I’ve got no doubt that I’ll have all the appropriate paperwork filed if/when the time comes that there is “surplus”. To put that in immediate perspective… I only collect enough monthly subs on the newsletter to get an order of groceries one week out of the month.
But I’m off topic.
I do full time ministry. And I have been doing full time ministry since the week I was called into ministry when I was on my 2nd mission trip. I want to tell you what my calling looked like and… while researching for this piece, I just discovered something that brought me to my knees.
October 27th, 2018. We left Chicago around 6am and headed to San Salvador, El Salvador.
This was my second mission trip. First time I was honored to lead one. This trip was a life changer. I thought the first mission trip changed my life, but this trip would be the trip where my roots took hold in a different way.
God… what a cool vision you gave me to share. Imagine a tree for a second. A tree has roots from the second it sprouts from a seed. That seed stays hidden underground until it is able to break through the ground and it becomes a sapling. The tree grows and grows and survives the elements until it’s an adult tree. God designed a tree to bend to the force of the wind in its early stages. It becomes rigid enough withstand the wind BY enduring the wind (listen… that’s a whole sermon right there but imma spare y’all). The tree grows and the roots go deeper and deeper until there is a point… where the roots have gone so deep that fewer and fewer wind gusts have the ability to uproot it. Even though it’s become more rigid, it’s roots have made it to withstand.
My second trip to El Salvador was the trip where my faith crossed the threshold to withstand. My calling only came from the seed that was planted, nurtured, weathered and worn.
Prior to the trip, I got an email… I was in Lake Tahoe with my daughter and her family. Matter of fact, my 40th birthday was celebrated on that trip. Before we went out to explore one day, I opened my laptop and had received an email from the coordinators at Enlace of our trip. “Is there anyone in your group that would like to give a word at church that first Sunday when you arrive?”
I audibly said “oh no” and I closed my laptop. That could have been the end of the story BUT Hannah’s Uncle, Brian, heard me… and he curiously asked “what’s up? What just happened?” And I had to tell him what the question was. He got SO excited FOR me. Lol. I hadn’t fully even decided if I wanted to do it and, In Only God fashion, he and I went back and forth for about an hour about teaching the word and different styles of messaging and delivery… my “oh no”, which was pure fear, because I knew in that moment that God was telling me that I had to preach… and I had never preached anything.. ever. But, by the end of this conversation with Brian I knew what I had to do.
We arrived in El Salvador and I had written my first message. Sunday, I taught my first message on a small stage at a small church in the hills of El Salvador that had to be translated sentence by sentence into Spanish. Speaking with a translator interpreting it can be nerve wracking but somehow, the Holy Spirit, the ultimate translator allowed me to teach a message as if I spoke Spanish fluently. There were moments where I even corrected the translator that were hilarious. And we undulated between English and Spanish and it was beautiful. And mind you… I’m not talking about it being beautiful because “a good word” came out or the fact that people enjoyed it and told me that it was beautiful… I barely remember what happened and I have the sermon written and saved so I know what was said, but the feeling that I FELT was beautiful.
People started calling me ‘pastor’ that day. You know… I had never thought of that? I never thought past delivering that one message.
All I cared about was listening to what God was giving me and not messing it up. Lol. I just didn’t want to get in the way of WHATEVER He had to say that day. So when people started calling me pastor… I was like “oh… ok”. I mean… I came out here to work, so let’s work. And we worked. Harder than we’ve ever worked before in our lives and we shared community, both with the team that went out there and the community of Salvadorans. Everyone kept calling me pastor. And every time it happened I’d be like “aw… naw…” and I’d shrug it off. And I kept workin.
Normally we do a trip ‘wrap up meeting’ on that Friday after a week of work but we stayed out late exploring… so our final meeting was Saturday. November 3rd, 2018.
I hope that some of you are wondering how a calling is delivered. Does God part the sky and sun rays shoot down and there’s a harp and a deep voice in the sky?
Our trip leader Franco asked us 3 questions and we were to answer them in a random order.
What was an experience that you had that was profound while you were here? Who will you continue to pray for when you go back home? What’s the thing you are taking back with you?
I wrote mine down in my journal because I didn’t want to forget the first thought I had when I heard each question. I quickly jotted the answered down and closed my notebook. Also, I wanted to be tuned in to hear what others were saying. Person 1, 2, 3, and 4…. All go. Then someone calls on me.
“My experience that was my highlight was when I prayed for Inez and she said that when I held her hand, it felt like electricity and water were flowing from me and into her. What she doesn’t know is my mom always referenced the Holy Spirit being like “living water” and I knew that experience was blessed.”
“I’m definitely praying for Pastor Jose and his wife Mari. The work they do to lead a church with, not only restricted resources but geographically they sit on the crest of a volcano lake, so their community has a hard time even GETTING to church. Yet they stay motivated and dedicated to this mission. I’ll be praying for them.”
The thing I’m taking back with me is…. And I looked down on my page and I had written, in all caps: “I AM A PASTOR”
This is the page that I tore out of my journal and framed from that day. I think what’s also cool is that right below the “I AM A PASTOR” I answer the question “for who?”
→ The Thankful and Blessed AND the Depressed and Lonely
I don’t remember writing. When I read it out loud, I broke down crying. As if I just made, the most important admission of my life… as if, in an instant, I finally felt worthy… as if, every single thing I’d ever been through made sense, in that moment. I was emotional and then I started noticing that almost everyone in that circle was crying too. And nodding. And in agreement.
I had dipped my toes in ministry until THAT moment on November 3rd, 2018.
The next 2 years of my life… I tried to figure out how to go deeper and deeper into the calling that I had. I didn’t know how to navigate my calling so I continued to do what I knew. I applied to work at my church a couple times and I didn’t get those jobs but I kept volunteering there. I think I volunteered so much that they were like “fine Joel, here’s a job”. Haha! Nah but for real… I got my IN because I was always around and then a need arose and I was available (another sermon). And I started workin nights. Stacking chairs and moving tables and setting up rooms. Then I was around and available and got asked to do Kids camp… so I did camp in the morning, went home and changed and came back and closed the church every night. And then a full time job opened up and, duh, I work 65 hours a week, I’d love to work 45/50 … more physical labor stuff? I know I’m in a place of ministry so… I’m just trying to walk this calling thing out and into fruition. Benefits? Let’s go!
That last 3/4 months of 2019 was when I got hurt at work. It was determined that surgery was necessary for my left knee… but then COVID.
We worked remote for months which kinda bought me some time with my body because the things I couldn’t physically do anymore weren’t required of me. As the world pivoted, I got a chance to do so many other things that I’ve been equipped to do in ministry. What I noticed was that I had work to do for my church job but then I was also beginning to walk with people side by side through the pandemic. The pressure was making people buckle and my spiritual gifts were there to point me towards people personally.
SHAREing. SHAREapy. Teaching people to SHARE their blessings and the bruises to connect with love and empathy.
I told my executive pastors that there was this ministry that I HAD to do. It’s called SHARE.
The day that I told my manager and my senior leadership that I would have to pursue this calling, everything changed. I told them that after my surgery and rehab, and once I was physically healed, I would give my notice… because I had to start SHARE. That same day, while we were on a work retreat, I got a call from the surgeons office to schedule my surgery. 8 days later.
November 3rd, 2020, I had that surgery on my left knee.
I haven’t physically walked since November 3rd, 2020.
I’ve walked with HUNDREDS of people PERSONALLY since November 3rd. God has allowed me to fight suicide in peoples story. He’s allowed me to fight depression in people’s story. I’ve casually and intensely and unknowingly pastored people in this season.
I ain’t gotta 501c3. I ain’t got a board of directors. I ain’t got a ministry plan. I know all of those things are important but I do ministry full time, all the time, and for all time. It's my purpose.
By November 3rd of this year… I expect that God will provide this 3.5 year old ministry another touchstone for us to celebrate and commemorate as a Holy moment. Yeah… I just called the surgery that crippled me a Holy moment… you know why?!
Because, as awful as this season is. As freakin broke I am. As miserable as some days can be…. I haven’t left my couch since 8:30am, I woke up and I peed and I laid on my couch to watch church and finish this piece and physically haven’t been able to get up since (it’s 2:20pm). But a HOLY moment happened on November 3rd when I went from injured to disabled… I went from physically walking to spiritually walking.
So, you want to know what it means to find your purpose? Stop expecting the expected. Start opening your heart and your mind for God to use each part of your story to write His masterpiece. Stop expecting it to go YOUR way and ask that He points you towards His. Finally, reflect often. Look back on your story and how it’s twisted and turned and pay attention to where you had points or moment in your life that you can reminisce on where you never could have imagined so much joy coming from so much pain. Pay attention to dates and milestones that you’ve already overcome. See how good God’s already been and set your expectations there.
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