A story about a guy running from God
There’s a story in the Bible about a man named Jonah who runs from God. He was supposed to go to a place called Nineveh and preach to the people there because they were being punks. But Jonah hated the people in Nineveh, so he hopped on the first ship to Tarshish and got the heck out of Joppa.
Thinking he was in the clear, Jonah laid down to take a nap in the bow of the ship.
But lo’ and behold, the ship Jonah was on got caught in a terrible storm. People on board were freaking out, throwing stuff overboard, thinking that maybe something was cursed! But because Jonah was still asleep, they were like, “You’re the problem,” and threw him overboard (he told them to).
Immediately, the storm stopped.
And Jonah? Yeah, he was swallowed by a big fish. Jonah was stuck inside it for a few days praying to God before the fish finally spit him out.
During that time, Jonah learned that not all the people he hated were terrible people, so he went to Nineveh and shared the word the Lord had given him.
There are a few key takeaways from this story:
- Just because you hate a group of people doesn’t mean you should withhold God’s love from them.
- Running from what God tells you to do puts other people in danger.
- Being stuck in a whale probably sucks.
- This story is about you and me.
The story of Jonah is a story about us
How many times have you run from the thing you knew you were called to do? When was the last time you felt like you were supposed to do something, skipped over it, but found yourself presented with the same opportunity again?
The beautiful thing about these kinds of opportunities is that they demonstrate God’s restless pursuit of us. They’re usually really good things even though they’re sometimes dressed in robes of discomfort. But we often don’t grow unless we’re put in challenging, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar situations.
No one said “calling” was supposed to be easy.
The story about Jonah is the story about me
I once had a bad experience working at a church, so I decided that all churches were probably similar. My friends’ experiences at churches only confirmed that suspicion. I made the decision that most every single church was fundamentally flawed and I never wanted anything to do with it ever again.
I mean, I’m correct in that assessment, but that’s what makes the church so beautiful, right? It’s messy. It’s human but sacred, just like you and me. It just took me a little longer to see that than most people.
But my friends know the best way to get under my skin is to call me a pastor or even suggest that it’s what I should do with my life. Part of my discomfort and the challenge with such statements is informed by previous experiences. I also dislike the social stigma attached to pastors and churches.
I committed to repeating a mantra: I will never work in a church. By doing so, I ruled out stepping into any type of pastoral role.
Coffee has been my ship caught in the storm
Four and half years ago I left any resemblance of full-time ministry and stepped into the world of coffee. It was exciting, it was new, it was different, and it actually paid me real money. Honestly, I was content, but I knew I was running away from pain, from grief, from all the bad memories and exhaustion.
I let my discontent, my frustration, and my previous experiences poison any thought of returning to ministry. I harbored bitter and negative emotions toward Christianity and the church, corrupting not only the beauty embedded in my history, but any ability at effectively demonstrating the wonder of the gospel to those around me.
Seminary has been one big fish
Three years ago I started seminary because I wanted to become a professor in order to teach church leaders how not to be douchebags. Turns out: I was the douchebag (I know some of you are offended by my choice in language, but… meh).
Roughly nine months ago, I made the decision not to pursue a PhD program and become said professor, which is probably the healthy choice considering my motivations, but it left me wondering what comes next. I wrote about those things here and here.
Again, my friends in class quickly realized the best way to get under my skin: tease me about becoming a pastor. My response throughout the entirety of seminary to “what are you going to do when you graduate?” has been: “not be a pastor; not work in a church.”
But it turns out that seminary is like one giant fish that swallows you up, drives you to repentance, helps you deal with your stupid shit, and spits you out onto dry land to do the thing you were supposed to do all along.
Doing the thing I might be called to do
This past fall, a professor invited me to substitute teach his Sunday School class while he was out of town. He had done so much for me over the last three years, I obliged his request. I hadn’t been to a church for almost a year and the experience was surprisingly refreshing. I returned to teach a second time a few weeks later and thought nothing of it.
It turns out, folks at that church actually liked me. Fast-forward to present day and they offered me an opportunity to come join them in as a pastoral resident.
Guess what my initial thought was? Yeah, that’s right: hell-frickin’ no. I didn’t want to work at a church. I sure as hell didn’t want to be a pastor. But it turns out over the last three years, sitting inside this big fish, I’ve grown a little soft.
So I did what any sane person would do: I emailed Mike Paschall.
I explained to him my dilemma, the way the church pursued me, the way folks there were encouraging me, and the reality of my angst about stepping into church world again. And you know what Mike said in reply?
“YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO DISQUALIFY YOURSELF FROM THE THING YOU MIGHT BE CALLED TO DO.”
And with that kick in the pants, I accepted the position.
Josiah Gilbert Holland says, “There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, withers rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.”
I love that quote. Ten years ago if I had accepted a position like this, I would wither and die. I wouldn’t have been ready. Five years ago? Same thing… because I was increasingly agitated with the church. Three years? Still the same because I was full-fledged over it all. But today? I think I’m ready.
I’m grateful for God’s endless, relentless, and seemingly graceful pursuit of me. He’s after my heart, He’s after His kids, and He’s after the best for His church.
So, I am now the Pastoral Resident for Young Adults at First Baptist Church in Decatur, GA!
Can you believe it? Matt, back in a church, with a “pastoral” job title — I’ve come a long way. The post is for one year with more opportunities tucked away within it. We’ll see what unfolds.
I just know that I’m excited to start this new journey, and even more, I’m excited to start it with you all.