Step Away From the Pulpit

Gradually, over the last few years, life had seemed to ebb out of me. Friendships felt distant. Sermons weren’t always inspiring. Energy-level dragged lower. Distraction was high.

There was a lot of duty, but not a lot of joy. Leaders at my church were pulling me aside to ask, “What exactly are you passionate about? We don’t see it or feel it.”

Their concern was certainly valid, but inwardly, I wrestled with that idea of passion. I was called by God to pastor, and that hadn’t changed. Isn’t the real issue about being faithful to my calling, whether there’s “passion” or not? Could a pursuit of passion just be avoiding the hard realities of ministry?

Defining calling

Like all good EFCA pastors, I went back to the Scriptures, where I re-learned that calling is first and foremost about Jesus’ command to “follow Me.” Following means living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. To do this, He gives all of His children gifts and talents to fulfill their unique part in His kingdom.

I considered: I love God and His Word. I love people. I love teaching. But does this mean that I am where I need to be, to make disciples? What do I dream about when I dream about “following Him”?

I decided to talk with my wife and a few friends whom the Lord has used in my life. I asked them to answer the “what is Tim passionate about” question.

Photo: Chris Corbet. Talking about daily life and its challenges is all part of the Bible study that Tim Isaacson hosts with boys from his neighborhood.

Without exception, they said I was most passionate when I was outside the walls of the church—working with kids and others in the community. I was full of energy and ideas when we talked about community development and taking the kingdom of God to others.

My calling hadn’t changed. The godly, appointed leaders were simply, lovingly asking me to think about where and to whom this calling is lived out.

Am I a pastor?

I’ve learned that calling is a life-long commitment to loving God and loving people with the grace He provides. It is not a calling to a specific role in an organization, although it might be a calling to serve and love a specific people. Not being in the right place costs many people dearly: you and your family, the people you are not with, and those you are with but not serving wholeheartedly.

When I put all of this together, I came up with an answer that brought clarity and joy: I am a pastor. I’m just not at my best inside the walls of the church.

Therefore, I need to step outside the walls and onto the street. I need to make disciples in the apartment complexes and houses of my immigrant and refugee neighborhood. I need to take on the giants of my particular part of the city.

The way forward

So I made the decision to step out of the pulpit. In the beginning I was filled with feelings of relief and freedom. Faith was high. I formed a team of people to help me in the transition. They urged me to take some time to reflect on the past 10 years of ministry and spend some time with the Lord.

Unexpectedly, the Lord didn’t launch me into ministry right away. Instead He had some heart-work to do. I never imagined that “follow Me” at this stage of life would mean going to the broken deserts in my own soul to proclaim the gospel there. It sounds romantic when I write it, but—honestly—it is gut-wrenching to live it.

The best news is that, while it’s been a trial, my marriage and parenting are getting better. Being at home, I have far more time with my two boys while my wife works at a job she loves, which she found right before all of this happened. Without this, the financial insecurity would have made the risk far too great.

While some of the next steps in my calling are unclear, I do know that I will be working with the most vulnerable and least-resourced people around me. I also have a group of junior-high boys from the apartments near us coming over to talk about life and faith, and trust is growing between us. While so much is still unclear, one thing is sure: I know what I am passionate about. I have great peace and expectation.

It was terrifying to step out of the boat and into the storm of the unknown. But as I listened to those who loved me, I heard Jesus’ voice, too, and knew what to do next to follow Him.

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