This article was first published in Neue Quarterly, Vol. 4, Summer 2009.
Remembering Why You Said Yes
by Chuck Warnock
The phone rang at 3 A. M. one Saturday morning. “Pauline is dying,” her niece said, “Can you come?” I dressed quickly, told my wife I didn’t know when I would return, and headed out the door. I drove to the nursing home ten miles away where the oldest member of our congregation lay dying. At 105, Pauline had outlived her husband, her nearest relatives, her friends, and her neighbors. Now her time had come, too. I was Pauline’s pastor. It was my duty to be there with her as she crossed from this life into the next. But I knew it was more than just my job, it was my calling.
If you are a pastor, you probably have had a similar experience. In a time of crisis, you know why you go. You represent God’s presence, God’s comfort, and God’s grace to those passing through their own dark night of the soul. Sitting in a hospital with anxious parents whose child is in surgery; or, standing with a widow as she identifies the body of her husband, you know you make a difference. In those times it is not difficult to remember why we said “Yes” to God’s call to pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, there are other times in a pastor’s life when the clarity of our call fades, discouragement clouds our memory, and we wonder “why did I ever want to be a pastor?”
I experienced a period of doubt and discouragement in 1990, and I forgot why I had become a pastor. And when I forgot why I had become a pastor, the next question I asked myself was, “Why don’t you quit?” And I did. I resigned the church I started and left pastoral ministry. I thought I had nothing more to say. I thought my years of ministry hadn’t made a difference. I was tired emotionally and spiritually, and I quit because I couldn’t remember why I had begun. Fortunately, my story doesn’t end there. In 2003, I stood in the pulpit for the first time in thirteen years. I had remembered again why I said “Yes.”
The Myths of Ministry
Looking back on my own struggle with God’s call, I realized that three “myths of ministry” contributed to my difficulty. This is not an exhaustive list, but these myths played a key role in my experience: