Many, many moons ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up. I still don’t. There was a time that I wanted to be a doctor. I began a pre-med route my first year in college. While I was stuck in afternoon labs – breaking beakers or dissecting creatures – my friends were going to Lake Degray to enjoy themselves. I remember looking wistfully out of the second floor lab window in Moses-Provine Science building, wondering why in the heck I was in lab prison. The next year, I changed my major to communications and joined my friends at the lake in the afternoons.
I embraced writing and journalism, serving on the yearbook staff during college, as well as contributing to the newspaper as a weekly humor columnist. Yes, I’ve been funny for a long time, I tell my kids. It was during that second year at college that the school dropped a wad of cash on purchasing a slew of Macintosh Plus computers for the yearbook and newspaper offices. We were given the goal of producing a “camera-ready” yearbook by doing all our graphic design and layout on the computer. Such technology! That began my love affair with graphic design. Such was the love for it (and I discovered I had a flair as well) that during my junior year, my best friend and I launched a graphic design and advertising company – out of our dorm.
AdVantage Advertising, as we called it, soon grew to the point we purchased our own Mac Pluses, rented office space in downtown Arkadelphia, and proceeded to radically love this new vocational pursuit. But I never saw myself as a graphic designer. It wasn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was something I loved.
Interestingly enough, during all of my college years, I was serving in churches in one role or another. The summer after my freshman year, I served our church in Little Rock, Arkansas as a youth leader and worked at a children’s home. During my sophomore summer, I served as youth minister at a church in Crossett, Arkansas. Then, during my junior and senior years, I worked on staff at a local church as Assistant to the Pastor (one job was transcribing a long sermon series from… cassette tapes. Yep. – Play. Type. Rewind. Play. Repeat). I also served as a youth minister in that church for almost two years.
I graduated college, stayed in Arkadelphia, working at AdVantage. I resigned as youth minister, went to another local church (to not be a hindrance to the next youth minister by staying in the same church) and found myself teaching the college Sunday School class. It was that following winter that I began to process with my newish girlfriend, now wife the possibility of a vocation in ministry. I had never thought about it – even though I’d been serving in ministry for almost four years at that point in various capacities.
Everyone I received counsel from summarized their thoughts pretty much like this: Are you kidding? Of course, you should consider ministry. It’s who you are. It was news to me. So I did what the religious tribe I was part of (Southern Baptist) recommended. I went to seminary. When asked what I was going for, I would respond, to receive training. I had no idea what specific role God was calling me to fulfill, only that He was calling. My reasoning was a lot like Isaiah’s when he said, “Here am I. Send me.” I figured God made me and had the right and authority to assign me anywhere.
It was a little confusing at times because I had friends who had majored in ministry areas in college and had expressed vocational certainties such as “I’m called to be a preacher” early on. Me? Even with the redirection into a spiritual vocation, I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Fast forward many years. Since leaving Arkansas to enter ministry, I’ve been a youth minister, a youth intern, a young adult minister, a college minister and a church planter/pastor. For the past seven years, I’ve been the pastor of Northstar Church in Blacksburg, Virginia. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. If God were to redirect me tomorrow into politics, I’d do it. Bookstore/coffee shop manager/owner? I’d do that. Graphic designer? I’d do that. Overseas as a missionary? I’d do that. Of course, I’d submit all these to my family and to wise counsel, but if I was certain, I’d do that.
One thing that happened along the way that I didn’t ever seek but now I am described as – I became a leader. It’s strange. I tended to gravitate toward leadership or be pulled toward leadership. One simple way to know you’re a leader, I was once told, is to look behind you and see if anyone is following. If not, you’re not a leader. If so, be humble and be a good steward, because you’ve been given a precious gift of influence.
I did that at one point. I looked behind me and saw that there were teenagers following me when I was a youth minister. College students (and several adults) as a campus minister. And then… all kinds of folks as a pastor. Very humbling. Very strange. To be a leader. I also never thought, “I want to be a leader when I grow up.”
It just kind of… happened.
When God called Moses in Exodus 4 to lead, Moses resisted and tried to point out his inabilities. He figured that he wasn’t good enough. God wasn’t too pleased about Moses’ excuses. Essentially, God responded, “It’s not your ability, Moses. It’s mine. Now hush and lead.” God provided Moses with some help in his brother Aaron, and the rest is history.
I feel a little like Moses on most days. It’s as if God showed up and said, “Surprise! You’re a leader!” I don’t think I’m embracing a false humility when I say I don’t aspire to be a leader. I will lead because that’s the role and stewardship I’ve been given. And since I’m apparently lead-ing, I want to lead well – with grace and joy and diligence.
Leadership is a profound reality. Sometimes it’s given – by another in authority or by people whom you lead. I’ve been so encouraged in many roles to receive the privilege of being a leader, given to me by those I led. Sometimes leadership is earned. Due to experience, wisdom and other factors, leadership becomes a result of faithful performance.
I’m deeply grateful for this season to be a leader. It’s not my title. It’s a privilege. Maybe when I grow up, I’ll understand how I got here. In the meantime, I’ll also keep following.