I sat at my computer and stared at the screen for what seemed like hours. I read the e-mail over and over again, hoping that the contents of the message had miraculously changed. There had to be some kind of mistake. Perhaps the message had been meant for someone else and was inadvertently sent to me. I wiped a tear from my eye and looked upward, this could not be happening again. But there it was; the third rejection of the day. I sighed and saved the e-mail to a folder where I had been keeping such messages for the last three years. I looked at the number of saved items and shook my head; there were fifty-eight in all. I felt my heart sink as that thought settled in, fifty-eight church vacancies and fifty-eight rejections in just three years. I sat there for the next half hour in total silence, wondering what had gone wrong.
My pain and confusion slowly turned to anger as I began to read some of the messages I had received. The majority of them were short and to the point. The church had decided that I was not the right person for the job. Some of them described the process that had been used and explained that there were candidates who were better qualified. Most of them wished me luck as I continued my search. However, nearly one-third of the churches I contacted never acknowledged my inquiry. I silently asked God how He could allow something like this to happen to me. I thought I had been following His call. I thought that I had been seeking His will for my life. I closed my eyes and decided that I was through with ministry.
I was furious at God and His people. I had packed my family up and moved them four years earlier so that I could go back to Bible College and complete my degree. My wife had given up a good job and my children had left an excellent school system so that I could serve God. I had served two small churches while I was a student and I loved it. I knew in my heart that I was doing exactly what God had created me for. I was encouraged by many of the people around me and I really believed that I was being prepared for full time ministry behind a pulpit. It was not until the last three months of my senior year that I began to feel things start to unravel.
I had been serving a rural church as the interim minister while I awaited graduation. I thought that I had a really good relationship with the congregation and I felt that I had the complete support of the elders. They wanted to vote on me as the minister once I was about to graduate. I agreed and continued to prepare for what I thought would be my first full time ministry. The vote came in January of 2008 and I lost by a very small margin. The elders seemed truly disturbed by the outcome but wished me well and I left.
I spent the next several days contemplating my future. At one point I was ready to drop out of school with less than a semester to go. I felt that there was no need to carry on. I was angry at myself for misreading the situation so badly and I was mad at God for letting it happen. I had been absolutely sure that I was serving in the church that God wanted me in. I had known that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to be doing. How could I have been so wrong? My wife and a couple of really close friends convinced me that it was in my best interest to finish school and look for another opportunity. I began to send out resumes. I also began to fill that e-mail folder with rejections.
I did receive one offer to travel out of state and work with an organization as they attempted to plant a new church. Once again, I packed up my wife and children and moved over one thousand miles away as I sought to follow God’s call. We were only involved for about seven months when it became apparent to me that I was not the person for that particular job. I resigned and we began the process of moving back home. I was even more confused and angry than I had been when I graduated from school. I began to question my abilities. I began to question God. How could He continue to do this to me? I had given Him four years of my life and I honestly expected Him to provide a place where my family and I could minister. After all, that is what I had gone back to school to do. That is what He had called me to do, right? I continued to send out resumes and continued to collect rejections. Deep in my heart, I decided that I was through following God around.
I found myself unemployed and homeless. We moved into my mother’s house briefly and then moved in with my father. Depression set in as I sat around and contemplated my situation. I was a Bible College graduate and an ordained minister, but I could not find a church that wanted to hire me. I found myself back at my home congregation, doing the same things I had done before I went off to school. I felt like a failure. I felt as if everyone in the church looked at me as a loser. They had sent me off and helped support me while I was gone and I had come back, a total failure. I spent nearly a year looking for a job to support my family and as time went on I became less and less interested in doing what God wanted for me. I resigned myself to the fact that I was a total washout as a minister and that I would spend the rest of my life working at whatever job I could find. That is where I was the morning I received those three rejections at once. And that is also when something amazing happened.
A good friend offered me a job managing a resale store that was operated by Habitat for Humanity. He told me that the job did not pay much and that there were no benefits of any kind, but the organization was incredible. Desperate for money, I took the job. I quickly realized that it was no ordinary store manager position. I began to see the same people come in and out of the store on a weekly basis. Many of them live on fixed incomes and struggle just to make ends meet. The store meets some of their physical needs and they depend on it. I also noticed that a good number of them seemed to be lonely or hurting. I found myself spending just as much time talking to them and getting to know them than I did selling things to them. Incredibly, I found myself sharing my faith with them as I sat and listened to their stories. Often times I just listened silently, as they described the difficulties that face them on a daily basis. That is when I began to realize that God was using me as minister right where I was. I did not need to stand behind a pulpit on Sunday mornings to make a difference in people’s lives. I did not need to spend twenty hours a week preparing a sermon in order to share God’s word with those who need to hear it. I learned that God is going to use me wherever I am, as long as I am willing to be used.
Four months have passed and I am still at the store. I go to work every morning and remind myself that I am a minister of God’s word and that He will use me. I think about Jesus’ words to the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Both were judged based upon the way they treated people in dire circumstances. I am given a choice to be a sheep or a goat every day of my life. Admittedly, I am not serving in the capacity that I expected when I went off to Bible College. I had a rather difficult time accepting that at first, but God has been patient with me and has allowed me to grow closer to Him through this process. He has allowed me to see that my place in this world is wherever I find myself and I believe that is true for all of us. God wants to use each and every one of us and He will do so if we just let Him.