by Brian Hayes, Staff Writer

Since high school, I have considered myself called to ministry. In the meantime, I have been working to discern what that call means and how manifests itself in my life. Beginning in the early days of this calling, I imagined that it meant I would one day become the pastor of a church. Through my undergraduate program in religious studies, divinity school, and my various ministry experiences, I have always thought of myself as preparing for congregational ministry, specifically the role of pastor. However, at this time in my life journey as I near graduation, I do not feel myself being led to that role after all. In fact, I’m not really sure where I’m being led. Third year confession time: I have no idea what I’m doing.

As graduation quickly approaches, I have been worried, anxious, and even panicked at times. I am trying desperately to sort through the confusing chaos that includes what I have imagined myself doing, what others are expecting me to do, and what I truly desire to do. Figuring out this last (and most important) piece has seemed nearly impossible in light of my preconceived plans and my perception of people’s expectations of me. I know in my mind that what really matters in the decision about my next step is what gives me life and what energizes me. While I know that in my mind, I do not always truly know it in the marrow of my bones.

Moving away from the career direction I always thought I was going towards has brought up several challenging questions for me, such as: Am I failing God by not seeking to become a pastor? Is wanting to pursue another career being unfaithful to God’s calling? Why would I experience God’s call to something only to have it completely change? Has God abandoned me or given up on me? Have I abandoned or given up on God? At times, these considerations have crippled me and led me to question my self-worth. But now (most of the time), these deep and difficult questions are leading me to some truth that I am constantly trying to embrace: that ministry is more about being than doing.

For me, this primarily means that ministry is not about me working in a particular job. Even if my career after graduation is not in a church or is not even in what one might term vocational ministry, I know that I will always be a minister of the gospel. Ministry is a mindset. Ministry is a way of life. Ministry is an identity. I am confident that whatever I do will be ministry simply because of who I am and how God has shaped me.

While my spiritual leadership in the world may look differently than I expected, it is no less a reality simply because I am not planning to work in a church. My preparation over these many years is not in vain and has not led me away from ministry. They have led me to ministry, just like I hoped they would all along. They have helped me become a minister and have led me to a new way of being.

In this light, I propose that in the midst of our academic whirlwind of readings and papers, it is much more important for us to reflect on who we are than what we do (and will do). I have tended to distort this priority recently in my fear about what lies ahead. It is all too easy to become so focused on what we are doing as leaders in internships and what we will do in future jobs that we forget to be who we are and to be fully ourselves. So while I may graduate with a Master of Divinity without a clear career path laid out for the future, my goal is to know who I am and to understand myself as a minister in whatever context I find myself. Wherever you are on this journey, I invite you to join me in this most critical self work.


“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
— William Shakespeare in Hamlet (Polonius)