I FIRST FELT THE CALL AT A WEEK OF PRAYER SERVICE DURING MY SOPHOMORE year at Platte Valley Academy. From that point on—before I knew where I was headed for college or before I needed to shave every day—I began building my list of qualifications to be a youth pastor. Oh yes, I had a list.
Camp counselor: check. Literature evangelist: check. Learn to play a musical instrument: check. Tremendous grades in Bible class: check. Build vast collection of stylish neckties: check.
During freshman orientation at Union College in 2004 I immediately knew the answer to everybody’s most asked question:
“What’s your major?” “Theology,” I stated confidently, “with a minor in youth ministry.”
In college, of course, I continued to build my list. I volunteered to give Bible studies at a nursing home and gave my testimonial at vespers. During Introduction to Theology, I smiled—slightly smugly—as the professor handed out required reading: a book entitled Call Answering.
Well, I thought, I’m already doing that.
Only I wasn’t. Somewhere between my freshman and sophomore years, God revealed that I wasn’t supposed to be a pastor. As purposeful and motivated as I’d felt heading into my freshman year of college, I felt that much more lost and directionless entering my second. I remember walking into the career center and looking through the one-page descriptions of various degrees, which all seemed pointless and hollow compared to the one I’d left. After narrowing down my list, I settled on communications with a public relations emphasis, basically because it involved the smallest amount of math and science.
I walked out of the career center that day feeling as if I’d enjoy a competent but unfulfilling career. I was certain I’d never rediscover the calling I’d lost.
Oh, ye of little faith.
It all began before I even realized a change was coming. During second semester of my freshman year my partner for peer review in college writing class also happened to be a sports editor for Union’s student paper, the Clocktower. Through that connection I began writing for the sports section. The year after—my first in the uncalled zone—I became Clocktower sports editor.
A few weeks before the end of the year my boss asked if I would be willing to be head editor the following year. I clearly remember my initial reaction: There’s no way! In no manner did I consider myself a writer, much less an editor. I wrote about sports because I liked sports, and really, anybody with any college education could write a cohesive 300-word article.
But after taking some time to let the idea sink in, I decided to accept the call. One of my duties as editor was to write an editorial for each issue. As the year went on I found that most of my articles gravitated toward spiritual topics. By the start of second semester I’d developed a love for writing, a good portfolio, and, most important, a direction for my life. Armed with new confidence, I decided to apply for an internship with the Adventist Review. Nearly four years later I’m entering my fourth year as a columnist for the Review. In my other life I work in the Marketing Department at Adventist Health’s San Joaquin Community Hospital.
There are many twists and turns that I don’t have enough space to share. Still, the heart of my story shines through: My God, my Savior, pulled me out of a pit of hopelessness into a life I never once pursued or imagined possible. There was a time when I never thought I’d be able to have an impact unless I was called into ministry. Now I realize that despite not being called to pastoral ministry, God uses me to share His love through my writing and daily interactions.
Sometimes, despite our own list of qualifications, God calls us to something we feel woefully unqualified for. As for my list, I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to a one-line item: Let Him lead; even if I don’t know where He’s taking me.
Jimmy Phillips ([email protected]) writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is marketing and communication coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital. This article was published in the January 13, 2011, Advenitst Review.