By Rev. Tiffany McDonald
Church leaders, but especially pastors, are often asked to share our call stories. I always struggle with what to share because the call is ever unfolding. I continue to hear God’s call, and yet it is different than when I first heard it as a high school senior. I am currently in a stage of discernment for what God is calling me to next.
When Something Shifts
The first time I went on family leave it was because both of my calls—mother and pastor—were logistically creating some issues. I knew it would be for a short period of time, and though I loved my church, I knew that focusing on the call of motherhood for a season was what was best for my family. Finding balance can be a challenge. For example, one colleague’s daughter asked her every morning, “Will you be home for supper tonight?”
Feeling like no one is getting your best self is heartbreaking.
The pandemic brought clarity to several of my colleagues. One investigated retirement options. Another found joy in the creative work of establishing an online ministry. For many female pastors I spoke with, more than those named in this article, the pandemic offered an opportunity to step away from the frenetic pace of ministry and to reimagine what successful ministry looks like.
For ELCA Pastor Scott Donnelly, living near the location of the murder of George Floyd provided defining moments. He spent a lot of time listening and realized that many people with important stories to tell needed skills in being able to share those stories publicly. He spent many months discerning his “evolution of calling.”
After several years on family leave, when I was mentally ready to return to active ministry but still had some of those logistical issues to consider, I sought spiritual direction. My spiritual director helped me imagine how I could re-enter ministry in a way that would work for my family. At the same time, I was part of “A Convocation of Christian Leaders through Leadership Education” at Duke Divinity School. Through my assigned readings and writings, along with my conversation partners, I was able to think about ministry from a place of abundance and not scarcity. I thought about my family’s needs. It was not just that my husband’s travel schedule was a challenge, but also that being a full-time solo pastor was certainly not my only option.
Melanie Homan, an ordained United Methodist, pursued help through counseling and a professional career counselor to explore other ways she could live out her calling. Homan states, “That work of discernment led me to the field of occupational therapy. The goal of occupational therapy is to support individuals in doing the activities of daily life that give them meaning. The work of ‘meaning making’ seemed like a beautiful intersection of the spiritual and the practical. I now consider myself bi-vocational.”
Pastor Scott Donnelly spent time with Ecclesiastes 3 as he prayed, spoke with colleagues and family, and listened to his gut. To step into his new calling, he had to leave his church, and then he opened his business, Poised to Speak. The mission of Poised to Speak is to help those who have been silenced to unmute their inner voice.
A sabbatical with intentional conversation partners helped ELCA Pastor Andrea Roske-Metcalfe discern what might be next. She and her husband applied and were chosen to serve in Nepal to coordinate a new Young Adults in Global Mission program there. However, because of the pandemic, they eventually had to resign the position without ever stepping foot in Nepal. Now she serves part time as Director of Children’s Ministry at Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis. The “great interruption” of the pandemic has given her a chance to choose a new rhythm of life for herself and for her family.
Waiting for New Direction
I find myself on family leave again, but this time open to new possibilities. I am not sure what God is calling me to next, but I am not confident that it is to return to a local church. Unlike the past, this time I feel more lost and fearful. I have been curious about my fear, and this time I have been utilizing a coach, therapist, colleagues, journaling, and lots of space and time. While I want to know yesterday what God wants me to do, I wait for God to reveal the next step.
Who do you already have in your life to help with discerning next steps in ministry? Where might there be gaps? Even when it is not urgent, know where to find a ministry coach, spiritual director, therapist and others to support your discernment.
About the Author
Rev. Tiffany McDonald is an Ordained Elder in The United Methodist Church. She is currently on family leave. Tiffany lives in Minnesota with her husband and two daughters. She blogs at redheadedrev.org.
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