In high school, I began to ask the same question that most teenagers ask themselves: What am I going to do with the rest of my life?! While the question can be overwhelming, the answer—for me—was not.
Just before stepping on a plane for my first overseas mission trip with my youth group, I told my youth pastor that I had surrendered my life to “Christian ministry”—a common phrase in our evangelical vernacular to signify the deferring, but equally fulfilling, of your life’s dreams and plans to the Lord’s purposes, whatever that may mean. For me, I thought this would mean a life of intentional discipleship to other women and a heart of service within my local church.
Being overseas for the first time was euphoric and only confirmed what I had already declared. Toward the end of the trip, our youth group shared about our experiences and spiritual growth during those weeks. It was a sweet evening capped off with my youth pastor letting the group know that I had recently “surrendered to full-time Christian ministry.” I felt so affirmed in this decision. With all eyes on me, my youth pastor then said, “Liz Lockwood will spend the rest of her life in Christian service to the Lord. She is devoted to the calling of God on her life—wherever that may take her.” Yes! I thought. This is what I want to do with the rest of my life!
He continued, “This means that Liz can’t marry a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant, because that will now be outside of the calling God has on her life.”
My youth pastor, whose intentions were solely to affirm and encourage, had just said something that made me squirm. Is this what I signed up for? Like being strapped into the seat of a roller-coaster at the top of a huge hill that you’re about to plunge down, I wondered if I had gotten in line for the wrong attraction.
That moment would have a huge effect on my life for years to come, which is why—nearly two decades later—I remember it so vividly. I went on to attend a Christian college and then earn two degrees in seminary. Compiling my credentials for Christian ministry was not something I took lightly, even if I was confused about what such a calling entailed for my life.
I wish I could say that with each theology class I completed, this calling became increasingly clearer. It didn’t. In fact, when my seminary classmates asked me what I wanted to do after graduation, I would stare at them with a blank face and sheepishly reply, “I just kind of want to serve the church.” My lack of confidence was not attributed to what I wanted to do. That was the one thing I was sure of—serve the local church and live a life full of discipleship. The confusion set in when the follow-up question inevitably came: “Right—but what do you want to do for money?”
Between that question and the ever-elusive answer was the place I got stuck for years. When it came to planning for the future, applying for jobs, or going on a date with someone who wanted to work in a “secular” field, I was often crippled by the feeling that I was somehow doing less than what I had committed to the Lord. While making lattes or selling running shoes may be great for building relationships or earning money while in seminary, those jobs didn’t seem to fit the criteria for full-time Christian service that I had seemingly been drafted into. Right?
Understanding a Holistic, Christian Life
In the years after seminary, through Scripture and wise counsel, the Lord graciously guided my heart. I began to recognize that, while there are certainly specific callings within the realm of Christian life and polity, all Christians are called to live an intentionally gospel-saturated life. My father, a bi-vocational minister, reminded me that “whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecc. 9:10). He encouraged me to devote my work in any job—even seemingly mundane tasks—to excellence and service to others for God’s glory. I also began to understand Acts 17:28 in a new light. Rather than keeping “ministry” in a specific silo or quadrant within the walls of my life, the Lord was giving me wisdom to understand that living, moving, breathing, eating, and all other activities find their end in him.
These truths freed me, as I began to grasp that my surrender to the Lord in high school was less of a vocational declaration and more of a defining mark of spiritual growth. The guilt that I sometimes felt didn’t come from Scripture or the Spirit, but from a perception of what I thought it meant to surrender to the Lord.
Let me be clear: I affirm and applaud the specific callings that God places on individuals, and I have a deep gratefulness for the local church. One of my dear friends has served in pastoral ministry for more than 50 years. Another has spent her life intentionally discipling younger women. These callings—and obedience to them—are to be honored, encouraged, and followed whenever possible. They are not, however, the only ways by which God calls his people to display his character and hope to the world.
At the age of 16, I was certain of one thing: I wanted to spend the rest of my life serving the Lord. In the years to come, I only hope to do this with greater surrender. Whether by serving coffee, selling pet food, lifeguarding, fitting people in running shoes, teaching Bible studies, or managing calendars and budgets, I will find my biggest comfort not in my job title, but in my obedience to faithfully rely upon and share the good news of Jesus Christ.