Non-Dominant No Longer?

About a year ago I was in a class for  the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) orientation. This is the denomination I hope to pastor in sometime soon. The class was called Vocational Excellence. It covered the responsibilities pastors needs to attend to, denominational polity and systems that the ECC has in place to care for clergy. They also submitted us to a barrage of psychological tests and gave some helpful suggestions for self-care. On the whole, this course was a meaningful experience for me. I met some great people, discovered some things about myself and even got to meet with a spiritual director.

As part of the course, I also underwent a psychological evaluation (which I passed by the way) and met with a counselor to discuss my results. In reviewing the data from one of my tests, the counselor pointed at a line graph and said typically they expect clergy to be more ‘dominant’ than my results indicate that I am.

It was a defensive moment for me. I described my past experience of being under strong hierarchical leadership which I felt was unhealthy. I had no desire to ‘dominant’ others but I desire to be collaborative in my leadership. My counselor did not smile, but she did write something down and pressed me to describe myself further. If my explanations were satisfying to her, she in no way tipped her hand.

The funny thing about this is that if I shared the results with  my friends who have known me longest and best, I don’t think anyone would describe me as ‘not dominant.’ They might describe me as awkward, obnoxious, insane, but I don’t think they would have said I was ‘not dominant.’ For better or for worse I tend to steer every conversation I’m in, I challenge the status quo and speak up when I think people are wrong. I have no problem being direct or directional.  So I chalked up my non-dominating results to my convictions and experience, more than my actual psychological make-up.

But I have been thinking about that lately. When I took that class and the accompanying diagnostic tests, I was unemployed. I had interviewed and been rejected by a couple of churches. Most churches I applied to, never called me back. Some pastors affirmed me in ministry (just not ministry with them or with any church they knew of).  This was a season of self doubt.  I’ve felt like a shadow of my former self. I felt  unwanted. This was my mental state when I took diagnostic tests. It wasn’t that I was ‘not dominant.’ It was that I felt insignificant and wondered what I had to offer.

In a way I still feel like that.   I do not have gainful employment in my chosen profession (pastor). Instead I work at a hardware store in my community. I know in my heart I was made more for preaching and teaching than plumbing fittings and power tools, but this is where I am. But the thing is, I am good at my job. Without a fancy job title, I am a ‘person in charge’ while on shift and I help direct fellow employees and set priorities. When problems arise, I jump in and handle it. Co-workers look to me for leadership and I rise to the challenge.  I know this is not where I am supposed to be for the long haul, but there are gifts here too.

The past couple of days I have been reviewing my profile on file with ECC. I am now actively searching for a pastor position again. I am hopeful that I will find a place that I thrive in ministry. When I do I hope to be collaborative in leadership and will be to some extent but I know also that I probably will dominate. And I’m okay with that (sort of).


On planting a garden and wondering what will grow

I’m planting a garden. Well not quite, but I have dug out a bed and spent the weekend weeding the front plots (still more weeds to go, I’m afraid). On Monday I went with my oldest daughter and got seeds from the hardware store. And today I’m planting seeds in seedling trays.

The sun that was here on the weekend has disappeared and the ground is wet and muddy. My front lawn is over tall and when it dries out a little I’ll be out mowing. Despite having lived in the North West for a few years I’m not a big fan of rain. I like the green and growth but hate the wet and cold (yes Midwesterners I get cold in much warmer weather than you go swimming in). I am hoping a garden will change my perspective. I love Luci Shaw’s short but pogninant poem Forecast:

planting seeds
changes my feelings
about rain

And so I set to work planting seeds: lettuce, beans, zucchini, cucumber, tomatoes, peas, herbs. I don’t have much of a green thumb. Actually I have an unexperienced thumb. Sure I’ve pulled weeds and helped friends in their gardens(even worked for a landscaper one summer) but I have never had a garden of my own. I am excited about what new growth comes with planting.seedling trays

In other ways, I am trying to attend to what God might be planting in me. If you know my story, this past year has been hard. Never in my life have I had difficulty getting a job. Yet here I am with education and skill and a pretty good work ethic and no gainful employment. Most of the posts on this blog are upbeat and I have used this year to further my education and develop personally. But a week does not go by, where I don’t sit down feeling paralyzed by anxiety. Three kids and a wife and not much cash is frightening. I feel inadequate, useless and scared that I can’t provide better for my family. My wife has a great part time job, but that is are only income. In the midst of this, God has provided for us and cared for us in incredible ways and this has been a season of me learning to trust. Still I long for satisfying work and the ability to breathe easy.

By training and calling what I really want to do is ministry. Not getting a job as a pastor at every single church I have applied for has deflated my confidence and been an occasion for self doubt. Am I doing what I should be doing if I can’t even get a job? Living in sleepy suburbia has also been challenging. I believe in incarnational ministry and you plop me down in a city, any city, and I know how to love my neighbors. I would connect with homeless people and people on the margins; my ministry experience is urban and I know how to engage a a city creatively. Here, I barely know my neighbors and don’t know how to break through the fences suburbanites put up. Nobody wants to sit and talk, and my attempts at meaningfully connecting feel awkward. But for better or worse, I am in this place and I wonder: What is God doing? What is he growing this season?

And so I plant a garden and become rooted to place while I wait, wondering what will grow in the yard and in me.