I entered seminary desiring nothing more than to do whatever and go wherever God called me. I was so full of this desire, in fact, that I wrote about it in my application essay. If I had known what life after seminary would look like, though, I might not have been so sure about that.
You see, I thought following God’s call would mostly be about finding a career in ministry. That’s what seminary is for, right? But rather than finding a job, what I found was a family. I met and married my wonderful husband in seminary, and in thirteen years of marriage, we have had two children and lived in four states. I said four states, y’all. That’s a new state every three or four years.
This nomadic family life is rough. In each place, I have shouldered heavy loneliness as the perpetual “new girl.” I have straggled over parenting hurdles without a local support system. I have been anxious for my children as their school and social lives have been disrupted. I have suffered grief and loss over the dear friends, communities, and dreams we have left behind. Perhaps most of all, I’ve grappled with my identity as a minister as I have failed, state after state, to find a place for myself in professional ministry.
Our most recent move, in December of last year, caused me to wrestle with my calling more fiercely than ever before. What’s a minister without a ministry? Did choosing to have a family cost me the chance to have a career? Did I miss my best opportunity to pursue ordination? Can I ever be truly satisfied by doing “just a job” while putting my strongest gifts and passions to use on the side? Is it too much to ask for a stable, paying job doing the things I believe God has called me to do? What will my life mean if I never find such a job? Is there a point at which I should give up on having a ministry career? Will I recognize that point if and when it comes? Will this wandering last forever?
While I was in the throes of this wrestling, different forms of support showed up in the corners of the ring. A friend helped me realize that what makes me a minister is not a job title; what makes me a minister is my calling to be one. One of BWIM’s “Dear Addie” posts assured me that “none of [my] experiences will be wasted in God’s economy.” I found empathy in others who had experienced their own kinds of post-seminary challenges. Family and old friends supplied encouragement. In new friends, I am finding hope that my newest home state might be a fine place to live. And I learned to say, with my own voice, “I am a minister, even if I’m not employed as one.”
As of this spring, twelve years after my seminary graduation, I finally have a job–in a Baptist church–doing ministry–using my real, actual gifts and passions. I know better than to speculate how long I’ll get to stay here. I’m prepared to pack up my family and go wherever life leads us next, but it sure would be nice to put down some deep roots.
Julie Ball currently lives with her family in Canton, Georgia, where she serves as minister of discipleship and administration at Heritage Baptist Fellowship.