Erin headshot 1She didn’t know what to say, without a ten-minute long explanation. My friend looked at me and said, “What do you say to that question?”

We were both enjoying a playdate, chasing toddlers and trying to carry on a conversation while we kept one child from running with scissors and another child from eating every tiny piece of plastic. As we chatted with new friends about life and family, someone had asked, “So, you were like a preacher, and now what are you doing?”

My friend wasn’t just “like” a preacher, she is a preacher. And writer. And teacher and pastor. And a mom. The mom job fills most of her time these days.

The short answer is that my friend and I are both “stay-at-home moms.” We could use a better name for this gig, but no amount of language could cover the whole spectrum of my day.

Last year, when my husband and I decided to move to a new church where he would be the pastor, I stepped away from a congregational staff position. So now my answer to “what do you do?” goes something like this: I am an ordained Baptist woman who is a pastor’s wife and also writes, teaches, studies, and preaches . . . from time to time. I am a mom . . . all the time. That’s a lot to explain.

Don’t get me wrong. I love this mom job. All of it. The take-your-breath-away beautiful moments and the sticky, icky moments and the hectic list-crossing-off moments. This gig is something I wanted for a very long time and I cherish it.

But sometimes I think we need a new slogan. I wonder, though, what it would do for some of us facing the awkward questions if we said: “This is What a Minister Looks Like.”

I want to wrap up the “This is What a Minister Looks Like” idea and mail it to my friends who are ministers in places that don’t have pulpits or offices or classrooms—or salaries.

Ministry happens in those places, too.

Just because a minister is working in a way that isn’t listed in a seminary class, doesn’t mean that the work being done is not a tremendous offering that brings the kingdom of God near. I can count many seminary-trained, highly experienced reverends who step back from settings that look like ministry to jump into uncharted territory. Many gifted, risk-taking, Jesus-following ministers who once worked in churches now live out a calling from God that looks very different.

We all know that we are more than what we do. We know that a calling means more than doing. But those of us whose “doing” of life as a minister looks a little more patchwork quilt than careful needlepoint need the voices who remind us that vocational identity may not follow one, simple trajectory.

Sometimes it looks like my friend who used to be an associate pastor and now tutors struggling readers in an afterschool program. She is a minister. My friend who preached sermons ten years ago that still resonate with me today is now at home caring for her preschoolers, one who has special needs. She is a minister. My friend who resigned from her church staff to care for her aging mother is as much a minister today as my friend who was a stay at home mom and is now a senior pastor.

There are seasons of ministry.

For my friends who are trying to discern what in the world it means to understand a calling from God to ministry while they spend their work days balancing accounts or working as a barista or vacuuming floors, I am thankful for people who offer up an honest, beautiful picture of what ministry looks like. I am thankful for the witness of ministers who tell us how the messy, soul-stirring, heart-singing work of ministry can look different from day to day, season to season.

My patchwork quilt of ministry right now includes an Elmo picture book. It is laying on top of a Bible commentary and a book of Walter Brueggemann’s prayers, neither of which I will have time to touch for days. I see myself running after a toddler, thinking through projects shoved to the back burner; tired and yet deeply glad.

That is what a minister looks like . . . today.