A man once approached me after a speaking engagement and asked, “So how long have you been a pastor?”
“Oh, I’m not a pastor,” I quickly replied. I even threw in a chuckle as an attempt to further dismiss the absurdity of his suggestion.
“You’re not?” He paused and tilted his head ever-so-slightly, locking his eyes with mine.
“No, I’m not.” I repeated assertively.
“Well,” he said with a smile, “keep listening.”
That conversation has replayed in my mind like a broken record. With each repetition, it speaks a truth I’ve refused to believe. Until now.
Am I a Pastor?
The first time I heard the word pastor, as it related to my life, was from a dear family friend. Out of the blue she said, “I told my sister many years ago that I thought you would be a pastor one day.”
That was odd to hear, especially from someone who had known me since infancy. It was even more complex to digest. After she told me, I immediately called a preacher-friend to talk. Surely a pastor would be able to tell me if I was supposed to be a pastor, right? However, our conversation revolved around profession and calling and denomination and theology. Those were the words I was afraid of. They didn’t make much sense to me. I hung up and abandoned the thought altogether.
But as much as I wanted to shake it, the word pastor kept hanging around in conversations and subtle suggestions. A friend would approach me about a struggling marriage or someone would reach out for guidance after reading my book. Those inquiries have only increased.
Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night, my mind racing—a mixture of confusion and angst. Fear constantly told me that I was unqualified and incapable, but I couldn’t escape the conviction that I felt.
I Am a Shepherd
For more than two years now, I have tried every possible way to define who I am without using the word pastor. But after speaking at a conference this summer, I finally saw a picture of who God wanted me to be. As if I had tasted from His cup. As if I had seen myself through His eyes. And all I felt was life-giving freedom from finally accepting who He had called me to be.
I am not a minister, nor am I in charge of a congregation. I have no formal theological training and I don’t feel called to vocational ministry. But, I have finally come to believe that I am a pastor.
The word, pastor, is a Latin noun that means shepherd—one who leads to pasture.
Shepherds constantly search for green grass—sustenance for their flock. It’s an active and arduous process, climbing over rocks and hills, fighting off wolves. As I saw this picture evolve in my mind, I finally understood that this was my passion. I love fighting alongside people. Fighting with them. Fighting for them. For His purposes in their life.
I am a shepherd.
The Struggle for Identity
Epic narratives in both popular culture and literature illustrate the struggle for identity. Luke Skywalker is a simple farm hand, not a Jedi. Frodo Baggins is a hobbit from the Shire, not the one who will destroy the ring of power. Dorothy is an innocent girl trying to find her way home, not the savior of Oz.
This is God’s story as well.
Moses was an incapable shepherd in Midian, not the one who would lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. The disciples were misfits—fisherman and tax collectors—not those who would establish the early church. Saul was a Jesus-hating, Christian-killing Pharisee, not the Apostle who would take the hope of the Gospel to the Gentile world.
When you allow the One who created you to give you your identity, everything else feels like a costume party.
I Am Here
When I began my journey at my living room table six years ago, I wrote the words: I AM HERE. That was me finally humbling myself before a God I had known, but refused to listen to. That was my first step. I had a willing heart that finally chose to trade the voice of my Father for the beckoning of the world.
Since then, I have been in constant pursuit of becoming who God has created me to be. And one of the most important things I have learned is the difference between pressure and conviction. For too long, I felt a pressure to determine my identity. That pressure was always rooted in fear. However, there was a different feeling of conviction that was much more subtle. It was a gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit that was always rooted in truth.
If you’re struggling to find your calling in life, learn to distinguish between pressure and conviction. One is rooted in fear and causes worry, while the other is rooted in truth and leads to peace.
You see, conviction leads to obedience, obedience leads to clarity, clarity leads to confidence, and confidence leads to peace. Now, I’m at peace to say:
I am an insurance agent/ I am a speaker/ I am an author I am a pastor.
Recognizing your identity doesn’t change your exterior, it confirms what’s on the interior. It’s only when we realize that what God is doing in us is always more important than what He’s doing through us that we’re able to embrace who we are in Him. That gives purpose and substance to everything that we do. He becomes our foundation.
In hindsight, the best piece of advice I’ve been given was from that man after my speech:
God will bring about His purposes as long as He has a willing heart to work with. It’s not an easy process, but I can tell you that it’s freeing not to have to dress up any more.
About the Author:
Matt Ham is an insurance agent in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina. In 2015, he published his first book, Redefine Rich: A New Perspective on the Good Life and began speaking nationally about the story.
Matt addresses difficult questions through a lens of practical perspective and Biblical truth. Questions of death and life, security and protection, purpose and faith.
To contact Matt, or inquire about his availability, visit www.mattham.com/speaking