Shelve Your Passions

August 28, 2013  55 Comments

*** UPDATE: This post is now officially the most read single-day post of all time on my blog!!…which is not saying all that much.  As requested by a few readers, I have changed the title of this post to avoid using vulgar language (although I do use the word once in the actual piece).  ***

Ugh.  My umpteenth phone interview with a church for an open pastoral position.  I have been a part of so many of these not because so many churches want me, but because I have been rejected so many times.  These rejections then force me to interview with yet another congregation, racking up my interview count.  And I think at least one explanation for this is that I don’t answer questions in this context very well.  I’m a bit too transparent.

This last time, one of the committee members asked me how I deal with conflict, to which I replied, “Well, I’d like to think that I’m getting better and better at dealing with conflict.  But I’d be a liar if I said that I handle it well all the time.  Actually, some of the worst moments of my ministry have come out of personal conflict.”  Yes, Peter, very authentic, but next time you may want to phrase it differently, or at least re-order your response so you start with the bad news, and end with the good, something like: “I’m not perfect, but getting better”.

“…Thank you, Mr. Chin.  Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

But there is one question that flummoxes me more than any other, and that is when a search committee asks me what I’m passionate about, or what I feel called to, or have a heart for, or any appropriate Christian-ese variation on such a question. And I totally understand what they are asking when they pose such a query, and I know what response I should give, that I am passionate about this aspect of faith or the other, that I feel called to serve a particular community.  It’s a standard question to ask any pastoral candidate.

My answer?  ”…”  Confounded silence.

The easy answer would be to say that I have a heart for two things: to help the church reclaim a biblical theology of suffering, and encourage us also to embrace our calling to racial reconciliation.  That is what I have found myself doing for the last four years, and is probably the kind of answer that the search committee is looking for.  But there’s a reason why I don’t simply blurt such an answer.

You see, I never really had a passion for those who are suffering, nor for multi-ethnic ministry.  That’s not to say that I’m against either in any way, because they are incredibly important movements of faith.  It’s just that I didn’t have any natural or personal inclination towards those ministries.  I had no internships at inner city churches, never attended a multi-ethnic church conference, never scoured academic texts in search of the answer to the problem of pain.  I always thought my passion and heart were in music and leading worship, more than anything else.

The reason I am engaged with these aspects of faith is not because I have always felt a gravitational pull to these ideas, but because this is what God has given me to do. I speak about suffering not because I consider myself an astute theologian – I actually believe the opposite.  I talk about suffering because my family endured it, and continues to.  It’s not a passion of mine in that sense.  And when this position as interim pastor of Peace Fellowship came up, I was very reluctant to accept it because I never saw myself as “that” kind of pastor, and doubted that I had the skills and passion to do well in such a position.  These callings that God has laid before me were altogether unexpected.

And so it wouldn’t be truthful for me to simply say, “I am passionate about racial reconciliation and comforting the suffering.” Instead, I think it is more appropriate to say that I have learned to be passionate about whatever God puts in front of me.  Because where I find myself now is more the result of God’s plans and purposes, rather than my own.

I have been reflecting more on this, and have distilled a simple life principle out of all of this:

Screw your passions.

Actually, I don’t really mean that.  I just said that because it seems obligatory for every Christian blogger out there to say something inflammatory and coarse in their posts, just to prove how very authentic they are.  Not to mention to drive up traffic.  I guess the real principle that I have learned is this:

Shelve your passions.

It is indeed true that God has made us wonderfully, and individually.  We possess a unique personality, with skills and passions that are all our own.  I would never say anything to the contrary.  But there is a big difference between having personal skills and passions, and assuming that those skills and passions will necessarily dictate God’s will and direction for your life.  Such an attitude is focused primarily on self-actualization, or doing what we want, rather than what God orders.

I think the reason that this attitude is so common among Christians is that our understanding of calling has been profoundly tainted by the world’s notion of professional vocation. We figure out what we are called to do as Believers in largely the same way in which any person determines what job they should have – by skillset and interest, paired with experience and training.  And at the intersection of those forces, voila!  You have your calling from God!  And to take this one step further, we then imagine that our calling is a career ladder of sorts, that with every rung, we move closer to the goal: to do what we love, all day long. “I like this, so God must mean for me to do this all the time!  I don’t like this, so God would never have me do that, ever!”  And if these expectations go unrealized, we feel deep disappointment with ourselves, with our lives…with God.

Those unique ways in which God has made you may be used in your calling…but they may not.  And we have no right to be disappointed when there are seasons of our life in which that is the case, because God never promised that we would be doing what we love all day, for the rest of our lives.  It is terribly unbiblical for Christians to approach their life as if we are ambitious employees, and God is their good boss, and the boss is required to provide fulfilling and fun work for his employees in order to keep them engaged and happy.  If you can name a passage that reinforces such an attitude, please let me know, because I don’t know of one.  Rather, we are servants who have died to ourselves, and live in Christ and His passions and purposes, not our own.  So what is most important is not that we are doing what we like to do, but that we are doing what God has called us to do…which we may or may not have had a “heart” for.

I know this is a hard pill to swallow because this mentality runs so contrary to what has been engrained in us by Western culture.  So perhaps I should add this encouraging reminder: more often than not, what God calls us to do is better than what we had planned for ourselves.  For instance, it’s true that I had little pre-existing passion for inner city and multi-ethnic ministry, and I never would have chosen this route for myself.  And yet I find myself thriving in it, loving the challenge of serving here, my heart simultaneously broken and strengthened by the pain that fills these neighborhoods.  I am not the greatest theologian, but surprisingly enough, am a strong counselor, and have a unique knack at encouraging those who find little comfort anywhere else.  I never knew these things about myself, but apparently, God did.  For me, my “passions” were nothing more than shackles that prevented me from entertaining the unique and strange ways in which God might use me.  They were my best guess at my best life, but a guess that was the product of an admittedly limited and fallible imagination.

Look, I’m not saying that you should be completely ignorant of your strengths and weaknesses, and what you would might be good at.  But the emphasis should be on “might”.  Yes, know who you are, what makes you happy, but never use that knowledge to close the door on what God might be calling you to do.  Don’t be passionate about your passions – be passionate about God and His purposes, His will!  Look out for whatever He is doing, and join in.  Pray, listen, submit, participate.  And who knows, you may discover as I did that you are happier and better at being a servant, than you are at being your own master.



Husband and Father of 4. Pastor of Peace Fellowship Church in Washington D.C. Aspiring Writer, Former Musician

55 responses to Shelve Your Passions

  1. Lorraine Daugherty August 28, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Moses was not a great speaker and Jonah didn’t want to do what God had asked, but when they got on board, God blessed them. I agree with your point but the coarse language almost made me skip the post. I am by no means perfect or judging. I just think your blog stands on its own merit and does not need that kind of ‘help’.

    • thanks lorraine! actually, the title of the post was an ironic jab at the habit of bloggers of using inflammatory language for no reason. as you can tell from the actual content, the piece is very mild…but i hope you weren’t too put off!

      • Lorraine Daugherty September 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm

        No, I wasn’t too put off :) I really enjoy your writing, and your attitude. This blog was a great reminder to keep God in the center – His desires for me, His plans, and not my own. “Bloom where you’re planted” is my motto, but sometimes the Master Gardener completely uproots us and transplants us elsewhere! If the search committees cannot see your humility and grace in accepting whatever God calls you to do, they are to be pitied. Thanks as always for the encouragement to live a life passionate for God!

  2. I went to a job interview yesterday and had that same question, I just couldn’t put my thoughts together and went home disappointed that I didn’t answer the way I was supposed to. What an encouragement to read this today! Blessings to you and the family.

    • evelmyn, how are you?! aww, i know exactly how you feel, believe me. i’m praying that God places you where He wants you to go, which may or may not be necessarily where you want to go!

  3. Thanks for your total honesty. It is refreshing. I was surprised at the word used on your blog today, but read it as I knew you would have something good to say along with that word. True to form, you did. I pray I can find my place in the kingdom of the Lord where I can be of service in someway serving others. After 42 years of serving in the work of God as a missionary to Brazil, there is still a lot for me to learn and find a place that will bring glory to our Lord. Winning souls for Him is all I want to do, so it does not matter where or what that would mean.

  4. I think your observation that our understanding of ‘calling’ has been corrupted by cultural norms and expectations is right on the money. Because of the twists and turns that have taken place in my life over the past three decades, I simply could not have imagined at age 25 my life now 31 years later, yet I have ‘remained in Him’ that entire time.

    I often think of Joseph and his parallel dreams when I think of how God transforms us to fulfill our calling. I suppose Joseph was ‘passionate’ about what he assumed he was destined for (he certainly seemed so initially), but he went through years of preparation that probably drained nearly all the ‘passion’ out of him.

    • yes, joseph is a perfect example! i’d like to think the people who are best fitted to be leaders are the ones who no longer want the title.

      • So very true. I work in a leadership position in the military, directing the efforts of a crew of 1-2 dozen enlisted airmen. I am always scared by those who come along thinking they deserve the position because they’re sooo knowledgeable. The best ones, I find, learned humility alongside confidence.

  5. this was both eerily timely for me and really, really encouraging. thank you.

  6. To tell the truth Peter -I so love your blogs but I can’t pass them on to others because you use words like “screw”–you say such beautiful things but use language like this sometimes that makes me say “oh shoot…can’t pass this one on!” I think you’d be reaching an audience that really would need and love your comfort and pastoring but would not be able to handle this kind of language in a devotional—please reconsider “fitting” in there –I could send this on to some dear people who would be so blessed if you had just said, “Shelve your passions” -and they would have opened it…but maybe you are seeking to reach a different audience -I almost couldn’t open it but i was trying….

    • hi jan! i love my readers too much not to listen to them! i’ve changed the title of the post, although i do use the term once in the actual piece. perhaps that’s a good compromise?

  7. The first time I read this I thought the next committee that asks your passion should be directed here and that any of the umpteen would be very blessed to have you. Then I thought about it for a minute and realized hey, he is preaching to me! I complain about my “work space”, occasionally my “coworkers” and my “assignment”. Never made the connection between that and cultural ideas of careers. Thanks for breaking down a door for me pastor!

  8. It’s refreshing to hear someone acknowledge the value (and personal commitment) of process, dieing to self and crucifying the flesh, divine principles that birth a level of maturity in Him like no other. Perhaps God’s plan includes you shepherding/pioneering a fellowship of believers versus an established work. And for the record, Jesus operated in a deep level of transparency/truth telling and many people – rejected, came against and simply, hated Him as a result. So know…you’re in good company!

  9. Hi Pastor, Thank you for sharing your insight – it was God’s timing that I read your post since recently I’ve been stymied by what ministry I would be a great contributor. I also have some career opportunities set before me and have grappled for many years “my passion” but your post has lighten up my burden. I realized I’m driven more by fear of how I can make a lasting legacy then being content of being God’s story no matter what part I play. I think we’ve also created a mindset of focusing on what we are producing.

    This lady from mentioned that sometimes you think you are taking a step back but often times you are setting yourself up to move forward quicker (ie Slingshot concept) I thought of the “slingshot” concept when you mentioned how God grew your heart In unexpected areas.

    I shall end with Ecclesiastes 7:14

    Bless you!

  10. Hey,

    Nice read. I’ve come to some of the similar conclusions you have. I have a M.Div with no one wanting me as a minister. No employer out there looks at an M.Div as worth anything. I thought that when God called me to ministry somethings would fall into place. But that is not the fact. After three years of trying to find a ministry job I just quit. I quit looking for ministry jobs. The questions I’ve had to face seriously is what God had called me to do. I realized that as it stands churches don’t really want ministers. They want a pastor that fits in. So I realized that I had to look at just taking my skills out there and minister without a church backing. Some days it’s nice. Some days it would be great having some money in my hands. But without having 15 years experience as a head pastor, and operating in a large church over 3 thousand and some special training most churches won’t look at a guy like me. We have gotten to the point that most churches wouldn’t hire Jesus.

    Great read,

    • thanks – i’m hoping that God leads you where He wants you to go, even if there are no signs to point out the way…

  11. Love it… both because I too have found myself in ministries that I was not “passionate” about, but knew that they were the thing God had put before me in that moment. God at times brings about calling out of circumstances, life circumstances, situational circumstances, geographic circumstances, moments in history. Also, though, because I have deeply wrestled with the idea of vocation and calling. I recognize what a privilege it is to spend a life seeking a “calling” that is connected to my passions when so many are simply trying to survive day to day, are working to put food on the table and a roof over their head. So many are fulfilling their calling to provide for and support family, relatives, and friends that little time is left for a calling that allows one to live into their passions.

    • oh, such a good point about privilege!!! isn’t it the truth that you need money and bandwidth to entertain our “passions”…

  12. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, Pastor Stewart?”
    “I have no clue. I have today and I hope that I have tomorrow.”

    “blah,blah,blah… don’t feel that our blah blah blahs match blah blah blah… will pray for you blah, blah blah….”

    • hahaha, exactly: “since you don’t know exactly what God has planned and are submitted to doing anything He leads you to, we don’t feel you are the ideal candidate for us right now.” uhhh…

  13. Please keep writing, brother. Your blog has become a staple since the CT article.

  14. Recently a good friend of mine completed leading a Mission trip for “Millenials” (haha) to Mexico to build houses; a group of about 30. He has done multiple trips per year like this for about 15 years. Upon returning, the recently installed “leader” of the church where he worked sent him an email less than 24 hours from landing to fire him. Then 2 weeks later the owner of the house where he lived called him and let him know he needed to vacate the house as he intended to sell it. The owner of the house gave him to the end of the month-no flexibility and would drive by the last few days as they were packing to check on their progress (I picture him with a sneer on his face rolling by the driveway at 5 MPH). My friend, wife and 4 children were now homeless. Immediately after this happened some of the church leaders got some heat about what happen, so of course they proceeded to attack the character of my friend. Their situation is still unsettled, but he is not. Your concluding statement is correct- “be passionate about God and His purposes”. The answer is always the same. I meet with my friend once a week and HE ENCOURAGES ME. Here is what has happened. Since the firing, a larger number of people have asked him to baptize them, the group he leads meets week to week in peoples homes, a number of adults who are very comfortable in their deadness have come alive as they reconcile right from wrong. He told me a couple of weeks ago ” I use to ask myself where I would be in 5 years, heck I don’t know where I am going to be in 5 days”. I wonder how that would go over in an interview?

  15. Just have you’re next interviewer read this and getting the position should be a slam dunk.

  16. Should be your, instead of you’re.

  17. Thank you for your refreshing words. The notion of “following your passion” in ministry, or really elsewhere, seems so selfish to me. The Lord chose to give me a so with autism, and from that he prepared me to minister to many families through their suffering. I do not have a passion for families that are affected by disability…shhhh! Don’t tell anyone! But I have a passion for the saving work of Christ and how that can transform and give hope to those who are suffering and grieving the loss of what they thought would be a “normal” life. I am God’s workmanship, designed to do His good work and fulfill His plan for my life. The fact that he chose the disability community as my mission field is about Him, not about me. Again, thank you.

    • haha, that’s so funny, i feel the exact same way! i think people are always a little scandalized when i tell them that i’m not personally passionate about inner city ministry, but am passionate about the fact God has called me to inner city ministry. the distinction seems slight, but it’s there. blessings on you!

  18. Thank you for writing. For a long time, I’ve often punched myself for not having too much enthusiasm when sharing what the Lord had me doing. Even if the testimonies from the ministry seemed amazing to my audiences, I often wished someone else would be doing it instead.
    I’d jest with my wife that by giving us success in a ministry that I would never asked for, nor have much desire for, there is a lesser chance to boast in arrogant pride! ;p Well, being me, I’d probably still find ways to boast in my reluctance!
    I am encouraged and strengthened by your writing. It once again affirms the resolve that we are first of all, called to Christ himself. It is He who will complete the work He started and it is He who calls and appoints. I just have to keep asking if I’ll stay faithful.
    Do I still secretly wish for a more predictable pastorate job with a helpful salary doing music and “dwelling in the courts of the temple all my life”? You bet I do. But I wouldn’t trade the comfort of intimately knowing the Lord as my shepherd for any other comfort.
    Going to sleep every night knowing the Lord has had His way despite me is an awesome privilege.
    As for music, well, I guess we have all the rest of eternity to swaddle in that.

  19. Luke 8. The man Jesus freed had no “training” to tell his hometown about Jesus or what had happened when Jesus told him to go home, but he made himself AVAILABLE and OBEYED.

  20. just got back from our first trip to Dutch Wonderland with three other families, so haven’t been able to comment ’til now (ran into a Korean-am dad of five there).

    I had no prob with the original title but “shelve” is such a great word for your piece. when do you find time to write such thoughtful and thought-provoking posts? i mean, really? late at night? early in the morning?

    I have too much to say but I can see why this post became your most widely-viewed post. We all tryna find our way, find meaning. I also relate all too well with being honest to a fault as I am Jim Carey from “Liar Liar” – I’ve told homeless people, “I’m so sorry but I only have credit cards today.” Perhaps one of the many reasons I never thrived in corporate culture where you gotta pop your own collar, take credit for others’ work, and sling mud instead of talking in depth about your areas of weakness.

    Of course no one wants to be in the ministry of SUFFERING but I can really see how God has used you and your family’s setbacks to bless others as we all journey through life together. He done flipped the script on you – from music ministry to touching lives thru yo life itself!

    p.s. just when I thought blogs were so trifling, egocentric, snarky, Look at Me, Look at Me while I try to be so funny, insufferable, I found your blog. not all blogs are created equal so please continue! holla!

  21. Lauren Rea Preston September 8, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    When I saw your comment about changing the title, I totally thought you had used some other four letter word. So, whatever. Maybe it’s a generational thing. ;-)

    Anyway, thanks for this post. It is totally my life. I remember being about 20 years old and writing in all capital letters, “what do I want with my life and doesn’t even matter?!” So the answer to the last part, as it turns out, is yes, and no. And actually, to the first part of the question, still after 10 years “I don’t know.” Which is maybe why then it doesn’t really
    matter. But comforting to know that in any case God can line up our steps.

    • wait, what word were YOU thinking of? “dump”?

      i think there really is a generational element that applies not just to word choice, but to the discussion on passions as well. when we’re young, it seems like anathema for someone not to pursue their passions, as they are our “calling” from God. but as we get older, we realize that’s not the truth, at least not for a great majority of people. there is some intersection between passion and calling, but not completely, and not always… i think younger people read a post like this and think i’m an old fart, and older people are like, “yuuuuuup.”

  22. Hi Peter, I really enjoyed this. I’m not a vocational minister, but I did become a mother 2 months ago. For years I thought I might not be “called” to have children with my husband because I wasn’t passionate (or particularly interested in) babies or kids in general, and I hated changing diapers and the other day to day aspects of child care. Thank God we decided to get pregnant anyway! I could not have imagined the ways God would expand my life & love through this new calling, even though I may not fit the profile of what I thought a perfect mom would look like.

    • congratulations!!! isn’t it funny how something as large as our imaginations are not nearly large enough to contain God’s plans for our lives?

  23. Wow. What I needed to read today…

  24. Awesome! So refreshing to read a Christian perspective on “following your passions.”

    • thanks frank!

      • So I guess the million dollar question is how do you know what God is calling you for? Just try to be obedient and see where things lead? I see you were able to discern what God is calling you for but for me, the obtuse, it’s far from clear.

        • i don’t think there’s a single answer to that question. but in the context of what i wrote, it’s helpful to clarify the term a bit. a calling from God may or may not be life long, and it might intersect with a vocation or job, or it might not. it might provide recognition and fulfillment, but not necessarily. where we get into trouble is when we improperly attach all of these sentiments to our calling from God, seeing calling as a gigantic hybrid of a job/ministry/hobby/passion. calling becomes a little easier to discern when we shave off this baggage because it does not have to fulfill all of these unnecessary requirements. but of course, that’s only the first step. then comes discernment, prayer, advice, conversation, humility, and obedience!…good luck.

  25. Hi,
    Your post came up on my FB news feed and I thought it was timely for me~!
    Just to let you know the article has reached the sunny shores of Singapore ;)


  26. Hi Pastor Peter,
    A good friend of mine sent this to me recently and it’s been most timely.
    I have been looking for a full-time job in graphic or fashion design for the past year. I’ve been fortunate enough to freelance at different companies in order to get by, but it’s been extremely frustrating and frankly, so demoralizing to get turned down or never hear back from the hundreds of jobs that I’ve applied to. But in the midst of this, I’ve noticed that God has begun to foster a compassion for the marginalized in NYC in my heart. I’ve been getting involved with the outreach ministry at my church and it has given me an opportunity to see the other skills and talents that God has instilled in me. Through this, I was able to realize how much I’ve idolized my expected career path and who I wanted to be, rather than to see and ask what God wanted me to do and be. In the summer, I prayed that if no offers came by the end of 2013, I would try applying to NPO’s in the city that have a vision to fight poverty. The first week of January, I had an interview with Teen Vogue Magazine. I was excited because I thought this would finally be a break-through; an answer to my prayers. Teen Vogue emailed me 3 hours before my interview to cancel, because they hired someone else that morning. At first I was so angry and so sorely disappointed. But after gritting my teeth and asking God to help me stay hopeful, I realized this was him answering me– telling me to take a different route. I started applying to those NPO’s last week. It was one of the most humbling experiences of this year. I have no experience and my educational background doesn’t give me much of a foundation, even for the entry-level jobs I’ve been applying to. The difference in salary…..hurts, haha. And instead of working in an industry of luxury, I’ll be working with people who literally have nothing. I can’t say that I’m not excited– because I do have a heart and conviction to help the marginalized, but it’s extremely hard to leave behind my identity, my passions, my dreams of being the person I thought I would be, wanted to be, and worked towards being for years. But I keep receiving affirmation of my decision– this article being another. So thank you for articulating (most beautifully and humbly) what God has been showing me and asking of me: To shelve my passions. Because he knows what I love to do, what I’m passionate about, and what I want to do, but he also knows how much more fruitful and fulfilled I can be when his passions become mine, and mine, his.

    Thank you again. And much love!

    • wonderful ellen – what a testimony. passions are wonderful things, but can be strangely limiting in some ways, especially in light of the wild ways of God. praying that God would lead you in those ways, and that you might discover that his plans are far richer than yours ever were!

  27. Pastor Chin,
    This post is insightful and convicting! I’ve only read it once so far and can sense a paradigm shift occurring right now! I’ll have to reread it a few more times…Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

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