“I will do this for as long as You call me to.”
After being reconvicted of the Great Commission at a church camp in December last year, this was my response to God.
At the end of the camp, I even wrote that down on a card and put a thumbprint next to it as a sign of my commitment.
Little did I know, but in just a matter of months, I would be stepping down from my pastoral ministry, leaving my community, and moving to a brand new community.
It was a painful turn of events that I did not expect.
A rapid rise, a faster fall
I first became a cell group leader in 2020. It was quite a rocky start, because I had to adapt to leading online during the Circuit Breaker while picking things up as a new leader.
But I soon grew to love and enjoy ministry. I enjoyed the personal and deep relationships formed as I mentored and journeyed with the people I led. Conversations with people often left me feeling encouraged and grateful, because I would be reminded of God’s goodness in my own life as I shared my stories with them.
I also enjoyed sharing from the Word. And I would often feel convicted and refreshed as I prepared my teachings and taught in my cell group.
Ministry had become something that I found much value and purpose in, to the point that I actually told God I wouldn’t mind doing it for the rest of my life.
Last year, I even got to do an internship under the youth ministry in my church. Even though it was unrelated to what I’m studying in university, I enjoyed and treasured that experience very much.
I got involved in several projects and camps, and I was exposed to new experiences such as planning evangelistic events, acting in a special production and writing teaching resources for my church.
In the same period, I also received a prophetic word from a stranger at FOPx Worship Night. It was about how God would use me to disciple and reach this generation.
I ended the internship season feeling more on fire than ever to lead God’s people. I felt more equipped and ready as a cell group leader than I ever did.
Ironically, however, God seems to be leading me into a different season over these last few months.
God started revealing many sins in my life: character flaws, bad emotional tendencies, and unresolved relationship tensions. New struggles also began to surface in my life.
Suddenly, I felt like I was just trying to keep my head above the water in the struggles that I was facing. I found it hard to even focus on ministry.
Eventually, sometime in February, my leaders finally suggested that I step down from ministry considering the difficult season I was going through.
It felt so surreal when they told me that. It felt as if my world had fallen apart.
Disappointment, shame and bitterness
Something that I had invested three years of my life into was now being taken away. The CCAs in university that I had given up, the student exchange programmes that I missed, the many nights and weekends I sacrificed leading cell groups and meeting people… were they all for nothing?
I also felt an enormous sense of shame and disappointment. I was disappointed in myself for not being good enough. It felt as if my struggles in the past few months had disqualified me. I found myself thinking that if I had just gone through them “better”, perhaps I would have been able to continue serving in the ministry.
Shame engulfed me whenever I was around friends and other leaders in the ministry. It seemed like I had been disqualified and was being kicked out of the ministry.
I was also scared to face my youth pastor who had believed and invested in me during my internship in church. I felt I had let him down. I didn’t even dare to make any eye contact with him when I saw him in ministry meetings.
But the person that I felt the most towards… that was God.
I was bitter and angry at Him. How could You take away something that is so precious to me? You are so cruel!
In that season, whenever I heard songs like God You’re So Good, I would cry and skip them. I couldn’t even bear to hear those words.
No. You’re not good.
No, One could understand
About a week after the conversation with my leaders, I attended a Bible class on the New Testament.
Towards the end of the class, the teacher explained the context of Mark 15. He explained that the humiliation and crucifixion of Jesus in Mark 15:16-32 was written in a way that draws parallel to Caesar’s coronation.
From the robe and the crown, to how the soldiers mocked Jesus, they all represent a different element in the Ceasar’s ceremony.
Yet there is also a stark contrast. While Caesar’s ceremony was filled with glory and honour, Jesus’ crucifixion was marked by humiliation and suffering.
Jesus’ Cross was His throne. Somehow, hearing this broke me.
Jesus the King of kings, Lord of lords rose to His throne through humiliation, suffering and self-sacrifice. How could I say that He doesn’t understand my shame and pain? How could I say that He is cruel to me?
Perhaps He was closer to me in my pain than I thought.
Hidden but not forsaken
As I learned to trust God’s heart despite my pain, I also began to see the season that God is bringing me through more clearly.
I felt that God was calling me into a season of hiddenness: a time when I can take a break from leading and serving in ministry, to focus on dealing with the areas of sin that have surfaced in the past few months.
“A lifechanging transition occurs as we move from resistance through repentance to the place of rest. With gratitude, we simply abide. Like a tree planted by living water, we focus upon our primary responsibility: remaining in Him.” (Alicia Britt Chloe, Anonymous)
I know that God is using this season to bring me closer to Him. He is bringing me through this wilderness to purge the idolatry in my heart. He is calling me back to a place of abiding and intimacy with Him.
My leader also assured me that I have not fallen from God’s grace or God’s purpose for my life, and shared a few key verses that have come to mean a lot to me.
“In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
I believe God has revealed all these areas of sin to me because He wants to purify me. He wants to cleanse me so that I can be used for special purposes – made holy and useful for His work.
It is purification and wilderness, but it is not abandonment. It is a discipline but not a punishment. He has not given up on me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:2).
I am not alone in the fire
In truth, understanding all these things does not make stepping down from ministry and leaving my community any easier. I still feel sad that I can no longer serve in a ministry that I value so much.
I still deal with FOMO. I still wonder if there were things that I could have done differently so that I could stay on in the ministry.
But at the end of the day, I know that even in my weaknesses and failures, I am covered by God’s grace. And I know He still has a plan for me.
This season of hiddenness that He is bringing me through is purposeful!
It is purification and wilderness, but it is not abandonment. It is a discipline but not a punishment. He has not given up on me.
And so, I do not regret my time in the ministry for the past few years. I am grateful for how much God has done in and through me in this ministry.
I resonate with what Pastor Benny Ho shared in one of his sermons as he shared about the life of William Borden: “Ultimately, our discipleship is not determined by how much we have accomplished for God or for men, but how much we have obeyed the will of God.”
Three years ago, I said yes to leadership in obedience. Now I say yes to this season of hiddenness, out of the same heart of obedience.
I will do this for as long as You call me to. I will do whatever You call me to. Even if it’s to give up my ministry and enter a season of hiddenness.
I am not alone in the fire. I’ll come out like pure gold.
- Where is God calling for obedience in your life today?
- What is the next step you can take to obey Him?
- Are there people who can journey with you as you take this step of obedience?