A couple of years ago, when I was participating in a Spiritual Formation group at Dallas Theological Seminary, I completed a project whose value I didn't fully detect at the time. The project was to construct a "ministry vision" for myself. In essence, I was to perform a probability assessment of what God might do with me in the future based on what he has done with me already. It was to take into account my experiences, training, passions and goals. The project was also to be presented to my SF group so that they could assess its accuracy based on what they new of me so far. This is helpful, because if a man says that he has no natural leadership ability, hates public speaking and would rather keep to himself, yet wants to be the next Chuck Swindoll, then the others in the groups can point out that perhaps his "vision" needs tweaking to more closely approximate reality. Likewise, if a man maintains a healthy level of Attention Deficit Disorder, hates spending hours studying alone with attention to detail, then the group can help him see that pursuing a career as a New Testament textual critic is fraught with problems. At the time I didn't fully appreciate the value of the project, but now I perceive it much more.
One of the things that came out of that project was what I call my "servant's stool." It was a graphic of a short stool that had three legs. These legs represented the threefold aspect of the ministry I believe God was fashioning me for. These "legs" were research, teaching and mentoring. The reason for these "legs" were my natural curiosity about knowledge that informs the beliefs we hold and the decisions we make, my enthusiasm for sharing that knowledge to groups of people in any context (church or classrooms), and my mandate for relationships that help me and others grow to be more like and in love with Christ. I saw this three-legged stool as the manner in which God has called me to serve people throughout my life.
At the time, I primarily saw this as being fulfilled in academic settings as a professor. The above mentioned "stool" is very representative of the lifestyle of a teacher/professor. However, over the past couple of months I've had an opportunity to reflect on the "stool," realizing that it could be placed in a variety of places. God still may have me "do the professor thing" someday. I have no idea. However, right now he has me sitting on that "stool" as a pastor. I didn't originally see myself as playing out that vision as a pastor, but now I can see that the ministry "vision" constructed for my SF group a couple of years ago fits very well with the role I have now as a pastor.
This has been surprising, but it also explains why I'm finding it so fulfilling. I've not had to conjure up any fulfillment for pastoral ministry, it's occurring naturally. Moments ago, sitting here in the coffee shop at DTS, a classmate asked me, "How's pastoring going?" I smile and replied, "It's good times." If there had been time to explain, I would have told what I'm now learning about fulfillment, and why God is so good in supplying it this way.