It was a quest. When I left high school, I headed for Illinois Wesleyan University for a single purpose: to become a Marine Biologist. Doesn’t everyone go to a small, United Methodist-related college in the middle of the continent to study marine life?

Things were going pretty well until God showed up. Without warning, my carefully laid plans were rattled by a deep experience of God’s love. This wasn’t in the script. I had no category for it. But I couldn’t deny what happened.

Inner Dilemma

In a previous post, I described the group that took me in and showed me Christ’s love with skin on. I’m forever indebted to them for establishing me in the faith, but they couldn’t resolve my inner dilemma.

All this God stuff was messing up my plan. For reasons I didn’t understand, my big dream was slipping away, and I had nothing to replace it.

Worse Than Death

In quieter moments, I started to sense a faint tug toward ministry. Of course, each time that happened, I shut it down cold. The thought of becoming a pastor was a fate worse than death. Just couldn’t fit that mold.

With no resolution in sight, at the end of my sophomore year my ‘home pastor,” Bob Lawry, recruited me to be a camp counselor at a 5ᵗʰ & 6ᵗʰ grade church camp.

Not Legal

Bob had moved to Cambridge just after I graduated from high school. He was the first pastor I had ever met who lived in the same century I did. He was young (34), hilariously funny, and had played football at Illinois Wesleyan. It was the perfect trifecta.  

Our week at camp was and still is one of the top ten weeks of my life. We laughed until our sides hurt, had deep talks late into the night, and had more pure fun than is legal in most states.

Broke it

Through countless conversations and capers, Bob did what I thought impossible. He broke the mold. He proved that a person could be totally oneself and still be a pastor. I had never seen that before. Apart from my relationship with him, I can’t imagine ever seriously entertaining the thought of pastoral ministry.

On Saturday morning, we came home, exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep. However, by Sunday night, I actually began missing our hang time. When I popped over to the parsonage, Bob and his family were just finishing up dinner. We reminisced about funny stories and God moments from the week, then he led me out to the formal dining room for a “talk.”

The Talk

Out of the blue, he asked, “Have you ever considered going into the ministry?”

Suddenly, I felt like a deer in headlights. Neither he nor anyone else knew I’d been considering that possibility for months.

I confessed, “Yes, I have, but I don’t know what to do with that.”

He said, “Well, my wife and I both think you would be really good at it. Have you prayed about it?”

Sheepishly, I answered, “No, not really. I’ve been afraid to – afraid that I would get a ‘Yes’ and afraid I might get a ‘No.’”

He replied, “Well, I encourage you to pray and listen for what God says.”

I shrugged my shoulders and said, “OK.”

That night I went down to the basement to be alone and prayed as earnestly as I knew how. I got nothing. Dead silence. Oddly, I did feel a sense of peace. I just didn’t know what that meant.


The next day I went back to my summer job shoveling asphalt for the Henry County Highway department. Over the course of that Monday, three unrelated people asked me if I was going into the ministry. My best friend, Brian, said, “Are you going to cemetery?”

Later that night, I went to the home of a respected older man in our congregation. As we were talking about church, he pointblank asked, “Roger, are you going into the ministry?”

In that moment, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Even I couldn’t brush off that many “coincidences.”

That’s when I knew. In my heart, I said, “OK, Lord, I get it. I hear you. I will stop resisting and do what you are calling me to do.”

On the Journey

Although this story is unique to me, countless people have taken similar steps on a call journey. It starts with an experience beyond ourselves, one that often blindsides us. We had other plans, big ones, but we are now invited to something more. The whole encounter bewilders us.

Our predictable response is resistance. This phase can take a long time. We don’t easily let go of one dream for another. But God is gentle and persistent. People and experiences are brought into our lives that soften our hearts. Over time, a yielding takes place. What was once unimaginable, increasingly becomes possible.

And finally, there’s embrace. The call that came from beyond us is now taken within us. It becomes central to who we are, and our lives turn in a new direction.  

Grander Vision

God is constantly calling people from every walk of life to a grander vision. Where are you on this journey? Are you shocked at what God is suggesting? Bewildered by what it means?

Perhaps you are putting your foot down in resistance. Or maybe what you once thought was non-negotiable is changing. Chances are someone has just embraced a fresh calling, and it’s leading you to people and situations you could not have imagined.

Of course, the decision to follow a calling is optional. We can always choose to stick with our own plans. But at what cost?

How will you spend your one and only life?

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Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as the lead pastor of one of the largest United Methodist Churches in the Midwest. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role with Spiritual Leadership, Inc (SLI).

Roger now comes alongside pastors, non-profit leaders and their leadership teams as an executive coach, specializing in leadership that inspires change. As a side gig, he loves teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas.

Other passions of his include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, Krispy Kremes, board games with family and friends, and traveling in different cultures. He also has a weakness for golf.

Roger is the author of three books, Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith, Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For, and Come Back Participant Guide, all through Abingdon Press.

Now for the best part. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross. Leanne grew up around Bloomington, Illinois where the two of them now reside. God has blessed them with two adult children, a son-in-law, several tropical fish, and one adorable granddog.