Ten years ago, I made the difficult decision to turn away from a lifelong passion for music and pursue a career in vocational ministry. It was a tough choice at the time, but as soon it was made, I knew I’d be doing ministry for the rest of my life.
Or so I thought.
After seven years of working at a Christian missions organization, a place that was doing a lot of good in the world, I quit. This was a job that I was good at and enjoyed and likely never would have lost unless I did something really stupid. It was a perfectly secure place to work. But I left it.
Why? Because I was called. And although I didn’t realize it at the time, this career shift wasn’t just going to change what I did for a living. It was going to change my life.
I thought I was chasing a dream that was mostly about me. But it was so much bigger than that. Here are three paradigm shifts I learned from building my own business and what I learned about my faith in the process.
Paradigm Shift #1: It’s All Ministry
Leaving my job to become a full-time writer and entrepreneur felt foolish. I even felt some inital guilt over it. “I’m just worried that I won’t get to do ministry again,” I confided in a successful Christian CEO over coffee one day. He just smiled.
“Jeff,” my friend Mike said with a gentle grin, “it’s *all* ministry.”
I nodded, as if to say “of course,” but I didn’t really know what he was talking about. Nonetheless, I wanted to be open to it, the possibility of it being true.
And with that, I ventured out in pursuit of a dream I didn’t fully understand.
Paradigm Shift #2: Money Is a Means, Not a Master
Having gone into business for myself as a blogger and online educator, I quickly began making more money than I ever thought possible. And it depressed me.
In no time, I was more confused than ever. Money had always been the point of work for me. What was I supposed to do now.
One day while Skyping with my friend Stu, I told him I didn’t know what to do with my free time. I had just made enough money in a week to live on for the year, and that paralyzed me.
“I’ve never done this before, Stu,” I said. “Work has always been about providing for myself and my family. What do you do when that’s no longer an issue? I seriously have no motivation to go to work.”
“Jeff,” he said, “I stopped working for myself years ago. I live in a small town and have everything I need. My standard of living hasn’t really changed in the past several years.”
Stu is the cofounder of a successful software business. He explained to me that when he starting making more money than he needed, he went on a trip to Africa that opened his eyes.
In Kenya, Stu saw how much of a difference opportunity and education can make in a person’s life. Instead of feeling guilty about his wealth, he started to see it as a means to help other people.
“After that,” he told me, “I realized I was good at making money and didn’t need to feel bad about that. When I returned home, I started working not for myself but for all those people I met in Kenya.”
Not long after that, I had a similar experience. Through the business, we generated enough sales to give a percentage of the revenue to a ministry overseas.
In a single week, we raised enough money to build an income-generating workshop for women living in a leper colony. This was a project that would provide these woman a means to make a living for themselves and their families for the rest of their lives.
Turns out money isn’t bad. But it isn’t everything, either. In my experience, it makes a better means than a master. Don’t work for it, but use it to do what matters.
Paradigm Shift #3: Your Dream Doesn’t Belong to You
Every day, I go into an office where I work by myself. I author a blog and teach an online course and write books about my life experiences. Everything I do has my name on it, and in a way feels like it’s about me. But it’s not.
Not a day goes by when I don’t receive an email from someone whose life my work has touched in some way. It’s humbling. Now, I realize that the best dreams aren’t really about the dreamers. A good dream is really about the people it serves.
In the film *Mr. Holland’s Opus*, Glenn Holland is a frustrated music teacher trying to compose a masterpiece in the margins of life. He never succeeds—at least not in the way he hopes.
In the last scene of the movie, Mr. Holland, who is about to retire, is escorted to the school gymnasium where he finds a room full of people whose lives he has touched. And just before taking the stage to direct his symphony which will be performed by an orchestra of current and past students, one of the alumni who is now governor says, “Mr. Holland, *we* are your symphony.”
May the same be true for you and your life and the symphony you create.