Purpose Interview with TJ Morelli
As ABBA continues to explore the very complex subject of purpose, we’ve talked most recently about the Pitfalls of Purpose, and heard a personal story of Rich discovering his own purpose in a covert military operation. Knowing that most Christians want to find meaning and purpose in their lives, this topic has a wide variety of answers and opinions, Rene shares her conversation with seasoned purpose veteran TJ Morelli of Austin Ridge Bible Church to learn more about his own journey of discovering purpose.
Rene: TJ, you’ve had a unique and multifaceted life experience of living out your purpose. However, before we dive into your personal journey, what does the word purpose mean to you as a Christ follower?
TJ– I would define purpose as the reason for why we exist. Pretty light answer, I know! I believe a discussion on this topic must start with answering one foundational question: What is our true identity after giving our lives to following Jesus?
The Scriptures tell us that we are now children of God. That we are the daughter or son of the One True King. That we are children of the Perfect Father that loves us more than we could ever imagine. As we grow in our understanding and acceptance of this truth, our purpose becomes much clearer. For every Christ-follower, our purpose is to grow in our love, dependence and enjoyment of the One who gave up everything for us. Additionally, our purpose is to reflect His amazing love, to tell others about the only gift that will ultimately satisfy, and to help people grow closer to Him. This process of pursuing God and then loving and pointing others to Him is the core purpose for every one of us!
The other purpose talked about in the Scriptures is the individual purpose each one of us has based upon our unique wiring. Ephesians 2:10 says ‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ The Greek word for ‘workmanship’ is ‘poema.’ It’s where we get the word ‘poem.’ You are God’s unique poem, made in His image and designed in such a way that our work can reflect Him if we are walking with Him.
Rene: Your journey has been extraordinary and one that has shifted from one area of expertise to another. As a graduate of West Point, you’ve been an officer in the military, a leader in the business sector, a pastoral leader in a very well-respected church in Austin, and now you are the Executive Director of a new nonprofit called Pivot Leadership Group.
Can you tell us a little bit about each of those areas and how God clarified some of those opportunities that ultimately led you to pivot?
TJ: From a young age I always had an interest around the idea of leadership. I chose West Point because I believed it would grow me the most as a leader and a person. I grew so much in my time at West Point and in the military. The focus on a selfless team-centered attitude and the exposure to a wide mix of leaders gave me an unbelievable foundation.
After leaving the service I went to work for a small recruiting firm that places military officers into the corporate sector. The company grew quickly, and I became part owner at a young age. If I am going to be honest, up until this point my motivations for leading were not healthy. Money, image, and seeing people as means to an end were at the core of my motivation. At the age of 29, I hit a wall and had two panic attacks. God showed up in an amazing way during this time. I was sick of leading life with me at the center of every decision, and I made the decision to put Him at the center of my life. It is the best decision I have ever made. It’s no doubt been a journey of ups and downs, but my purpose became much less about a certain role or my performance, and much more about enjoying Him and continuing to grow dependent upon Him.
I continued as an executive in the recruiting firm and have always thoroughly enjoyed the art and science of business and leadership. A few years after coming to faith, I felt God clearly calling me to walk with men and women who are in the business sector. This eventually led to me working as a pastor at the church where I had come to faith. After ten amazing years on full-time staff at Austin Ridge, my specific purpose has continued to be clarified. Pivot is a Christ-centered leader development nonprofit that is designed to strategically partner with the Church to help business leaders see their purpose and their work as God sees it.
Rene: Many Christians yearn to fulfill their purpose and God’s will in their lives. It’s something millions of people want more clarity on because, oftentimes, they have doubts they’re not following God’s direction or plan.
What advice would you give an individual looking to fulfill God’s purpose in their life?
TJ: A few phrases immediately come to mind: ‘take your time’, ‘it’s a journey’, ‘no job will completely satisfy’, and ‘make sure you see purpose through His lens and not your own’. In ten years of full-time church ministry, I have found the idea of individual purpose to flat out be an idol. The simplest definition I have ever heard of an idol is an out of order love sequence. Let me explain what I mean.
On one hand, I have seen many who see their current purpose at work to be a burden and merely a way to provide. They are often tired and feel beat down by life. The thought is that if they were working in a church or a nonprofit, for example, they would be so much more satisfied.
On the other end of this spectrum are those who believe they’ve found their individual purpose and now feel driven to put all their energy into living this out. This scenario often leaves a relational wake behind them due to this hyper-emphasis on living out their purpose. In both these cases, individual purpose is seen in a very twisted and self-focused manner.
If I’m being real with you, I have personally played out both these scenarios at various times in my life. It is one of the reasons I believe I have been able to help people identify and then battle this in their own lives.
Here’s the great news on all of this: His Word gives us the solution to crushing this idol. Proverbs 16:3 says, ‘Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.’ Matthew 6:33 tells us to ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’ If we are seeking Him and desiring to use our gifts to bring joy to Him and to point people to Him, He will continually clarify and direct our individual purpose.
What if finding our purpose is not about self-fulfillment, but about a journey that grows us closer to Him? Finding our purpose should never be our primary goal. I have found one thing to be true over and over again. As we pursue Him and desire to come more and more under His leadership, our individual purpose continues to clarify.
Rene: When talking about purpose, we hear testimonies from Christians who say they’ve received answered prayers, or they’ve gotten words of encouragement from trusted mentors who support that they are on the right path and purpose God has called them to do.
Will you share some thoughts on how you believe others can discern and confirm certain opportunities that will help guide them towards their individual purpose?
TJ: As I hope the last answer conveyed, we must always start by both being in His word and by continually praying for His leading. In Proverbs 3 we are told to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, turn towards Him and He will make straight your path.’ We must believe these verses are true.
In addition to continually turning towards Him, we must turn towards the wise counsel of those who really know us. In my life, my very close friends and family have been a huge part of me clarifying my purpose as I’ve grown as a Christ-follower.
If you are not certain where your next step is found, I believe He clearly tells us to be patient, pray that your heart would be aligned with His, bring others into the decision, and believe He will always lead and protect you. This does not necessarily mean worldly success will follow, but it does mean supernatural peace will undoubtedly be the result.
Rene: As we wrap up our time together do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?
TJ: I know this whole idea of purpose and God’s Will can feel so overwhelming. But I would end with one key encouragement: Be All In! God wants to lead you instead of you trying to lead yourself. God does not want us to ‘walk on eggshells’ as it comes to using our gifts and finding our purpose. He wants us to boldly and humbly pursue Him as we steward the gifts, He’s given us. He calls us to put others needs ahead of our own. He wants us to use our gifts to help others thrive. He also desires for us to love kindness and to fight injustice (Micah 6:8).
We are in a broken world and we will undoubtedly receive a few black eyes along the way, but never forget that you are a unique poem that can reflect His light to a hurting world. In small but powerful ways, when you are led by Him, He will bring about restoration and healing in and through whatever purpose He calls you to.