The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.
“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.
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Recently I heard a professor discussing the “pre-commencement address” he gives to seniors in the last class with them in the fall semester before they will graduate in the spring. He contends they are in a much better position then to hear “practical advice about the ways of getting hired and … some hard truths about life.” Here is a bit of what he says:
“First, I tell them to imagine a ladder whose bottom rung is about 6 feet off the ground. That’s the reality in most fields, where the perks — be they prestige, excitement, money, or best of all, meaningful work — attract more applicants than there are jobs. It’s always been this way, I explain, and they should embrace it rather than complain about it.
“They’ll either need a leg up to reach that first rung or they’ll have to develop the strength — that is, the experience, the skills, the drive, the desire — to pull themselves up on their own. … I also tell them to take a boost onto the ladder if it’s offered, without confusing what they’ve earned with what they’ve been given.
“Then I tell them to spend the last semester … weaning themselves from the good life and the safety net many of them enjoy — professors and … support staff who care about their development and well-being; friends nearby and available at all hours; flexible schedules and relatively small consequences for a missed assignment or a missed class.
“… I tell them to accept the fact that being overlooked or underestimated is part of life. That someone else will get a job they deserve or think they deserve. …
“Last, I tell them to keep in touch, because I know how good they are, and how much the world needs them, even if no one knows it yet.”
This professor doesn’t teach at a seminary. Mitchel Zuckoff is a professor of journalism at Boston College (you can read his full commentary from NPR’s “All Things Considered” by clicking here). But his advice is just as apropos for those entering ministry as those moving into any other professional field. Managing expectations and accepting the realities of life (and realizing that current realities in the economy may differ in degree but not in essence from “the norm”) is as important as academic training and expertise.
Another professor, Barry Schwartz (a psychologist at Swarthmore College), also offers advice to students for whom the high expectations instilled by parents and teachers who spoke of limitless possibilities and becoming whomever we desire to be don’t mesh with reality. He works to persuade his students that a good job is good enough; they don't need to have the best job. "If they can go through their lives looking for and appreciating what's good in their friendships, in their romantic relationships and in their work — even if their work is more modest than it would have been 10 years ago — they can live an incredibly satisfying life that way," he says. (See “Educated and Jobless: What’s Next for Millennials”)
These realities don’t change just because one’s vocation is rooted in a call from God and one’s place of service is on behalf of the church rather than a corporation. The place where the Spirit will lead and God’s people will summon us won’t always—let’s admit it, won’t often match up with our highest hopes and dreams. But if we are open to accepting the opportunities that do present themselves for using our gifts we can find satisfaction and fulfillment. Meaningful work is what keeps even prestige, excitement and money from ringing hollow. Those are realities of life, whether working outside or inside the church.