Friday, February 16, 2007

Tent Making

Earlier this week, I was privileged to sit in during a luncheon in which we honored a professor for serving the seminary for 30 years. I have said before how much I appreciate being able to witness these events, a privilege that few people who have not themselves risen to the teaching ranks of higher education are able to have.

The professor we honored this time has long had a reputation of advocacy for higher wages for those who work at the seminary, a subject near and dear to my own heart, especially as I've been struggling to earn enough in this high-cost-of-living area to get by. My wife works also (in fact, she's currently earning more than I do), but her ability to contribute financially is affected by the fact that she is pursuing a PhD (perhaps someday to be honored at a luncheon like this herself?), and so her current job is expected only to be temporary.

Although there are many aspects of my current job that I value greatly, this is not where I feel my call lies. I entered seminary to gain the skills needed to pursue a call to ordained ministry. Although my career path has not gone as I expected, it is still where feel led to serve. However, I am not at all sure how best to proceed. I can find part-time work with some ease, but none of those jobs can even match my current overall salary. Full-time work is much harder to come by without finishing my ordination exams which, in a best-case scenario, could take a couple of years, and would ideally mean my taking some time off to take a refresher course on Reformed theology.

Although loans are, on some level, an option, I have enough debt already, and do not enjoy the thought of adding to it. (My wife is concerned about this already, as regards PhD tuition.)

A poster I saw outside of one of my professor's offices the other day got me thinking. It commented on the fact that many of the earliest "evangelists" earned their living by working "in the seafood industry," referencing the fact that some of Jesus' disciples were fishermen. I'm also reminded that the Apostle Paul was a tent maker. Indeed, to this day, many Christians refer to "tent making" to describe secular jobs that finance their ministry work.

I've held multiple jobs in the past, including some 10-hour-a-week ministry positions while I was working full-time here at the seminary. I've also volunteered my services on many occasions to churches I've been connected to. In both cases, I found myself fighting burnout by the end of a year working so many hours. Yet, most churches I've been to have depended heavily on the efforts of volunteers, and a great many of those volunteers have been people who have faithfully volunteered week in and week out for years while working full-time at another job whereby they earn their living. I have the greatest respect for these people. I've always wondered if I must be doing something wrong by not being able to sustain the level of activity that such people seem able to do.

I see no easy answers. I know that I can't stay in this job forever. Although it (barely, if that) provides a living, it is not where I feel called. Sooner or later, I will need to move on to something else, and perhaps to take some risks financially in order to better prepare myself for where God is leading me. I have been in a few discussions recently about the nature of work, and whether or not life requires us just to "bite the bullet" and do work we hate in order to get by. Although I don't expect life to be "easy," this kind of thinking bothers me greatly. We have been given talents and gifts for a reason, and we must use them faithfully. But I do not believe the God requires us to do work that we hate just so that we can earn enough money just to continue surviving. God calls us to be willing to give up our lives, but is this the kind sacrifice that is necessary? What happened to God caring for God's people? How much are Christians permitted to "hold out" until we find a good "fit" where we feel God is leading us?

I'm not at all sure. In the meantime, I guess I'll keep making tents.

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