Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Joining Up and Letting Go

This past Sunday, I officially became a member of Knox Presbyterian Church. Knox has been a "home" for the better part of the past year, and is proving to be a place of growth and opportunity in the name of Christ, and I am glad to be more committed to the people here. I have spent the past couple of Thursdays attending their membership class, during which potential members have been taught about the history of the church (both "big c" and "little c") and the basics of the theology of the Presbyterian tradition in particular. Having already earned an MDiv, and having pursued ordination as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) at one point, most of this was, of course, not new to me. But I was glad to have the refresher, as well as to get the opportunity to get to know a few of the people of this church a bit better.

But as glad as I am to "join up" with this particular church, this move also represents a bit of "letting go" that I'm still struggling with. As most of my friends and family know, I have spent the past year or so searching for a new job. Part of this is due to the fact that, with my wife working on her PhD, I am the only full-time wage-earner between us, and the cost of living in California dictates that what we are currently making between the two of us isn't enough to continue to pay all of our bills and pay off our debts from when we both were students. Fuller is a great environment in which to work--if I didn't think so, I wouldn't have stayed here for the past eight years!--but it just doesn't pay as much as I should be earning, given my experience and training. But, the truth is, besides looking for a higher income, I've also been in need of a change more personally. Eight years is a long time to work as a Faculty Assistant. Most people in this job stay only for a year or two, and it's fairly clear that the intention is for most staff positions within the School of Theology to support students who everyone already knows on the front-end will take these jobs to support their ability to earn their degrees, but who will leave once the degree is completed. And while I'm working full-time here, I'm getting further and further away from my church-based experience, which I fear is damaging my viability as a potential paid church worker.

I've spent most of my attention during my job search looking for church jobs. Although I am not currently eligible to be ordained as a pastor (at least, not within my chosen denomination), I still feel that church ministry is my calling. But the fact is that full-time non-ordained church jobs are few and far between. Also, I've been conducting my search from a place of "floating" between congregations, having left my previous church for reasons that I'd rather not go into here. Suffice it to say, this hasn't been ideal either, if only because I know that I need a church home for my own spiritual well-being, whether or not I'm working for that church! I've applied for a number of jobs that have been available, and have had a number of interviews, but so far nothing has panned out. In the meantime, I've resisted becoming a member of (and therefore making a commitment to) a new congregation, despite the need for a stable church home of my own. The reason for this is that I knew that if I ever successfully landed a church job, I would need to start worshiping there, and being committed to a church that cannot provide me with an income would either 1) make accepting an offer at another church difficult, or 2) require me to leave my current church all-too quickly after having "committed" to them. I do not take such commitments lightly, and becoming a member at Knox means that I am making a conscious decision to at least "tone down" my job search for the time being. I'm still keeping my eyes open, but the focus of my job search will simply have to be on non-church jobs for the time being. If something should "fall in my lap," I'm certainly willing to consider it, but I know better than to expect such serendipity.

That's not to say that I see my membership at Knox as having no potential benefits to my future career. I hope to be involved in the various ministries there on a volunteer basis, especially in the area of Christian Education, and hope that such involvement will improve my résumé for future job searches. But I know Knox's reality for the time being is that I will need to have a paying job elsewhere. For now, that means keeping my current job at Fuller. Even if it doesn't pay as well as my wife and I would like, it's certainly better than I'd do at a part-time job, and I may even be able to find other opportunities here, where I am already well-known. Of course, I'll keep looking for other opportunities elsewhere, too.

But still, I'm frustrated at yet another delay in getting my career properly started. At 33, I do not feel as though I have established my career where it's supposed to be. It's hard not to compare myself to my parents and their generation. For them, to not be "established" at my age was definitely seen as a problem, and I know that my parents, although sympathetic, do not fully understand my career struggles. But I also know that my generation's struggles are rather different than those of my parents' generation, and that it is simply not fair to compare the two. That doesn't make my frustration any less, nor does it make the pain of "letting go" of what I feel to be my calling, even if only for a short time, any easier. But I do think that I've made the right decision for now. I hope that I will be able to be of service to God and to the people of Knox Presbyterian Church, even as I hope that I will find opportunities that will help me for the future.


  1. Mark - Would it be too cheesy to say, "Hang in there!" Darn, just did it ;-) I noticed your link to Tom Are and Lamotte, so you hang in good company. Take care - Bruce

  2. Cheesy or not, thank you for your kind comments.



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