With Dr. Bruce Hartung
Over the last months I have received a number of communications from column readers concerning vocational change. Successful changes — although not without some struggle and heartache — have been reported by teachers (who have left the LCMS teaching system to teach elsewhere, often either in another not-for-profit school or in the public school system), directors of Christian education (who have found youth-oriented positions in other denominational, private or public systems or agencies), and pastors (who have found their calling in institutional or other organizational chaplaincy or, in some cases, secular employment).
While leaving their parish-based positions was not an easy choice, these readers often were able to seek, find and engage other vocational work. In many cases, such as the example below, they have sought outside assistance.
“We were downsized in a so-called ‘reduction in force.’ This was devastating. I gave my life to being a Lutheran teacher. But I sought counseling, got some other vocational direction and began to explore other options. God was gracious and our pastor was very supportive and encouraging. I moved from feeling sorry for myself to working hard [and using] this as an opportunity. It was. I am very thankful. But I want to tell people not to go it alone. There was local assistance for me, supportive congregational members and a counselor who gave me the opportunity to feel and think about my situation and my options.”
More painful, however, are the stories of pastors and teachers who see themselves as being “stuck.” They are not, at least currently, in danger of being part of a reduction in force. But they are not happy in their vocations. Here’s an example:
“I’d like to wave a magic wand and change what I am doing. I [no longer] have the heart for pastoral ministry I once had. I do my work. I am effective in what I do, or at least that is what I am told. But my heart is not in it. I want to do something different. But I am not trained to do anything else. It is like my feet are in concrete and there is nowhere to go and retirement seems so far away. Can all this be God calling me in a different direction? I could still serve God and Christ, but in a different way.”
Perhaps you are being led into a different vocation. That has yet to be discerned. But it is hard to discern this when you see no other options.
First, I’d suggest that you break apart the concrete so that you can take a step. If you are on the Concordia Health Plan, consider using its Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for vocational counseling (which includes career and benefit resources). The EAP provides up to six free face-to-face counseling sessions, a 20- to 30-minute telephone consultation with a counselor and educational resources. To get started, call Cigna Behavioral Health (the EAP administrator) toll-free at 866-726-5267.
Included in this could also be some vocational testing. One test I use is the Campbell Skills and Interests Inventory.
If you are not on the Concordia Health Plan, your health plan still likely provides out-patient counseling benefits. Talking with a counselor about what you are experiencing helps break the concrete.
You can break more concrete by taking part in another conversation — this one on the distinctly spiritual side. You — and all of us — have spiritual struggles. Discerning the nature of the struggle you are in is extremely important. It is certainly not a foregone conclusion that you should remain in congregational ministry — nor that you should leave it.
Locate a spiritual adviser who can walk alongside you in this discernment process, for this is more than an exclusive behavioral-sciences issue. A colleague who can listen, help implement ideas and pray with you; a spiritual director; a layperson of mature experience outside of your congregation — are all possible options for this kind of conversation. Don’t go it alone.
May God’s Holy Spirit bless and empower your discernment.
The Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is director of the M.Div./Alternate Route programs at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Sept. 19, 2012