Lunchtime musings: On call, mentoring and the sticker shock of a grad degree in theology

Lunchtime musings: On call, mentoring and the sticker shock of a grad degree in theology

Quick post here in between work and meetings.

I had a meeting with my candidacy mentor this morning. For those not familiar with the United Methodist Church’s system, read all about it here. For those that don’t feel like reading it, I don’t blame you. Here’s the quick and dirty: It’s a time of discernment as one explores the call to licensed or ordained ministry. What’s it like? I basically find myself asking in no particular order, with no particular frequency: Do I want to be a pastor? Can I deal with weekly sermons? Can I yo-yo from emotional and head and heart-heavy highs and lows? What does a being a pastor mean? What if I like some of the pastoral responsibilities but don’t always like dealing with people? Can I be in ministry doing the communication work I currently do? If so, do I need an M.Div or an MA in Theology for that? Where is God calling me to serve? And how? And why?

So yes, that’s my internal dialogue.

Backstory

I started the candidacy process in January 2011 and have been trucking through with the exception of [an expected] delay of about 5 months when the people who needed to couldn’t access the results to an inventory on religious activities and interests [IRAI] or Form M as it’s referred to. Without going over these results with my mentor, I couldn’t order the psych assessment and without moving forward on the psych assessment, I can’t be recommended to advance in the process, which prevents me from being eligible for funding. You see how this gets a bit complicated.

The Results

So I met with my mentor about my results. I never know how to feel about these tests/inventories. On one hand, I have an idea of what the results will look like–I think I’m pretty self-aware. On the other hand, I’m hoping these tests will tell me something about a blind spot I’ve missed. As much as I think I know what I want or am called to do, there’s a bit of me that can’t say with 100% certainty that I am where I need to be.

So, the results. See photo to the left for the basics. What does all this mean? It basically confirmed what I knew about myself and ministry:

-I show a very high interest in this one area: music.

-I show moderately high interests in: administration [planning, promoting and executing various church related programs], teaching [teaching and directing Christian education in a local church], scholarship [Scholarly reading, study, research and/or teaching in a college], and in seeking social justice/working in community improvement programs.

-I show no average interests in any area [I suppose that shows some decisiveness in my interests].

-I show moderately low interests in: counseling [bringing comfort to persons in need, helping persons with problems], evangelism [various types of evangelistic work, contacting persons for Christ <- huh?], spiritual guidance [talking about religious topics, help persons develop their faith], preaching [preaching and public speaking, developing speaking skills], and conducting public worship, sacraments and liturgy.

There were a few that I scored low in that I was a bit surprised with. Does that mean I’m not fit for ordained ministry? Not necessarily. [See this guide for more on interpreting the scores]. But I’d sure have a lot to work on if my call to the local church was much stronger than it is. There’s something not right about being a pastor and not wanting to be pastoral, which I’ll admit pretty much sums up my struggle in discerning the call to ordained ministry. One way that my mentor helped me to think this through is that perhaps as a pastor’s kid, some of the areas where I scored low [and by scoring low, it just means it’s not a huge interest area] was because they were second nature and I was already doing and thinking about them. Maybe.

Moving Forward

So of course as I chatted with my mentor about the results, I couldn’t help but wonder if my pursuit of an MDiv was absolutely necessary [or useful as a friend pointed out] for what I want to/am called to do. Other than my own interest in theology and perhaps some assurance for the clergy I’d be working with that I ‘get’ what they do [not that my being a PK wouldn’t provide me with enough of a hall pass], when it comes down to it, a grad degree in theology doesn’t seem that integral to communications/community building/church communication. And, how responsible is it for me to take out more loans for a 3rd masters? ~$40K [not very].

What does this mean for me now? A few things. As I begin my second year in seminary at Seattle Pacific, this isn’t the first time I’ve wondered about my decision to enter seminary. I didn’t need an inventory to tell me that my gifts in church administration and teaching are stronger than the more traditionally pastoral inclinations. One of the questions I keep asking myself [and praying about] is what a career in the church looks like for me. I have to admit my current gig is pretty sweet. In fact, I didn’t know a United Methodist Church in Seattle would find it important, let alone fund a position such as the one I hold doing communications/marketing/outreach and ministry.

This brings up questions about vocation in the church–one that started me on this path to seminary: What exists for non-clergy folks who have heard a call to non-traditional and para-church/extension ministries? Can one make a living doing this work without holding several jobs to make ends meet? I know of a few consultants who pick up jobs working with local churches in our conference. That’s not quite the career I want to have [or can afford].

Does the [United Methodist] Church as it exists now have space for lay persons to serve in full-time ministry capacities that pay a living wage? Other than office coordinators, I’m not aware of many non-clergy careers that exist in a church setting. And even if these jobs don’t readily exist, is there opportunity to create/cultivate/explore what these jobs might look like? Perhaps a staff person to build community relationships and conversations around faith and the arts? Or a program coordinator who runs the programming of the church and serves as a resource for ministry teams? Or maybe a cluster of churches could share a staff person. I could go on. I know it’s different for each worshipping community, but wouldn’t it be great if we [conferences, districts, local churches, community orgs] could imagine these possibilities together and make them happen?

Am I dropping out of seminary?

Not likely. At least not right now. I’ll keep praying on this and ask that you do the same for me and others who are exploring this call to ministry in whatever form it might take. And for the churches, para-church organizations and others who are trying to figure out what it means to be in ministry and service with one another: perhaps it’s time for that conversation.

Postscript

Later that week, I shared these musings at our staff meeting. Our pastor offered his own musings: many pastors in thriving congregations are those who carry the administrative and teaching skills in their toolbox and have other pastors who focus on the congregational care and counseling. Something to think about.