In just a few short weeks I’ll be donning the graduation regalia and walking across the stage. My diploma will come later in the summer since I needed an extension on my thesis. But the thought of having all my classes done is a refreshing one indeed.
A common question that gets asked of me, as I’m sure it does other seminary students and near graduates, is ‘what’s next’? I wrote about this a couple of years ago, in What’s After Seminary? Not a Job but an Adventure. What the question really refers to is what fantastic ministry will you NOW be a part of, where you will be on staff and serving God’s people? I mean after all, why ELSE would you have gone to seminary if you aren’t doing that? In fact, there’s such a strong emphasis on church ministry that not obtaining that can make a seminary grad feel like they failed or wasted their time.
Despite my insistence in my article from 2 years ago that its all about the ministry adventure and not the actual position, I still find myself quite unsettled and a bit anxious these days. I was fortunate enough to land a good part-time position in the field that I had been working for many years and the job was secured even before moving to Dallas. Unfortunately, that position was eliminated and I took another position that didn’t work out. For the past few months, I have been engaged in an intensive job search and recognizing that I may have to continue what I was doing prior to seminary or at least leveraging that experience. In fact, during the drafting of this post I did indeed accept a position and it’s not in a church.
Throughout this job search, a natural question has arisen in mind of what was the point of going to seminary then. I mean, if I’m going to do what I was doing before, what on earth was the point? Especially considering that now I’m in a worse off position since I got off a progressive career track to attend seminary. That thought gets maddening at times.
But a more important thought hit me recently that our need to land something that looks like it is utilizing our seminary degree, i.e. a well defined ministry role in a church, is really self-imposed. It hit me that just because you’re graduating and not landing that “ministry” position does not mean it was a waste or won’t be needed for what God has planned for your life…or that’s its not even ministry. Who says that whatever we vision about our ministry role has to happen right after seminary or even in the manner we thought? It could be that something evolves over time. Just because it doesn’t look like its happening now, doesn’t mean it won’t.
I came across this wonderful article that pretty much affirmed this line of thinking. In When You’re Calling Falls Through, Tyler Glodjo writes about the thwarted plans from overseas mission that made him think that he missed his calling opportunity. He rightly notes that the place of ministry is the place where God will have you at that time, even if it doesn’t look like what you envisioned.
Looking ahead for the next transition oftentimes diminishes the importance of what we have in the present. Years of anxiety and stress in discerning God’s will has led me to believe that God’s immediate calling is clear and direct for all believers: preach Christ where you are. I had lost sight of this in all my kicking and screaming to go preach Christ elsewhere. (The measure to which our will can blind us to simple truths is quite ridiculous!) Having accepted that God purposed for me to live in Jackson, I now understand it in the context of my calling. I am called where I am, until God moves me. The beautiful outcome of embracing such truth is that God stirs up love for a place once considered insignificant.
The opening quote of this article comes from the character of Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, in HBO’s excellent series True Detective. During an investigation, Cohle comments on a small Louisiana town as being a faded memory. For many who desire to leave where they are to do great things for God, their current residence is often a forgettable stepping stone to the next important destination. But such a view minimizes God’s sovereignty and neglects the worth of community. To prevent such indifference, then, we would do well to adopt a theology of place that ordains one’s present context as a dwelling place of divine purpose and importance.
When I let go of striving for where God was calling me next, I was able to embrace where God placed me in the present. No longer did I see Jackson as a launchpad for the next major life transition, but as a good but broken place in need of redemption. The poverty, crime, and segregation that stands in stark contrast with the churches on every corner compels me to stay and witness God at work. The great things I desire are not elsewhere for me to chase—God is making beauty from ashes in my own backyard.
Tyler has given me a good a needed reminder that ministry is not about me, that it may not take the shape I expected and that God has bigger plans than my little pea brain can imagine. The important thing is to trust Christ where you are, preach him, exhort the body and participate in God’s kingdom agenda in whatever form that takes in whatever pocket of society that occurs. After seminary? It may mean going back to what you knew but with some added tools. Who knows what tomorrow, the next year or the next 5 years will hold? God does and its best to just trust him and bloom where you are planted.