News and Views

Considering ministry for a season

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By Rev. Bryant Oskvig

News articles frequently report on the significant number of career changes that people, on average, will make in their lifetime. Based on current information, the younger generation seems even more likely to have multiple radical career changes. The ministry already has a proportion of persons who realized their call and came to the ministry from another career. Despite this, we recruit, train, and deploy clergy as if this vocation is permanent; without the theological perspective of being “ontologically changed”, we act as if the person has been altered in some way. Maybe, we should rethink this.

A few months ago, a colleague newer to the ministry reached out and shared with me that they loved the ministry, but they were just not sure how long they could continue in it. We talked of self-care and taking space for oneself, but I heard something else in our conversation. They were thinking of ministry as a season in their life. I began to wonder how much better we would be if we began to think of ministry as a season.

I have friends who have been in the ministry for decades and express a sense of feeling trapped in it because they are not sure what else they may be capable or trained to do. It is not that they have lost their faith, and they still love the church; they just have grown out of a passion for ministry. Rather than a failure or a challenge in the caring of themselves, maybe their season in the ministry has come to a conclusion, but our systems do not encourage and support persons to move into something new.

If we thought of ministry as a seasonal call (for some this season may be a lifetime), our training and conversations would be meaningfully changed. Our seminary and ordination discussions could be about a sense of call in this moment and a discussion of what may come next. Seminary education would need to be affordable enough, so that no one is held back by the expense and debt of a degree from pursuing something new. We would also then talk more openly about the training needed to make the next season a viable choice. Ordination would still affirm one’s competence and preparation for the ministry while encouraging thought beyond it. Continuing Education expectations could become more broadly supportive of people's passions and interests beyond the church with the financial support of the congregations and Annual Conference to affirm those possibilities; CEUs paid for and recognized for a different trade.

Our appointment conversations would also change. Annual consultations with district superintendents could be framed around what season one is in the ministry, and how one is preparing for the next season of one’s career. The bishops could utilize Extension Ministry in a broad sense (for those that want to remain responsible for and involved with the Annual Conference) and Honorable Location (for those that need a full step away) appointments as means to move people into their next seasons, while retaining a recognition of their ministry in the church.  We could joyfully open ourselves to the idea that people come into new and different moments in their life of faith and vocation, and this would be seen affirmed in the ministry itself.

I wonder if this would make the ministry more affirmational and more honest. My ministry has been one of many different positions over these past twenty-five years, each role unique. I have used some of the same skills in a wide variety of circumstances. I have had different “seasons” in my ministry, and I remain, for now, in the season of my call to the ministry in the church. But, maybe to be a better colleague, I need to start intentionally asking and being asked, “How are you preparing for the next season of your vocation, whatever that may be?”

Rev. Curtis Ehrgott Apr 3, 2023 2:00pm

Rev. Bryant Oskvig I hear what you are saying. I have seen many people in stages of burnout and dissatisfaction in a local church, with the Conference, etc. I have another perspective. Concord-St. Andrews hosts St. Mary Coptic Church (also ROCK Presbyterian for worship and Catalyst Church for missions). I have become good friends with Fr. Domadius, a man who wears a cassock every day of the week. He never goes outside his house in any other attire. The self-reinforcement of physically donning this 'uniform' sets him apart from others and supports his identity. My experiences with him have reinforced my call to ministry and appreciation of my ordination vows. I wonder how each of us would see ourselves differently if we wore "clergy attire" every day?

I am glad other clergy confide in you and communicate their fears about their life in ministry. I recall similar feelings early in ministry (and in marriage, and in prior professional career). We are called to support and love one another - especially as ordained Elders. No one else can really understand our call to ministry and our professional challenges. We need to build each other up and stay strong in our commitments and vows.

That said, we do need compassion for those who need take leaves of absence, renewal leaves, and those who choose to surrender their credentials. We never truly know what others have gone through in their lives and must respect their choices after a period of discernment.

Thank you for your ongoing ministerial service and perspective. Blessings on your ministries.