These days, I teeter like a seesaw between confidence and uncertainty. I’m job searching and about to make a career change. After four years as a college student development professional, I’m looking for a pastoral position, hopefully in a church. That sounds like a drastic and random switch, but if you know me well, it’s not so surprising. Job searching is a nerve-wracking time vacuum that can cause a lot of self-doubt. Generally, I’m a confident person, but these days, uncertainty seems to linger close by.
This is a bad time to be looking for work. The economic crisis has hit almost every sector of the American workforce. Professional ministry is no exception. There are fewer churches with openings across the country but lots of eager applicants. One church that I applied to emailed to say that they received “an overwhelming number of applications” and would soon begin the phone interview process. I wonder how many is “overwhelming?” 40? 70?
Then there is the disheartening question of qualification. Do I have the experience, skill and gifts to become a pastor? Yes I do. I know who I am. I’ve received affirmation and encouragement to pursue a pastoral position. I’ve been profoundly shaped by challenge and struggle and experience within the church but still want to serve the there. I understand and live out a clear sense of calling. I’m qualified. But, how do I show potential churches that I am qualified when I only have three measly pages of space to make myself stand out among an “overwhelming” number of applicants?
Add to this mix my unconventional path to the pulpit. I didn’t go to college to become a pastor; I went to college to become an actress. My education and professors pushed and prodded me to consider another type of drama – the drama between God and humanity – and to act in a different way, to encourage and help broken and hurting people. I changed my major from Theatre to Biblical Studies. A few years later, I went to seminary. Attending seminary was not a means to the pastoral end for me, as it is for so many. I did not view my education like I would a train ticket, as though I could simply buy my passage and ride my way from lay person to pastor. I embraced my education as a wonderful and privileged opportunity to continue studying the word of God while carefully wading into the turbulent waters of ministry. After I graduated, I worked at a greenhouse and made minimum wage. Then I got a job as a residence director at a college.
I’m confident that along every turn and twist of my path I have lived out my calling. However, few things about me and my journey have been conventional when compared to other pastors. I have worshipped and worked in a variety of denominations. I don’t have a decided, biblically backed-up opinion on all theologically controversial topics, which many churches (and pastors) seem to expect pastors to have. I don’t love C.S. Lewis, nor do I feel it is my Christian obligation to read all of his work. I believe that pastors should be paid a fair, living wage according to their experience and education. Oh, and did I mention I am a woman?
Being a woman makes this pastoral job hunt feel almost futile. Picture this: I’m an adventurer dropped deep in the Amazon jungle. Survival here means that I must catch wild game. No matter how fast I run, how silently I stalk, how sharp my machete, how exact my aim, or how agile my attack, I’ll never succeed. It doesn’t matter that I have a calm head and all the right tools for the hunt. Why, you ask? Look down and see why it is nearly impossible for me to succeed – someone has cut off my hands.
I have no qualms about being a woman and a pastor. God made me female and knit me together with skills and gifts, particular experiences and desires. God has called me by name to serve, to lead, to nurture, to teach, to pastor. But perhaps you can imagine that my job search is much more challenging because I am female. If you can’t imagine, take twenty minutes and search a Christian career website and read a few pastoral job descriptions. You’ll quickly see how many descriptions either subtly suggest or explicitly say that only men need apply.
I keep searching. I’m frustrated; I’m hopeful. I’m excited; I’m scared. I see my unique experiences as an asset, will others? Yes…no…maybe…uh, I don’t know. I can’t control the thoughts of other people, the economy, or the outcome. Even if I could, I wouldn’t go back and change the route of my life. Each bend, straight and narrow on this road have made me who I am. I really like who I am. I can only walk ahead and do what I can do. Maybe along the way I’ll learn to trust. Hopefully.