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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ask the Matriarch: It's Homecoming Season

Homecoming! Football! Tailgates! Discernment questions!

Wait, what was that last bit? I'll get to that in a minute. But first: be sure to keep reading past this post for an important update regarding RevGalBlogPals membership--the deadline is tomorrow, if you would like a chance to vote in the first Board election.

At any rate, this week's Ask the Matriarch is about homecoming, but in a completely different way—when the prodigal daughter returns to her home church, a fledgling, and is encouraged to stay in the nest:

I am currently in the process of ordination for my denomination. I have completed my academic requirements, but I still have a few things that will take at least a year to complete for my governing body. Since my graduation I have moved back to the place that I grew up, and I have once again become very active of the congregation that I grew up in.

Our Director of Children’s Ministries recently announced that she will be retiring from her position after the New Year. I have already been asked by a number of people if I will be applying for the interim position. Although I do have a passion of Christian Education and enjoy working with children, everything within me tells me that working for the church I grew up in would be a bad idea. I need my church to stay my church rather than my place of employment, plus I really would like to have to opportunity to work not just with children but also with youth and adults.

I am not sure the best way to respond to these well-meaning folks. I have a feeling that “because I don’t want to work at this church” and “I don’t want to limit myself to kids” is the best response. I am open to any advice that our wise and learned matriarchs have to offer.

- Needs to 'No'

The matriarchs agree: You have answered your own question. “It sounds like your heart and brain are both screaming ‘don’t do it,’” writes Jan. “I’ve known this kind of thing to work out on a temporary basis, but you are smart to be concerned about boundaries. If you join the church staff, to some extent, you are losing your pastor and your congregation. They become your boss and your parishioners, respectively.” Abi notes that it’s great that you want to stay involved and active with the church you grew up in and commends you for your good sense in “keeping the boundaries clear, if you want your church to be your church, and not your place of employment.”

How to respond
Abi: I think it is wise to respond something like this; “Thanks for the encouragement/vote of confidence; that really feels good. But you know, this is my church, and it is just not a good idea for me to work in the church that is my church. And I am not called to work with just children. I have prayed about it, and it is not the direction God is leading me in right now. But please keep me in your prayers as I finish all my requirements up and pursue a church to serve.”

Karen: It seems to me that the main reason to say no to this job would be that they will want someone who can commit to this position over the long haul, but you will want to seek an ordained call once you’ve jumped through all the denominational process hoops. If you did take this job, you’d likely be leaving in a year or so, and your church would be left in the lurch again.

A possible compromise
Karen went through something very similar at her church, when her office administrator’s spouse was transferred out of state and had to move very abruptly. “We had a recent seminary grad who grew up in this church and was living with her parents while searching for a call,” Karen writes. “She became our interim Office Admin and served 6 months before moving on, and it worked out well both for us and for her.”

That might be a way to say yes and no simultaneously. “Would you be open to proposing that you’d consider serving as an ‘interim director of children’s ministry’ for a limited time?” asks Karen. ‘If their current person has been there a while, they might appreciate having some breathing room to think and pray about how they want to shape that position for the future—and it would give you some additional church experience that might put you in a better position job search-wise when you are ready to seek a call.”

What’s next?
But that’s completely up to you. It sounds like you are getting your ducks in a row for the next chapter in your life, and there are many factors to consider. Jan and Abi suggest an internship, if that’s possible, or going for Clinical Pastoral Education if you think that might be the direction you want to go.

Some of things they’d ask you in return include whether you are actively seeking employment in a church at this time or waiting until you’re ordained. “Ponder your greatest passions and/or what will best equip you for your dream position once you can be ordained,” writes Jan. There’s also the risk that “working solely with young kids will type-cast you for future calls,” she continues, noting it’s a valid concern. “You might be right. Churches always seem to be looking for someone to work with kids/youth ministry and you will have “experience.’”

Also, Jan asks, if you are job-hunting, it depends where you are geographically—and whether that's where you want to stay. Is this the only probable opening in the area? If so, you may want to consider it after all.

However you choose to handle it, you’re in our prayers as you continue toward ordainment and writing the next chapter of your life. If anyone else has insights on this situation, please share in the comments!


  1. Hi Helen,
    You do such a great job. And yes we will be praying for need to "no".

  2. I guess what is not clear to me is what the lead pastor and local church ruling body think about all this. Are they the ones approaching you, or a well-meaning Aunt Biddy? In any case, to me the guiding heart principle is your dis-ease at the whole idea. Unless God overwhelms you with a big "go for it" I'd listen to your heart.

    God's peace-

  3. Deb--my impression from the original question was that it was congregants. if the original poster would like to clarify that, she can send it along to me and i'll let you know.

  4. I believe you are right in wanting to say 'no', and can do that graciously. It is very easy for them want you, they know you. They need to search for someone who will be there for a longer period of time for all concerned.

    In our church there are two years of study, one year of internship and then the follow up year. I'd go for an internship, it gives first hand insights to what has already been offered in studies and a good way to do some discerning as to where you really would like to be in ministry.

    It's also a good time to hone your skills in many areas of church life and to strengthen possible weaker areas. Experience is a great teacher!

    My prayers, also, fly with you at this time.

  5. Wow,this is timely. Thanks for such a thoughtful question, asker, and response, matri! I love this feature!


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