It will get better
It's that time of year. Bright-eyed and empowered seminary students are completing their last papers, picking up their caps and gowns and saying goodbye to the hallowed walls of their theological training institution.
By Elizabeth Evans Hagan
For many, their master’s degree in divinity is the final chapter in their educational journey. They couldn't be more excited! It's thrilling for these ministers to finally use their theological and biblical education that has been poured into them for the past several years. It's thrilling to seek employment in congregations full of the people they knew they'd love from the day they said "yes" to the call to enter seminary. It's thrilling to begin to get paid for ministry (what a concept!) if even sparsely.
Sometimes, however, the dream does not go as planned. Sometimes graduation comes and goes and job opportunities do not come, especially for female candidates. Sometimes churches say, "You're too young" or "You're not what we are looking for (i.e. a white married man in their 40s with 2.5 children)" or "We'd like someone with more experience." Sometimes the worst part of seminary is not the coursework but leaving its safety without hope of places to serve.
This happened to me nearly six years ago. With a M.Div. from Duke Divinity in my hands and a desire to serve the Baptist church through pastoral ministry, I believed job offers would be numerous in my mailbox. I had passion, training and commitment to the church to offer. How wrong I was. Like many of my seminary friends in non-connectional denominations, the struggle began.
Months passed, resume after resume, interview after interview. "Our committee needs more time. We'll call you back in a month." Tears of frustration came more times than I can remember.
As I waited, I found myself living in a friend's basement alongside her 12-year-old child, working at a women's clothing store with credit card debit mounting to just buy gas. "Is this what I went to seminary for?" I wondered.
But wise advice kept me going: "It only takes one church to call you. God has not brought you this far to leave you now" And so I waited on that one church-- whomever and wherever they were. I made my corner of the basement the most hopeful and prayerful place I could. My time would come, eventually, I believed.
After six months of life in limbo in the basement, I finally found a match with that one church: a church that would call me to be on its pastoral staff, a church that would say, "You are exactly what we need," and a church that would make a path possible for so many more blessings to enfold in my life in the years to come.
In retrospect, six months of waiting seems like no time now, but back then it was an eternity: an eternity I sometimes feared I would not make it through.
Now in my second pastoral position that fulfills exactly what I went to seminary to do, I'm thankful for whatever path I needed to take to get here. The more I've learned about myself, my calling and ultimately about God, ministry has gotten sweeter. I will never take my blessings for granted.
The road from seminary to positions in ministry can be a rocky path for any-- no matter where you went to school, no matter how strong your resume is, and no matter how well-connected your references are. And, so I want to testify that no matter how rough the road is, it does get better. With determination, clear sense of self and calling and willingness to serve even if it not your dream job right away, opportunities will come.
Keep the faith, my newly graduating colleagues! The church needs you and I pray will call you to positions soon. In the meantime, enjoy the journey with confidence that others of us were once in your shoes.
OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.