Monday, February 8, 2016

Transitioning from Secular Work to a Sacred Vocation

Like many of you, ministry is my second career. I was the manager of accounts receivable for a multi-national company providing services to the trucking industry. I worked with our contractors,  finance and claims departments, teamsters, and probably a few mobsters along the way. While I joke that dealing with teamsters prepared me for dealing with church people, that may not have the best response when ordination committees and boards asked how my previous career was relevant to ministry. 

As more people leave secular careers to pursue ministry, they face the task of connecting their previous work to their calling and their gifts and graces for ministry. If you are in this position, reflect on times in which you acted in a way that shows your calling and be ready to tell that story. For example: 

Relaxing from a long Labor Day weekend, on the couch in my comfy clothes, CNN scrolled the news that one of our largest customers would be filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy the next morning. I hyperventilated a little and waited for it to scroll again to make sure I’d read it right. We’d had some payment problems with them for about 6 months and their accounts payable director, Barbara, and I were becoming best buddies with near daily phone calls. Office keys in hand, I headed out the door. My cell rang. The CEO at corporate across the country. It was a situation where the pleasantries of “hello” went by the wayside. “I’m on my way in. I’ll get you numbers.” “This is bad, isn’t it?” “Real fucking bad, sir.” (We were in trucking, and I speak the lingo.) 

I spent the night at my desk crunching numbers. What they owed by terminal, what we had been paid in the last 90 days (which could be considered preferential payments and thus have to be returned in the bankruptcy proceedings), creating spreadsheets and fielding calls from our contractors wanting to know how this impacted their payments, all while watching the fallout on the business channels. Nearly 15,000 people out of jobs overnight, facilities pad-locked and employees unable to even collect their personal belongings, and millions owed to vendors like us. Knowing the months, probably years, of paperwork and legal meetings and the financial impact on us, I picked up the phone to call Barbara. 

The message I left went something like this: 

“Hi Barbara, this is Jessica from Company X. I’ve been up all night watching the news and going over the numbers. This is so bad. And I’m so sorry for all you are going through. I can’t imagine the phone calls you are getting. Please know that I’m thinking of you. If you need anything, like a reference for a new job, or just to talk, please call me.  You have been so kind, and I can’t imagine what you have been going through in the past few months as all this went down.  Again, I’m just calling to say I’m sorry, and I’m thinking of you, and if there is anything you need, please call. My cell is XXX.” 

About two hours later, she called me back. And she was crying. She said her voicemail was filled with hateful, vulgar messages. Except for me. She and all her co-workers were out of jobs. They had been through hell in the past few months. I asked if she needed help finding a new job, we had lots of connections. No, she said, it was time to retire, travel to see grandkids, go fishing with her husband. She thanked me for my kindness towards her. She was shocked that in the midst of it all, I was concerned for her. And we said goodbye. 

In the midst of what the bankruptcy meant for me and my company, I was far more concerned with the well being of this woman. I saw it from her perspective. And I took action to provide comfort to her, even though she worked for the “enemy” that had just caused massive upheaval for my company. My gifts for ministry include compassion for those who might not be seen as the vulnerable party.

Our callings exist long before we recognize or act on them, and our gifts and graces for ministry can be seen in various aspects of our lives. Being able to recognize ministry moments in our secular careers is a vital element to transitioning into ministry. 

For help learning how to tell your story and transitioning from the secular world into the life of ministry, consider a few sessions with Whole Soul Consulting and visit www.wholesoulconsulting.org 

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