My recent blog post titled “It Still Makes Me Wince,” in which I reflected on circumstances related to and arising from my five years (and counting) of unemployment, prompted some specific questions by a few of my readers. I felt they were important enough to warrant a public response.
Question: How many résumés have you sent out; how many online job vacancies have you responded to? How broadly have you “cast your net” in an attempt to find a job?
Answer: In the first year or so after I lost my job, I sent out numerous résumés, filled out a lot of online applications, and responded to job opening ads wherever I found them. It was a new experience for me. Most of those contacts and inquiries did not even result in an acknowledgement of receipt. When I began preparing for Anglican Holy Orders, I essentially stopped looking elsewhere. I have sent out no résumés recently.
Question: Why is that? How can people consider hiring you unless they know of your availability.
Answer: Until I lost my job five years ago, I had never even written a formal résumé. I had never needed one.
I know it is difficult for people to comprehend the terms of the covenant into which God and I entered more than forty years ago. I myself have difficulty with it these days. But I am absolutely certain that God made it clear to me, when He first called me into vocational ministry, that I was to prepare myself for service—physically, spiritually, academically, psychologically. It would then be His task to place me where He wanted to use me. As I’ve said many times, up until five years ago, that covenant seemed to be working flawlessly.
That is not to say that I have been flawless in my adherence to the terms of the covenant. Nor that the transitions from one chapter of my pilgrimage to the next have all been executed flawlessly.
For example, twenty-seven years ago I left the pastorate of a large church (to which I had been called four years earlier without my seeking the position). Although some good friends and wise counselors believe it was a premature departure, I still believe it was the right thing to do at that time.
I was eager to find a new place of ministry as soon as possible, however, so I engaged a service which specialized in linking up churches in need of a pastor with ministers seeking a call. It was a disaster. I drove hundreds of miles for half a dozen interviews, all of which proved fruitless.
I decided to return to school, so I enrolled in a doctoral program in a large, denominational seminary. Again, it was my attempt to impose my wishes and my timetable on God. After one excruciating semester, I knew I had made a mistake.
Still, I tried to make something happen. In desperation, I took out my copy of the Directory of the National Association of Evangelicals and started making phone calls. When the president of a small evangelical denomination in the midwest responded favorably to my inquiries and invited me to consider an appointment as a church-planter in northern Indiana, I assumed that my efforts had borne fruit. I was wrong.
Four months later we found ourselves back in the same city where I had previously served as pastor. This time, however, I had been invited back by a friend of mine who had started a new construction company and was offering me a job. I worked for him for nearly a year.
It was hard work for a guy with no experience and few discernible skills. But it was God’s provision, and it served to remind me of the terms of my covenant agreement. In time, another church in the area learned of my availability. They contacted me, I was called to serve as their pastor, and it was a satisfying and productive experience for all parties.
That was twenty-four years ago. There have been another couple of transitions in the interim, but each was clearly God’s leading in God’s time. I spent nine years as the staff person for a parachurch ministry and fourteen years as a teacher in a small Bible college. (There was some overlap there.) I did not seek out either appointment. They found me, and it was clear, in both cases, that responding positively to the call was the right thing to do. It was God’s will.
That brings us to five years ago, and this is where things get dicey. My wife and I had together sensed God leading us to move to central Ohio in 2000. The administration of the Bible college had invited me to increase my teaching load to full time. I would serve in that role for eight more years, having already served six years as adjunct faculty.
I’ve noted before that my contract was terminated, after fourteen years of service, because I failed to comply with a bylaw requirement regarding church attendance for full-time faculty. For the first time in my life, I found myself unemployed against my wishes. I became disoriented. I lost my bearings. Since then, I seem to have made a series of wrong turns into a series of blind alleys, and I seriously question my ability to discern the will of God anymore.
I’m flying blind at the moment, and although I am not a pilot, I know some pilots. They tell me that, when you’re flying blind, you have to trust your instruments. In my case, that means the pattern which God has used, over and over again, to put me in the place of His choosing so that I could exercise my gifts and fulfill my calling in a way and in a place that would best serve the interests of the Kingdom of God.
For the past forty years, whenever God has wanted to move me into a new sphere of service, He has always made a group of His people aware of my gifts. They have then affirmed those gifts, have invited me to serve among them, and God has given me peace to accept their call. There have been a few times when God led me to leave one ministry before He made it clear where I was to go. Those times of waiting have tested my faith, but God always opened the next door according to His perfect timing, and in the waiting periods He has taken care of us.
Given the consistency of this pattern, would I be well-advised to consider the possibility that God is going to use a different pattern this time? So far, even in the face of persistent counsel to the contrary, I have concluded that, while God is sovereign, and thus He is free to lead me to any destination He chooses, He is not likely to change the means by which He makes the destination known.
Question: Are you open to relocating? Surely there must be someplace on earth where God can use your gifts to advance the work of the Kingdom. Have you explored opportunities that might require you to move away from central Ohio?
Answer: Not really, and there are two reasons why. First, it is hard to believe that there is no place for me to serve in this metropolitan area. Columbus is a big city with a diverse culture and significant spiritual need, like all big cities. Surely there is someplace in this metropolis where I could use my gifts and my experience for the glory of God. Still, I don’t mean to impose limitations on God. For that reason, I need to mention a second, more significant, reason why I have not seriously explored opportunities for service that would require relocation.
My wife and I have one child, a daughter, who was born while I was in graduate school. She was nineteen when Shirley and I moved to Columbus. She stayed behind in Virginia to work and attend a local university. In time, she acquired credentials as a nurse and secured a job in Richmond.
Six years ago, she called us, in tears, to tell us she was pregnant. We would be grandparents before we were parents-in-law. Our beautiful grandson was born in 2007. Shortly afterward, the two of them came to live with us in Ohio in order to escape a deteriorating and abusive relationship.
They have flourished here. Our daughter now lives on her own, works one job full-time and another part-time. Single motherhood is never easy, but she is raising our grandson in a loving and caring environment. He is bright, active, outgoing, and a joy to be with. We cannot imagine life without him.
For the moment, my wife and I are an essential island of stability for our daughter and grandson. I am the strongest male influence in my grandson’s life right now, and I have no peace to pursue any job opportunity that would require us to move away and leave them essentially alone—especially when the spiritual need in this metropolitan area is so great. The opportunities for ministry here should be virtually limitless.
I have learned, since I started writing this blog, that if even a small number of my readers raise a particular question, it is probably shared by a far greater number who, for one reason or another, didn’t verbalize it. That is why I decided to address the questions contained in this blog post. I hope you found my answers helpful in understanding my complicated situation.
I am so grateful for your interest. Thank you so much for reading my blog. And thank you for your prayers on our behalf.
Soli Deo Gloria.