Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to decide which (pastoral?) job to take?

It has been one and a half month since I started working in the pastorate. Who would have guessed that the first job that I take up after graduation is pastoral work. That was not in my mind when I enrolled into theological education. 

Just a few weeks ago one of my seniors from Trinity Theological College, who is in the same denomination as I am, told me that he was surprised to know that I have joined the pastorate. Besides him, there were other friends who were similarly surprised when they got the news. This testifies to the unexpectedness felt not only by myself but also by my peers that I am doing what I am doing. Major part of the reason that I was open to consider serving in the pastorate was due to the two essays I wrote while at theological college. One was on the importance of ecclesiology. The other was on the political theology and life of Karl Barth, the great Reformed theologian who spent twelve years in the pastorate before assuming his professorial position.

How I landed on my current job is not without much consideration. I was earnestly seeking, fearfully praying and discerningly going through interviews with six Christian organizations in Singapore between the end of April to the end of May before I came to my decision. One of them was Brethren, one independent Evangelical, one Methodist, and three Presbyterians. There were also two Presbyterian churches in Malaysia that have graciously corresponded with me over the possibility of working there. 

How did I decide among them? Here is my experience which I hope may be beneficial to the readers.

First, I had to see which was the least logistically troublesome for my family in the immediate foreseeable future. For this reason, I had to pick a job in Singapore although I would really love to work in Malaysia.

Second, just as my interviewers (who were my potential superiors) evaluated me to discern whether would they enjoy working with me or not, I had to evaluate them in the same way. Some of them googled me and read my blog prior to the interview. Some requested to add me on Facebook so that they can browse through my Facebook personality. I of course did the same with them. However, my personal evaluation was not enough. So I asked around to find out about them. And the critical part in this matter was to discern among the different impressions I gathered from those I consulted.

Third, given that I was deciding which Christian organization to work in, I had to discern the theological dynamics between me and the interviewers. This was very important exercise because I took theology seriously. I cannot join an organization or work with superiors who do not prioritize theological education. This does not mean that we have to have 100% theological convergence. Such is rare if exists at all. Rather, it means we share the same vision for formal theological education and placed similar degree of priority in it. Only by this that my presence in the organization will add value to it, while the organization will continue to provide platform for me to grow and so add value to me.

Fourth, I had to be honest to the interviewers about my long term plan. At each interview, I shared with my potential employers that I have given myself ten years to serve in the pastorate before deciding to teach in the capacity of a lecturer in university or theological college.

Fifth, I had to discern together with my family to see which organization is best for us to settle in and to grow together.

These five areas were all equal in importance. 

After I have filtered through the options, I was left with two choices. Although both were Presbyterian organizations, yet the jobs were very different. One was more of administrative at the policy-making level, while the other was more of pastoral work at ground level among congregation members. I liked both of them equally.

Besides attended interviews, I have also participated in the activities organized by both to get more exposure to their work in real time. Both parties have prayed along with me in that critical period. For two weeks I was torn between the two. And the decisive factors that helped me to choose between them were... dreams and hymn.

In the early morning of 23rd of May, Wednesday, around 3am, I was awakened by a series of consecutive dreams of the organization that offers me pastoral work. (Possibly that was due to a forty minute long chat that I had with one of the influential senior member of that organization during the day.) And very strangely that when I awoke, the hymn 'Take my life and let it be' was ringing over my ears. That was strange because I had not listen to that hymn nor sing it for a long time. (I don't have the habit of listening to Christian songs and hymns.) 

I knew that that was not how decision should be made (based on dreams and hymns), yet the occurence helped me to see what my vocational preference was. I couldn't fall back to sleep. So I sat up and wrote an email to the interviewers of the organization, informing them of my decision to join them. Then I went back to sleep again. And when I woke up at about 8am, another hymn was ringing in my ears. This time was Charles Wesley's 'And can it be that I should gain'. Strange!

When simplified, one can say that my decision to serve in the pastorate is shaped by much prayers, much discernment, familial concerns, two essays, a series of dreams (which may be caused by a phone call) and a hymn... Of course there was a sense of calling too. But that will be another story which goes back to year 2000 or 2001.

Is any of these also part of your consideration when you were at a crossroad between jobs? What are the other areas that you think are important which are missing in the list?


Alex Tang said...

Thanks for sharing. May you continue to be a blessing in your present work.

Alex Tang said...

Thank you for sharing. I agree with Barth that time in pastoral work is foundational to theological understanding and exploration. Blessings to you as you bless others.


Sze Zeng said...

Thank you, Alex, for reading and commenting. And of course also grateful for your well-wishes. :)

Benjamin Ho said...

Hi Josh, nice post. Some factors that I would suggest to consider

1. Interest & gifting
2. Advice from respected mentors, people close to you
3. Ability to provide for those close to you (esp if you are settling down): and
4. Timing and opportunities.


hanguoxiong said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

I have also been pondering very deeply about vocational choices. I trust that the Lord would lead and guide you in all your ways.

See you for lunch tomorrow.

Guo Xiong.