The Temptation of the First Career for the Second-Career Student
As I’ve said before, I’m a second-career student at Princeton Seminary. My undergraduate degree is in Computer Science, and I spent 20 years (more or less) working in Information Technology in various capacities. A few years back after a few prior years of wondering whether I belonged in corporate America and in IT, I experienced a layoff. That caused me to spend some time thinking about my future, and I decided that some form of ministry was my future. I’m in my second year at Princeton Seminary. I’ve had one very successful summer serving as a Chaplain intern, and I’m interning in a church right now.
One of the things that we are reminded of, often, regularly, all the time, is that we who are in seminary (and the ordination process) are discerning our call and vocation. We are taught that serving the church in some form (pastor, chaplain, seminary staff, etc) are a few possible vocations, but that God calls many people to a “secular” vocation. In that secular vocation, people are called to do their secular job while living their Christian identity. Hardly a week goes by without someone asking us what our sense of call is. I felt a strong call to chaplaincy this summer, and I’m exploring my sense of call to congregational ministry in my current Field Ed placement.
For the first half of the serious discernment about going to seminary, I was also looking for a job in my first career. Many people had told me that discernment is better as a choice between two options, rather than a yes/no choice of one option. There were a few times before I made the decision that I needed to seriously look at seminary when I almost was chosen for a job. I feel that these were God’s way of nudging or shoving me to seminary. The last was a position as a project manager at a local community college, that I missed by “this much” according to someone at the college. That was really the final straw that pushed me to seminary. Interestingly, about a year later (after I’d been accepted, while I was waiting for the fall semester) I got a call back from that college asking if I might be interested in interviewing again for the position – it was open once more. I refused immediately – I had already decided on a different path.
Recently, school has been taking most of my time. For some reason, this middler year at Princeton, with Princeton’s new schedule and Field Ed is requiring a LOT of my time. At the same time, I’ve been offered the chance to work on several small IT projects – some web development, some email migration, some “fix my computer” work. I’ve had to turn down a few and make sure that the rest understand that I’m very busy with school and not as available as I have been in the past (particularly the year before school started).
At the same time, there’s a temptation. The IT work is easy for me, compared to my seminary work. There’s a reason for that … I have years of experience in IT and only a small amount of experience in seminary. I’m doing a lot of “first time I’ve done this” at seminary and in my internships. When a friend needed a quick blog installation last summer, I was able to get a framework installed in an hour – domain name and all. It has taken me more time than that to write a few prayers for Field Ed (it’s faster now). So there’s a temptation to say – “I can DO my first job, why don’t I stop school and go back?”
In the stressed student, this creates a few mental options for what is happening:
- It’s a test. God is making sure that you are really committed to the path that you are on.
- You’re going down the wrong path. God never really meant for you to go to seminary – you misunderstood and it’s not too late to turn around.
- So somebody offered you a chance to make a little money doing what you used to do. Why not? You can do the job, and it’s easy for you.
- Your future will have pieces of your past and pieces of your future. Keep up the skills.
I’ve tended to see these recent requests in light of option 3, after spending a little time flipping back and forth between 1 and 2. In between flash cards and readings and writing papers, of course.
I believe that in my case, option 4 is the most likely. Why would God call someone this late in life and just throw away all of the skills and experience that were built over those years? At every church that I’ve interacted with, I’ve used my IT skills. Right now I’m scheduled to be the computer/projector guy on Sunday at Field Ed, and I’m working on converting the church’s email to Google. But those aren’t the skills that give me life. Helping people understand God and the message of Christ, helping them process grief or loss or celebration, helping them to worship God – those are the things that are giving me life. The IT job is fun at times – don’t get me wrong. But right now I just can’t see doing it full-time again. I can see ministry in some form being my future full-time – with a little project management and a little IT work in the mix.
And yet, it’s tempting to look back. So I must turn my head and look forward again.