Friday, March 11, 2005

Candidate early, candidate often

Another big piece of the puzzle is what I call the “placement work ethic.” In a way, what I've found about this is surprising: many seminarians (and many pastors) are shockingly lazy when it comes to their ministry placement. Most seminary students that I know are hard-working guys, so I am sometimes stumped when I find that they are taking their placement very lightly.

I inevitably encounter this in an informal way: a friend, graduating in the coming months, and I will be talking and I'll ask, “how is your search going?” “Okay, but I don't have a lot of things in the works,” their response might go. “Tell me,” I prod, “what has your search process been like? How have you been pursuing opportunities?” “Oh! Well, I've been checking the Hot List*!” Then comes an awkward pause while I try to find a tactful and loving way to say, “That's it?!? That's all??!!??”

I don't think these guys are intentionally lazy or neglectful of their placement process, but I do think they are approaching placement with a poor work-ethic. Perhaps they believe that if they can simply get the divinity degree, things will simply fall into place for them. Some of them over-spiritualize the process, applying Jesus' admonition not to “worry about tomorrow” to their placement. Some are simply working off of assumptions that it really isn't that difficult to find a pastoral call.

My experience tells me that none of these are right. It is hard work to find a pastoral call-- in fact, it should be considered another part of the hard work of seminary, just as ordination should be. And God is sovereign over the process, but that doesn't remove our responsibility to be faithful, diligent, and obedient in our participation and work toward finding placement.

My survey confirms my experience. Many of the respondents who were placed quickly listed a wide variety of ways they had been working at finding placement. Those who fit the description of “successful” placements also demonstrated a strong work-ethic. And a major theme that arose in response to the question, “what would you do differently?” was that of working harder-- starting earlier, making more efforts, contacting more people (a la networking), exploring more directions.

Clearly, the work-ethic is a big factor in successful placement. I like to think of the adaptation of an old mantra: Candidate early, candidate often. Words to live by.

*The “Hot List” is a list of opportunities that Covenant Seminary publishes in-house for its students and graduates.

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