Adjusting to change

Yesterday in a conversation with a friend, I learned that a common friend of ours is facing unemployment. After a successful career, his employers have decided that they want to go in a different direction and have informed him that they will no longer need his services next season. He works in a volatile field where this kind of thing is fairly common. I hadn’t learned about his situation earlier because he was very close to getting a job in our town where I know some of the people who are involved in decision making. In fact, when they narrowed the search down to two candidates, he was still one of them. Then, when the choice was announced it was the other candidate.

My friend will find a new job before the end of the existing one. He is bright, capable, experienced and has an excellent record. When he makes the change, as is common in his field, several of his staff members will go with him. The result will be a new direction, new possibilities, and perhaps it will even look like a promotion to outsiders. But it will also mean disruption, moving not only his family, but probably several families, and lots and lots of changes.

It isn’t quite as dramatic in the ministry. Usually when a minister moves, it is just one family. Moves can be for very good reasons. A pastor may end one call and take another in order to serve a larger or more complex ministry. A move might bring a pastor to a location that is closer to family. Pastors and congregations have personalities and while a good match is a treasure, a mismatch can be hard on both the pastor and the congregation. Sometimes it is just a good idea to move on and find a better place to serve. Jesus’ advice to the 72 in Luke’s Gospel is often quoted by pastors as they seek a better match with a congregation: “. . . whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.’” Sometimes it is the best thing to wipe off the dust and move on.

I’ve never experienced unemployment. When I was a full-time student, I knew what my next summer’s job would be. When I was nearing the end of my education, I received a call to ministry before I graduated. Across the span of my career, I have only made two moves. Both times, I received the call to the new ministry before I announced the end of the ministry I was leaving. Both times there was a bit of reluctance to leave the good people I was serving, but the folks who were calling me offered compelling reasons to allow my ministry to be led in a new direction.

In that aspect, I am very different from many people. I have several friends who have experienced unemployment. One was likely the victim of age discrimination. He occupied a senior position in a large corporation and was laid off in a corporate restructuring. The company proceeded to hire a younger (and less expensive) employee to serve in essentially the same position. Another friend has been unemployed twice. The first time it took seven months for him to find a new job. Research shows that most employees are offered only minimal raises in pay and benefits when they stay in the same job. The most dramatic increases in pay and benefits come from changing jobs. Those who change jobs frequently often find themselves in positions of higher pay than those who are loyal to employers. There is even a term for the way most employees are treaded by long term employers. Breadcrumbing is when an employer offers small pieces of encouragement, tiny raises, and other incentives, but isn’t serious about making real changes in compensation or benefits.

The labor market is constantly changing. When I began my career there were no personal computers. We used typewriters and mimeograph machines to produce worship bulletins. Photocopiers existed, but were, for the most part, too expensive for churches. Today a pastor who isn’t competent in the use and management of computers is not likely to appeal to a congregation. Congregations want social media skills and even computer networking skills. They expect well-managed web pages and instant communications. That is just a small example. There are people who pursued an education to earn a job that no longer exists. It is estimated that one of the largest shifts in the US labor market is just on the horizon. The expansion of driverless cars and trucks could lead to an end to the jobs that employ the largest number of US males. It will not only be the over-the-road semis and taxi cabs that no longer need drivers. Our packages will be delivered by drones and robots. Our mail will no longer require a postal delivery person.

We can bemoan these changes, but they will come whether or not we like them. Learning to adapt is a survival skill. Young people entering today’s job market will probably see multiple dramatic career changes in their life. The jobs for which they are currently training are not likely to be lifelong pursuits. I know a former corrections officer who is now a baker, a former self-employed entrepreneur who is now an office manager, a former banker who sells insurance, and a former politician who is in the tourist industry. These people have only had a couple of careers in their adult lives. Todays youth are likely to have a half dozen or more. The way to survive in the midst of fast paced change is to adapt.

I’m pretty sure the friend with whom this journal entry began is not surprised to find himself in this position. He knows the nature of his work. He understands the ways in which change can come suddenly and unexpectedly. He knew the risks when he chose his profession. It is all just part of the job he has chosen.

It is a challenge, however, for me to offer pastoral support to one whose experience is so different from mine. You can add that to the long list of skills needed by people preparing to enter our profession.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!