A Lifetime of Vocation

This past weekend I participated in a surprise retirement party for my sister! Ginger retired at the end of May after working for 50 years. During those years she worked for four companies. She completed her full-time employment without being unemployed, laid off, terminated, or downsized. Quite a feat for an African American woman!

Ginger’s story of work and retirement is unusual. According to statistics compiled by Zippia, the average person stays at an employer for 4.3 years and changes jobs 12 times. Furthermore, her career spanned tremendous changes in the working world. Her career began with managers from the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation. She saw the rise of Baby Boomers and experienced Generation X flooding the marketplace. As Ginger entered retirement, she trained Millennials and Generation Z. This proved challenging. The average Millennial expects to work less than 3 years for an employer. Also, she had the hardest time getting these technologically savvy young people to take notes using pen and paper!

When I first entered the workforce in 1980, my employer guaranteed me employment for a lifetime. I could never be laid off. This kind of commitment from an organization to an employee rarely exists today. Organizations provided care that felt paternal. In return, the employee would be a faithful worker. Words like tenure, loyalty, and dedication mattered.

I’m not sure when it changed. In 1997 Michael Hamer wrote an article, “The Soul of the New Organization.” He wrote, “The essence of the new deal in the modern organization is an exchange: initiative for opportunity.” Hamer wrote that organizations no longer provide employees security, benefits, or long-term tenure. Instead, they provide education and opportunity. In exchange, the employee is trained, developed, and receives experience that can be used in the next job or career.

Such thinking for the church is both fearsome and opportunistic. There is great value in long-term pastoral leadership. But fewer congregations can promise a lifelong position. But every congregation can provide training, education, and opportunity. A pastor can learn and grow while serving any congregation. Perhaps pastors should ask, “How am I learning to be a better pastor here? How is God using me to lead this congregation? What other vocational choices is this call preparing me for?” This may mean rethinking call and vocation. The question of purpose and vision becomes focused on the present context of ministry. Great value can be realized even if it is for a relatively short time.

— Rev. Dr. Craig Howard