I do not work for HBU

Whether we like it or not, at one level HBU is a business. The various departments and schools submitted budgets a while ago, and soon we will hear from the upper levels of the administration at least some of what will be approved: namely, faculty (or at least all retained faculty) will receive their contracts for next year. For most a year will be added onto a two or three year contract; some will find a one or two year contract has turned into two or three year contract. And it is possible that some will discover that they will not be retained after their present contract runs out. The average faculty person probably finds this process is routine. They assume that another year will be added to their contract and are more interested in what courses they will be teaching and when they will be teaching them, which are school or department issues rather than concerns for the upper administrative levels. But for some there is a bit of anxiety. I noted this anxiety recently when one faculty member asked me, “What would you do if your contract were not renewed?” I do not know why he asked me in particular that question, perhaps because my title is “visiting professor” or perhaps because I am an Anabaptist-oriented Episcopalian priest in the midst of a department that is virtually all Baptist, but for whatever reason, it was asked. I replied (in somewhat stronger language than I use here) that I would not care.

There is a lot behind that “not caring.” It is not that I would not miss the camaraderie, support and friendship of the people I work with. I deeply enjoy my colleagues and would miss not being around them. Nor is it that I am not committed to the mission of HBU and my teaching in particular. Rather, it is because, in a sense I do not work for HBU, for my teaching is a vocation, not a job. It is this sense of vocatio that I was expressing, not a lack of commitment to those who make up the institution where I work (which, practically speaking, mostly means my department). This is vocation because, you see, I did not start to teach Bible and theology because I wanted to or thought it would be a good job. I trained as a pastor and scholar and started to teach because I knew without the shadow of a doubt that God had spoken to me and called me to do precisely that. Thus my slogan is and has been, “Biblical studies for the good of the church.” That means that while I do try to fulfill institutional requirements as best as I can and will take pride in HBU and its accomplishments, I do not really work for the institution. I work for God. And if God still wants me to work for HBU, I shall be offered a renewed contract and have the inner sense that I should accept it, but if God wants me to work elsewhere I either shall not be offered a contract or I will have the inner sense that I should refuse what I am offered. In either scenario, I will not have changed my “employer,” for God remains my employer, and this would even be true if he should call me to something other than teaching Bible – it would still be a vocation, for it would still be his call. Furthermore, I am in the same vocation whether teaching at HBU, teaching in another theological institution, or teaching in the church (which, along with the discipline of simplicity, is one reason I often wear a clerical collar while teaching in a Baptist university). I am in same vocation whether commuting to my office or taking care of any of the many details at home that are necessary if I am going to be fulfilling my vocation. And I hope my colleagues at HBU have the similar sense of divine vocation whether they teach chemistry or business or literature or whether they care for the grounds or keep the buildings functioning. There is no boundary between church and “world” – it is all one vocation, in my case having to do (at its core) with Bible, and, in the case of others having to do with some other thing that God wants done in the world.

While I had had this perspective for some time, this really came home to me in a new way about a decade ago long before I had heard of HBU. I was walking from my office to an office supplies store and heard in my head, “X [my then-employer] does not give you work, I give you work.” A week after that while doing the same type of errand I heard, “X [my then-employer] does not pay your salary; I pay your salary.” I realized that God was preparing me for something. Shortly after that the whole category of employees of which I was a part was laid off due to institutional finances. As I packed up my office and moved it to my home I realized, “I am not unemployed. I still have the same employer. He is just changing how he plans to manage my work.” So I could never say that I was unemployed or even self-employed (except on tax forms) since I still had the same “real” (even realer than real) employer and he still commanded all of my time. I also realized, “I am not unsalaried, I just do not know how much my salary is.” God had not told me how much he was going to pay, just that he was the one paying my salary. But I knew his character and that he is not stingy. Still, it was not until tax time that I actually knew how much he had planned to pay me for the year. During that period (and ever after) I had to remember that wherever the money came from in a proximal sense, it was God who was sending it.

I do not pretend that taking this stance is easy. I tend to be a highly anxious individual, so for me this means spending a lot of time in the ancient spiritual discipline of meditation (read John Cassian if you wish an explanation). I need spend that time so as to withdraw my focus from the future that I cannot control or from the past that I cannot change and focus it on the now and in particular on the One who Is and for whom the future is no surprise. So I sit in my chair (or, even better, cross legged on the floor) silently in his presence. I open my hands and release all I have and all I am concerned about to him, not with words, but with that simple gesture. And, somehow, in his presence, whether or not I hear anything or have any special experience, I gain perspective. And when I slip and start getting anxious again, I come back to the Presence and spend more time.  It is there that I learn without words that I live my life for an audience of One, that I have only One employer who is much more important than HBU. And that there is one Patron, who supplies all my needs.

At this point I fully expect that next year will find me back in a classroom in Atwood I or II at HBU. But I am more concerned about other issues than my future: teaching the classes I presently teach, writing well on the book I am finishing, and growing in my own spirituality. The reason for this focus is not that at least the first two of these could be factored into retention at HBU, but because those are the duties that God has given me now. And that is because, whatever my CV may say, I do not work for HBU, but for my Lord in whose calling I can live securely.

4 responses

  1. Thanks Peter,

    I conversed with a colleague a few days ago, another pastor who told me that he felt that he had to suppress a part of himself as a preacher. You have articulated my sentiments: I don’t work for our church, even though they provide my paycheck. I rejoice to have the liberty to proclaim the Jesus-message without fear.

    Your friend,

    David Moore

  2. Thanks Peter,

    I conversed with a colleague a few days ago, another pastor who told me that he felt that he had to suppress a part of himself as a preacher. You have articulated my sentiments: I don’t work for our church, even though they provide my paycheck. I rejoice to have the liberty to proclaim the Jesus-message without fear.

  3. Great thoughts Peter, especially for someone like me who is hoping to find full-time employment somewhere, it is a good reminder that God has me where He wants me and has compensated me enough for the season in my life.

  4. Hello Peter, so refreshing to hear you with your outlines about your call! I can only agree with you. my colleagues are catching on by saying: ‘We know you’re not working for money.’ It’s so true and freeing at the same time.
    Greetings to Judie

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