Do students still have guidance counselors? Some students talk about having help from advisors in planning course schedules and completing requirements for graduation, but I seldom hear about guidance on choosing careers and making long-range plans. Jim Smith was my counselor when I entered High School. He had lengthy conversations with each student and used a variety of interest and skill inventories to identify what students might be interested in pursuing in their careers. He was also my Sunday School teacher and there were a dozen of us in his class, and we knew that he took an interest in us as persons.
Mr. Smith predicted that I would not have a problem with any subject that I chose to study in terms of academic achievement. The inventories indicated that I had high interest in such areas as teaching and social work and low interest in such areas as sales and marketing or mechanical skills or entertainment. He laid out a variety of career paths that might tap abilities and skills in a satisfying way. Among other possibilities he pointed out that clergy seem to require a high level of interest in sales and marketing and entertainment because of their involvement in leading and developing volunteer organizations. As generalists they also depended on having a variety of interests and skills in many areas, so he didn’t want to discourage me from thinking about ministry, just to be aware of some components that would be more challenging.
I suppose I always carried that piece of advice in the back of my mind. It was present in the first years of my considering ministry as a career because I knew that I would have to study and do some things that I was not fond of doing, in order to get to those that were more rewarding. Speaking before groups became less threatening, but making the sermon and the service interesting and captivating remained a challenge. I decided that I would try for a “conversational” style and leave the captivation to someone else. Still I have seen other preachers become successful because they truly made an effort to sell their product, knowing it is the greatest product anyone could ever sell, if they didn’t diminish the product by the way they sold it.
Even phrasing it that way still disturbs me. Is faith a product that requires a sales strategy? The farmer in me immediately translates faith into the field that requires planting, watchfulness, waiting, and harvesting. The teacher in me makes faith into scores of lessons to be planned, taught, demonstrated, and tested in some way. The social worker in me sees faith as a mutual service to be exercised in assisting people along the way to empowerment. There are scores of ways to describe our product, and all of our skills and interests need to be tapped, and no one can have them all and do it all. So we can all look forward many different incarnations of ministry as the years go by.
Still I am sold on the Gospel and the church and Christ-shaped humanity. If I neglected to do all that I could to promote these “products,” it is not because they do not deserve everything we can do together to promote them in all the ways that prove to suit them, if the Spirit is indeed still present to serve as a guidance counselor.