Student Question

Student Question July 21, 2012

From a recent graduate of North Park University:

I’d like to hear your response, especially to paragraph 4 below and, to help us, give your age:

I am emailing you to say hello and wish you a blessed (cool) end of your summer! I also wanted to give you all a little update and ask for some prayer and guidance. As you know, I graduated in May and it’s been an interesting transition this summer. I don’t think that reality has set in just yet because it feels like I will be going back to school in August like always. While I have been adjusting, I have been praying and considering what comes next. I think my dream is to go back to school and I of course would love to do that, but I feel that it’s not the right time. I would like to gain some more experience, spend some time growing in this season, and maybe even save up some money before I embark on a graduate education.

I’ve been floundering a bit, however. I have a job in the area still and its been very good to me. But I had all these plans, and I’m finding that things don’t actually end up looking the way you thought they would. I have been trying to be one step ahead, prepared and ready for my “adult life” but I’ve ended up scared and unsure. I never really learned how to trust God with my finances or with my job (I suppose it wasn’t an issue before) and I have been seeking his voice, but I’m having such a hard time making it out from my own.

So I felt convicted to turn to the people in my life that I respect, admire, and look up to; those who can offer some truth and even just a bit of comfort.

I am asking for prayer. I want to know what the next step is. I don’t need a 5 year plan, but I will need a new job come August. I have been applying to jobs downtown, trying to find something that I am qualified for, but mostly, I want to do something meaningful and something that I enjoy. I want to feel God’s purpose for my life, but finding ways to pay the bills each month wasn’t exactly my idea of a mission. I truly love Chicago and want to be here, I just need some help as to what I’m supposed to do here.

Anyways, if any of you have a moment and can offer some guidance, I would be so thankful. Any job suggestions, people to talk to, ways to get involved–really anything that pops into your mind, I would appreciate. I know you are all busy men, so I understand if nothing comes of this.

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  • Mark Pike

    Maybe the most helpful step would be to get a job that pays the bills. We underestimate the importance of honest, responsible work that provides for our needs, this is a gift from God. Have we forgotten this? The parameters of meaningful work and something you enjoy are a potential trap, luring us into self-focused thinking where we define what is meaningful and enjoyable. I think of parents who did work for many years they did not enjoy to provide for their family, and they found that provision meaningful and God honoring. It wasn’t about self-actualization for them. In this economic season maybe we should be grateful to God for the provision of a job. There are too many “I” statements in this paragraph. I am 52.

  • Maurice Hagar

    These are the questions every young person is asking. A young friend of mine worked very hard to graduate head of his class in one of the top engineering programs in the country. A year into an engineering career he decided he hates engineering because it’s boring and meaningless–only those with eyes to see take off their shoes (Elizabeth Barrett Browning). He’s now dreaming of someday while selling Amway.

    I think “lost” is where you begin learning to trust God’s providential working in your life. When you finally embrace wherever you find yourself, in His providence, you begin finding meaning there. And only then do you begin experiencing satisfaction, fulfillment and enjoyment. Finally, mostly in retrospect, you begin understanding what God’s mission for you was/is.

    At least that’s how it has worked out for me. I, too, was lost as a young man just out of Bible college with hopes and dreams of mission, meaning, and enjoyment. In fact, I sort of lived for years in the future while despising the mundane and wearisome present. But I had to eat. And my plans for the future never seemed to work out. Looking back now, though, I see that I floundered my way into a successful career, a loving family, and all kinds of missional work. It’s not about the destination but the struggle of the journey. Embrace the now.

    Maurice Hagar (aka old guy, age 51)

  • Chris Gonzalez – Age 42

    I love how this new graduate is able to articulate the situation he/she is in. These are the same words I would have uttered at this point in my life had I been as self aware as this student.

    I am not sure I have advice that will provide much clarity or confidence, but I can share a few things.

    After college I wanted to be in my home state of Minnesota. I loved my home state so much and knew there was a lot of good work to do in my church and denomination – not as a minister on staff, but simply as a member-minister.

    I ended up in Houston, Texas of all places. I spent about 1000 days in a row (nearly 3 years literally) wrestling with God over why I was in a place so completely opposite of what I thought my mission was in this world. The weather was hostile to me, Texas culture was weird for a Minnesotan, and the city simply didn’t make sense to me. I was financially underwater and the very best word to describe my time there was “floundering.” I didn’t understand any mission while I was there. From day to day all I wanted to do was to survive until I could get out of there.

    Reflecting back now almost 20 years, I have learned a few things about what 1000 days in Houston meant. Here are five of them.

    1. All of my assumptions of what mission is supposed to look like may not overlap very much if at all with what the mission of God is. Becoming aware of this fact and learning to accept it was a wrestling match with God.

    2. I can love God and love people anywhere and doing so is contingent more on my willingness than any other factor. A job for the purpose of paying bills situates a person in a mission context of some sort.

    3. I am not as aware as God is about what preparations I need in order to face the mission set out for me in the 5 or 10 years down the road. I needed some significant purging and refining of my selfishness, arrogance, and self-centereness (among other things) that would likely have gone unchallenged in a comfortable and familiar setting (and for full disclosure, the purging and refining was not an event, but the beginning of an ongoing process that I have yet to see the end of). Had I not had this process started when and where it did, I would be in a different place in life than I am and I am certain it would be a worse situation.

    4. Struggle is the undesirable necessity that makes for great strength, future joy, and lots and lots of stories.

    5. God is quite fond of me (and you). In believing this I assume God is on my side. One of these assumptions I must keep close is assuming God turns circumstance into training, pain into joy, and confusion into meaning. Assuming this helps to frame those “lots and lots of stories” into something of value – something of redemption.

    Not sure I solved anything. I hope a little glimpse of my story can be meaningful in this conversation.

  • I would like to this person’s area of study / major. It’s hard to read into the situation too much without knowing what this person had originally intended to gain from going to school. Beyond that, here are my thoughts:

    As a pastor in an urban area I often deal with people who are living in “exile” in one way or another. Though some may have chosen our city to live in, most are here out of obligation to their jobs. And what this often creates is a sense of living a life that is “on hold” until something else comes along. The advice of Jeremiah 29 is relevant in these sorts of situations. While the Israelites were living a few inches off the ground, bags packed, and their hearts set on returning home, Jeremiah brings in a different word from God, and that was to “settle in,” and to participate in the local rhythms of where they were living. It’s hard to be a neighbor – or to love your neighbor – if you’re not willing to put roots down. The transferable advice from this one letter of Jeremiah to the exiles is this: Even if your current situation is most certainly temporary, live and behave as though it was permanent. Neighboring is not a future ideal, it is a present reality.

    Just my two cents. I’m 39 years old.

  • Scot,
    The Fellows initiative is a compelling, discipleship program specifically designed to come alongside of students like this one. The questions he/she is asking are best answered through loving mentors, coaches, and community. The Fellows program does this better than anything I have seen. It equips college grads to live a fruitful mission in work, family, church, culture and all of life. My answer: encourage him to check out There aren’t quick “fixes” concerning his question. Only a very exciting journey ahead.

  • There is an interesting thing that happens, perhaps especially among Christians. That is the pursuit of “right” choices. We put decisions in the category of “right and wrong” rather “good and better.” I do believe God speaks very personally and specifically, but not always. He has a lot to say about wisdom in His book, and I think He expects to use it. (Ya think?)

    So we drive ourselves nuts trying to find that one right and perfect choice, and it just doesn’t exist. The trick is to look at what is good, see what circumstances and wisdom dictate, get counsel from those who know us, and proceed. We never stop asking God for guidance, and trust Him along the way, nor does this pursuit of Him stop after the decision is made. But it is very freeing to know that I am free to make the decision, and I am free to change it.

    I don’t think God will bless one decision and not another if we are seeking Him and trusting Him. We are His children. He loves us. And He’s all about freedom and wisdom.

  • Scot McKnight

    This student majored in both English and Bible/Theology. Good student; creative student.

  • Tim

    Might this friend find an accredited spiritual director?

  • Scot McKnight

    By the way, this student is a “she.”

  • Props to all for good advice and wise perspective, but especially to Derek Sweatman, because I knew him when he was at this developmental stage, and because he articulates the point so well.

    I constantly say something that was said to me in the Polyester Era: “Everything you do until you’re thirty is for experience.” Tim Coop, if you’re listening, thanks for that one.

    These days I add something else: There are few people I admire for what they did in their 20s, but lots of people I admire for what they did with what they learned from their 20s.

    One earnest twentysomething cannot reverse the entire cultural trend of delayed maturation. But one earnest twentysomething can leverage the banality of an entry-level job into her own accelerated maturation.

  • PS, I don’t begrudge anyone for asking it, but I find that the question, “What was your major?” is much less relevant to this matter than most people imagine.

  • I have been in the place where all you want is to do something meaningful, and I have been in the place where that doesn’t always line up with being able to pay bills or what you thought it might be. Here what happened to me:

    1.) just out of college, I found a job because of a skill I had and that led to better jobs over the years. All in God’s providence.

    2.) During that time in my 20s I tried all different areas of ministry, from teaching the college age Sunday School class, to the high school youth group sponsor and then to being the Worship Director at my church (which eventually became a part-time paid position.)

    3.) Everything during that time was God preparing me for what I am doing now, which is a full-time vocational job in a church. (Not at all what I expected to do with my life when I considered that I just wanted to do something meaningful.) After I felt God’s leading toward education, I went to seminary and now am a CE Director. (After being a Customer Service rep, a proof specialist, a graphic designer and a worship leader)

    3.) I wholeheartedly agree with Linda, who said that we tend to think of “right and wrong” rather than “good or better”. I am currently counseling a young woman two years out of college who is lost and frustrated and not sure what to do after her first year of teaching was horrible. This is what I keep saying: “You can’t screw this up.” God will use whatever you decide to help prepare you for what he has in mind for you, and along the way some personal and professional happiness-es may need to be sacrificed. But it’s important to trust God’s sovereign nature in the process.

    After years of being lost myself, worried about doing what is right rather than doing what is wrong, I learned this very simple truth, that God’s will for my life is this:

    “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV)”

    Everything else is just details.

  • Mike Holmes

    I am 25 years old, so my advice is limited in scope, but I can resonate with the student above since I’m still processing some similar things. I wanted to go to grad school immediately after graduation, but needed to pay back the college loans that a private Christian school requires. While a tough decision, going into the workforce, volunteering, taking whatever opportunities I could to travel overseas, allowed me to discover a main passion that laid dormant when I was in college. I now hope to go to Grad school in the not-so-distant future, but I’ll go for something (International Relations) that I never would’ve dreamed of right after college. Sometimes a waiting period (while proactively pursuing answers to your questions) is a blessing, even if there are dry spots or existential crises in the midst.

  • KD2

    Hi there,
    I agree with the other comments that there may be too much emphasis these days placed on searching for that “one perfect job” that will offer meaning and fulfillment.

    I am 34, and my husband and I both earned degrees in very obscure fields. Shockingly, we both found work in our fields at the same time, in the same town, not too long after graduation. AND WE WERE MISERABLE. Later, I took a job “just for now,” just to get the paycheck and meet the immediate needs………and am still there and enjoying it 8 years later. You never know from whence the blessings will come!

    I would also add this– if it’s practical, and if she can manage it financially and etc. — NOW is a great time to pursue those dreams! Travel, earn a graduate degree, etc., while you are single and have no other responsibilities. It gets much harder (not impossible, but harder!) to live on a pittance (i.e. graduate school) or make major life changes (like moving across country) after you have a family and are settled.

    Hope that helps.

  • RJS

    I agree with KD2,

    If you think you want to go to graduate school and if you can do it without incurring more debt (many kinds of graduate programs are fully funded for those who get in) now is the time to do it … not necessarily 2012 (it is probably too late anyway) but planning for 2013.

    It is not impossible later as life moves on, but it is harder.

    But I also think that there is not one right path to follow, as long as we are seeking to be faithful at every step along the way.

  • Jesse

    28 years old.

    I graduated from college six years ago with a degree in pastoral leadership studies expecting to go straight into ministry. Despite coming close a few times, it’s never panned out.

    Since graduation, I’ve worked as an accounts receivable clerk, an admin assistant, a call center customer service rep, and a content/communications representative. In other words…nothing in the realm of pastoral ministry.

    That’s been a hard road at times. It’s ebbs and flows; some weeks I feel like my life is being wasted on stuff that doesn’t matter and others I’m grateful for how God has been at work.

    I think I’ve learned a few things, though:

    1. I wasn’t as ready for ministry right out of college as I thought. I was smart and capable, but immature. One of the things I’ve consistently prayed is, “If my being in ministry right now is going to do damage to me or others, please shut this door.” I think, maybe, God has been faithful to answer.

    2. Meaningful work is a great ideal, but a poor baseline. God is pleased to do his good work in us even in the most mundane and meaningless circumstances.

    3. You can still be faithful to your calling. Get involved with a local church and start meeting a felt need, regardless of whether it corresponds to your future aspirations. I’ve done this the past 2.5 years at a church and have just recently been asked to assume some new volunteer responsibilities that have some pastoral capacities with youth.

    4. This is one that will sting a little: it’s time to grow up. Welcome to life…it’s full of dreams on hold – or dreams in process – depending on how you look at it. But you can’t put life on hold. So get married, get a job, do NOT move back in with your parents, have kids, buy a house, get involved in a church, etc.

    In 6-10 years, you’ll look back on your life and realize how much growth, how much preparation, you’ve gained. And, yeah, during that time, you’ll find that you get jealous of others who seem to have no problem getting jobs in the field you’re in…even when they don’t have a degree!

  • I’m 25 and experienced a similar situation when I graduated just a few years ago (spring 2009). I’m currently working on an M.A. in NT studies at Trinity but I was living in VA at the time (where I’m from) and had no plans to go to graduate school because I was terrified of student loan debt and massively unsure as to whether continuing in higher education was something I even wanted to do at all. I went through a phase where I would look around online and find things that seemed awesome and meaningful (like building eco-friendly houseboats somewhere subtropical) and I’d think, I’ve never thought about doing that before, but why not? What if I did? What’s stopping me?

    I ended up living in NC as part of a year-long intentional communal living internship called the Community Discipleship Home. The specific program isn’t the point, however; the point is that I needed a time of space and transition in which I could “rest” a bit from needing to immediately pursue something, but in which I also had discipline and structure and access to redemptive community in which I had meaningful responsibilities and could find wise mentors to help me grow and mature even as I wrestled with the “what next?” questions.

    Now, I’m not sure every recent college grad needs a program like this. I think they key for me was “redemptive and transformative community”: in other words, through that program I had no choice but to be submitted to the discipline of close and meaningful involvement with a church body in which were found many different kinds of people and in which were people I could seek out for mentoring and doing life together on different levels (serious and lighthearted).

    So suppose you took a job in Chicago for a while (which from what I’ve seen from believers there can be a great place to work and build Christ-centered community). Here are a few things that would help you use that time well:

    1. You mentioned that you have a dream of going back to school – and from what Scot said about your majors it seems that you (like me) have an undergrad major that practically begs to be completed with some sort of graduate work – so as you work, keep one eye toward that horizon. Research a program a week, or maybe a program a month if you’re thinking there might be multiple years between now and when you go back. Talk with other people who have experience with higher education (and people you respect who don’t) and see where they see your life fitting into that scenario. I received some very specific encouragement and direction from my mentors; based on things I’d written and done they were convinced I needed to at least get my master’s in biblical studies, and two of them even paid my confirmation deposit to TEDS when I didn’t have the money in my bank account. You may not have a mentor who gives you such specific direction but a mentor helps you become the sort of person who can make those types of decisions well.

    2. Be a committed and sacrificially serving member of a healthy local church community. This gives you a better chance of finding quality mentors, is a very spiritually healthy discipline to be committed to, and also gives you a chance to hone your personal sense of vocation through service. At the end of the day the things you do in a local church may have much or little to do with what you decide to do educationally / vocationally, but here’s the key: committed service in a healthy local church, from healthy motives, forms you into the sort of person who is able to apply biblical wisdom to just about any situation and make decisions that honor God even when you aren’t able to concretely see yet that it’s the “right” or “best” decision.

    3. Keep in mind that “God’s voice” may not come across so clearly as that expression implies. The book “Decision Making and the Will of God” by Garry Friesen has been helpful for me in this regard. He is overreacting a little bit to some excesses but his basic point is that God desires us to grow up into maturity through putting into practice the wisdom found in Scripture; Scripture doesn’t teach that believers are supposed to ask God for specific direction on every decision. Rather we have great freedom to pursue things that seem good to us (assuming that our definition of “good” is being formed by biblical wisdom, by the biblical picture of what it means for a thing to be “good”), and once we pursue something we must simply trust God with the consequences of the decision rather than worrying whether what we chose was God’s will or not. In a very real sense, believers who are growing are in fact *becoming* God’s will, and we make decisions out of that place of wisdom rather than necessarily waiting for a clear “word from the Lord.” I think Friesen downplays the possibility of God speaking concrete answers just a bit – I’ve had these sorts of experiences and I don’t think I was deceived – but on the whole I think his advice is sound and encouraging for moving forward in decision-making.

    4. I’ve already seen someone suggest this and I mentioned it above: there is something to be said for some kind of a structured program in which you have something redemptive to do and can grow but also have the freedom from pressing job and educational concerns. Right now is a great time to consider something like teaching overseas, or some kind of structured discipleship program similar to the one I went through. You have a great deal of freedom right now even though it might feel more oppressive than that due to lack of clarity.

    I’ll close this by reminding you of something my dad has to constantly remind me: We are still really young. The next major decision you make isn’t necessarily going to be the thing that determines the rest of your life. I think sometimes it’s tempting to feel like our lives are rushing by us and unless we grab on to the quickest thing we can find we’ll miss something crucial forever. I’m finding this in myself and I think it’s more a subconscious byproduct of unhealthy aspects of American culture than anything else.

    Anyways, if you ever make your way out to Libertyville, we could grab coffee at Caribou and talk about this more in person; but I wish you the best and I hope you face these decisions feeling encouraged in the knowledge that Christ has given us, in the Kingdom, all the resources we could possibly need for joy and vocation and meaningful involvement in the world.

  • Ben Rae

    Firstly, provided you don’t do something contrary to God’s will as revealed in the Bible, you can’t make a wrong decision. Scripture thoroughly equips us for every good work, so if scripture doesn’t tell you what job to take, God doesn’t mind, he’s given you freedom to decide and is working all things for the good of those who love him. So relax—you can’t mess it up.

    Secondly, God wants you to make a wise decision, and given that his purpose for the world is to bring all things under the headship of Jesus, it’s wise to choose an option that best furthers that purpose. That might mean a job where you have lots of opportunity to speak about Jesus, or it might be one that doesn’t take much effort and so leaves you with plenty of time and energy to put in to leading a Sunday school class.

    Thirdly, God’s purpose for your life is that you be conformed to the likeness of Christ. Provided your job allows you to continue that (and most do), it actually doesn’t matter what job you do. You don’t need to use your college degree, and God has almost certainly gifted you with the ability to clean toilets and wash dishes.

    Basically, you don’t need to be anxious about this. Do what’s right and wise in the light of scripture, and trust God to take care of you. Whatever happens he is working it for your good—that you might be conformed to the likeness of his Son.

  • Steph

    This will likely be the first year in your life that one year’s work didn’t automatically lead to the next year’s work, the next step. That can be jarring, and it might lead you to feel like this next section of time is “lost time,” but life after school is no longer a linear procession. To help make this more bearable, accept the mundane details of a day to day job if that is what it looks like you are headed for, but get ahead of the game by trying to set parameters. In other words, if you can, look for an organization whose vision you support to spend those mundane hours at. It helps. And look for a job description with varied tasks and responsibilities, nothing too narrow.

    I am not a good planner and often stumble upon something or it lands in my lap. The most significant experiences I have had were not planned. Life gets jumbled after school, and also, if you were a “good and creative student” in creative and abstract fields, I expect you are feeling a loss of a major identity marker too. The twenties can be rough. Hang in there. I hope soon there is less uncertainty.

    Age 40

  • Jean

    I just had this conversation with a friend the other day. She was reminiscing of going to her Pastor years ago with this same query, “I want to know what the next step is”. She expected her Pastor to be able to discern her future for her and when he couldn’t answer that question, she left very disappointed. My friend and I are both in our mid-forties now and looking back with some life experience at her expectation of her Pastor, we both had a good laugh. I believe that sometimes God will give a person the gift of prophecy for someone else that will help give direction and guidance for the next step, but that has not been my experience. A consistent message I have received, however, when I have asked the Lord this same question has been, “Follow Me.” This is the advice I offer to this young woman. In whatever you do, be it work, or ministry, or school, or missions, whatever, Follow Jesus.

  • DanO

    The Lord will use you wherever you work. The desire as a recent grad is to be in one’s chosen field of education. With the realities of the economy that may not be possible. But God is not limited and He has some really good plans for you.

    You must find the balance between the relationship of work and ministry. It will not be the same for everybody. It will take time and experience before you settle on an “answer.” In my own life I have come to see more and more of my life as being ministry, even when not teaching the Bible or theology, even when not getting paid for it. In your work-life it is not uncommon to feel you are not achieving your potential and operating according to what your vocation is. But the Lord is still using you. You might work at the lumber-yard as a receptionist instead of at a publishing firm or school. If you are living according to the revealed will of the Lord and seeking Him He will use you. He has good things planned out for you to do.

    You do need to work to provide money to live and pay bills. Often this work comes from unexpected directions. Be flexible to the movement of the Spirit of God and keep seeking His direction. Your expressed desires are heard by the Lord but His direction will not always follow your ideas of vocation, mine sure didn’t.

    The Lord will want you to be engaged in your church. Becoming stabilized spiritually will give you a solid foundation. Bills, relationships, vocation will work themselves out according to the Lord’s direction. He will often place you in situations where you struggle with your feelings of frustration and disappointment. That is part of God’s plan. You need to grow in this and mature in your outlook. This is where faith is developed. Our guarantees of the future are in the Lord. Our health, relationships, economic future, our country’s economic future are not certain. Our Lord is certain and He is in control of your life. If you are able to land a job and if it is not your first or second choice, that is OK. The Lord often uses these kinds of jobs to work on us, to sharpen our desire for Him, to sharpen our focus and desire. He know all things but we don’t. We are learning to live by faith – it is something we will be doing for the duration of our time here. It is during these times that we learn to hear His voice, sense His leading, experience His peace. Sometimes He will put us in these types of jobs because He wants us to have a relationship with someone. Sometimes He wants us to minister to one who works there. Many times someone has been praying for help and the Lord has sent me or my wife to work there. The relationships are far more significant than the actual jobs. This is part of His larger plan of providence for our lives.

    Stay disciplined in your spiritual life and stay connected to your church. If you maintain these areas of your life you will have a strong base for your life. You can rest in Him and know He is not finished with you if you do not get a job or if you fell you have to “settle” for one just to pay bills.

    Age 52

  • Monica

    I knew this writer was a humanities major of some sort before Scot even clarified. I believe that a certain restlessness and dissatisfaction with life tends to be a lifelong issue for us English majors. I’m 42 and still feel lost, unsure, and definitely out of step with my culture. My only advice is to keep moving forward in faith. You will be able to leverage most anything on your resume to your advantage as the years unfold.

  • Debbie

    Almost 50 years old

    Find a job that will pay the bills.
    Seek out a worship community and connect with others… include all different ages
    Develop close, life-long friends. They will lighten the load.
    Stay connected with your family.
    Pray more.
    Be willing to follow the Holy Spirit that yes, is within you.
    Recognize that each step will lead to another.
    Build on what you already know.
    Find a place to volunteer.
    Continue to pray.
    Let us know how and where you land.
    Prayers for you!

  • Evelyn

    37yo, wife, mom of 4, former high school, teacher, now theology student

    Paying the bills is no bad thing – anywhere you are is a ‘frontline’ for mission
    Do voluntary work in areas you think you might find interesting or where your heart burns for change / to see God’s kingdom come
    follow your favor – the thing in your life that you feel has God’s touch on it (when you do it, people go wow). This does not have to be a ‘religious’ thing. Listen to Danny Silk’s podcast ‘Follow your Favor’ for more info, it’s very encouraging

    Remember that life is meant to be enjoyed! Don’t get too earnest and don’t worry – even a ‘wrong’ track now can still be fine in the end 🙂

  • Chip

    I’m in my mid-forties and likewise was an English major who headed in a particular career path (high school teaching), only to have my dreams evaporate when I couldn’t get certified because I couldn’t control a classroom. I then spent over a year searching for a full-time job (this was during the mini-recession of the early ’90s) before I got my only offer as a proofreader, all the while wrestling with God because I was sure he had led me in my career direction and I couldn’t fathom why he would allow the rug to pull out from under me. Here’s my advice:

    1. Pursue God with all of your might, as best as you are able. That may not be much as you experience waves of fear and even grief. But through it all, by God’s grace you will learn to trust him to a better degree (not perfectly by any means). Very few, if any, people in their early 20s have learned to trust God with their finances and work, so disregard that irrelevancy.

    2. Do not expect to start out in a job that feels like a calling. In fact, don’t expect to necessarily ever experience that sense in the work you perform. Some authors of books on God’s will to the contrary, expecting a job that provides you with an incredible amount of opportunities to use your gifts and any sense of calling is simply not normative for most people. Rather, it’s more normal to use some of your gifts in a profession but not as much as you’d like. That’s okay; God will use your work to shape you and make you a better person. It will also make you more compassionate to your coworkers, most of whom probably feel the same way to some degree.

    3. As others have said, don’t let uncertainty concerning God’s will become a roadblock in decision-making. Are you generally living the way God intends as outlined in Scripture (not perfectly, but to a significant degree, and with grief for those known sins you do commit)? Then don’t keep waiting for a perfect sense of God’s direction, but rather move forward and trust God to help you make any necessary course corrections in the future. Remember, he is faithful.

    4. Resist the temptation to think your majors have made you worthless or unemployable. Your majors are perfectly fine; they just usually don’t lead directly into a career. Know yourself and your talents, and be prepared to accept a job that uses some of your talents, even if that job is undesirable. Personally speaking, I never would have imagined that most of my working career would consist of writing, editing, and analysis in the information technology (IT) field. And if you interview with a company that is operating more like most companies did 7-to-15 years ago (i.e., one that is reasonably profitable and not in a cost-cutting frenzy), know that they are not so much interested in your major per se as whether you’re able to do the job. Many humanities majors were hired by IT companies before the economy went south, particularly for their writing skills.

    5. Give yourself grace, and more grace, and more grace. You’re in a challenging time of life. If it takes you longer to land a job or feel certain about your career path, don’t beat yourself up over it. Some people are late bloomers, and there’s no shame in being one. God does not favor the confident! Realize, too, that a career that may be closed to you now may prove open in the future, once you gain more experience — even if that’s many years off.

    6. Seek support and service opportunities in the church, not just among communities of friends. Feed on the Eucharist regularly; be an active member of a congregation. God may direct you to a given career through his transformation of you that results from involvement in a church . And, needless to say, don’t try to go through this time alone.

    And as the late Rich Mullins would say, “be God’s!”

  • Barb

    H,–I’m 61, 40 years ago I graduated from a similar college with a degree in Fine Art, English, and religion. Jobs were hard to get–I did get a teaching cert. and taught HS for 2 years but it was hell for me. Then I worked in a youth ministry and lived hand-to-mouth–then found a minimum wage job. in my late 20’s i got a part-time temp job with a major areospace company. I worked there for 30 years–retired as a manager. I can tell you that I eventually used all aspects of my liberal arts education in the job in one way or another. Scot says you are a creative person–you will find that you will create a job for yourself by what you take on and make your own–no matter where you work.
    I believe that in addition to walking through whatever doors open for you, the most important thing to do is to become part of a church community. (I see that this is what the post just above me also says). Worship and be available to God. You have a long adventure ahead–you won’t see around each bend. Then when you are my age you WILL look back and see the route and how God was leading you and using you in HIS plan all along.

    Blessings to you and all grads in this same spot.

  • Over 56.

    Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you. God has been utterly faithful to us. Trust the One who loves you extravagantly. Trust him enough to put Him first, every day. Love, trust, obey . . .

    Use the brains, skills, discernment he has given you to sacrifice and serve right where you are planted, right NOW. This day. In that place. Love him by serving others. He uses those who love him whether scrubbing toilets or scrubbing floors. Let HIS kingdom come THROUGH you no matter where you are or what this day brings.

    When your age I believed God had A plan for my life – ONE right way to go, and if I screwed up and couldn’t figure out what it was, well, too bad for me. “Decision Making and the Will of God” by Garry Friesen, Multnomah, is, I believe, a more biblical view of living as Christians in God’s will. As ?? said to David, there is a way that seems right to you – do it.

    Life happens – a sense of direction, a sense of none. Easy times, hard times. Times when I’ve heard God and times when I was sure He was not even there. Lots of reasons for all these things. My conclusion? Life happens, but these 2 TRUTHS remain: 1) God, Emmanuel, will NEVER leave you nor forsake you; and 2) God, the Redeemer, will ALWAYS bring something good out of it, no matter what it is, if he is your first love.

    Trust His extravagant love. Dream. Pray. Seek his face.
    Let the deep peace of his presence, Him IN you (think about it!!) radiate out to those around you THIS day.
    There is a way that seems right to you – go for it.

  • Steve Robinson

    60. You only see Providence in the rear view mirror. I was a ministry graduate, got fired from my only ministry job and ended up doing construction for 30+ years. They were the most fruitful of my life in terms of ministry and raising a family. Your “ministry” is the person in front of you in the present moment, no matter where you are and what you are doing to make a buck. There is nobility in “paying the bills”… even St. Paul did that to do his ministry.

  • DRT

    I’m 50, and have thought about this a bit and realize that each must follow their own way. Having said that, there is nothing quite like having a credential that allows someone to gain employment at will, and make a good living doing it. This allows one the ability to choose the right investment of their humanitarian efforts.

    Frankly, money really does help and stable money lends stability.

    I have some relatives that have taken to nursing, and they seem to have a future that affords flexibility in lifestyle and location while providing a steady income that can be transported almost anywhere. Likewise accounting, and several trades offer similar opportunities.

    My wisdom: Don’t expect your career to give you the satisfaction that you need. Instead, use your career to gain the freedom that you need to gain satisfaction. In your case it may be altruism, but in the future it may be income for your family, you don’t know where life will lead. In your particular case, you seem to have been taught how to think already, and that is good, but you still need something that is marketable.

    Last thought. The world is sufficiently integrated at this point that there is not a whole lot of difference between professions, at a high level. Teach english, theology, or something else and each of those are difficult to have a professional impact on the world. Sure Scot is able to have a direct and measurable impact but that is luck (I know Scot put in a lot of work, but there is significant luck too). If you develop a skill that provides a consistent base with future potential then you stand a better ability to have an impact than if you are always struggling to make an income for you and those you care about.

    I wish you the best of Luck!!!!


  • I am 35 years old/young …

    Several years ago a friend gave me this advice: There are two meaningful types of work – One that is your ministry/mission, or one that funds your (and others’) ministry/mission.

    My advice is based on this question: how much debt do you have? If none (or minimal), then thank God! I would encourage her to seek where/when God might have her work to make disciples among unreached peoples. There are almost 7,000 of these people groups, right now, without access to the Gospel of Jesus. We have all been called to participate in the Great Commission. An educated, debt-free, follower of Jesus is primed to do this … anywhere in the world.

    If she has substantial debt, then I would encourage her, during this season of life, to get out of it as soon as possible. So that she can then take the Gospel to the nations. This could be going herself or sending others.

    I’m not trying to be preachy here – just getting to the point. I’ve been where she is, several times. Until I began actively making disciples among the unreached, I struggled with what was truly meaningful. Of course, one can make disciples anywhere, at anytime of life, under any circumstances, be it behind the coffee bar or the assembly line I would even guess they make for a better “pulpit” than an actual, well, pulpit.

  • Paul Willingham


    I can’t really add anything to what has been said. Are you referring to Timothy Alan Coop who preached for many years in Corona CA? A long time ago, I attended college with a Tim Coop.

    Paul W

  • Scot
    I apoligize for being off topic, but have you discontinued the Saturday links?

    I really enjoyed them and realize they do take time to read and aggegrate them.

    Thanks for all your efforts.

  • scotmcknight

    Lawrence, when we are out of country I don’t do Weekly Meanderings… come back next Saturday, and they’ll be there, bright and chipper!

  • Terri

    If you are seriously thinking graduate school, start sooner rather than later.
    –Says the 37 year old mother of 3 in the 8th year of her phd and desperately trying to write a dissertation during nap times. 🙂

  • Scott Gay

    66, husband of Catherine(Cat) for 39 yrs, father of 4, grandfather of 5 and soon 6, retired(that’s a worldly term), science teacher(35 years), hospital laundry driver while getting degrees, warrant officer(vietnam helicopter ambulance pilot), draft dodger in Southern California(1966), lifeguard on Miami Beach, Grove City College flunkee, high school sports year round:

    I sincerely believe you should enroll in Northern Seminary. If even one of my grandchildren is english, bible /theology, and creative this is what I would pray for them.

  • Trinity

    Hi everyone,

    I am the student that Scot is referring to in this post, and I just wanted to say thank you for your rally of responses. I have been receiving similar if not the same advice from many places, and I am so encouraged by the message–God seems to be hitting me over the head with it, but I’m beginning to believe and understand it. Thank you for your input and I will continue to dwell on the wisdom you have shared as I take next steps, trusting that God has prepared me and that He has a plan for whatever the next step ends up being.

    Please continue to respond as I know the blessing these words will continue to be, to those like me and to those who share and counsel others.

    Thank you again, and God bless you all!

  • As a recent college grad (actually, I graduated from North Park this May with Trinity, #36), I feel the same pressures of trying to find work that is meaningful yet helps makes ends meet.

    I want to echo what Brian (#5) said about the Fellows Initiative. There is an abundance of similar programs out there as I am quickly learning through my summer internship at an Foundation that funds these sorts of programs while also guiding its own interns through a Christ-centered vocational discernment process. The important part is that is also pays the bills, so I don’t have to work a second job.

    Let me list what I’ve learned.

    1. Same name and concept, but different organization than what Brian highlighted, the Pacific Northwest based “Fellows Program” ( ) is thriving. I have met many alumni who are doing amazing things only a couple years out of college. .

    2. The Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship ( ) also does similar work for twenty-somethings struck with wanderlust, whether it is the Peace Corp or parachurch.

    3. At my own internship, we fund a “Vision and Call” program for various nonprofits in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. ( )

    If I could say anything, as a 22-year-old to those who are more established, look into the possibility of bringing an apprenticeship-type program into your workplaces. There are resources, maybe within but likely outside your organization, that can help cover the financial burden. The list above is incomplete, but if you want to invest in the “next generation” but are not sure where the resources to do so are, contact me and I can ask around the office the next time I go in.

    And, oh, if any employers out in Chicago are looking for a recent college grad with a Global Studies / Conflict Transformation major, I am looking for a job come September. 🙂

  • Amy

    When I was 22 (I am 35 now) I quit an absolutely miserable job I had gotten teaching English in another country. I wanted to stay in that city and country and keep working, but was also quite scared as my savings would soon be gone and I didn’t know what I should do.

    When I called my dad, his response shocked me. I thought he would be angry that I had quit while blaming me for not being stronger, or at least that he would be worried about what was going to happen to me. Instead he said, “That’s wonderful! You can go anywhere and do anything now! Is there another country you are interested in? Try to get a job there! You don’t have a spouse or kids or a house, so take this opportunity to do all the things you want to do!”

    This didn’t help me pay my rent that month, and I did have to find another job while I was still emotionally recovering from the awful experience of my previous one, but it was immensely valuable as advice that helped me change my outlook. Being without plans can either make us feel unhinged or unfettered. I encourage this alumna to let herself feel unfettered.

  • Brandon Smith

    Age 28
    Bible and Humanities Major, Graduated 2005

    I’m big on listening to your heart and listening to God. Probably because I am still only 28, I also am a bit hesitant to give up on life and just go with the wind like some above seem to be. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I wish I believed that you aren’t responsible for blazing your own trail and God will just use you where ever you land, but I also don’t want to give up on the ability to have a God given dream and to pursue it at all costs.

    For me, my dream became a reality when I saw that someone else had already accomplished it. I wanted to build a children’s home and call it Eagle Ranch. It turned out that that place already existed, and I heard a sermon that said, “Don’t go out there and start something new, find those who are doing what you love, and try and join them.” So I did. And I got turned down about seven times from seven different applications! However, I have bought a home right beside Eagle Ranch, and I have taught in the public schools for six years since I moved here. Now after having earned a Masters in Teaching, I am pursuing a degree in school administration—and I’m not about to quit applying to Eagle Ranch :).

    I loved how all of those above elaborated on the freedom of youth, the value of purposeless work, and being debt free, but don’t forget to dream. Your major should indicate that that is something you are good at.

    “Try something so big that if God isn’t in it, it is doomed to failure.”

  • I would recommend attempting to further your education and when those attempts finally fail, settle in to the family business and try to keep it afloat while everyone else you know runs off and does something important. Raise a family, do your best to make ends meet and help others do the same. One day, through no fault of your own, watch helplessly and hopelessly while that family business not only sinks but turns you yourself into a wanted person by the authorities for financial mismanagement. Finally, at this point, consider jumping off a bridge on a snowy night only to be find yourself jumping in to save an elderly man named “Clarence” who beats you to it. After a lifetime of doing nothing important, listen to what Clarence tells you.

    I am old enough to know this story in black and white.

    My advice – don’t believe the modern hype. Raising a healthy family, or being part of a healthy group of friends who every day live the Jesus Creed is the most important thing you can possibly do. Everything else is tinsel.

    Oh, and don’t forget ZuZu’s petals.

  • JJ

    I am 23. During spring semester of 2011, as I was finishing my ThM and waiting for an acceptance decision from my chosen PhD program, I started to consider what I would do if the decision turned out to be negative – what my next step would be if beginning doctoral work there immediately weren’t an option. It was an uncomfortable thought. As I later realized, my sense of purpose and fulfillment had become rather closely linked with the joy I derived from academic theology, so much so that, at some level, I feared an interruption in the latter would mean an interruption in the former.

    As I discussed the question with older and wiser friends/colleagues, however, this very helpful reminder emerged from their counsel: One’s occupation (even when that occupation is a form of vocational ministry) is an *expression* of one’s life’s purpose – not the purpose itself. As Christians, the academic theologian, accountant, stay-at-home parent, medical doctor, artist, pastor, and fast-food employee share the same basic mission: to live Christ’s life into this world, in the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God and the good of God’s beloved creatures.
    So, if circumstances had necessitated time away from what was for me a deeply meaningful pursuit, it wouldn’t have meant an interruption or alteration in the essential purpose of my life. It would have meant that I needed to evaluate, in light of (1) the characteristics and capacities with which God created me as an individual and (2) the opportunities available to me at the time, how I could best express that purpose in the circumstances at hand.

    Although moving directly into doctoral studies did work out for me, I’m thankful to have received this advice, both for the perspective it has provided and for its probable future application. If it’s helpful to you too, I’m also thankful for that! Best wishes in your next steps.

    (Also, just as a side note: A few of my good friends, even without degrees in English, have spent a year or two teaching ESL overseas; one of them subsequently returned and was accepted to a very good grad program. If that’s the kind of thing you might be interested in, I could ask them for details.)

  • Lance

    age 51,

    do justice, love mercy, walk in humility with Yahweh.

    Honour your father an mother,
    keep the seventh day separate and set aside.
    stay away from idolatry.
    don’t use the name of Yah in an unworthy way.
    Don’t put anything ahead of Yahweh.
    don’t murder
    don’t use deceit as a way to rule
    don’t desire what others have.
    don’t adulterate that which is pure
    don’t take what is not yours.

    do these by means of the Spirit of God living in and through you and you will have fulfilled all His purposes for you.

    Grace & Peace,

  • Kaleb


    I have been where you are, it is not fun. Some encouragement would be even though you feel lost at this time it will be ok. If this is the worst issue you have to face in life right now you are doing pretty good. I have been so uncertain of a ‘calling’ for my life, but jobs have opened up as I have needed, and have been better than expected; they will for you too if you can be resilient during the process; go the extra mile. You should be thinking about the things you love to do and pursue those- God made you to love those things. God speed.

  • Emery Dann

    To a recent graduate…
    Do I hear your question, “How do I find meaningful work?”
    **I owns two businesses and it is hard for me to find employees who wants to do the
    work the way I need to have it done. This is a common problem I hear from other
    business owners. Even with above average pay, it is hard for me to find a w o r k e r.
    **Every owner (boss) and job have both positive and negative qualities. The secret is
    having a positive attitude while doing the negative aspects of any job. If you learn this,
    you can take it with you to a better job and be more successful with God’s blessing.
    **I repeatedly tell my employees to “Think like and owner.” Everyone getting a paycheck
    is part-owner of the company. Are you making a profit or just at the break-even-point?
    **Don’t just pray for a job. Pray that God will close the door (opportunity) if either you
    are not right for the job or the job is not right for you. You don’t just want a job, you
    want to work productively for God (who is our C.E.O.). “Esteem others
    (and the company) better than your own.”
    **Be willing to start at a lower level, no matter what your educational degrees. “He
    that is faithful in the least will be faithful in much!” Be a profitable servant.
    **What about passion? Yes, we can be a “round peg in a square hole”. But put your
    whole heart into any job you have and be “diligent in whatever your hand finds to do.”
    **Every working experience can be a learning opportunity. Ask for feedback, seek advice,
    learn patience and perseverance. You will take these with you wherever you go to
    work for the rest of your life! I am 61 years old and have been both employed and self-
    employed for 48 consecutive years with full-time work from 13 years of age
    and I love the creative work I do for customers and past employers by going above
    what is necessary.