Q: I'm a pastor for a Protestant church. When I decided to become a pastor, religion was important in my family, and my interest grew as my family became more involved. I wasn't forced into it, but their response to my wanting to follow this path was positive. I eventually had my own church and congregation, but as time passed, I started doubting my own beliefs.
A young married couple searching for a church to join met with me to find out about the church. The young woman asked poignant questions about my beliefs, as well as the church's beliefs. I felt I had to be honest, so I expressed my doubts about my beliefs. She looked me in the eyes and asked how I could preach to people if I questioned the very beliefs on which the church was based. I didn't have a good answer for her. She then told me she had very strong beliefs, that she appreciated my time and honesty but was going to keep searching.
I don't know if her strong beliefs were due to she and her husband's young age and lack of life experiences, or if my beliefs — or lack of them — were due to my true beliefs coming out rather than me following family expectations. I am sure there are other ministers, though maybe not as honest with others or with themselves, who also question their beliefs. My question now is whether I should continue in this field or find a new type of work. I think I can still help people in the counseling they seek of a church pastor, but it's not something I can ask anyone in my family for fear of being judged and creating a wedge among us.
A: Some jobs are just that — jobs. But some jobs are careers that can offer promising futures. Other careers are an extension of an individual's talent: A person may be driven to openly produce that gift for the public, whether through writing, painting, singing, dancing or displaying another type of artistic talent. Your field, though, of becoming a church pastor, is a calling. In questioning your beliefs, you may be tapping into whether it is still your calling. Or perhaps it was never a calling, but you were swept into it by your family's positive influences.
The only considerations in switching from one "typical" job to another might be the pay scale, the hours, the benefits or a preferred location. When staying in the same field but changing companies, added considerations may be the company's culture, business philosophy, values and contributions made to its local communities and overall society. These decisions can be made easily if a company's values are against one's personal values and life philosophy. Deciding whether to continue or leave a calling, such as a religious ministry, requires some deep soul-searching before any decision can be made.
You have already started questioning your religious beliefs. Though you feel able to counsel individuals, couples and families within the congregation, ask yourself if openly sharing your doubts in your beliefs is helpful or harmful to those you are counseling. There are many avenues for practicing in a helping field, such as coaching, social work, counseling or psychotherapy. All serve at different levels but can be quite helpful to those who seek insight, understanding or options in life. What these specialties do not offer is religious opinions, information and spiritual advice.
If a church member asks you for help with any religious belief, decide if your doubts will hamper your ability to offer guidance. Breaking away from a family value can be tremendously difficult, but it can be done. Just don't change careers until you dig deeply into your heart and soul, which will hopefully lead you to the courage to follow your true beliefs and desires.
Email your workplace issues and experiences to [email protected] For more information about career and life coach Lindsey Novak, visit www.lindseyparkernovak.com, and for past columns, see www.creators.com/read/at-work-lindsey-novak.