Thursday, October 19, 2006

hot on the heels of the blasphemy post ....

a post about spiritual gift assessment, in which marta discerns her spiritual gifts and discovers that she is in fact, the devil incarnate. and perhaps finds a new vocation.

my church is in a time of transition from an outdated organizational structure to a new vision that we hope will be more fluid, more welcoming, more spiritually enriching, and more mission-centered. the old structure, which worked well for years, invovled a fairly complicated committee structure (a history committee, membership and growth, worship and music, christian education, stewardship and finance, outreach, etc. etc.). there were six members on each committee (regardless of how much the committee did) and each member served two years, with two rotating off each year (regardless of people's passion or gifts). there was a nominating committee, which in its best incarnation tried to discern the gifts of the congregation and lead folks to the appropriate committee; in its worst incarnation it made cajoling phone calls which everyone involved dreaded, pleading with folks to serve on this or that committee.

this structure hasn't been working so much lately. people are saying yes to being on a committee, but then just not showing up for meetings. some committees just don't meet at all. meanwhile, unofficial ad hoc groups and some officially sanctioned "task forces" have risen up to do the work of the church about which people feel passionate. but still, most of the work is being done by a few core members, while new folks can't figure out how to get connected and end up fading away.

so last winter, the church commissioned a group of folks to study, pray, and discern a new direction/structure. we were commissioned as "the reorganization task force" but have come to call ourselves the "circle of friends." we're now in the process of introducing the vision for the church that we discerned over a period of about eight months, a direction we hope the church can get behind and begin to feel excited about.

i won't go into a lot of detail right now, but one of the major precepts of this vision is that the ministries of the church should spring up from the gifts and calling that members feel they have been given by god. so, if there is a group of people who feel called to serve the homeless, and who have the gifts to do that, then they should be empowered to do so. they should be given the authority and the responsibility to make that ministry work. those who feel this calling should not have to cycle out of this ministry because their two years on the outreach committee is up, to be replaced by someone else who actually feels a calling to teach sunday school, but who has been made to feel obliged to serve the homeless for the next two years because we need to fill that committee slot.

obviously part of this vision involves helping folks discern their spiritual gifts. a few members of our group have chosen a spiritual gift assessment tool to help us in this work. this tool is obviously directed at christians. i think with not too much interpretation, it could be used by any person of faith; with just a little bit more interpretation, it could be used even by someone completely secular. go check it out; i would be interested to see what you think.

my own assessment has confirmed and crystalized for me something that i have been coming to understand about myself for a year or so now: i am an administrator. now you have to understand that i come from a family of often-embattled teachers (mom, dad, partner, brother, sister-in-law), and was, in fact, one myself once (the first in a series of failed careers ... more on that in a minute). if you know any good teachers in most school districts or universities in, well, the universe, you know that administrators are the devil. the source of all evil. the bane of ones existence. the main obstacle in the way of actually accomplishing anything. the best you can hope for is that they will leave you alone, let you shut your door and teach. so, yeah, i greet the news that i am an administrator with some chagrin.

but there you have it, that's what i am: seeing the big picture, holding a vision, making a plan to get there; organizing ideas and people; keeping track of information and paying attention to the details; motivating, supporting, moving things forward, getting the work done -- that's what i love. this realization has been creeping up on me for a couple of years, actually; scoring 100% in the area of administration on the assessment tool only confirmed it.

i'm also realizing what i've been doing wrong all these years, trying to find a vocation/career. i've always focused on the issues about which i feel passionate, rather than thinking about what skills i actually bring to those issues.

for example, i'm passionate about public education, and i love literature and writing, so i thought i should be a teacher. and i loved everything about being a teacher -- planning lessons, thinking about the big picture, keeping up with the research, putting together really interesting units -- everything except actually getting up in front of real live students and, well, teaching. that i didn't love so much.

i'm passionate about justice so i thought i should be a lawyer. not surprisingly, i loved law school -- that's all about reading, research, writing, thinking about and discussing "big ideas." law school for me turned out to be an important crucible for thinking about race, among other issues. i always assumed i would be some sort of public interest lawyer, maybe a civil rights litigator. except the idea of the courtroom holds absolutely no interest for me. at all. i spent two years clerking for a judge, and was perfectly happy doing research and writing opinions, but the time i spent in the courtroom -- which for most clerks was the whole point? i. hated. it. later i moved on to an employee benefits practice, which was interesting to me because it's really complicated, arcane, tax-driven. but actually serving clients? real, live clients with questions that affected real live lives? not so much.

i'm passionate about breastfeeding, so i thought i should be a lactation consultant. as a step along the way i became a la leche league leader. but you know what? i don't really love helping real live moms with their real live breastfeeding issues. i don't look forward to staffing the helpline. i don't feel particularly skilled at leading meetings. direct service is just not my forte, not the thing that makes my heart sing.

now, instead of starting out with a topic i feel passionate about, i'm thinking about the skills i can bring to those issues. this may seem ridiculously obvious -- certainly i am asking myself why it took me so long to figure this out -- but for me it such a different way to think about what sort of career i might pursue one day.

these days i'm looking down the road and thinking about putting together a coalition of providers and researchers to study ways to overcome the barriers to successful breastfeeding experienced by poor, urban women of color. it's just a seed of a notion right now, but i'm clear that i'm not interested in providing direct service. instead, i realize that my greatest contribution would be as a writer and administrator of a grant.

so, what are your spiritual gifts? how do they or don't they correspond with your carrer/vocation?


At October 19, 2006 11:52 PM, Blogger SaraSkates said...

I love this's too late for me to form a detailed coherent response though. I haven't quite sorted it out for myself - I've switched recently from a faculty to an admin job - and much of it I ADORE. Some not so much. Like you, the research and doing and "finding the story" is a wicked fun thing to do. Some of the - well - administrivia can be quite irritating ROFL. Though I'm finding that there's less of that stuff than there was while teaching...

At October 20, 2006 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evil administration. That's me. We should have t-shirts printed up. It was interesting to be at a party with a friend who is doing an interim year as a mini-dean, and at one point she said something about "my staff" and a faculty member starting chiding her for going over to the dark side. It's so funny.

I'm totally with you. I have little interest in teaching. It seems like a very stressful, difficult thing to do; I'd much rather bury my nose in a book (or a data set) and then tell people about. It's not a lack of extroversion, because I like communicating results and talking to people about it. And I'm not a totally behind-the-scenes person. I just like this part of it. Can't really explain it.

I do wish I had a more glamorous calling. Sometimes I wonder why I don't want to be an astronaut or a senator or something. But for some reason this incredibly boring sort of life seems to work for me. Go figure.

One last thing--I take issue with your description of your careers as failures. That's a little like saying your TTC journey was a failure. Your road took you exactly where you were going with that journey. Maybe the career is the same way. I'm just saying.

At October 25, 2006 7:01 PM, Blogger L said...

I thought that the tool was very helpful. I scored 100% in leadership and over 90% in admmnistration, hospitality, music (vocal), giving, and service were strong ones too.

Administrators may be evil, but they're a necessary evil :).

At October 25, 2006 10:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a teacher... homeschooling is the petrie dish for culturing some of the notions I developed in the classroom. In a couple of years I'll be done with my MFA/ceramics and can be a ceramics prof.

I don't think I could be an administrator. I often think I know just how things should be handled, but I hate being in leadership positions in general. I get overly concerned about having a concensus and everybody's approval, and don't handle blame well --even if I know I am right. (It's a firstborn thang.)

I enjoy reading your "voice", Marta, and the daily-ness of your details. My blog link is at if you ever want to stop by... I still miss/mourn you guys.


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