Vocation and Job

Several things make me think about work lately. On one hand, my formal schedule is looser this school year than it’s been since I started college in 1995. UGA only expects me to be in a particular place at a particular time three days a week, and I’m done by noon each of those three days. On the other, in concrete terms, I’m waking up at 5:00 every morning (likely to be moving that to 4:30 before long), doing less “extraneous” stuff each week (i.e. things not directly related to my professional life), and not teaching as much at church as I was a year ago. And I’m still working harder than I was in 2006 at this time.

So fewer formal obligations, more work.   The final cause, of course, is that I’m studying for my comprehensive exams, and the fear of entering that room with three professors, unprepared, drives me to work my tail off.  But on paper, I’m only scheduled to be in this classroom or that nine hours a week.

The criticisms of professors are already tired: on one hand they go out of their way to indoctrinate helpless nineteen year olds, and on the other they don’t go out of their way to do anything.  And of course the mirror of the college professor is the parish preacher: in early 2007 there was no small controversy when the Senate proposed a bill that would make preachers who spent more than twenty percent of their time lobbying legislators and executives and such register as lobbyists.

I bring up the parallel early because both preachers and professors are personalities that make little sense if one breaks down their actual obligations hour by hour.  In both cases, however, spouses and friends of these professionals say that they burn themselves out, putting in sixteen hour days and never leaving enough time for personal connections.  Yet professors only have to be in particular places in front of groups of people six to twelve hours every week (depending on the kind of institution), and preachers often appear in front of the congregation only three to six hours every week.  (I’ll pause here to note that conservative pundits often only have to turn out an editorial column and appear on a few hours of television or radio each week, just to be fair.)

The source of this discrepancy between formal required meeting hours and actual hours worked has to do at least partly with the invisible parts of these jobs: sermons don’t write themselves, and not everybody sees the preacher visiting the dying; and papers don’t grade themselves, and not everybody sees professors planning syllabi and lessons.  But it also has to do with the difference between a job and a vocation.  I have a job: I work at a public library.  When I’m scheduled to be there, I’m there, and when I’m not, I’m not.  I also have a calling to teach.  I do show up on time for my classes, but I also put hours into planning and grading along with the hours I spend finishing up my Ph.D so that I can spend those hours that I spend now behind the public library’s circulation desk making myself a better teacher.  When I preached back in Tennessee I also had a job.  (It was also at a library.)  In both cases, even though the library required more formal meeting hours of me than did the teaching or preaching gig, every week, without exception, I spent far more time preparing for the sermon or the lesson than I did on the clock.

I don’t have any political programme in mind here (and besides, I need to get to work studying for comps).  I just considered that categorical difference this morning, and I figured I’d write about it.



Filed under Political Entertainment, Reflections, teaching

2 responses to “Vocation and Job

  1. Nater…
    I would agree with the fact that ministers/preachers (I would choose to use ministers rather than preachers because it includes a lot more full time church staff folk… of which I find myself a part) work more hours than are visible. And what most folks don’t see is that most church staffers spend a great deal of time, if they aren’t physically working with their Bible or computer preparing a message, thinking and pondering work-issues.
    There are times that I would rather have a 9 to 5 job… something like driving a truck for UPS (for instance). At the end of the day, you turn off the truck, get out, punch out and go home not really needing to think about the gig until the next day. But for me, often my job follows me home in terms of phone calls to make, visits to make, emails to send or problems to consider and solve.
    I’ve heard of several youth ministers who served in churches with elders and boards who thought they “didn’t work enough.” So they thought they would put in a punch clock and pay them for what they “actually worked.” In all of these cases, and I can think of at least three that I know for certain, where this punch clock didn’t make it a month. The churches realized that they couldn’t pay for what their staff “actually worked” and pay them a reasonable hourly wage. They quickly removed the clocks.
    So… I guess I write all of that to say that I think you’re right on about ministers. My sense is that there is a close parallel to college professors. And in my experience with seminary professors as of late, is that there is a great deal of conversation work with students outside of the classroom. Most professors don’t wrap up, close their briefcase and then enter a tunnel back to their office. They answer questions, help students with their issues and provide direction for those seeking it.

    Right on

  2. Certainly I didn’t mean to exclude youth ministers any more than I intended to exclude instructors. (The latter is my own rank; “professor” is a rank to which I aspire so that I can stop doing this as a hobby and pick it up as the main money-maker.)

    The main point, which you flesh out on the ministry side well, is that the goods internal to the calling, not any so-called “ease of schedule,” drives the best of us and probably most of us to do what we do. I wouldn’t deny that a true slacker could find a way into either profession for the sake of minimal work, but I imagine that such a tree wouldn’t bear any fruit worth eating.

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