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A Pastor’s Reflections: Riding the Pine

August 8, 2017


In team sports athletes who do not start the game and spend a lot of time on the bench have a phrase—they “ride the pine.” That is, they sit on the pine bench rather than play in the game. Last week’s post addressed the topic of what steps you can take to ensure that you’re a starter—that you have a call or internship immediately after seminary. But what happens if you graduate, and there isn’t a call or internship in sight? What happens if you’re riding the pine rather than starting the game?

Well, the first thing you should ask is, Did I take the necessary steps to ensure that I would have a call or internship lined-up immediately after graduation? In other words, good preparation during your seminary education will contribute to the likelihood of quickly getting a call after graduation. But let’s assume that you have taken all of the necessary steps but still don’t have a call. What do you do then?

This is ultimately a place in life that calls for wisdom and patience. Like a back-up quarterback riding the pine, he has to be ready to enter the game at a moment’s notice. He has to know the play book, take snaps in practice, and continue to hone his passing abilities. Injury or illness could strike and his coach will expect him to be ready to take the reins. You may not have a call, but this doesn’t prevent you from serving in your local church. I see too many graduates who do not have calls; they sit around reading novels and take it easy. I tell these young men, “If I were you, I would start writing my first sermon series. I would start amassing material so that if you get a call, you’ll be ready to go and won’t get caught flat-footed. Do you have an excellent sermon ready to go in the event that you get a call to candidate for a pulpit?” Make very effort to be ready for a call. But at the same time, there is the practical necessity of providing for your financial needs, or in many cases, those of your family.

Some believe that if they take a secular vocation that it’s tantamount to an admission of failure. It somehow negates their three or four years of study in seminary. I don’t think this is the case at all. It is an honorable thing to provide for one’s family. If you’re worried about moving away from ministry, then look for temp work. Contact a temp agency. Everyone involved knows that you’re temporary. If you get a call you can walk away without worry. In between seminary and graduate school I worked for a temp agency and ended up delivering photocopiers. It was boring work, was far removed from my calling, and was humbling—I had a master’s degree and was working with people who didn’t care how much education I had. But it was a good experience—it reminded me of my need for humility and I was able to pay my bills and even save some money in the process.

In some cases, you may have to seek more than temporary work and return to your original vocation. Again, there is nothing wrong with this. If you have a family, then your first priority is to provide for them. You can keep your eyes open for a call, serve in your church, look for opportunities for pulpit supply, and maintain relationships with elders and pastors in your regional church. I know of one case where a seminary graduate waited for a year and eventually decided to return to engineering career because he needed to provide for his family. He kept his eyes and ears open and a year later successfully candidated for a call. In another case I know of a graduate who worked for five years in his original vocation before he finally found a call.

Just because you initially ride the pine after seminary does not mean that pastoral ministry isn’t in your future. Remember, God uses every moment and event in our lives in the crucible of his providence to conform us to Christ’s image. You may not have a call immediately after graduation, but provide for your family, continue to pray, serve in your church, foster relationships in your regional church, and in God’s good timing he will call you off the bench and put you in the game!

In next week’s post I will address the topic of getting benched. That is, what happens when you’ve been in the pastorate and then lose your call?