Job Change: Four Elder Perspectives

Michael WilburnChurch Blog

Certain seasons of life bring job transition. Along with the changing responsibility and schedule comes a new perspective on life. Perhaps you are searching for a new job or anticipate retiring in a few years. How should you approach it with a Christian desire to please God? Four elders of Immanuel Baptist Church experiencing this transition share their perspectives in response to four basic questions.

How does a job transition challenge your identity?

John Denler

As a husband and father in a single-earner family, I realized how easy it is to identify much of my self-worth to my employment. This was particularly true when I was laid off but also when considering retirement. Worrying how I would support my family contributed to this false reality imposed on us in our culture. My value is not found in my job. We must remember our true identify is found in Christ and Christ alone. Once we grab onto this truth, the transition, whether when laid off or retiring, can change our emotions from fear to expectancy as we wait to see God’s sovereign grace and sovereign plan for us being realized. Read Matthew 6:25-34, Romans 14:16-18, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, 2 Timothy 4:7-8.

Kevin May

In my transition, the issue was not the position but the process. As a manager who had leadership privileges, without a real reason and within 15 minutes, I was stripped of duties, phone, computer, access codes, credit cards, etc.  and escorted out of the building to my car as if I were a criminal. It was more of a head game, but it did take me a few days to remind myself and be re-assured that my identity was not in that single position. I really needed to come to the position that who I am is much broader and, in the Lord, much larger than any occupation. The Lord has been gracious in using these few months through various organizations, people and opportunities to put me in various leadership roles to re-assure this area of responsibility.

Hank Sierk

To some degree my identity has always been connected to my work. Work consumes a significant portion of every day and the relationships there are a part of life’s fabric. When I was young, changing jobs had an element of the excitement of risk-taking, new challenges, long-term plans, different surroundings and people. What I did loomed large in my self image. Change seemed like a normal progression of life.

Retirement, on the other hand, appears to be the end of something. The goodbyes, retirement parties, promises to never forget you, are known –  based on our own life experience, to be shallow. The unknown of ‘no work’ seems foreboding and absolute. There has been a comfort in routine, refined over many years. What defines who I am? What will it be like when my wife has me around the house all the time? What will I do when all the postponed projects are completed? Will we have enough money to live on? Will I be healthy? Should I take on other work?…and on and on goes the list of questionings…

I think retirement needs to be viewed in the same way as young life transitions. It is a new set of challenges, to be sure. There are many decisions that loom large on the immediate horizon, but these are surmountable.  How does the Lord want to use me now that I have somewhat more freedom of schedule? When I was working everyday, careful use of time entered into every decision. How can I avoid losing that sense of urgency about available time? My first weeks outside the work routine make me realize how easy it would be to slip into a relaxed, do it tomorrow, mindset. How can I make this a special time of growing closer to my wife and family? I think if my focus is on what’s next, it will be a healthy transition.

Gary Thomson 

The thought process of a career transition began as a “way of life” many years ago with the decision Janice and I made to live conservatively and contently. As the opportunity for a career transition became more intense, many of the typical barriers, while discussed, weren’t driving issues. Two months into “next” I am challenged by how much what I did “defined me” in my thinking but I find great peace in thinking of what’s ahead.

Who were the first people you talked to about the transition?

John Denler

The decision to retire was a major assessment which included my wife, Alison, from day one. It was a process over time as we discussed the pending decision both in our ability to retire and what I wanted to do once retired. Obviously, one of the most important aspects of our discussion was the need we prepare for a diminished annual salary. After making the decision to move ahead, we reviewed it with our financial planner and started taking the “next steps” to include notifying our children, then my employer. I also asked the Elder board and our SOMA group to pray for wisdom before I made the final decision to notify my employer and give them 60-days’ notice. See Proverbs 15:22

Kevin May

I talked to my wife, then called my children. I wanted them to hear it from me and to know that we would be ok. Next, I began to speak to my closest friends and support group. From there, it was the broader network that would help in the job seeking process.

Hank Sierk

I had a fairly significant and highly stressful job, being responsible to implement cyber security controls at my company’s generating facilities. While I liked my job and really enjoyed the comradery of the people I worked with, the toll on my health was showing up. I had been considering retirement for some time, but with a son still in college, had delayed it. The retirement option came upon me suddenly as a special offer from my company. We had been talking of retirement, certainly, but not immediately. This brought it up front and center.

I spoke to my wife first, of course, as soon as I was advised of the opportunity. The retirement package offered incentives to smooth the transition into retirement. While there were many unknowns, after much prayer, counsel and thoughtful consideration, we decided to proceed and trust the Lord for our future.

I also discussed the decision with close friends, then with those I closely worked with. Work associates were not anxious for me to leave but understood the special opportunity and were supportive. I must admit that I miss my daily interactions with these people. The Lord has been  growing me to understand that my self-worth is in Christ, not in what I do.

Gary Thomson

The discussions were really just between Janice and me and were ongoing over a significant period of time. My advice is to plan for both what you can and cannot control in your career. Innovation drives disruption and no company or individual is exempt from the risk created by innovation. For us, the advance planning allowed for a question of timing as opposed to a “should we do it” conversation.

What advice would you give to others in a job transition?

John Denler

First, commit your decision to God’s will and direction (Luke 12:13-21, Parable of the Rich Fool). As you commit to God’s wisdom, decide what you will want to do with your time and prepare for it before making your final decision and notifying your employer. I’ve been planning this for over a year. I have a clear picture in my mind of what I want to do after retirement to include: serving God in additional ministry opportunities, getting back into photography, taking day-trips with Alison, and visiting family. Bottom-line, ensure you can retire to provide for your real needs then have a plan to keep busy and in God’s service.

Kevin May

First, I would advise people to seek individuals or groups who have knowledge in transitions. In my case there is a Richmond group called Career Prospectors. A support group that can encourage, but more importantly give up-to-date advice on items such as resume’s, LinkedIn profile, interviewing, etc.  Second, I would take the time to evaluate who you are and who God wants you to be. Your new career will be a big step and you want to make sure you are stepping in the right direction. Finally, take the extra time that you have been given to invest in your life and those around you. I am actively seeking employment, which most will tell you is a full time job, but through this I have taken the time to volunteer and spend extra time with people I care about.

Hank Sierk

• Pray for guidance.

• Have a plan.

• Consider all the issues, family, financial and personal.

• Discuss it with those you trust.

• Don’t be fearful.

Gary Thomson

Trust that the God, who has directed your steps, will continue to do so. Stay patient. In those situations where the transition was not planned, it is easy to get impatient and “settle.” Stay positive. Pray.

What has God taught you about trust and fear in your transition?

John Denler

First and foremost, I must trust God to provide for my family and me. For me, building that trust started years ago when I was laid off from work twice. As I looked back, after finding employment, I could see God’s hand in finding a better employment path for me to walk. Second, fear is a debilitating burden to carry and we should always take those burdens to God and let Him carry them (Isaiah 43:1-2, 1 Peter 5:7). Third, remember that in marriage you are a team. God has given you your wife to both encourage you and discuss your concerns (Genesis 2:18).

Kevin May

I am reminded to be thankful for his grace because when there is trust the fear is removed. I truly believe that God knew all about the situation, the job and knows where I will be working. My responsibility is to renew this trust daily which will result in me seeking His wisdom, walking with the right attitude and encouraging those around me.

Hank Sierk

Fear is the enemy of trust. God loves us and has promised to provide for us.  Whenever I start to fear the future I lean back on God’s promise to never leave or forsake us.

Gary Thomson 

Trust God and seek His guidance on living in a way so as to allow both unexpected and expected career transitions to be something that allows you to trust versus fear.