Since February of 2023 I have been telling friends and family, and others who inquire, that I’m in the “free agent” portion of my vocational life. For me this means that I’m not partnered with one particular employer in a ministry call or covenant relationship, but rather I’ve been able to pick and choose what I want to do with my time to cobble together an income and professional routine.
To date the pieces of this puzzle have included becoming a PRN chaplain with a large hospital – working two to three shifts a week; teaching adult English language learning classes two evenings a week; doing some freelance writing; serving an Interim pastorate, as well as engaging in some contract work in theological education for a denominational partner group.
These are all things that bring me some level of fulfillment. They offer the opportunity to make meaningful contributions and draw on my expertise, experience and giftedness; without consuming all of my time, energy or focus in just one arena. Keeping the schedule straight can be a challenge, but to this point the variety and pace has been a welcome addition in this season of life. But is it truly free agency?
What does it mean to be a free agent? According to Collins Dictionary: “If you say that someone is a free agent, you are emphasizing that they can do whatever they want to do, because they are not responsible to anyone or for anyone“. Another understanding of what makes a free agent comes from the world of professional athletics. In that realm a free agent is “a professional athlete who is not under contract and is free to auction off his or her services and sign a contract with the team that offers the most money.”
Hmmm. . . I’m not so certain these definitions translate to my current situation! Even though my combo-style list of ministry work has been of my choosing, my various employers would likely take issue with my “doing whatever I want”, or thinking I was beyond their responsible oversight. And, as for the money? Let me assure you full-time employment with a covenant partner offers more stability, income and – most especially – benefits than does the free agent equation. So, while the Bible tells us, the laborer deserves to be paid, most ministry organizations are happier budgeting the part-time verses the full-time pay scale.
Thankfully, at this stage of life, my wife and I are in agreement, it’s not just about the money. Rather, for me, it’s about being able to make a meaningful contribution in multiple areas of interest and calling. It’s about helping a few worthy organizations bridge their gaps in coverage, leadership and service. It’s about pouring into the lives of patients, students, readers, parishioners, and colleagues for a time. And it’s about being able to draw from my own reservoir of gifts, experience and knowledge while also finding challenges in new opportunities.
Persons in ministry have long lived some version of this free-agent type existence. Many of them, not because they preferred to, but because they have to. With the rise of bi or co-vocational ministries, which is another way of saying not fully-funded ministries, professional church leaders and other clergy have learned what it is to cobble together an income. My experience is different, in that I was blessed for over thirty-three years to have served in fully-funded calls and partnerships. My new chapter has provided insight into what so many colleagues have known, do know, or will know as the norm.
But what if we looked at the situation somewhat differently? From the perspective of one who has felt “called to ministry”, the primary partnership in this calling has always been the partnership with God. God is the covenant partner. God is the overseer of work and provider of opportunity. God is the equipper of gifts and dispenser of passion. God is the supervisor to whom one answers, and the benevolent provider of rewards. Yes, the various organizational partners with whom one shares ministry are to be valued, considered, and respected, but the primary consideration is owed to the One who has called, equipped and sent. This should be true whether you consider yourself a free-agent or a full-time covenant partnered servant.
I’ve noted a couple of identifiable common threads in the work that I’m doing now. One is the thread of being a communicator. Whether through writing, speaking, teaching or interpersonal listening and initiating; each of my roles has a strong element of communication running through it. I’m communicating the Good News of the gospel through these roles. Sometimes it is done subtly, other times directly and boldly. But it always informs how I engage in the role, and with that role’s constituents.
A second theme is that of pastoral presence. Our world is so busy and attention deficit deprived, that to offer an individual (patient, parishioner, reader, student, colleague) the attention of one’s presence is felt by many to be a gift extended and received. I try to be fully present in each role when I give myself to it. I have found the absence of the pressures of being the organizational leader who must always “cast the vision” or worry about the bottom line, track attendance and engagement (ala the Senior Pastor or Executive Minister) to be freeing. Minus those overarching concerns, one can be with people in a more relaxed yet attentive way.
What about you? If you were in a place, and maybe you are, where you could craft your own “free agent” chapter of life, vocationally or a-vocationally, what combination of roles would you (will you) embrace? Where would you expend your gifts? How would you design your week, or your day? In what ways is God calling you to invest yourself, to be present, in this chapter of your life’s book?
There will come a day when I when I will reexamine this “free agent” chapter, maybe pare it back a bit, to build in a little more unscheduled time for the garden, or travel, reading and grandchildren. Until then, these things must be intentionally grafted into the time blocks of my schedule. For they too call for my presence and focus. How grateful I am to realize this.
6 responses to “The Ministry of Free Agency”
Dan, I love this. I did not fully know that this was your “next stage” and it really does seem to suit your gifts. And I love the idea of always having a “covenant partner”, which we do, right? As we became unmoored from our old life, it opened up space for us to partner more fully under His guidance, and like you once said, with Him in the driver’s seat…BUCKLE UP.
Peace on the journey….when you travel more, I hope the desert is on your list.
Thank you Char. It’s been fun seeing your embrace of the desert from afar. While I do not always respond, I do enjoy your writing and pictures. My best to you and Tim. – Dan
div>I enjoyed reading your post today. Bob & I are glad th
Thank you Judy.
As usual Dan, you make us think and consider what, why, how much time do I spend on outreach. Being alone now, I found myself with too much time (because I don’t do housework) and I also found I had a desire to get into God’s word more deeply and find a place where I felt I could make a difference. Years ago, I was involved with Bible Study Fellowship, acting as a Discussion Leader, then we were transferred again. Two years ago I found BSF locally, though it is on zoom and I love the intense study it requires. I have also been a member of a study held in a Retirement Home I once lived in, being mentored by an excellent teacher and I am taking on leading occasionally. I also continued to provide music for a devotional at another retirement community but I have recently left that due to a difference in how the devotion was being handled.
I have found that leaving that has freed me from some issues I had and leaves me more quality time for other things. I feel I am where I should be at this stage in life, though I have a strong desire to travel this country and explore as Ken and I used to do.
I admire all you are doing in your years of wondering and believe you are where you should be, with keeping our eyes and heart on God to direct our paths. I always remember our service together in the PNW with fond and grateful memories. Doris
So good to hear from you dear lady. Keep looking for those opportunities to use those gifts of yours. Thanks for your words.