How do I word my reason for leaving this ministry job
October 4, 2012 8:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm applying for new jobs and struggling to figure out how to word my "reason for leaving" in an unusual situation.

Short version: I am a community college instructor with a very good track record at my current college, looking to move to a college in a more desirable location. But before my college teaching days, I was a pastor. I left my last congregation due to long and intractable conflicts with the congregational leadership regarding the scope of my duties and responsibilities--which basically boiled down to that I thought I should have a place in congregational decision-making and they believed the minister should exercise no leadership at all. All decisions were to be made solely by the lay eldership. Under the polity of that denomination, they had the final say. We both agreed things weren't working out, and I had what I've termed a "negotiated exit." I received a modest severance package, and I wasn't fired, although I left sooner than I would have preferred. After that experience, I was well and truly burned out on ministry, and found an adjunct teaching position six months later, which I then turned into a full-time position after a year. So, while the church job isn't at the top of my work history, it's still present and it's followed by six months of unemployment, which is a clear enough sign that I didn't completely leave of my own accord. I realize with current work history in my new field it's not that big a deal, but I'd still like a short, satisfactory answer to why I left that position that makes sense to future employers, and I'm having trouble articulating one. How should that be phrased in one sentence?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"I decided to make a career change."

Because you are - you were a pastor, and you're not looking for a pastoral job. The why of why you were making a career change is a separate question.

"Career change" could also cover the six months of unemployment - I mean, you had to get some experience in the new job, right?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on October 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

"I accomplished everything there that I wanted (or needed), and it was time to move on to new opportunities."
posted by jquinby at 8:38 AM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like there are two different questions here:

1. Why is there a six-month job gap?
2. Why did you leave the position?

I feel like #2 is the easier answer...because you were burnt out and needed a change of pace/to go down a different path.

#1 is harder because you have to articulate what you were doing in those six months. Job-searching, I'm guessing.
posted by st starseed at 8:40 AM on October 4, 2012

FWIW, I think you're past the point where your work history needs to include both the month and year of your employment: just the years should be sufficient. Both of the following look fine:
Pastor: 2008-2010
Professor: 2010-2012

Pastor: 2008-2010
Professor: 2011-2012

If you're filling out a form that requires this level of detail, then the "career change" answer suffices. Otherwise wait for the gap to come up in an interview--it may not--and don't over-react: recognize that questions about it may stem from curiosity more than a means to punch holes in your work history.
posted by carmicha at 8:41 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I realized that I find it more rewarding to serve others by teaching then by being a pastor" emphasizes that you like to serve others, a good quality that is consistent between both occupations. End story- they don't need to know about the drama of the church, irrelevant to current career.
posted by saraindc at 8:41 AM on October 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

You could note that the previous job lacked opportunities for promotion, or that the organization structure limited your job satisfaction.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:42 AM on October 4, 2012

You should always slant the answer to those questions to reflect following your passion/talent. This lets you scoot around any negativity and creates a natural segue to talk more about how the job you're interviewing for fits into your plan. So: "I started teaching in a college environment because I love doing X, Y, Z. I'm excited about this opportunity because I'd get to do just that."
posted by mochapickle at 8:49 AM on October 4, 2012

You can address your 6 month gap as a sabbatical, because it was.

"At the end of my work at XYZ Church, I took a sabbatical. During that time I decided that I needed to refocus my career, and I became a teacher."

Don't get so hung up on the details of how you left the ministry. Your story is incredibly common and rather irrelevant in the context of a job interview.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:05 AM on October 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everyone knows that you're not going to get a teaching job except at the beginning of a semester, so employment gaps entering academia are really common.
A lot of denominations also have an annual-contract type schedule (especially ones with a central body that handles appointments instead of ones that do the hiring at the local congregation level.) Even if your denomination is free-form, annual contracts are something that's pretty common in churches, and an interviewer is unlikely to look at a few-month gap and think "why did this person quit their job in March when the academic term didn't start until September?".
You don't have to use words that say you left suddenly or earlier than you expected, and might even choose words like "my term ended" "my time at X Church ended". As a former pastor, you're also authorized to use touchy-feely words like "sabbatical", "finding my true calling", and "deciding if leaving the ministry was right for me" - but only if asked!

Have an answer ready, but don't worry about providing details until they're asked for. If you start justifying too soon, you'll just look defensive.
posted by aimedwander at 12:30 PM on October 4, 2012

anonymous posted">> So, while the church job isn't at the top of my work history, it's still present and it's followed by six months of unemployment, which is a clear enough sign that I didn't completely leave of my own accord.

What? No, this is totally not a clear sign that you didn't leave voluntarily. Most laypeople are not familiar with the workaday employment practices of how pastors are hired or separated from their positions. Those who have some knowledge of how this works would also know that there are significant differences between denominations and oh gods the politics. (I grew up Methodist, and thus we had new pastor every seven years or sooner.)

And few people, whether themselves religious or not, would think that a pastor should continue being a pastor of a church unless wholly committed to it. Just say something that does not feel untruthful to you but is not overly detailed or guilty -- your appointment ended and you made a personal decision to enter academia instead of finding another position as a minister.
posted by desuetude at 8:48 PM on October 4, 2012

Many community college job applications do not require (or even prefer) you to list non-academic jobs, let alone reasons why you left them. I can't remember the last time I wrote down any non-teaching jobs I've held. If a form is unclear, or if it's ambiguous and you're just assuming you have to put it in, call HR and ask.

On the other hand, if you do have to put it in, I don't think it's a huge deal to have a gap after it. Leaving a career due to conflict/firing/angst/life changes and then finding teaching work is massively common in the teaching world. You might have to worry about being away from *teaching* for several years (in an unrelated field), but you haven't done that.
posted by wintersweet at 11:26 PM on October 5, 2012

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