I have been a Christian in the social work field for over 20 years now and have had the opportunity to work in churches, non-profits, government agencies, and Christian educational institutions. During this time I have seen many people in our profession “burn out” from jobs which they love because they do not take out time for rest or to reflect on what their passion truly is.
I am a strong advocate in the belief that God has a special place in His heart for people who are poor, orphans, widows, and immigrants, as shown by the countless passages in the Bible that address these issues. The question is: how do we advocate for these populations and keep the joy and energy in what we do?
A few years ago, I spoke to a Christian BSW student group about the social work profession. I would like to share the thoughts I offered to them about three ways to be the social workers God has created us to be:
1. Have a passion and a purpose. Passion can be thought of as boundless enthusiasm, with purpose being the object for which we strive. Mary O’Connor once said that “It’s not so much how busy you are, but why you are busy. The bee is praised. The mosquito is swatted” (O’Conner in J. & W Lazear, 1993, p. 15). Know why you are doing what you are doing. Find what your gifting is and use it. We are in a field that is making a difference in the world and speaking up for those who may not always have a voice. Whether you are doing community organizing or counseling, working at a large or small agency, or in a faith based or secular setting, give it all you have and dream big! As EM Foster says, “One person with passion is better than forty people merely interested” (Foster in Mortensen, K.W., 2011, p. 13). We can have a passion to let God use us in whatever capacity He wants to as an agent of change. Be THANKFUL for that opportunity. When difficult times come (which they will), our purpose will help us press on.
2. Prepare and have a plan. A plan is a scheme, program or method worked out beforehand for the accomplishment of an objective. We can have passion and purpose for something, but it is good to learn organizational skills in order to be able to follow through on what we feel compelled to do. If you are not strong in this area, find people around you who can complement your vision with solid planning skills. Know what area(s) you are interested in and ask questions, volunteer, find mentors, and work hard at it! Just as writing a good paper or doing a great presentation for a class takes preparation, so does being a top tier social worker. As Alan Lakein says, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now” (Lakein in Burka and Yuen, 2008, p. 195).
3. Have priorities and keep perspective on all you do. A priority is something given specified attention. For me, that is my relationship with God and my family. Learn to enjoy the journey and the twists and turns it may take you on, but don’t forget about the things that should give you perspective. I give my all as a social worker, and my wife and kids see that, but I also have to give my all as a husband and father. This means creating boundaries and spending time in pouring my life into them. Also, have outside interests and activities that keep you going. Find things that help bring you balance. As a Christian, you will never stop caring about people even when you are “off the clock,” but there has to be activities that help you stay healthy, and that help you when there is stress on the job.
May the Lord give us all strength as we fulfill our passions, stay prepared, and keep our priorities.
Jon C. is an adoptions social worker for a governmental agency in Southern California, and an adjunct instructor at Azusa Pacific University. He is currently working on a Doctorate of Social Work, and moderates the NACSW-CA Facebook page. Jon has been a member of NACSW since 2005.
- Burka, J.B. & Yuen, L.M. (2008). Procrastination: Why you do it, what to do about it now. Cambridge, MA: Dacapo Press.
- Lazear, J. & W. (1993). Meditations for parents who do too much. New York, NY: Fireside/Parkside.
- Mortensen, K.W. (2011). The laws of charisma: How to captivate, inspire, and influence for maximum success. New York, NY: AMACOM.