Friday, November 16, 2012

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?--Part 41

Become a pastor.

You may recall that a few years back we featured Rev. Layne Lebo in this series.  Layne is a pastor in the Brethren in Christ Church who wrote about the way his undergraduate history degree has served him in the ministry.

Today we feature another history major who entered the ranks of the clergy.  Joe Hackman graduated from Messiah College in 2004 with a degree in history.  He is currently the pastor of the Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, PA.

I recently caught up with Joe and conducted this interview:

Why did you decide to become a history major?

I wanted to study history for the same reason some others study psychology – why do I think the way I do about my own life?  Why do I possess a certain worldview? Why do I read the Bible in a particular way? From where do my particular convictions originate? History was a discipline I could use to better understand myself and the world in which I live. 

What is your current job and what were you doing before you landed this job?

I’m currently the Lead Pastor of Salford Mennonite Church, a congregation of 450 members located 25 miles North of Philadelphia.  Prior to the role as Lead Pastor, I served the same congregation as Youth Pastor for two years.  In my current role I provide team leadership for our staff, relate to the church board and preach, teach and offer pastoral care.

Before joining Salford as Youth Pastor, I was a 9th and 12th grade social studies teacher for four years.

How does history help you in your daily pastoral duties?  What are the transferable skills?

One of my primary roles as a pastor is to acknowledge that individuals and congregations are telling stories all the time.  We are constantly telling stories about God, ourselves, our community, and the wider world.  The stories we choose to tell about these things matter because they shape our present and our future.  And so, equipped with my history degree, I always try to ask what story has been told or is being told, why we are telling that particular story, and how that particular story is being used to inspire relationships marked by faith, hope and love.
One of the stories we Mennonites choose to tell is God is nonviolent. Many of the members of my congregation, like many Mennonite congregations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, practice nonresistance, one form of Christian pacifism.  I, along with other leaders, have raised questions about why we are choosing to tell ourselves that nonresistance is the particular form of Christian pacifism we are called to practice today.

Recently I preached a sermon on why our tradition embraced nonresistance and why our changing context might call for a more active form of Christian pacifism, something akin to active nonviolence.  The questions of what story we have told, why are we telling that particular story, and how is that particular story is being used to inspire faith are all questions I brought to preparation of the sermon. 


Without training in history, I’m not sure I would have the ability or confidence to get our congregation to wrestle with the stories we tell ourselves in the same way.

If you could do it all over again, would you still major in history?  Why?

Yes, if I could do it all over again, I’d be a history major. A history degree has sharpened the questions I ask about the world and myself; it improved my writing skills; it impressed on me the power of narrative; and it has made me a more patient leader.  One cannot complete a history degree and dedicate many hours to study of the past and not become more patient with individuals, communities, societies, and the overall complexity of life.  Patience is a Christian virtue and a non-anxious presence is one of the greatest gifts a person can offer any leadership position, be that in ministry, education, government or wherever else a history degree leads.

What advice do you have for history majors? 

My advice is to study abroad and gain a bigger perspective of the world.  When I studied in Athens, Greece it gave me the courage to realize I wanted to study history.  I’d also recommend spending as much time as possible with your history professors.  The history professors at Messiah College are all committed Christians with PhD’s, a combination that is not always found in academia or elsewhere.