Life/Work Planning: Its Origins in Campus Ministry by Verlyn Barker

Life / Work Planning:  Its Origins in Campus Ministry


In 1996, Verlyn Barker wrote this piece about the influential work of Richard Bolles, an Episcopal campus minister whose bestselling book What Color Is Your Parachute?  originated in response to Dick’s own search when he lost his job in campus ministry in CA in the 1970’s.

The world of work has changed radically in the last half century.  It was commonplace to think of “finishing” one’s education, whether at high school, college or professional and graduate school.  It was commonplace to decide “what you are going to do” at an early age and to enter and stay in one area/field of work for the rest of your years in the world of work.  Too, in our culture, one’s identity is taken primarily from our work, what we “do.”  One has worth as long as one is working.

But the change in the pace of new knowledge, including scientific and technological, and the development of global realities in economics, politics and communications  have brought us to a new day in understanding the world of work and the place of work in the totality of life.  It has not been nor is it a comfortable time for hosts of people.  Displacement is now common, so that persons think in terms of seven or eight different jobs during his or her lifetime—not one.  Life-long learning is not an option if one is to compete in the work place—your education is never “finished.”  Liberating movements of the past decades have released forces which encourage questions of what it means to be human—not only what do you “do” but what do you want to “be.”

Campus ministers were among those who early faced the implications of the revolution in the world of work.  This is not the context in which to analyze the developments in the church’s understanding of mission or to chronicle the changes in higher education which brought about the situation of fewer and fewer positions in higher education ministries.  The fact was, and is, that those positions became scarce.

One of our Episcopal colleagues in United Ministries, Richard Nelson Bolles, took on the challenge after concluding that we couldn’t assure campus ministers of positions, but we could assist them in dealing with job or career change.  After several months of research in the field and consultation with persons in government, business, education, he discovered that “career change” was becoming a major reality facing persons in the world of work.  United Ministries decided that one of its missions, long term, should be to assist not only campus ministers but all persons, to face constructively and with a sense of empowerment the new reality of career change.  Hence the Career Development program was launched.

Through new materials, most important of which was Bolles’ What Color Is Your Parachute? , conferences, seminars,  and workshops, efforts were made to assist persons assess their skills and what they enjoyed doing, give serious attention to what was important to  them and what they wanted to give and get out of life, think about the work environment and their financial needs and goals.  In short, the intention was to help a person think of work in the context of the whole of Life, hence Life/work Planning.

With this was help in identifying the places and context in which one wanted to work, in developing ways of finding and obtaining jobs.  One entered the job search with a sense that “I have something in terms of skills, knowledge and experience that someone need.”  rather than with a question of “ Who will give me a job?” Bolles’ understanding of Christian Vocation and his belief that everyone has gifts and purpose given by the Creator has grounded this contribution into the career development field not just  in the United States but in dozens of nations where Parachute has been translated.  As one person said, “You never think about yourself or life and work the same after encountering Life/work Planning as taught by Richard Bolles.

There is no way to assess the impact of this program and resource.  People in all sectors have been influenced by Parachute.   Career Development offices and programs in colleges and universities, government programs for diplomats as well as for the unemployed, the corporate world’s  educational and training programs, joint campus ministry-university programs–work with people in all sectors of the society.

The learnings include the importance of commitment to a substantive issue long term so as to effect change, of listening to the concerns that people have as the starting point of mission and ministry response, and of finding and empowering allies who work with people in all sectors of the society.

(Written by Verlyn Barker, 1996)






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