It took a journey to India to pry Bill MacLean out of his comfortable corporate life and launch his second career — in the ministry.
For nearly two decades, MacLean, 59, had been a vice president at US Bank in Minneapolis. He and his wife, Laurie, and their four children, now ages 16 to 28, lived in a spacious home in one of the Twin Cities’ nicest neighborhoods and vacationed on Cape Cod. Today, he holds a master’s degree in divinity and is awaiting his first post as a Lutheran minister.
What Spurred His Career Shift
The catalyst for this change was a 1999 church mission trip to northern India that MacLean took with his oldest son, Ted, who was then 15. In a way, MacLean was revisiting his roots: Four generations of his family had served as missionaries in India.
“It was transformational and affected my son, also,” MacLean says. “It truly impacted us to see the schools, hospitals and churches they started in the 1800s that are still serving people.”
MacLean soon began contemplating a switch to a career that would involve serving others, and those thoughts became more focused after a friend succumbed to brain cancer in July 2002. “For two years, I walked alongside him and saw how he sorted out what was really important,” MacLean says.
Reflecting on the fulfillment he derived from volunteer work at his church, he started to speculate that his ancestors’ calling was also his.
“A pastor friend got me going,” he recalls. “He told me: ‘Bill, you’ve been talking about this for a couple years. Just do it.’ That was advice I took to heart. It was a simple call that grew to a point where I felt that I would always be unsettled if I wasn’t obedient to it.”
MacLean's wife and family urged him to follow his heart.
“Laurie sees it as something I am truly called to do and is supportive,” he says. “My whole family is very proud of this change, especially my kids. They admire leaving security and following what I perceive to be my calling. Only a handful of people we know have said I have lost my mind.”
His Path to the Ministry
As a first step toward his new career, MacLean enrolled in an evening program in theological studies at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul in 2004, while retaining his bank job. Five years later, degree in hand, MacLean left US Bank. He served as interim chaplain at a local hospital in the summer of 2009, completed a one-year internship at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in 2010, and followed that up with a year at St. Paul’s Luther Seminary.
He is awaiting “a call” from the Lutheran church synod office to be interviewed for a church pastor’s position, perhaps later this year. In the meantime, MacLean serves as a volunteer at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. There's a reason he has to wait: The weak economy has hit churches hard, and senior pastors aren't retiring as early as they did in the past, leaving fewer openings for associate pastors.
Preparing for the Transition
MacLean realized, of course, that leaving the corporate world would mean a significant drop in his income, but he was comfortable with that. “The salary will be about 10 percent of what my average annual earnings were,” he says. But he says he had many years to build up a nest egg.
Even so, after MacLean graduated last June, he and his wife sold their house and downsized to a less expensive Minneapolis townhome. “As we get older, belongings sometimes feel like encumbrances, and I found it feels liberating to lighten one’s load,” he says.
Despite the difference in lifestyle, MacLean sees a connection between his past and future careers, and he maintains that the skills he developed in the financial world also play a role in the church. “I always had an interest in people,” he explains. “That helped me to excel at US Bank. It was a relationship business, and ministry is also a relationship business.”
And he views his age not as a drawback but as an asset, since it will enable him to draw on his life experiences when he writes sermons. “I can go deeper with real life situations and examples," he says. “I don’t have to look into books.”
Still, the change is dramatic. Isn't he even a little bit nervous?
“There’s always fear of the unknown, giving up security,” MacLean says. “But I am stepping out into it with faith. I truly am being called, and I've already seen many blessings on this journey."
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