Working for the Bigger Picture: An Interview with MyChelle Pinkerton

faithcoop  •  January 12, 2024

An Introduction

One of Faith Co-Op’s deep convictions is that our work in this world matters because it is one of the main ways we are able to commune with God. God’s original design was for humans to join him in the work of caring for and stewarding this world. In Genesis 2 we see God calling Adam and Eve to join him in naming the animals and caring for the Garden of Eden even before sin entered the world in Genesis 3. When we do the good work of stewarding our businesses, creating solutions, caring for spaces, or counseling people, we are responding to God’s call to join in the work of bringing flourishing to this world and pointing others to the redemption found in Jesus.

It is often difficult to know how to live out this beautiful biblical concept in the specific vocations we find ourselves. There is not always one verse we can turn to to help us know what it means to serve God through our industries and jobs. One of the main ways we are able to get a vision for faithfulness in our work is to see the ways the Lord is working through others’ lives and jobs. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up on meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” It is often through the encouragement and stories of other believers that we get a bigger picture of the ways the Lord is working in our particular context.

With this in mind, the Faith Co-Op team has gathered stories of women and men who are using their gifts and passions to serve God across Chattanooga in various roles and industries. With each conversation, we sought to uncover the answer to one question, “How does your faith inform your work?”.

We’re very excited to finally share these stories of people living out their Christian identity in the workplace. We learned so much about the good work happening in our city, from counseling to crawl space cleaning to marketing, and through these conversations we stand in awe of God at work through the labor of our fellow Chattanoogans. We pray that through these stories you, too, will be encouraged by what God is doing in the city, inspired by authentic and practical advice for connecting your work with God’s, and refreshed by a deeper understanding of why your work matters.

In our first interview, we sat down with MyChelle Pinkerton, Licensed Family and Marriage Therapist, to better understand the work she does, her heart within it, and how her Christian faith informs that work day in and day out. Below is our conversation.

The Interview

Getting Started

Faith Co-Op (FC): What drew you to the work you do?

MyChelle Pinkerton (MP): I didn’t start out being interested in going into the counseling field. When I was in my undergraduate program, I was on a totally different path. Through a series of events I just realized law wasn’t going to be for me, it was something I was passionate about but not something I wanted to do as a career. I’m a planner and I had everything planned out. So when I decided not to do law anymore I realized, ‘I don’t have a plan, this is terrible’. But I feel like that’s really just the beautiful way the Lord interacts with me. He lets me have my moment of planning and then I go into a frozen state of not knowing what to do. My parents at the time were working for Bethel Bible Village and one of the therapists that worked with the residents there in a random conversation with my mom said ,”I think she’d be a fantastic therapist.” So I did the preview day at the local graduate school here and fell in love with it and it just felt like home. It felt like those were all the gifts the Lord blessed me with and I’m able to use all of them and it just really felt like I was alive. I went into the marriage and family track and hit the ground running in a nontraditional way. I worked at a pregnancy care center for a good bit of time and then counseling on the side that expanded. I’ve counseled at the church and didn’t really dip my toes into private practice until having my second child. Now I’m at a school. Because it’s a private school, there’s a lot more leeway on what I can do. The best way to describe it is we are strictly offering mental health services and support to the students. On the side, I have a few clients that I see but for the most part I’ve really enjoyed supervision, so training up-and-coming therapists, and it fits really well with where we are in life as a family. Supervision is my main focus in my business and most of the counseling work I do now is for the school.

Challenges in the Mental Health Field as a Christian

FC: What are some challenges that you face in the workplace?

MP: One of the biggest challenges in the mental health field is that there can be a barrier and some resistance for those who are of faith because it’s almost like a distrust of all things mental health. I think helping clients individually and, through the school, parents and students, understand that God created us as one whole being, so our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts – all of it is a gift from him. And so stewarding your mental health is just like stewarding any other gift that God has blessed you with. Sometimes that hurdle can be a bit difficult to clear because of that distrust of mental health professional, psychology, any of it just seems to be palpable sometimes which can be discouraging.

FC: How have you helped move people past that barrier?

MP: I do a lot of trying to connect the dots for them. While the field might use a particular label, it is based out of God’s truth. For instance, self care seems to be a big one that leads to distrust, right? It’s just focused on self and being selfish – but that is not what that is and here’s the connecting point – when Christ was on earth he did self care, he protected his boundaries, there were times he said no, and there were times he went off by himself. He provided that model of creating a rhythm that is for our benefit. And so I think clearing [the barrier] is just trying to connect it – here’s what God said, here’s how it lines up, yes I see how the world has taken that and made it its own thing but that doesn’t necessarily keep that from being true.

FC: What are some ways that you’ve learned to create healthy boundaries and approach your work full instead of empty?

MP: Boundaries from the very beginning are something I’ve had to have in place because for those of us that are in a people helping field we are in that field for a reason. We have these gifts that the Lord has blessed us with that allow us to sit in some of the harder moments of life with people and we have the desire and passion to do that. It’s sometimes to our detriment of pouring out and serving Him well until we burn out. So I think because I started out in a pregnancy care center, learning to care for myself was part of training and being there. Because you journey with those in some of the harder moments that they face and if you don’t care for yourself well you can very easily turn into someone who is bitter or jaded at everything. Creating your rhythm of slowing down, not just on an every now and then basis. My rule is I have something I do daily, something I do weekly, and something I do monthly to fill my cup with things I enjoy doing. Once I’m in my car headed home, that is my transition period. Whatever we faced for the day, we’re containing it and we will deal with it the next day. There are activities I do at home that help relax and transition and weekly things I do that just feel restorative to me alongside what I’m doing that is filling my spiritual cup daily, weekly, monthly on a regular basis. I’m very people-oriented and so a signal for myself is if I find myself drawing away from people then that’s my sign that something is off kilter and I need to correct.

My rule is I have something I do daily, something I do weekly, and something I do monthly to fill my cup with things I enjoy doing.

Guiding Principles for the Workplace

FC: What are some biblical principles that guide you as you enter into the workplace?

MP: Because I am very driven, I’m a planner, and I can be very type A, reminding myself of who I work for in the bigger picture and that the work that I’m doing is unto the Lord. Wanting to do things with excellence but also being keyed into what he wants them to look like and having that reminder that “this is yours, it’s gonna look like whatever you want it to look like, and ultimately I answer to you, you’re sitting here with me”. So having that mindset has been the biggest guiding principle – “what do you want this to be, Lord?” Growing up and being aware that God is always near has been ingrained in me since I was very little, so actively talking to him throughout the day is something that I’ve continued today. People think I might be talking to myself but no, me and Jesus are just hanging out trying to figure out what we are going to do next. That guides me the most. Justice is also very important to me and that drives a lot of what I do and even how I react in certain situations. I might be passionate about finding out about particular programming being in place because I want to find what is going to best serve those that are often overlooked. When I went into this field, never in a million years would I have dreamt I’d end up working in a private school, that just was not my idea of the underserved, that just didn’t feel like it fit. But being in it I’ve realized the assumption is they do not struggle with their mental health because they have access to so many resources. The truth is they struggle as much as any other child their age. And that is what makes them the underserved. So I think even in that, God has opened my eyes to what I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t keyed into where God was wanting me to be.

I think, too, realizing that there’s a whole spiritual realm at play and looking at it though that filter helps in sitting in some of the darker moments with clients and families and students to know that there are bigger things at play and the filter that we have is Scripture and then psychology flows though that.

FC: Is there a book or a set of verses that has impacted your mindset or approach to work?

MP: Related to shaping my thinking on having a different rhythm for life, years and years ago I did a study at New City Fellowship that was based on the book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. And that shifted everything for me, even in how I approach work and maintaining those rhythms throughout the day. It’s not just the beginning of the day devotion and I check that box, then I’m not really thinking about it after because now it’s time to go to work and I check that box, and then I’m back home and so whatever that looks like I check that box. More of it just flows throughout and it shouldn’t just be these rigid lines. So implementing that has influenced the way I go about my work day and navigating the boundaries and rules and regulations. Reminding myself ultimately who is at work and what is happening here. I think, too, realizing that there’s a whole spiritual realm at play and looking at work though that filter helps in sitting in some of the darker moments with clients and families and students to know that there are bigger things at play and the filter that we have is Scripture and then psychology flows though that. So it’s saying, ” Here are all the spiritual things at play, now what are all of the psychological tools I can use to benefit whoever I’m sitting with?” Recently I read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality again being a totally different person now – I’m a wife and a mother now – as a refresher course of reminding me that it was a really great strategy and I laid it down because life got busy but let me pick it back up because it’s beneficial.

Practical Advice for Professionals

FC: What is some advice that you’d give other professionals trying to live out their faith in their vocation?

MP: Because you are there at your place of business, in your field, wherever you are, how is it going to change because you were there? How does God want you to show up and change that landscape for his purpose? Once you see it as YOU were called to be his representative/ambassador as opposed to you being there because you went to school and got a particular degree, it shifts your perspective because it takes you out of being the main focus and puts God back into being the main focus. And that is always the temptation – “God put ME on the throne, I got this.” But if I keep God on the throne, I have a better shot at doing things well. Why does God have you there? Determine that.

Because you are there at your place of business, in your field, wherever you are, how is it going to change because you were there? How does God want you to show up and change that landscape for his purpose?

FC: How would you encourage people that their work really does matter?

MP: Be mindful of who you have around you. Who’s your tribe? Who are the people in your life that you have granted permission to see your underbelly? Encouragement should come from them. We weren’t created to do things alone. Community is good for us for so many different reasons and not just in the “hold me accountable and show me all the things I’m doing wrong in my life” way but also in the encouragement to show you how you are changing the landscape for His glory. Because it may not seem that way, you may think, “I’m just doing something mundane”, but you never know how that one interaction with someone can cause a ripple effect and the small little ways that help someone feel seen. For all of the technology that we have, we still feel very alone and very isolated, so your tribe can remind you that even in small ways, in small conversations, you can help people feel seen and can have a huge impact.

Read the next story in our series of faithfulness in the workplace.