Sunday, November 03, 2013

Unemployable

I've written at length here about our adventure after leaving full time ministry in the fall of 2010. Long story short, we moved to Nashville to pursue a music career, found it to be a fool's errand, and felt that we should go back to full time church work.

That was two and a half years ago.

I thought that, since I had never really had a problem finding a ministry in the past (usually taking 1-2 months), that, although the wait might be a little longer, we'd soon secure another position somewhere. I grossly misjudged how difficult it would be. Below is a screen cap of my "Applied to" e-mail folder. Note the number of e-mails. I also haven't saved every rejection e-mail. Some of the names have been changed to protect the...er...participants.


There is a certain pull to ministry, if you've been in it awhile. I'm typing this on a weekend where we are visiting one of the churches where we've served. People don't usually go back and spend a weekend at their "old job" just to visit (although they might hang out with their old work buddies), but church work isn't just a job: the people who you serve become family. When you leave, you leave because of reasons related to the job part of the ministry, but much of the time you leave in spite of the relationships you have made. I can say that this was true for all of the churches I have left. We still have friends at those places. We still miss all of our old haunts. If the work portion of our commitment had been different, we probably would still be at one of these churches.

I think if there's one thing I could get church leaders, and church people in general, to understand about ministers who leave is that ministry has a tension where it is part job, part family. And that, just because the job part may end for a variety of reasons, the family part doesn't. You don't all of the sudden stop caring for the people in your past churches just because you're not there any more. You still grieve at their losses, and rejoice their gains. Your lives become intertwined and it can be awesome and messy all at the same time. In many cases, you wish things had been different, because you didn't really want to leave. In some cases, like us, you leave simply to pursue what you feel might be a better fit or situation for you and your family. That doesn't make you a bad person. Many of the ministers I know are just trying to figure out what God wants from them when they make a move.

Pearl Jam's "Unemployable"

Those relationships that we have built are a big part of the reason why we want to do church work. The community of believers in every church is what we know, and is appealing to us. It is not perfect, and neither are we. But it is comfortable to us, in a good way. I think we were surprised at how much we missed it during our time in Nashville. Thankfully, after yet another move, we did find a church where I could work part-time, to use my gifts and to fellowship with.

I have estimated that I have applied to roughly 150 churches. Sometimes, when they rejected me, I asked them why, in the interest of self-improvement. I don't recommend doing this. I have learned several things throughout this process of continual rejection. The first one is that churches don't see you they way you see yourself. They see a very small part of who you are and what you can do. Most of what ministers do isn't quantifiable, or can be comprised into a three-minute YouTube video. For example, I have a couple of videos of me leading worship posted there. Whenever I send them with my resume, that's usually the end of the conversation with a perspective church. Unfortunately, they are the only videos I have. They certainly aren't a good representation of all the things I've done over the years, all the different ways I've led worship, or more importantly, all the people I've shared the Gospel with, musicians I've trained, people I've counseled or prayers I've prayed. It was because of these videos that one church told me that my "guitar playing or singing (were not) sufficient for you to come in and lead our people". Now, if there's one thing I'm good at, one thing in the world, it's playing guitar. But, that's the point: the video, where I'm simply playing chords with two other singers and a bass player, doesn't show virtuosity.

The second thing I've learned is that shifts in culture can age you out of your work. I've talked to several pastors who have either hired or have talked about what I call the "archetype of post-modern minister". Churches are looking for someone younger than me, more dynamic than me, more....something....than me. The irony in this is that I have been called to churches that have been a little more conservative in their approach to worship. So, all of that experience has now made me the worship leader I am. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but what churches want in a worship leader has drastically changed in the last ten years. I can do that, I can be that guy, but I have no proof that I can do that, no tangible evidence that I can be that guy.

I was bothered by several things during this time of job and soul searching, but one thing really stuck out: why are churches trying to hire a certain kind of person, while at the same time praying for the right person? Those may not be even close to the same thing. So many churches want a certain kind of personality for their pastor positions, a certain look for their worship positions, a certain energy for their youth positions. But relationships you build in ministry transcend all that. It's not about plugging in a certain component, as if thinking about people as puzzle pieces is somehow going to make your church successful. Instead of looking for the next church CEO, or the next Chris Tomlin, churches should be looking for people who care, people who want to be a part of their family. I may not look the part of the worship leader that many churches are looking for. But I think, more importantly, I feel I live the part of someone who has compassion, who is dependable, who wants the church to thrive and flourish. So, how does that make someone unemployable?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Family: You Can't Live With 'Em, etc...

Today, while being the best darn can jockey I can be, I started thinking about family. My extended family. I go in spurts doing this. What made me ruminate on these folks that I am biologically connected to (but rarely see) was a reel-to-reel tape.

If you're old enough, you might know what that is. If you don't, here's what the tape and player look like:



When I was a kid, we had one of these. My father, like I assume so many GI's, brought it home from Vietnam. It had red sand in it, the kind that I assume would blow around during storms over there. It was a monster. Heavy. It had a handle, but the handle almost seemed like a dare: portability wasn't it's strong suit.

Record companies made pre-recorded tapes for these players, but really what a consumer would use it for was recording their own personal music. This was pre-VCR, even before the wide spread proliferation of cassette decks and boom boxes. My dad recorded himself playing guitar, my mom recorded herself playing the "Jew's harp" (I kid you not, that's what it's called) and they both recorded audio of TV shows and movies. One of these, the audio from the "Elvis on Tour" film, I still have. Before we ever had a video copy of that movie, I'd listen to this extensively.

On the beginning of that tape, before the movie starts in, there's me. I'm three years old, and my mom and dad are trying to get me to sing or speak into the microphone, and I'm having none of it. Every time the microphone comes close to me, I scream, saying "I don't want to, Mommy, I don't want to!". Why I didn't wanted to, I don't remember. It's ironic considering the amount of time over the last twenty five years I've spent in front of a microphone.

Lesson Learned From Family #1: People who are related to you will try to get you to do things that others won't.

When I was ten, while visiting me and my mother, my grandmother told me she'd give me ten bucks for all my Elvis 45's (I had around 40). Being a kid who wanted to respect authority, I complied. My mom didn't know about this until my grandmother was leaving. My mom, seeing that this was unfair, told her so while she was getting in her car. As she drove off, my grandmother said, "A deal's a deal!"

Of course, even when she passed away, she still had this crate of records which somehow never reverted back to me in her death. Well played, grandma, well played.

That day, my grandmother inadvertently taught me a healthy skepticism of all authority that has been lasting. I actually am thankful for it, and I feel that skepticism can serve you well. Everyone needs a bullcrap detector sometimes.

Lesson Learned From Family #2: People who are related to you don't always have your best interests at heart.

Around about that same time, I was at my grandfather's house looking through his records. Of course, I was looking for Elvis records, and I was disappointed that he only had a couple. My grandfather was a great guitarist, loved jazz and was playing professionally way before rock and roll. I asked him what he thought of "the King" and he didn't have kind words to say: "He couldn't play guitar. I suppose he could sing ok." My stepgrandmother chimed in with "Oh, those are my records", as if to provide an excuse for having such musical contraband. A couple of years later, when Sgt. Pepper never left my CD player, I inquired about his opinion regarding the moptops: "They are alright. Not great guitar players but good songwriters." They were no Django Reinhardt, to be sure, who was my grandpa's favorite player.

I find it interesting that, even though he knew of my love for Elvis, he was not accommodating of that fact. In fact, neither set of grandparents on either side of my family were known to suffer fools.

Lesson Learned From Family #3: People who are related to you don't always consider your feelings.

Here's the deal with this post right here: I'm glad they didn't take it easy on me. I don't agree with what happened all the time with my family and me, but soft, warm, fuzzy people they were not. And, in a world that isn't soft, warm and fuzzy either, those relationships prepared me for what was to come. As I got older, went to college and took jobs all around the eastern half of the U.S., I didn't see them very much. And even that prepared me to be flexible in a profession where you deal with difficult interpersonal situations continually.

This whole post might sound like I am being critical of these people. But it's really more like a travelog, that tells you how you got to where you are. Your relationships with your family are a lot like tourist traps and greasy diners: some you like, some you don't, but they all stick with you and mold you.

That these three stories each have some connection with Elvis is no coincidence: I was a big fan early on, and your family's reaction to something that's important to you as a child says a lot about them. But I don't think that negative reactions to something that a child loves are always terrible. In fact, they can build character and encourage a kid to be honest, even blunt about what they like, who they are and what they will and won't do. I'd take my relation any day over an antiseptic, milquetoast existence where nothing was ever confronted and nothing ever mattered. In a beautifully twisted way, I want to tell my family, "thanks".