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?