When You Work for the Church: What Readers Say Behind the Scenes

A fellow blogger laments that blog comments are dying, and another lists reasons why readers might not leave a comment:

  • the post is already so complete they don’t know what to add,
  • they take exception to what’s written but don’t want to argue,
  • there’s no concrete question to respond to,
  • they’re too tired or too busy,
  • no one else is commenting.

In my few months’ experience with this blog, I would also add: many readers would rather respond privately than in a public comment where they might be identified.

I respect that trust and so appreciate those who have shared their stories, questions, laments, laughter, wisdom, websites, and other resources with me. I’m learning a lot from you, and know that others would as well. Your experience and wisdom can definitely benefit a wider circle.

wisdom-from-readers

And so today I share a sampling of responses from readers–similar to the letters to the editor section of a newspaper, only what follows appears unattributed [and with permission] out of respect for privacy. Topics covered include:

What to do with the anger following a painful job termination?

What is the impact of increased professionalization?

Self-care, technology, and dealing with mental illness on the job.

What to do with the anger following a painful job termination?

This seems to be a common struggle, and so far the most satisfying answer comes from a reader who sent me a link to an article by Dr. Kelly Flanagan, who is a clinical psychologist. It’s well worth reading his entire article, The Simplest Way to Find a Blessing in Every Moment, which applies to life in general (and to which I mentally add, including job terminations). Here’s the portion of his article that addresses anger in a practical and redemptive way:

  1. Anger cannot be erased completely. You can’t rid yourself of anger—or any unpleasant feeling, for that matter—by trying to get rid of it. And if you try, you will destroy any chance of happiness in the process. Every moment spent trying to erase anger is a moment of potential joy wasted. Instead, we must allow both our anger and our joy to co-exist. Then, we can choose which one to cultivate. . . .

  2. Anger isn’t always a bad thing. It has some truths to teach us. For instance, sometimes our anger is telling us we are worthier than we’ve been treated. Sometimes, it’s telling us we need to set healthier boundaries. Sometimes, anger is telling us that the world is really broken and the things that make us angriest are probably the things we’re here to do something about.

  3. The real problem isn’t anger; the real problem is what anger gives rise to in us. If we focus exclusively on expressing our anger, we cultivate resentment, and resentment only gives rise to more anger. But if we focus instead on feeling our anger—experiencing all of it rather than acting out some of it—then we become aware of the fear, sadness, and grief beneath it. And these don’t give rise to more anger; they give rise to healing and forgiveness and redemption.

What is the impact of increased professionalization?

One observation I am pondering lately is the degree to which the professionalization of church ministry in general (over many decades) has contributed to the way jobs are eliminated and people are released. I can imagine it may be much harder to suddenly release a ‘volunteer’ than a paid employee, for example – though there are organizational costs to having volunteers as well. And, as you have pointed out, the treatment of paid church workers often mirrors paid corporate sector workers – though lately some in the corporate world seem to be ahead of church institutions in treatment of released employees. I think that in the church world, workers tend to think of their work more as ‘vocation‘ than ‘job’ – and that contributes to the hurt. That is probably also true for some in the corporate world, but I am guessing less so.

Self-care, technology, and dealing with mental illness on the job

I do think that in this day and age, practicing self-care does need to become part of the job (in addition to also practicing it on your own time).  I am speaking as someone outside the employ of the church, but I think it applies across situations.

It used to be that expectations for most employees included fairly specific work times, even when hours might exceed the typical eight-hour day. Now, many employees have had their employers assign communication/work devices such as laptops, iPads and smartphones with the expectation that employees be available to follow through with work well beyond the stated work hours of the job. Yes, you can turn the devices off at the end of the work day, but it isn’t as easy to turn off colleagues’ expectations or judgmental comments if you are slow to respond to their requests. I have read a couple of articles on this subject recently, specifically talking about the lengthening of the work day in North America since the 1960’s.  Setting boundaries is a huge self-care issue, I think.

Another example of needing to practice self-care on the job, is when you have a difficult co-worker and/or a person with a significant mental health issue. While you can do some things personally on your own time to deal with the situation, ultimately it needs to be addressed at work as well, likely with the support and intervention of the employer–not just expecting an employee to swallow whatever is being dished out, but having a specific plan/strategies/approach that is agreed on as a formal plan to appropriately address the situation.

Thank you, readers, for sharing your thoughts. You raise some good points for further reflection that may show up again in future articles. For those of you who need a direct question to respond to, what church employment issues or questions would you like to see addressed in future articles? As usual, all comments will be moderated before publication.

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Next Up: Did you know that October is Pastor Appreciation Month? Is this just one more made-up celebration to boost the greeting card and gift-giving industry? Or is this a good way to strengthen employee/employer relationships within the church? Let me hasten to add that although I’m a pastor, I’m not writing this to angle for another box of chocolates, a weekend get-away, or other gift. But this month raises questions for me, and maybe it does for you too. Check back for this post in another couple of weeks, or sign up for my free email updates, and I’d be glad to send it to you.

8 thoughts on “When You Work for the Church: What Readers Say Behind the Scenes

  1. Thank you for this. I’m going to read that article you linked. The biggest hurdle for me has been a resentment that isn’t very deep but annoyingly persistent. A mild itch you can’t get rid of.

    • What I most appreciate about that article is the assertion that anger isn’t always bad, that it may be telling us something important about ourselves or our situation. It reminds me of Psalm 7 that speaks of injustice and describes God who “has indignation every day” (verse 11). I hope you find the article helpful.

  2. I am grateful that you have started this blog as it speaks to issues both my husband and I deal with. We both worked for the church we attend until six years ago, at which time I was let go. I was incredibly hurt and angry, but at the same time I knew God was at work and I have and am working through the wounds incurred at that time.

    No church is perfect, but I am hesitant to say things on public forum for two reasons: The first is that my husband still works for this church. I wouldn’t want to say anything that might cause him difficulty with the church, the leadership, or the people. The second reason is that we love this church. We know that God is working through this church to transform lives in spite of its imperfections. We don’t want to interfere with what God is doing by pointing out the problems.

    I would say one thing though–we were very hurt by some decisions the church made a few years ago, and I was quite angry with one leader. As I walked through that anger, I was angry with those who might have stepped in and protected us. These were leaders and mentors who I had hoped would speak up for us. As I recognized how angry I was with those people, who I loved, I realized that I was really angry with God. He could have stepped in at any time to right the injustices which I perceived.

    That recognition stunned me, and brought me to my knees. Ultimately I needed to trust God, that his plans were perfect, and in fact, he works through imperfections to bring glory to himself. I needed to surrender my grievances to him. I need to forgive. I needed to love.

    That was the beginning of healing.

    • Thank you for sharing your testimony of trust and healing. It’s a great encouragement to look beyond our circumstances and to realize that God is still sovereign. Yes, there are issues we may need to work through, there are changes that may need to happen, and at the same time, there is also a much bigger picture. We can be confident that God is at work.

  3. As a first time reply-er…
    Thanks for the blog. I appreciate the topics discussed and the perspectives offered. It is helpful and often provides me with a place of balanced commiseration.

    Like others, I seldom reply to blogs and as previously mentioned have not replied to this blog until now. In addition to the reasons you’ve so adequately listed I’d like to add one of my own…

    Blog subscribers tend to be fairly homogenous. Yes, that is definitely a generalization and your experiences may differ (compulsory blog reply disclaimer) but I imagine that folks who would subscribe and read a blog titled “When You Work For The Church” already know there are unique issues faced by those who work for the church and have a desire to see things change for the better. Most of the struggles I face, as someone who works for the church, are not with people who want to see things change for the better but with those who are unaware that a problem exists. I feel like it is often those who would never think of reading a blog about church employer/employee relations that would benefit from reading it, and the subsequent replies, the most.

    In response to October as Pastor Appreciation Month…
    I think I would feel a bit more appreciated if we weren’t told as a staff team to come up with the thing that the church board would do/pay for (within a certain budget) to make us feel appreciated. The fact that we, as staff, have to come up with the expression of appreciation doesn’t go very far in making me feel appreciated.

    • Congratulations on making your first comment 🙂 For those unaware, I hope this blog might play a part in raising awareness, and for all of us, I hope to promote healthy employer-employee relations in the church. I like your word “balanced” since I hope to speak to both employees and employers, and in a sense I identify with both. As a pastor, I’m a church employee, and in my role as a lead pastor where I’ve been part of budgetary processes/reviewing resumes/interviewing/hiring/evaluating staff, I’m also familiar with some of the challenges that employers face as well. Thanks for your comment about Pastor Appreciation Month too–that gives me something more to think about for my next post.

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