When You Work for the Church: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how we can all do better

Staff (300x212)I never thought I would start a second blog. Just this one blog, posting once a week, keeps me busy enough–sometimes busier than I mean to be. And my current tagline–“Writing and Other Acts of Faith”–covers everything, doesn’t it? On this blog I’ve written book reviews and retreat notes, pondered social media and spiritual practice, reflected on Scripture and prayer, work and sacred pauses, theology and writing, and I’ve even blogged about blogging. Somehow it all seems to fit under that big umbrella of “Other.”

However, over the last six months, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the ins and outs of church employment. You might think my interest is only natural, since I’m currently employed as a pastor and have been for over 20 years. But through my years of ministry, I’ve focused much more on church work as ministry and less so on church work as employment. I think that’s quite typical of pastors, church boards, and employees and employers in church institutions and other Christian organizations.

For example, in the public controversy between Wheaton College and Dr. Larycia Hawkins, most focused on the faith issues. Was she right to don a hijab as a statement against anti-Islamic sentiment? Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God as she maintained? These and other theological issues took centre stage and perhaps rightly so–but they were also exacerbated by the employment process. As the provost later admitted, he acted too “precipitously” in placing Dr. Hawkins on administrative leave and moving toward termination proceedings, and as the controversy finally settled, he made a public apology for his “lack of wisdom and collegiality.” Whatever the theological questions, the issues of employment practice seemed to intensify them.

As I followed this story in the news, my husband and I were dealing with a more personal situation as just before Christmas he had been informed that his employment was being terminated for financial reasons–after 26 years of teaching at the same Christian college, with a new and younger professor already hired for the following semester. Suddenly church employment issues seemed to be everywhere–not only painful terminations, but issues of hiring, handling grievances, doing staff reviews, and other employment situations. Even with this blog as my umbrella, these issues taken together seemed a little too much.

Mark Twain once wrote, “Write what you know.” Eudora Welty: “Write about what you don’t know about what you know.” Robin McKinley: “Write what you want to read.” Denise Mina: “Write about what makes you angry.” Natalie Goldberg: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” And to all of these, I now add, “Write what you’re learning.”

So today I’m taking all of that good writing advice to share what I’m learning about church employment, and I’m doing it with a brand new blog. While I never thought I’d start a second blog, my “never” has become “now,” and I hope you’ll check it out by clicking on the title and tagline below:

When You Work for the Church: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how we can all do better

This is a separate blog, with its own focus, personality, sense of rhythm, and subscription service, with new posts appearing on Thursdays every couple of weeks.

At the same time, I plan to continue blogging here every Monday with my usual eclectic mix of posts. That means if you subscribe to both blogs, your emails from me will be nicely spaced out.

For more on my new blog and how to subscribe, please see: When You Work for the Church: the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how we can all do better.  For my first post on that subject, see: What Do You Do When Your Job is Terminated?

Reflection/Writing Prompt: Do you have your own variation of “Write what you know” to share with me? Have you ever said “never” to something, only to find that it later turned into “now”?

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Categories: Church and Ministry

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4 replies

  1. I found you through Shirley Hershey Showalter, and I’m glad I did.

    • Hi Laurie – Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m glad to know that we have a mutual friend in Shirley. I love her blog and am happy to connect with you also.

  2. I just started writing about what I know this week…..and that happens to be ministry. Here’s what I’m writing: https://voicefromthefishbowl.wordpress.com/