Working for Church

My wife works for our church. She is not a pastor or even full-time, but she feels the pressure of being a church employee and a church member. If you work for your church, you understand this pressure. If you work for a school district, you understand it to some extent, as well.

Sure, my father-in-law was expected to own GM vehicles while he worked for Delphi, but he could have owned a cheap Chevy for work and as many European luxury sedans he wanted at home. Most of us can get away with behavior at home that might be inconsistant with what our bosses might want, which is why many of us don't (or shouldn't) want our bosses as Facebook friends. However, when you are in the public eye, especially at a church, you are expected to behave a certain way all of the time.

Church members may not know this, but employees at the church feel pressure while not receiving huge salaries. Sure, head pastors might make a decent living, but all church employees work long, varied hours and are often maligned by having to take over for volunteers who have little incentive to exhibit strong work ethic. They are expected to be at service each week and every special event. They are expected to volunteer in addition to work.

Keep in mind that church employees are rewarded in many ways, but their purpose is to make the church better for all, not just for themselves.


Comments That Hurt at Church

My wife has had to deal with this a couple of times now, and I'm sure other people deal with the same kind of thing at differing levels. My wife is a church employee, so she's kind of in the spotlight, like I am as a public school teacher. When the school board has budget meetings, I don't go. I realize they're deciding my fate, but I also know that they are responsible individuals who will not suddenly cut off every aspect of my pay (even without a union to represent me). I also do not live in the same community in which I work, so I guess I figure it's up to those people to decide. Lastly, I know that some people will say some things that will hurt. While they often would not take a shot as me individually, they will say something about all teachers and how much they make.

However, my wife is a member of our church as well as a worker as an assistant of sorts to the pastor. The last time she had a rough meeting was when the church decided to make her position a full time job to be performed by a called employee. She could not receive a call, so, even though she wanted to be part time, she wasn't really a candidate for the new job. At that time, the church created a new job for her, some of which was the same of her old job, but much of it was doing research and other tasks the head pastor did not have time to complete. While this job does not require a call, she sometimes felt like she needed more education in some of the aspects of our religion in order to fully perform her duties.

Early this year, my wife and I discussed her need to renew her teaching license, so we were looking into classes that might work for her. I suggested that it would be nice if she could combine something to help her in the church with the requirements she'd need to meet. This was at about the same time that our pastor suggested she take classes that would enable her to be a called worker for the church. Someone (me, she, or Pastor) put the two together and figured it would be a great idea to renew her teaching license while becoming a more qualified church worker.

However, with her part time employment and my teaching salary, we had to hope the church was willing to pay for the classes and that the program would let her in, since it's a teaching program, and she is not employed by the school at our church. It worked out: the church has a fund for furthering education and the college accepted her application. As would be expected, she was a stellar student, even receiving an extra nod from the professors that she might consider becoming a professor herself. Everything seemed wonderful. Now, all the church had to do was call her to her current position (with a few modifications), and she'd be ready to use her new knowledge to help inform her already vast abilities.

"Wait a second," she was told a week before the voters' meeting, " people have had some questions." People wonder what she does, whether she teaches, why she's getting a call, etc. Obviously not our pastor or the council that she reports to, but people. Of course, when the meeting came to offer my wife a call, those people spoke up (after the budget for paying her had already been approved). They wondered about what she does, they wondered who paid for the schooling, they wondered why there weren't more teachers at the school and whether our kids went to the school.

All irrelevant. The money for schooling was budgeted. Her job was already approved. She does behind-the-scenes work that our pastor and council know is useful. Another teacher is a school issue. And on and on. People started airing their own personal beefs with the way the church hires people or pays for schooling, maybe some of which was viable, but still irrelevant. My wife had taken the courses and still had a budgeted job. If they did not make her a called church worker, she'd still have that job without the recognition. Same pay.

While airing their beefs about other issues, they made my wife feel like she was unwanted. I told her it was a vocal minority of a vocal minority, since less than 10% of the church was even at the meeting. However, one member voicing an opinion as loudly as any other is a member of our Bible study group. That's when it feels personal. When a friend says that the budget should not have your position but should instead have another teacher added in the school budget, she's calling for your job. Of course, she's also quite misinformed about how much my wife's position costs the church compared to a teacher with full-time pay and benefits (about three times as much money). It's also like saying, "Hey, Friend, I don't think you do much for our church, even though you talk about what you do at our meetings together." Ouch! It would also be like two of our Bible group members who live in the community in which I teach going to the school board and specifically requesting my job so that their kid could get a new teacher.

My wife, like many of us, is overqualified for much of what she ends up doing. Our pastor was looking to make her even more overqualified for some of the tasks, but also make her qualified to do some more of the tasks that he might have avoided using her for up until this point. I assume a lot of the sentiment from the group of protesters will disappear, but it does make you wonder a little bit whether we need to make sure others know about what we do in order for it to be important. That applies to any job. More importantly to church is how to get along with others after such an episode. How is there not tension? How can my wife participate in Bible study with someone who called for her job publicly?

Maybe it's your job, your ministry group, your political opinions, or even how you raise your kids. Whatever someone belittles while at church hurts that much more because it's supposed to be a safe place for us. Instead, we have to deal with the Ol' Boys club -- apparently those who are riding in the fast lane to heaven, and it's not easy to forgive or forget. When fellow church members spend a full half hour bad-mouthing your wife's job, promotion, education, as well as how you raise your kids, it makes you feel a little like throwing punches. However, I've learned that turning the other cheek, while it might anger those trying to antagonize you, tends to be the best response, at church and elsewhere.


Not Getting the Job

While working for church might be difficult, not getting the job can be frustrating, as well. Sure, you want to volunteer for church, but people do work for it as well. If you apply for that job at church and fail to receive the job, things will be uncomfortable, and I can see why some people move on to other churches.

The situation I have firsthand knowledge of involves the church website and computer maintenance. I was part of a website rebuilding team that consisted of the man who had been updating and hosting the old site for years, the school principal, one concerned parent, a local business owner, and myself. The web guy was not sure about letting go of his older system. I thought it was probably best. The local businesswoman was adamant about the change.

Six months later, I heard from my wife that the church paid the businesswoman and her company many thousands of dollars to create a website. I design and host sites of my own on the side, but I had not been asked again after our last committee meeting. It seems that the old principal retired, a new one moved in, the businesswoman saw an opportunity, and that's business. Except for it's not, and that's the problem, because it's still church.

I was willing to volunteer to do at least part of the site, and I know more about web design than the amateur who made it. I just didn't want ALL of the responsibility. The other computer guy, who'd been updating and hosting the old site for free, wanted SOME responsibility, but the under-the-table deal took him out of the equation. He left soon after, taking his volunteer computer and network updating service with him, and I completely understand. I felt jilted and underappreciated, just like he did. I felt like my church got ripped off and that I missed a chance to use my own skills for a good cause. Most of all, I can't help but feel disdain for the woman who took the church for a ride. She still sits smugly, richly in her pew each week, even though it took her company nearly a year to build a Wordpress site that the church is looking to dump after only a few years. What's more, however, is that because of her ineptitude, the church is wary of asking a real professional to fix it, so they're looking at very expensive national options.

Everybody loses when church picks one person over another, whether it's for a childcare worker or website designer. Everybody loses more when it's about money and no longer just about volunteering. After having gone through one specific situation personally and having been privy to a few others at various churches, I'd offer the following advice:

Try to get the work done by a committee of volunteers
Hire someone from the church if no one else has shown interest
Hire someone from outside the church if several members have shown interest but are not prepared to work together as volunteers
Your church might need to hire from within, but it might work best if the minister just asks someone he thinks will do the job well rather than putting an ad in the weekly bulletin. Conversely, don't assume your members are useless, and there are many talented people willing to volunteer their time if given a bit of a push. However, in-fighting and grudges are not always worth it, and it might be the best option to pay the companies that get paid to address your particular issue. Of course, it can also be nice to have someone from the outside to blame when things don't go right, anyhow.