Disclaimer: The following piece has nothing to do with my current employment or my current feelings toward it. This is simply a piece designed to help those who are struggling in their work and ministry contexts as I know there are times we all question why we are doing what we are doing. With that said, I have been there, I have had feelings of inadequacy, wanting to walk away, and feeling like I needed a change of scenery. I am hoping that offering some advice, encouragement, and personal insight may help those around me.
Your boss walks into your office Tuesday morning, sits down and tells you that your department met your quota and beat out every other department, but he is downsizing yours due to budgetary reasons. Oh and by the way he expects you to maintain your quota in the same time frame you just met.
Your senior pastor meets you as you are setting up for programming and seemingly off the cuff states “You and I don’t appear to be on the same mission together…we need to fix that. Oh and how did last night go?”
You just successfully ran your organization’s biggest fundraiser and netted them the largest amount of donations they have ever had. Some of your fellow employees walk over after the evening has ended and all they can do is complain about the service, food, pleading for money, and how you should have chosen a different career path.
You work in a male-dominated office where you are never taken seriously. Jokes are constantly made about how you should handle all the office parties because you’re a woman and know about cooking and decorating. Every time you suggest something that could improve your work environment, or the entire company, you are given the proverbial pat on the head and told to let the men handle the real work.
The elder board calls you in for an emergency meeting. You show up thinking you are ready for anything, but then they look at you and say, “Well, you have done a good job here. But your ministry costs a lot of money, money we don’t have…so we are going to have to let you go.” What are you going to tell your wife and kids?
Many of us have had experiences just like these or very similar. Some of you reading this may be walking through these circumstances right now, and perhaps you found yourself yelling in affirmation, “That’s me!” Work or ministry is hard at times and it drains you. I totally get it.
My ministry is my career. I love what I do. I am passionate about it. And to be frank: I have been hurt a lot in ministry. I have also been hurt in careers outside of ministry. I have been let go, I have been criticized for how I ran my team, I have had to fire people because I was told to, I have been told maybe ministry isn’t my calling, I have been told I work for Satan. I don’t offer these as a way of saying, “Look, I have weathered the storm why can’t you?” I offer this to say, “I understand.” I have walked through garbage in my jobs and career as well. I simply want to offer you some reflective reasons for why this happens, and some means to cope. Neither will be exhaustive, but my hope is to encourage you, any of you, who are reading this and feeling spent, hurt, forgotten, or marginalized.
So why does this happen? Before we get into this I would ask that we lay aside all default defenses. Yes, your boss could be the reason. They could just be a horrible person who hates life, teddy bears, and small children. Yes, your work environment could be dismal. The roof leaks, the trash is never emptied, and your co-worker smells. And yes, your job may just be a job. You don’t want to be there, they don’t want you there, and to be honest you are looking elsewhere. There are a lot of circumstances, but I want to look inward, at ourselves. Often times we tend to focus on the problem and refuse to examine ourselves. I am not looking to place blame, I am simply saying let’s take a look at our own hearts and motivations before we do.
Looking inward is more often than not a frustrating and discouraging activity as we see faults, inconsistencies, and sin. It is when we do this that too often we beat ourselves up because we see glaring areas that must be fixed, but my hope is that as we work through these areas we do not become self-deprecating but instead look at this with hope, resiliency, and a desire for change. Again, there are many areas in which we could struggle, but I believe these three are the key areas for many of us.
Often times we place value on our job, our desk, our way of doing things, our methodology, our teaching, our skill set, our ministry…our, our, our! Now here is the thing: what gives you the right to have ownership over anything you do? Your desk was probably there before you started working. That ministry can and will continue without you. Your skills are yours but other people have skills and knowledge as well. The problem is we are told that we deserve something–actually everything–that we want and so we pursue everything as if it is already ours. But the crazy thing is, nothing is yours. The Bible says in Psalm 24 that the entire earth is the Lord’s. Not ours. When we continue with the notion that the items of this world are ours we become selfish, resentful, and indigent with change and new ideas or systems. That is our problem. That is our heart, our sinful nature, grasping and pulling at us telling us that we deserve everything when the truth is we deserve nothing but are given everything.
Pride is a natural progression from selfishness, but I believe that it is more dangerous. Pride is coupled with arrogance, a critical attitude, and a judgmental spirit that can be disastrous to the workplace, co-workers, relationships, families, and yourself. Now some may jump up and champion that they take pride in their work because they were raised to work hard and this is America! We are proud of our work ethic. And to that I would say good, be proud of it. But where is that pride truly rooted? Is it in yourself, your accomplishments, your work ethic, your neat desk area, your ministry, the growth you brought to your program, the way you lead and teach? Or is it rooted in Christ? When you are proud of your work do you say, “I am proud because God has given me this work ethic, this job, this paycheck, this team, this ministry”? Do you call everything yours or do you thank God that He and He alone has allowed you to step into this career and work for Him, to give Him glory? These are hard questions and I would encourage you to ask them of yourself.
Lack of direction and communication
I am not talking about direction given from a superior. I am talking about how we sometimes show up to just get our job done and do not offer to do anything more, we are content to just meander along without any desire to grow, we simply maintain. This is not okay. Doing this does a disservice to others because it shows a lack of accountability. We are saying that we do not have the capability to think for ourselves and instead pass the blame to someone else. He/she never told me to do this. I never knew I couldn’t put staples in the coffee maker. How was I supposed to know metal in the microwave would cause it to blow up? This can be our mentality because we are rooted in sin. We started doing this at the beginning of time! We pass the blame and hope for the best because we are too stubborn and selfish to ask for direction! If we simply communicated and asked for help so many problems would cease to exist and we could potentially thrive in our careers and ministries.
Finally, I would love to offer some ways to help you cope with your work environment if it is truly a struggle to be there. Because let’s be honest, sometimes the workplace won’t get better. You may be doing everything you can to please God and your boss (no they aren’t the same regardless of what they tell you) and it still is a horrible place to work. So let me offer these thoughts:
Do this a lot! Sometimes in hard times and dismal work environments we forget to simply pray. If you have a nasty boss pray for them. Pray for that “lazy” co-worker. Pray for the janitor who never empties your trash. Pray. You do not know what is going on in that person’s life that could influence the way they behave. So ask God to help you see them as He does: His child that He lovingly created and hopes to have a relationship with.
2. Talk to someone
Go and find someone who is older and wiser than you and seek direction. One of the greatest benefits in my life is having mentors speak into it. These people have helped me grow, called me on my inconsistencies and shortcomings, and have challenge me to be a better man, employee, and servant of God. They also listen and will have your back. If you need help finding someone, ask and I will give some clarifying ways to do so.
3. Communicate with your boss
If work sucks, have you talked to your boss? Have you expressed your dissatisfaction? Have you done so respectfully, without having your frustrations come through, your blood boil, or going with preconceived notions? All of those will contribute to poor communication and lack of results. Go honestly and with a clear head. Share what is going on, ask for change, and be willing to meet halfway or even two-thirds.
4. Take a break
Sometimes you need a vacation. Time to recharge your batteries. Take it! If you are frustrated and upset, now is the time.
5. Ask yourself some questions
Is this the right job for you? What makes this place difficult for you? Why do you stay? Are you contributing to your own frustrations? What would your ideal job look like? Does that job exist? Being honest with yourself and asking hard questions will hopefully bring about some resolve to the situation.
6. Do not take your anger and frustration home
If you are married, have a family, have roommates, trust me they know when you have had a bad day. They know when work is bad, your boss yelled at you, etc. But you do not have to treat them like they are part of the problem. They care about you and only want the best. We need to learn to share our hurts, problems, and issues without getting on them for what happened at work.
7. Look to how Jesus handled conflict
Jesus spoke into the situations calmly, with authority, and with respect. If things got heated (like when they tried to kill Him), He moved on. When people were obnoxious (disciples and Pharisees), He spoke to them in a way to teach them and make them better. Maybe Jesus knew a thing or two about leadership?
8. Write a verbatim
A verbatim is a paper that you write about a conflict you are in. You write down everything that happened word-for-word in a script form (Nick said: blah blah, Tom said: blab blab, etc.). Then you ask probing questions afterward and answer them. What could I have done differently, how did this make me feel, what did I do to contribute to the situation, how did I help the other person, what were all potential outcomes of the situation, how did I respond, how did the other people respond, what could I have done better, how can I fix the situation?
I am no workplace specialist. I do not claim to have all the answers. My desire is that this offers you some hope and encouragement.