One Year In: (or) 7 things I didn’t know about working for a church

A year ago today I walked, no, floated on cloud nine, in to our church ready to start my new job. I was giddy with anticipation and ready to reap the rewards of my saying yes to what was not only a great offer, but an incredible challenge. I have learned so much in the past year, and I feel confident that this learning will continue, but I feel like this anniversary is a good time to take a moment and record a few things I’ve learned.

1.  Nearly a year before I told my friend, Jen, who worked for the church that she had my dream job. Little did I know that Jen’s world would change so dramatically in the next 12 months. Jen followed God’s call to a new chapter in her life and her absence left an opening at the church. The position was reworked a fair bit, but the shoes she left to fill were some pretty special ones. I knew it was a compliment when people assumed I was “New Jen” even though our duties weren’t exactly the same.

It was a challenge for me to work out what it meant to come in behind someone who impacted others so greatly, and who has such a big impact on my life. There are 100 things I find easier than sorting our social dynamics, and this one presented a lot for me to sort out even in my own mind.

There are still days that within myself I find it a challenge to fill her shoes. On those days I go back to a conversation she and I had where she talked about a sense about feeling like she wasn’t exactly fitting into the mold she thought she should be fitting into. I can’t remember the exact words, but I replied to her that we aren’t made in a mold, we are hand-crafted. We aren’t made to fit into some shape defined by those around us. We are made to fit into the palm of our Maker’s hand. So stop trying to cram yourself into some mold that was never intended for you anyway.

Soon after I started someone asked me what I did for the church. I explained in great detail, and the person nodded along and when I finally took a breath, they replied, “Oh, so you’re new Jen.” And I just smiled and shrugged and said “Sure.” If I am to be mistaken for someone else, I am happy to be mistaken for Jen any day of the week. I am so thankful for the honest conversations we’ve had and the timeless truths we’ve passed back and forth which resonate in the moment and reverberate through the years. But the best part about my friendship with Jen is how she encourages me continuously to be comfortable being me.
One year into working at church and I am settling in to just being comfortable doing my job as myself. Right or wrong, this is where I am.

2.    My official title is “Director of Children’s Ministry/Assistant to Worship Ministry and Facilities.” I have THE longest title at the church. I will often joke that I don’t need a desk plaque, I need a desk plank. What this means mostly is I have a variety of hats and sometimes I have to wear a few hats at once. All of a sudden, 37 years into my life, it almost seems like my inability to focus on only one task at a time is an asset, as if I was designed to be able to hop from one track quickly to another.
There have been positions I’ve held where my inability to focus has left me feeling crazy and there are times when I REALLY have to push myself to block out the world and see only the task at hand, but one of the nicest things I’ve experienced in the past year is I am able to see things I always thought of as a weakness be used as a strength. 

3.     This is a job. There is the old running joke, or well worn punchline, delivered to those who work for the church, in particular pastors, that they only work one day a week. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To get to Sunday there are 100 million things that need to be accomplished, by everyone who works there. I have day in and day out tasks that are routine and mundane.

And, hold onto your chairs, y’all, there are some tasks that I don’t enjoy. Just like there are some tasks that you do at your job that you don’t enjoy. I LOVE painting sets. I don’t love washing paintbrushes. I LOVE helping plan an event. I don’t love forms. I LOVE making worship slides. I don’t love learning new software and programs. There are times just like when I worked in early childhood education or as a receptionist or as a paralegal that I have to stop and tell myself, “Sarah, do it as unto the Lord. This one little thing matters to Him so do it well for Him.”

It is precious to imagine that I sit around all day eating candy and praying (ok, come on, I work in children’s ministry, I do both of those things daily), but let me be clear, this job is work. Hard work.

4.      This is not just a job.  Even in the mundane, gotta be done things, I am so blessed by the tasks at hand. Each week while I make the worship slides, I get a sneak peek into Sunday’s service and whether the finance office likes listening to it or not, I will be singing the songs over and over. There has never been a seemingly banal activity like making song lyrics satisfy a good number of qualifications, (accuracy, phrasing, font size, spacing, contrast, punctuation etc) which in its forcing me to focus ushers me straight into the heart of worship and prepares me for Sunday’s message. This position is of tremendous value to me in this way.

And, all the times in all my jobs before when I’d wish I could look at someone and just say “Can we please stop and pray about this right now?” Oh, I can’t tell you how precious it is to me that I work in a place where that won’t get me ostracized or reprimanded.

One more example of this is that I finally work in a place where it is ok to ask for help. Every other job I have worked there is a learning period, but when that time is up, you better know your stuff and if you have a question, you better find the answer yourself and not admit to anyone that you didn’t know. I can not tell you what a relief it is to be able to admit that I need help to a coworker and to have them be ready and willing to lend a hand or point me to the answer, and to do so without shaming me for asking. It is as if they just understand what everyone else wishes their jobs understood, that helping one another makes everything run more smoothly. When I said that Jen had my dream job, I can’t tell you how right I was.

5.    I have never been so busy in my whole life. People have observed that somehow even though they see me eating an absurd amount of candy, I have managed to stay a reasonable size. The reason is simple. We have these huge sets of staircases which I am booking it up and down 20 plus times a day. I have something to do all the time.

A few months in, Pastor Roger asked me to tell him the three things I value most. The third thing I told him was what I explained that I don’t believe I treat it as valuable even most of the time, but its absence from my life devastates me. Rest. I told him that I was becoming quite aware of the suspicion that he and Pastor Jim and Pastor Kerry would likely all agree that it is mind boggling how fast the past 20 years of their ministry together had flown by. Time is set to warp speed as revival became VBS became back to school became revival became Christmas became special event nights because Easter and back around to VBS. And that’s JUST my church speed. I have two kids who are shooting up before my eyes and I don’t want to turn around in a few years and wonder how I missed their childhood.
     Rest is necessary. Rest is good. Rest is nothing to be ashamed of.

6.    This has been maybe the biggest human lesson I’ve learned this year. The people I work with are people. I say that kind of tongue in cheek, but seriously….there are perceptions and images. There are stories you’ve heard and stories you’ve told. At the end of the day, the people who work at church are just people…for better or for worse. That means that just like Jesus got hungry, so do they. That means just like Jesus hurt over the grief of His people, they hurt over the grief of their loved ones, too. Jesus was fully human, and so are the employees of the church. It has impressed upon me the importance of valuing the things for others that I want others to value for me.

But that’s not all. It also means that we don’t always approach situations with the same thought process or opinions. It means that we don’t all keep our desks the same level of neat. It means that there are preferences and partialities that we have which lead us to moments where we REALLY get one another, and where we really don’t get each other as well. I mean, there are Mac users and PC people.

We talk a lot about unity and loyalty around church. This is something I am still working out in my head, because there is the initial concept and there is the deeper harder ramifications of what it means to work and serve in unity with people, real honest to goodness PEOPLE.

Here is the key…I have worked at jobs where we are sitting in team meetings discussing social dynamics and doing little ice breaker games and I was just overwhelmed by the thought of, “We’re all supposed to be passionate about the same thing!!! How can we not just put the passion in front of the preferences and get over ourselves and work together???” The key is this, yes, I have learned that the people I work with are people, but more importantly, and oh I so hope it is like this for others who work for other churches, the people I work with are people with a common passion, a baseline measurement which at any moment we can grab a hold of and swing back into sync. That baseline is to bring glory to Him. It is to honor Him first. Let me encourage you…if you go to my church, you have a staff which is committed to putting Him before themselves, and who is willing to live in the discipline of the Holy Spirit, like Hebrews 12 talks about…and learn from their example if you don’t already know…holiness is worth it.

7.     I am in my position by God’s will, not my skill.  I lived so many years so very confident that if only people would notice how amazing I was and would take me on as the leader of this, that or the other, I could straighten out all that ailed the world and every organization or team would be set right by coming under my authority. Over and over I am reminded as I do this job, there are so many things I need help on. There are so many things that I will be learning for decades to come. Each day teaches me to rely less on my own strength and more completely on His. This is all joy, to let go of my way, my talent, my offering, and to just stand empty handed ready to put my hands to whatever He has for me. I hope I always choose to present as my offering not what I can bring to the table but rather what He places in my hands.

So one year in and this recap is full. It doesn’t even begin to touch the personal lessons I’ve learned about trusting God, about valuing others, about maintaining relationships, about being brave, about loss and about miracles. But let this little pile of seven stones serve as a reminder when I pass this way again of all the things He has done for me.  ❤

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