Thursday, May 10, 2012

Some practical advice for clergy considering a parish job

Last week, I posted some practical advice for pastoral search committees. That advice had been part of a sermon in which I confessed that I lied on the ethics portion of the General Ordination Exam--and got the highest possible score.

What I didn't mention was that the ethics question had to do with whether or not a rector should consider taking a new job.  I don't have the answer I gave any more; what I remember was that I wrote a whole lot of Christian blather about discernment and the leading of the Holy Spirit when the truth was far more practical and (I feel) better serves both the clergy and the church.

I sense that many of us use spiritual blather to mask or justify our more personal or practical reasons for making the decisions we do.  I think that's a shame that we feel we cannot give our real reasons.

Don't believe me?  There was one time when I decided that a parish was not right for me.  I told various friends what I had chosen, and one (also a priest) asked me I had really discerned, wanting to know my spiritual reasons for saying no.  I could certainly gin some up, but to this day I resent the fact that turning down a job needed to be approved by spiritual signs when what it boiled down to was, "Not interested.  Sorry."

There are some jobs I'm very sorry I didn't get, jobs to which I felt called.  But I have also turned down a few positions, and I regret none of them.  But, my goodness, the pressure I have felt to take them from people who had all sorts of oh-so-spiritual reasons why I should--oh-so-spiritual reasons that just happened to coincide with what they wanted.

So with that in mind, here is my very blunt advice on the whole job search process.

  • You need to look out for yourself and your own needs.  First and foremost.  And it sounds selfish and horrible, but I don't care.  This is priority one.  Does the job offer you enough to live on?  Will you be able to take care of yourself and your family?  Will your basic needs for your health and well-being be met? Will you be able to do this job without going into debt?  (You would not believe...well, maybe you would.) Who is going to take care of you? By and large, my friends, you are going to need to take care of yourself, so make sure you have the resources to do so.  And by "resources," I mean money, housing, health insurance, friends, and time off.  Spiritual resources are not enough.
  • "I'm interested!" is a good enough reason.   Forget the spiritual clap-trap.  Does the job sound fun? Interesting?  Is it in a place you'd like to live?  A place that will provide opportunities for you and your family?  Does the job description intrigue you?  Well, then, apply.
  • Pity is not a good enough reason.  Just because a parish neeeeeeds a priest and you have the skills and you could heeeelp them is not a good enough reason to apply.  Do NOT be guilted into applying for a job.  Guilt, pity, and shame are no basis for a good working relationship.
  • Be honest about what you can and cannot do.  I've already told the pastoral search committee that priests lie in interviews, but let me tell you: don't lie in interviews.  If they're looking for an administrator and you're no good at administration, don't say, "I'm great at administration."  Say something like, "I can do x and y, but I will need someone to help me with a and b.  Here is how I have been able to manage those tasks in other places."  If they need someone who is good at something you're not good at, you are not the person for the job.
  • Negotiate at the outset.  See "looking out for your needs," above.  Do you need a day to be with your family?  Do you need to have your office painted before you move into it?  Do you need internet access?  Do you need a cap placed on the hours you work in a week?  Be clear about it--as clear as you can, given that you don't know all the circumstances.  Now is your best time to set expectations.  Stick to them.
  • Get the money.  See "looking out for your needs," above.  One thing I really regret in my church career is not pushing harder on the financial side.  I don't even want to think of how many thousands of dollars I've lost because I did not say, "that is not acceptable."  One thing I'm proud of is turning down a job that paid below the set diocesan minimum (see "pity is not a good enough reason," above).  I probably would have lost one other job, or walked away from it, because they were not following their own diocesan standards for salaries, but I took it anyway.  I still regret that I did not stand my ground and say, "This needs to be different" and let the chips fall where they may.
One more thing about the money side: as long as the Church can get away with underpaying its clergy, it will do so.  And the way for that to change is for clergy not to take jobs where they are underpaid, or to do part-time work for the part-time pay you are being offered.  "Diocesan minimum" is a very nice concept, but in my experience, diocesan minimums are made to be broken.  Hold the Church accountable to its own standards.  This is not being greedy.  It is an act of courage and an act of justice--not just for yourself, but for others.  And be aware that it may cost you jobs.
  •  Get it in writing.  Just do.  When you negotiate new terms, when you agree on hours, when you settle on a salary...get it in writing.
  • Sometimes it's just dumb luck. I was just looking this morning this morning at the readings for May 20th, and the Acts reading is about the call of Matthias, which was basically eenie, meenie, meinie, moe.   I think we downplay the role of luck in the search process in general.   Leading of the Holy Spirit, my ass.  If you get a job you really wanted, don't get all holy-moly on us.  Maybe your resume was at the top of the pile when people were fresh and excited.  If you don't get a job, don't bow your head and ask what you did wrong.  Maybe you had the same name as the search committee chair's horrible first grade teacher.  There are people involved in this search process, and people are people.
  • Remember it's just a job.  Really.  It's a job.  Yes, it's a calling, but no more or less than being a professor or a politician or a police officer.  It's. A. Job.  Treat it with the respect it deserves, but always remember that reverence belongs to God alone.

End rant.

1 comment:

The Rev. Matthew Lawrence said...

Do I have a job for you!
Thanks Toepfer. Great to see someone cutting through the crap. Great cartoon too! ML+