I've come to understand just how wise our son is.
I've worked for, in, and around Christian churches and organizations my whole adult life. In fact, my love for the Christian workplace was cemented when I was a 15-year-old counselor at a church summer camp.
The time has come, however, to say that I'll never again work for a faith-based organization. My heart can't stand another disappointment.
I've also worked in the secular field - mostly Theatre and Education - and my husband has worked exclusively for secular companies, so we have a pretty clear and well-rounded view of how differently businesses are run in the two arenas. Here are some major Christian workplace hurdles:
In the Christian workplace gossip is tolerated and even encouraged as a means of keeping an eye on the employees. Both the Old and New Testaments are riddled with scriptures giving clear warnings against gossip. There simply is no place for it in The Church. But, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, "Abstain from all appearance of evil" and leaders and pastors lean heavily on gossip to let them know who might be giving the wrong appearance. A music pastor once let me go because one or two people came to him to tell him I said or thought things I never said or thought. I saw a pastor once fire a young single woman because someone told someone else that they saw a man in her apartment. No need for facts - there was the APPEARANCE of evil.
When I posted a plea for prayer on my Facebook page, I was called into my boss's office and reprimanded because a number of people had called her to find out what was wrong with me and/or my family. She was livid that my personal life had filtered in to the workplace. I looked at her and said, "I would hope that you told those people to call me. After all, talking about me when I'm not in the room is gossip." She said nothing and shrugged her shoulders. SHRUGGED HER SHOULDERS!
Speaking of a lack of sympathy when it comes to family needs, this brings me to another challenge in the Christian workplace - the blatant hypocrisy in the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality.
The same music pastor who made wild accusations against me also claimed that my "heart wasn't in the right place" when I accepted a role in a play. Theatre, you see, is evil. Imagine my surprise when I was working one night at the theatre and the pastor and his wife were first in line. It turns out they had been season ticket holders for a while, but we had not been there on the same night until that moment. So, it's not okay for me to be in a play, but you can pay money to see said play? Hmmmm....
Our children have chosen paths of rebellion and that has forced us to leave churches and has caused us to lose many "friends". When a "good child" is stricken with cancer or some other life-threatening illness, the whole congregation surrounds the grieving family with love, support, and chicken casseroles, but a rebellious child clearly indicates sin or moral failure, so no casserole for you!
I got a call one day at my most recent faith-based place of employment in which I received very hard news regarding one of our children. I began to cry. My boss feigned sympathy and told me to take a couple of days off. A week or so later I was called into her office for a review in which I was chastised and written up for "not being in control of your emotions". I was reprimanded for my tears and told to "leave your personal life at the door". However, once a week a couple of friends of the ministry came in to pray with my boss. I could hear most of those prayers from my office and they always started with, "what can we pray about in regards to your family?" I heard them pray for her family's needs on a weekly basis. When her family suffered a serious loss, the vice-president of the company flew 2,000 miles to comfort them. But for me? No prayers.
Christian workplace leaders believe that God has put them in authority over their employees. The first part of Romans 13 admonishes believers; "All of you must obey those who rule over you." Of course that same chapter goes on to tell us how to love one another, but leaders pridefully focus on that first verse and use it as a way of enforcing the because-I-said-so leadership model.
I've worked for organizations that promote the "Lead Like Jesus" leadership model. According to their website their "proven methodology is based on the model of Jesus, focusing on heart-centered, transformative leadership that equips leaders to effectively impact their own spheres of influence." I've read the books and explored the curriculum, but regardless of a company's claim, I've yet to actually work for a "Lead Like Jesus" leader.
The Christian workplace is a good strong breeding ground in which to raise up sturdy Pharisees. I've never heard more judgmental condemnation about people we don't even know than I do at a church or faith-based job site.
- "I refuse to watch 'Good Morning America' because they're all gay."
- "Robin Williams isn't making God laugh now because he's in hell. He sealed his fate when he committed suicide."
- "If my son lived with his girlfriend they wouldn't be welcome in my home - it's just that simple."
- "Addicts will always be addicts. I don't want them anywhere near my church."
That's just a tiny sampling of the ugly comments I've been subjected to at work.
These same people will turn on the Christianese-speak in a snap.
- "God really showed up in that circumstance."
- "I prayed for cooler weather and God sent a breeze at just that moment."
- "God has really blessed my family and He's blessed our office."
- "I don't understand, but I completely trust God's sovereignty in this difficult situation."
I struggle with seeing authenticity in these people. When I go to work, will I get Mr. Critical or Mr. Spiritual?
Perhaps we need to dismantle the whole "Christian Workplace" philosophy and acknowledge the fact that as long as there are human people involved, there will always be mistakes, misunderstandings, and people who screw things up. For me, I assume that because you say you believe certain things you will live accordingly. But, when I do mess up (as we all do), I expect you to forgive me and vise-versa. Silly me.
Perhaps the most difficult thing about leaving a job at a Christian church or organization is the loss of relationship. I spent years building what I'd hoped would be life-long friendships and relationships but the minute I was fired, laid off, or left of my own accord the relationships were over. I tried keeping in touch - making dates for coffee or lunch, but the invitations were never extended to me and eventually, I stopped making the effort.
This last job was especially difficult in regards to lost relationships. I believed the people in my office (as well as the organization across the hall) were friends. But once I was fired I didn't exist. I was even removed from the mailing list of a Christian Women's organization that was led by my former boss. Who does that? I LOVED the families we served and worked with, but I've not heard from one single person. It's hard.
On the other hand, my husband still has friends he made at jobs he long since left or from which he was fired. I've watched most recently as our daughter has gone through a bit of a crisis and who has rallied around her? All her work friends - even those from the job she left many months ago.
When we were in the midst of incredible darkness it wasn't The Church family who stood by us. No! It was my theatre family! The Church, in fact, shunned us, blamed us, and closed the door on us in our time of incredible need.
This brings me to my number one reason for never EVER wanting to work for a Christian organization again. I, like our son, still love Disneyland...uh...The Church, and I don't want to become so incredibly bitter that I never want to visit again. You see, right now that's about all I can do - visit, but I hope to one day once again feel that I belong. I still love my brothers and sisters in Christ and I ache for restored relationship.
After all, we'll be spending eternity together. Right?