My Unique Job Search

For the past sixteen months, I have been looking for new employment. (See Desperate for a New Start in the New Year, Fiery Trials, and Grief.) It has been quite a journey, filled with disappointment and wonderful opportunity to seek God. I lost count, but think I applied for about 1,500 jobs. In addition, I post my resume on employment and ministry websites. I contacted every district in the denomination in which I serve multiple times. I did have some success, earning my insurance license, and going off to training to sell health insurance supplements. I attempted to sell insurance twice (see Selling Jesus), failing miserably and losing lots of money. In between those fiascos, I delivered pizza and did dishes. I enjoyed this job, but the tips and salary from twenty hours per week didn’t do much to support my family and pay for the $1,500 in car repairs I incurred. I ended my delivery job to make lots of money in the insurance world (see above).

Throughout this search, I am constantly asked by family and friends the same questions. Rather than answer each of them individually, I thought I would write them down and put them on my blog where people can access them. Here are the questions:

Why can’t you find a pastoral position? I gave my answer in the blog post, The Pastor’s Unforgiveable Sin.

Did you try ______? I heard they were hiring. This is very common. I am so thankful for the input of so many caring people. I pursued EVERY lead I was given, but to no avail.

Have you tried chaplaincy? Yes! I apply to every prison and hospital chaplaincy job in the state (and several out-of-state). I also apply to hospice chaplaincy openings within driving distance. Despite serving as hospital/nursing home chaplain for four years, I do not qualify for hospital chaplaincy because I don’t have the required Clinical Pastoral Education credits. For about one year I pursued an opening in a chaplaincy residency program in Little Rock where I could earn CPE’s, and finally had a terrific interview, but was turned down.

Why not become a substitute teacher? I went through the thorough background checks and training to be a sub, but only received one call in two months to come in, which happened to be on a day when I was not available. I needed something which would better provide for my family, so I went off to sell insurance (see above).

Are you being too picky? I apply for EVERY job opening I see, both part and full-time.

Do you apply for jobs not in Russellville? Yes, but to move it would have to be financially well-worth it. Our current mortgage is cheaper than any rent we could find. Not having income for over a year has resulted in us not having any money to move or pay security deposit and first/last months’ rent. We can’t afford to move. Besides, our girls are at home here.

Have you had anyone teach you interviewing skills? Have you had anyone review your resume? I had experts look at my resume, which is adequate. The problem is, about 95% of the jobs I am applying for require an online application, not a resume. I also listened to critiques of my interviewing ability. I interview well. The last interview was described as “excellent” by the interviewer.

Does Leah get disability? She does not qualify. She does not have enough work credits. We applied several times and have gone through the appeal process. We also sought advice from a law firm that is one of the top disability firms in the state.

Do you receive unemployment? I do not qualify.

Did you receive job retraining? I continue to check into this. My aptitude for welding isn’t very good, so I didn’t go through welding training. Ditto for auto mechanic. My bad eyes, arthritic fingers and shoulder, and feet with non-diabetic neuropathy don’t help. I am attempting some online computer training and all I can say is, “ha, ha!”.

Have you worked with any employment agencies? Yes. I also talked to people at the nearby university and a community college. I often seek help from our local Workforce office.

When I answer these questions, people do not understand why I can’t find a job. This is especially true when companies have signs out front telling the world they are hiring. I don’t understand, either. To be honest, I am tired of explaining my journey, and often feel blamed for what is happening. Obviously, I must be doing something wrong! And I agree with that sentiment, and go home at night battling depression, shame, and feelings of failure. When I talk to people, sometimes I feel I must defend why I can’t get a job! But I don’t have any answers or defense.

This is especially true when I hear of the homeless, addicted, or recently incarcerated finding jobs within three or four months. One teenage girl I know found four jobs in twelve months! I don’t understand.

One thing I learned – More important than your skills and experience is who you know.

Some told me to follow my passions. I still desire to live a life sharing Jesus with others. I am pursuing certification in biblical counseling and life coaching. But I do not see any open doors to walk through to serve in this way at this time.

What is God teaching me? One simple lesson – my identity is not found in my reputation, my education, my background, my vocation, my position, or my ministry – it is found in Christ and Christ, alone. I taught this for years, but now must live it. I don’t have any reputation anymore. My education makes me overqualified. My background doesn’t mean a thing. I currently have no position and no ministry. I am now a nobody. But I have Jesus. And He is enough.

Thoughts About Myself After the Election

Well, it is over.  But in many ways, it is just starting.  I am not just talking about the election and the beginning of the Trump administration.  I am referring to the division we see in families, churches, and neighborhoods.  This election season has not so much caused but revealed the deep divide in our nation that has been simmering under the surface.  This divide takes many forms – racial, economic, gender-based, religious, and political.  Yet, whatever the form, it shows us not just what is in our country, but what is in our own hearts.

My heart grieves for those who are now fearful and confused.  Some of these fears are legitimate and others are the result of people with loud voices/blogs/podcasts/media empires on both the right and the left who greatly benefit financially if such divides exist.  Causing division is big business!  My heart is saddened by the many, again on both the right and the left, who feel that they are forgotten (even invisible), without a voice, and without a champion to further their cause.

I must give a word of clarification.  There always will be division.  There must be.  Jesus, Himself said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”  Jesus, who is Light and Truth and Love, will always be separated from that which is dark, and false and unloving.  If we are followers of Christ, so will we.  There is no place for compromise and a squishy, weak unity based on empty platitudes.  But standing for truth is not the same as being a jerk.  Pride and selfishness always divides in a way that makes reconciliation impossible.  Light, Truth and Love may rightly divide, but they can also change darkened, deceived and hateful hearts.

I hear and read many voices saying many different things.  Some of what is said is valid.  Much of what is said is a mixed bag of truth and falsehood.  Many words are nothing but emotion.  Some are emotionless and unsympathetic.  As I attempt to add my own voice to the cacophony of opinions out there, I realize I don’t have much to say.  I certainly don’t have anything to say that hasn’t been said before.  I don’t have a large and influential voice that will somehow change the tide of public opinion.  But hopefully my words can make a difference to one person – myself.

  1. I need to remind myself to be slow to speak, and quick to listen. I wrote a blog post about this entitled, “Slow to Speak,” where I go into greater detail concerning this.  Please take a few minutes and review my humble opinion.  Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20 ESV).  Could it be that we have so much anger because everyone is talking, but no one is listening?
  2. I need to tell myself that when I do speak, I MUST always do so in love. Even when I am right and when I am speaking truth, I should never use the truth as a club to beat someone into submission so I can win the argument.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:15 ESV).
  3. I need to be careful with whom I am aligned. If I am a Christ-follower, the very reputation of Jesus Christ is at stake.  I need others to see my allegiance to Jesus, or else I will be seen as someone else’s pawn.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4 ESV)
  4. Jesus cares about all this craziness and confusion and deeply loves us crazy and confused people, even if we have rebelled against His loving and deserved rule over us. He has the answer – Himself!  … but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
  5. Just as God is love and love motivates all that God does, I am to love. I am to love God and my neighbor.  Even my enemy!  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34 ESV).  Love does not mean I will stay silent to not offend those set in their ways.  I am to love my neighbor enough to share the love and the truth of Jesus with them, even if I risk losing their positive opinion of me.  If I love them in Jesus’ Name, I risk that they might divide from me because of Jesus in me.  But may they never be divided from me (and maybe even from Jesus) because of my unloving/proud/arrogant attitudes, words, and actions.

I guess I do have some things to say after this election.  I hope I listen.

 

The pastor’s unforgivable sin

Thirty years ago when I started full-time ministry, there was an unspoken, unforgivable sin for pastors in the conservative, evangelical world where I found myself – don’t get divorced.  If you did, for whatever reasons, your ministry was over.  It was in the “liberal” churches that divorced pastors could find a home.  Today that has changed.  I have many divorced friends now serving as pastors of evangelical congregations.  This blog post is not to discuss if this is right or wrong, or even good or bad.  It is simply to point out, “The times, they are a changin.”

However, there is another unspoken, unforgivable sin for pastors that remains.  Surprisingly, it is on the opposite end of the marriage spectrum.  While divorce involves the breaking of marriage vows, this other unforgivable sin has to do with keeping them.  This other sin is this – if you are married to a spouse with mental illness, your ministry is over.  Let me tell you my story.

My family and I have been in several small, often struggling churches over the years.  We have greatly enjoyed our opportunities to shepherd some wonderful people, but the difficult assignments have been hard on my wife and three daughters.  My wife’s health has suffered.  Many years ago, she was diagnosed with a mental illness.  For years she responded well to treatment, but the side effects of her medicine lead to weight gain and fatigue.  This, along with the stressful pressures of ministry, has resulted in her battling arthritis, colitis and fibromyalgia.  She is in constant pain.  She has very little strength or energy and has difficulty living up to the unwritten pastor’s wife expectations that most churches have.  When she reached menopause, her tired and broken body could no longer fight the mental struggles, even with the help of medication.  Her mental illness is now out-of-control.  Her medicine is no longer treating her effectively, so she is home-bound and doesn’t make it to church very often.  In spite of her challenges, she deeply loves the Lord.  She remains very wise and gifted, but she does not fit what most churches are looking for in a pastor’s wife.

I love my wife dearly.  She is my best friend.  I cannot imagine life without her.  She took her marriage vows seriously when married to a struggling pastor.  “For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part” – she stuck by these vows while I took her into some very hard ministry situations.  She is an amazing women.  And while she struggles, I, too, remember those words we stuttered before “God and these witnesses” some thirty years ago.  And because we take these vows seriously, my ministry as a local church pastor is over.

The denominational leaders I talk to are sympathetic to our situation and would never say that I won’t serve in a church again, but I can’t say they are hopeful for my placement.  The real problem is at the local church level.  I don’t know of a church board that would consider me.  While they all say, “We don’t have expectations for the pastor’s wife – we are hiring you, not your wife,” this simply isn’t true.

Many people tell me that they are not considering me because they care and want what is best for my family.  Perhaps it is best for my family to not have the stress of church ministry anymore.  But if you tell me these words, please don’t act like you are doing me a favor.  I received my call to ministry when I was a young teenager.  That call has not been rescinded.  I am told that I can serve God in other ways.  I am told I can easily become a chaplain.  Believe me, every hospice and prison chaplaincy opening I see available I apply for, with no positive response, even though I served as a nursing home and a jail chaplain in the past.  To become a hospital chaplain, I would need at least two years of training to get the required Clinical Pastoral Education credits needed, despite the fact I was a paid hospital chaplain for four years.  Being in my mid-fifties, I don’t have the time to pursue this, and I certainly don’t have the finances.  And while chaplaincy is an honorable option, I was called to local church ministry.  That is where my heart yearns to serve.  I guess staying true to my marriage vows somehow nullified my calling from God.  Believe me, this doesn’t feel like any favor – it feels like church discipline.

There is certainly a stigma attached to mental illness in evangelical circles.  I am pleased that this is changing, due in part to the tragic deaths among family members of prominent church leaders.  Ministries to the mentally ill are now beginning in our churches.  Seminars and symposiums are being held to address this topic.  A few brave churches are actually allowing pastors with diagnosed ailments to serve.  But I have not heard among all of these recent discussions any talk of what to do with spouses that are ill.  I think most churches just wish families like mine would go away.

So we go away.  We try to find work, but are told with our advanced theological degrees we are overqualified for the entry-level jobs we apply for.  We shrink back, hearing the gossip among Christian friends that we must be struggling because we are not holy enough, obviously in bondage to demons and secret sin.  Family can’t fix us.  Friends don’t know how to befriend us.  Everyone becomes frustrated that we don’t “get better.”  We are told that if we just confess  our sins, try the latest expensive supplement, go to this healer or that exorcist, have this person pray for us with enough faith and the right formula – all will get better!  And we try it all, but things don’t get better.  People get weary of our struggles.  We become more isolated and alone.  And the worst question of all is this: “What is this doing to our precious children?”

I don’t have any answers to this difficult dilemma.  All I am asking is that a discussion among God’s people begins to take place.  Please.  If not for my family, please start talking for the one-in-three pastor’s families that will experience mental illness in the future.

 

Selling Jesus

This week I learned an important lesson – I am not a salesman.  In my second attempt to start a business selling health insurance supplements, all I earned was a bruised ego and a new-found respect for those who can do sales and do it well.  I do not have those special gifts.

As I was preparing for my new career, I was told by several people, “You will do great” at sales because, “You have been selling your whole life.”  I received this encouragement because I have been a pastor for almost thirty years.  The implication was that I used to “sell Jesus.”

There are many pastors who do well in sales because they are type-A extroverts who love to talk.  Those blessed with those characteristics often do well in both professions.  I am none of those things.  I just love people and love to share the truth about Jesus Christ.

I am deeply troubled at this idea that we are to “sell Jesus.”  In sales, you are taught to not take “no” for an answer.  You are to be forceful enough to get the initial appointment and then close the sale.  Some sales professionals are selling a product many people need.  Others are selling something no one really needs.  All are taught to convince the buyer that THEY need what is being sold.  The prime motivation for the salesman is not just the satisfaction in giving someone something that will benefit them, but the fat commission that the salesman will receive.

Jesus IS something (rather, SOMEONE) that everyone needs!  Yet, do we in the evangelical church use manipulative techniques to try to convince the unconvinced?  Do we do so not to glorify the God who made us all, but to somehow gain something for our own glory?  Do we treat Jesus simply as a commodity that will benefit the buyer?  Do we stress so much the benefits to the consumer that we forget to call those who follow Jesus to “count the cost?”

We don’t sell Jesus!  We present Him as the pearl of great price that is worth our everything, because He is worthy.  May we all present Jesus to someone today.

 

Slow to Speak

Like many of you, this past week has been filled with many tears and unceasing prayer as almost daily I hear of the loss of lives of those made in God’s image and as I think of their dear families now filled with questions, pain, and overwhelming grief.  The most recent news reports try to figure out why the lives of brave police officers who were protecting the rights of those protesting against the police could be snuffed out so violently.  I sometimes write things down to figure out what is in my heart and mind, so please allow me to do just that and add words to the multitude of things that have already been written and said.

I grieve over those who are gone.  Some no longer have the chance to hear about the everlasting love of our Savior.  How do family members now face the days ahead without those who were so special to them?

I am amazed at the continually increasing divisions our country is experiencing.  Politically we have been aware of this divide for some time.  We are now becoming more and more aware of the gap between people of different races, economic classes, and _________ – you fill in the blank.  We had hoped that many of those gaps were shrinking, but are now wondering if the distance is instead increasing.  People with loud voices and various causes use their volume to take advantage of this divide for their own benefit and amusement.  The result is that these gaps get bigger, fear grips our hearts because of what we are told of those on the other side of the gaps and anger becomes what motivates us to action.  Everyone seems to have a voice and much to say, but few seem to have any desire to listen.

The Holy Spirit through the pen of James told us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  Notice the progression – we need to be very quick to listen.  We must do that first, before we speak.  We must hear the other person and really listen.  This includes mulling over what they just said.  We must think about what they said and why they said it.  Even if we disagree with what we just heard, if we listen perhaps we will understand why they said it, at least a little bit.  We should be quick to listen – but then slow to speak.  Too often we aren’t really listening because we are thinking about what we are about to say.  Our priority is not about the other person, it is all about us – what we feel, what we think and what we know should be done.  Isn’t this what arguments consist of – no listening, fast talking and the next step, anger?  No wonder we are so angry.  We all have too much to say and too many opinions to share.  And now with social media, we can share our words instantly with the world.  (Yes, it is a bit ironic that I am sharing my words with the world right now.)

Now to the grief of today.  Can’t we take some time to grieve?  Can’t we allow families to start to say good-bye to their loved ones before we use their loved ones to further our favorite cause?  Can’t we be silent as they share their doubts, their fears, their questions and their anger?  Can’t we give them our presence and our hugs, but hold off on our words?  There will be a time to talk about these causes.  Some of them are really important.  But do we need to talk about them today?

Followers of Jesus Christ, we have much to say to an angry, divided world.  We have words of comfort to share with the grieving from the God of all comfort, Himself.  We have words of hope about a Redeeming Savior that this world needs to hear.  He is our only Hope!  He is the One who can reconcile sinners like us to a Holy God such as He is, and then help us reconcile to each other.  We are messengers of reconciliation!  But let’s share this wonderful message after we have really listened to this hurting world.

 

Grief

When most people hear the word “grief,” they think about the loss of a dear family member or friend to death.  How awful to think that someone so special will not be a part of your life anymore, this side of eternity.  My heart breaks every time someone close to me has to say good-bye in this way, although I am thankful for the hope we have in the gospel of Jesus Christ, that those in Christ will be reunited with loved ones who also love their Savior.  My family and I have faced this type of grief.  My wonderful wife lost both parents, as well as a brother and a sister.  We lost beloved uncles and aunts and grandparents.  Grief hit us hardest as we had to say good-bye to our precious daughter, Christina, and our unnamed baby lost in miscarriage.  If you are going through such a loss right now, may God bless you with His presence and peace!

Yet, grief more often visits in the day-to-day losses that sometimes can also take our breath away.  This is the grief that I am dealing with right now.  After being in pastoral ministry for almost 30 years, I now find myself looking for some other type of work.  I am in grief after losing the career that I devoted my life to.  More importantly, I am in grief over the loss of a calling from God that has gripped my heart since I was 14 years-old.  I am grieving over the loss of being the protector and provider for my family.  While the small churches that I served never enabled me to make a lot of money, they were extremely generous in giving us a salary that we could at least survive on.  Now we try to survive on a very small, part-time salary with no assistance from the government programs I thought were designed to help people like us.  I am grieving the opportunity each day to share the truth and love of Jesus with others.  I know some would say that I can still share Jesus, but the truth is I feel ashamed to say to others “come to Jesus” when they may answer, “And be like you?”  I am grieving the loss of my health as I age.  As I apply for hundreds of jobs in our area, I wonder if my broken body can do the duties required.  I am grieving the loss of my confidence.  As I am rejected from hundreds of employment opportunities, I wonder if the one voted “most likely to succeed” in high school can do anything anymore.  I am grieving the loss of terrific times of prayer and fellowship with pastoral colleagues who are now no longer colleagues.

I am grieving the loss of my daughters as they grow older.  I know this is normal, but I miss the times I spent with them before.  We did a lot of ministry together.  Now, the part-time evening job I have keeps me away from their concerts and events.  Most of all, I am grieving the loss of my dear wife. No, Leah has not died.  We get to celebrate 30 incredible years of marriage this November.  She remains the love of my life.  Yet, because of her constant physical pain and tormenting mental anguish, she does not have a fraction of the life she used to have.  I know she also grieves the loss of the life she dreamed of.  She is as smart and capable and gifted and devoted to Jesus as anyone I ever met, and once had dreams of sharing Jesus in cultures around the world.  Her health issues prevented that, but at least we could share Him in our own land in the context of the local church.  Now, as her health continually declines, no local church is ever going to give us a chance to do just that.  Together, we grieve the loss of our future.  What do the days ahead hold?

I say this not to elicit your pity, but to alert you to something.  While I say I am grieving the loss of all of these things, I am not really grieving.  You see, since I became unemployed, I have been in “survival mode.”  Every waking moment is spent trying to find employment and a future.  I haven’t had time nor energy to enjoy anything.  And I have not had the time nor the energy to grieve.  I can’t grieve.  I have to survive.  I wish I could have a break from survival for a time so I can simply grieve.

Maybe you know someone going through some loss right now.  Please gift them with two things: your loving (most-often silent) presence, and the time to grieve.  Do whatever you can to help them not  just survive, but to have the time to process their loss.  They need time to feel loved by you and by their Creator.  I still spend time daily searching for God and His voice through prayer and Bible reading, but right now I am so numb, I don’t sense His presence much any more.  But I will keep searching and seeking for my gracious Savior!  I know that while I have lost much, I will never lose Him.  Yet, many feeling that same numbness will give up their search.  Will you give them time to find Him again?

Fiery Trials

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:6-7 ESV)

It has been three months since my time as a pastor of a local church whom I loved has ended. It has been quite a trial, as work is hard to find and bills still need to be paid. Applying for dozens, even hundreds of jobs has resulted in just as many rejection notices. Perhaps the deepest struggle that I faced personally is wondering how God’s calling on my life, which has always been a certainty, now fits in this next chapter of my journey. What I devoted my life to seems to now be gone, although the One I devoted my life to remains. I have lots of questions and tons of self-doubt, but complete confidence in my Gracious God.

Peter mentions that the trials we face purify our faith as fire purifies gold. When gold is refined, the fire turns it to a molten state. In this liquid form, the impurities that were hiding in the solid gold rise to the surface. In the purification process, while the gold beneath the surface is made more pure and more beautiful, if one looks at the bubbling pot the first thing they see is the impure scum on the top. When God refines us, there are times when what you see in your life is rather ugly, but be patient, God is making your faith even more pure!

This has been the story of my life these past months. What has risen to the surface is often anger and despair that literally takes my breath away. Yet, I know that what is coming out of the refining process is pure and beautiful and will glorify my Maker. Yet, when I see the scum rise to the surface of my heart, I often grieve, “That ugliness was in me?”

Yet, there has been another observation that I made during this time. The flames that made my own faith molten have been hot enough and high enough to reach out to people around me and revealed some things in their hearts, also. I have been amazed at the people that I served that said absolutely nothing to me over these months, even remaining completely silent on my last Sunday at my fellowship. I have seen gossip about me and my family rise to the surface and pride and pettiness, once hidden behind a religious veneer, stare me right in the face. It has been heartbreaking.

But that heartache is nothing compared to the hidden beauty of others that is becoming clear. Current friends and friends from decades and decades ago have truly been Jesus to me. Their incredible generosity, encouragement and support have been what Jesus has used to get me out of bed every morning. People that I talked to yesterday and people I haven’t talked to in thirty-five years have spoken just the words that I needed to hear. It is amazing to see whom God is using as His messengers.

So, the fire has been hot. My heart has been humbled. I have been saddened and amazed by the response of others. And through it all, I know my gracious Lord continues to purify my faith for His glory.