I took some time yesterday to look at the tenure of all the paying jobs I held in my lifetime, both in the Church and the mental health field. In years, the tenure sequence looks something like this: 4-11-4-2-5-1-1-11. Without a context, of course, the numbers indicate only that I am slightly below average in the number of job changes over my career; various studies indicate that the average U.S. worker changes jobs about 11 times, and in the last census respondents indicated that they had been at their present employment for four years. One interesting tidbit about my own numbers: the two “11’s” represent a tenure as a pastor and my tenure as a private practice therapist where I owned the business. Generally those were years of greatest job satisfaction; off the top of my head, I would say that I guess I work best where I am my own boss. However, in grad school my professor of research and testing had us self-administer the MMPI psychological test. I had elevated scores in several categories, including the Schizophrenia type. Schizophrenia is a disorder of personality and thought; my prof explained to me that on the continuum scale my score indicated “thinking out of the box,” idealism and imagination. It was a highly valuable piece of information for me; clearly I was not suited by temperament to be an accountant.
I think the first mistake we all make when looking at our careers is the assumption that the science of the psychology of the workplace somehow does not apply to those of us who are or have been working for the Church or “for religion.” I attended a workshop yesterday by Richard P. Johnson, Ph.D., with all my old priest buddies from my diocese, who discussed the spiritual and psychological dimensions of aging clergy. In his discussion on our individual personalities, Johnson observed that groups have unique personalities as well. There was considerable laughter and universal agreement over the observation that “parishes have unique personalities.” So do parish staffs: pastors, administrators, volunteers. I have been involved with some church entities long overdue for a collective MMPI. While such factors are true in every work setting, we cannot deny that some church settings are detrimental to our physical and psychological health, nor can we deny that each of us owns the power to manage our choices in terms of finding the placements and the workplace challenges that optimize our mood and spirituality.
Julie Jansen (cited above, xi.) observes that Salary.com‘s 2009 “Employee Satisfaction and Retention Survey” revealed that 65% of those surveyed were actively and passively looking for a new job or contemplating starting a new business. This statistic resonates with my own anecdotal experiences working around my diocese. In every parish I have visited this fall, my local contact—usually the faith formation director or equivalent—was a new hire. One of them told me of having worked in three parishes over the past three years. At the very least, one wonders how a parish staff is able to develop an esprit de corps in a revolving door culture.
Jansen (11, ff.) identifies six factors that every worker (and, for our purposes, church volunteers, too) can use to evaluate one’s occupational status at any juncture in life: (1) Where’s the meaning? In my vocational counseling work in the early welfare reform projects, I would try to help my patients identify to me what they were truly passionate about in life. I have great respect for duty, but duty is best motivated by its end goals. (2) Been there, done that, but still need to earn. This population operates competently and may be motivated to move ahead, but perceives that the regular paycheck and the benefits are the safer play as opposed to changing occupational hats for more challenge and job satisfaction. (3) The bruised and gun-shy. Particularly since the Great Recession, there is a large number of the work force who were fired, downsized out, discriminated against, and who are now anxious and distrustful of the workplace. I should add here the many employees whose jobs, well, are gone. The future is a crushing press of uncertainty. (4) Bored and plateaued. I was very happy to see Jansen include this category, because I don’t see the Church doing much to encourage upward mobility. Take a 43 year-old faith formation director who has been working essentially from the same template for maybe two decades. What can we say to that individual who wants to grow in professional vision, to remain in faith formation, maybe earn a master’s, and increase creative and administrative challenges? Isn’t that our optimum obligation to our church workers, to prompt them to deeper professional development? (5) Yearning to be on your own. Anyone working in the church will need to reconcile this need against the structures of parish life for the foreseeable future. At the very least, it is a matter for discussion in a job interview; avoid micromanager pastors. (6) One toe in the retirement pool. Jansen makes an excellent point that baby boomers often retire to get away from various work stresses before they have had the chance to plan for a retirement that lasts many years.
Perhaps you have read to this point and believe that your work place in the church is optimum. I am happy for you, but remember this: your pastor may be replaced tomorrow by a priest from another culture where men do not take women seriously or who never got the fax from Pope Francis about humbly listening to his people. Or, you may come back next August and half of your colleagues are gone elsewhere. Or consider this: the future of the Church depends upon the depth of theological and pedagogical skill each one of us brings to ministry. If you are not growing, you are atrophying, to your own detriment and that of the Church. Don’t kid yourself. Duty without vision and passion kills everything in its grasp.