i do not know what it is like to be unemployed and try to feed my family, but unfortunately i do know a lot of people who do. it’s hard enough to lose a job with no christian baggage attached, but add that into the mix and it complicates it even further. there are so many issues about men providing properly & what “success” means that complicate an already tricky situation. meet my friend jason*, a pastor who lost his job last year and has been trying to keep his family afloat. others situations might be different, but some of the feelings of fear are probably the same.
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describe a little bit about your background, faith experience, and how you ended up losing your job.
I grew up in the church most of my life and I decided to enter into the ministry at a fairly early age–16. Thus, the last 24 years, my life has been living out that call. In reality, it is all I know: college, seminary and church ministry.
My ministry job ended in the midst of turmoil and strife. The church was struggling over the human sexuality issue and the church was divided. The fights within the community got ugly at times. It was tough to do ministry. One, you did not know who was remaining and who was leaving. Time was balanced in healing wounds, trying to keep the community together but at the same time moving forward.
In the midst of that, the ministry was attempting a major philosophical switch in the student ministry, and some students and parents did not fully support the change. The church leadership had chosen to go in that direction. When our senior pastor, who was a supporter of the change, resigned i knew my days were numbered. One day I was called into the office to talk about the upcoming confirmation class. Instead, I was asked to resign immediately.
what were some of the initial feelings that swept in when you realized your reality?
There were two initial feelings that came across my mind and these occurred seconds after they told me this while I was still at the table. The first was “what am I going to tell my three kids?” When we moved to a new state and this church, I promised them that this would be their last move before their school career was over. The second was “What am I going to do about health insurance?” I have family members who have severe pre-existing conditions and we have always had group insurance – it is now gone. Will they survive?
how have some of these feelings shifted as the job search has continued and you are struggling to keep your family afloat?
Throughout this process, we have remained “afloat”. We have kept a close eye on the savings account as it dwindled and had a circle on the calendar when we projected the account would be emptied. As we move closer and closer to that date, apprehension rises. I have been so exhausted and stressed, piecing together small odd-hour jobs to pay our bills for barely any money per hour, trying to make ends meet. However, we have remained committed to this: “we are a family – no matter where we reside and dad is going to do everything in his power to find work where insurance will be provided and you will get the healthcare coverage you need and deserve.”
did you ever go to a food bank?
No, we never went to a food bank and we never filled out any goverment forms for aid or food stamps. Part of it was pride, some of it was that “there are those worse off then us” feeling, some was the stigma (which is interesting since we served at food banks on the other side). We could not do it; we probably should have to save money but wow, that is the toughest part to wrestle with.
what are some things that friends & family did or said that have really helped you stay the course?
Friends and family members have helped by passing along my resume, informing me of job leads and sharing encouraging words on not giving up. We have had several friends and family members that have given us cash gifts, gas cards and brought over some dinners. In town, we have had friends try to help me land full-time local jobs, even though those were not successful, I did land a part-time job that did bring some money into our accounts and gave me something to do while searching full-time work.
The best things people said to me:
- If you have to leave the state to find work, we will be here for the wife and the kids while you are gone.
- What is one thing we can do to help you right now?
- No matter what, remember that you are loved.
what are some things that people said or did that hurt, that you’d put in the category of “this is most definitely not a good idea to say to someone in this position”?
At times, I got tired of giving updates: everyone wanted to know the up-to-minute status. I was hitting the pavement hard and coming up empty, so it was extremely depressing to give updates with no movement. The one thing that was irritating was when I shared a job that I was looking at that was exciting or promising and people would sigh or go “oh, no.” The one question that irritated me the most was “You are not seriously considering taking that position are you?” I wanted to scream, Yes, I will do anything that will support my family financially and provide health coverage for them so they do not die. With our health issues, that’s a reality.
what are some of the real and raw things that you have cried out to God in this process?
I have really tried to stay positive in this aspect, which hasn’t been a piece of cake. Yes, I am angry and I have asked God: “Why the hell did this happen? Why could I not stay where I was at? Why in the world do we have to uproot my kids? What kind of the world do I live in that I am now worried if I can provide health insurance for my family? If they get sick and die, God, this is on your hands…”
With all that said, this is the prayer that I have prayed the last 6 1/2 months multiple times a day:
God, I am putting this job search into your hands. I am not going to limit where I send my resume due to location, ministry description or where I am wanting to land. I also am putting this into your hands by asking you to rain down the no’s – no matter how many – till the right yes comes. I pray that there is one offer and not multiple; so this is your will and not my will.
what’s one piece of advice you have for “the church” when it comes to its responsibility in these painful seasons of families on the verge because of job loss?
We had no church family because we lost it with the job, and that has been tough. I think the best advice I have is to be there for them, love them and give a safe place to be themselves, with all the ups and downs and not knowing what’s next. My final advice: Ask questions and don’t assume that you know what they want or need. Try to find out through relationship.
thank you, jason, for sharing. i really like the reminder that we should never assume. it’s so easy to give our advice “have you tried this or have you tried that?” instead of listening and asking what our friends need first.
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other what it’s like posts so far:
- what it’s like to get kicked out of church
- what it’s like to have a child who comes out as gay
- what it’s like to have cancer
coming next week or so: what it’s like to slip off the slope, what it’s like to get sober from sexual addiction, and what it’s like to get a divorce in the church.