Current Affairs

The Unemployable Problem

Big news out of Washington D.C. recently. The unemployment rate fell to its lowest mark since February 2009, 8.5%. That’s good news if your a president in an election year.

But others would be quick to point out that 8.5% unemployment is still too high. Yet, I have to wonder. What percentage of Americans are unemployed because they are unemployable?

The other day, I took our kids to the local park for a picnic and to soak in some free vitamin D from the flaming ball which hangs in the January San Diego sky. It was a sunny, breezeless, quiet day at the park. With most kids back at school and parents back to work the park was fairly empty of the dozens of screaming toddlers on the slides and mom’s chatting on the sidelines experienced during the week before.

It was our family and a pile of random stragglers each there for their own reasons.

One man and his friend watched a little boy as they smoked weed and talked about how weed hasn’t hurt them a bit. In the same conversation they talked about their inability to find a job but apparently lacked the cognitive ability to recognize that smoking weed at a public park at 1 o’clock in the afternoon while a toddler plays under your care is as good a reason to not hire a person for a job as any other.

A young woman sat on a bench near me and talked on the phone while her daughter tumbled up and down the ladder of the slide alone. She cried, literally, to a friend about how her mom wouldn’t give her $100 to pay her cable bill. In the same conversation she lamented to her friend about not being able to find a job anywhere.

Moments later a nanny arrived with 3 toddlers. In San Diego it’s fairly normal to see a middle-aged Hispanic woman caring for 3 little white kids. I could be wrong in making that assumption, because they could have been her children I suppose, but they looked to be children she watched. She oversaw an orderly march to and from the park, the distribution of snacks and jackets, and she maintained order as they played in the sand and later helped them take turns on the swings.

So there I sat, basking in the sunlight of this irony. 4 adults at the park with very different American experiences. 3 unemployed and relatively unemployable young adults wasting every legal opportunity they have for the advancement of their life. And 1 employed, legally unemployable middle-aged woman, exhibiting professionalism and investing in the advancement of her life.

Mike Rowe is right, you know?

We have an educational system that has created a massive hole in the job market. It’s not just in my industry that there is a gap in qualified people. It’s in the trades, as well. (Read more: College isn’t for everyone)

Christian Living

5 Ways Your Church can be Good News to Unemployed Young Adults

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report released Wednesday said 745,000 more job seekers between 16 and 24 years old were unemployed from April to July. That compares with an increase of 571,000 among the same age group last summer.

In July, the share of young people who were employed was 48.8%, marking a record low for the second straight year. July is traditionally the peak month for summertime employment. Another Summer Chill for Youth Employment- USAToday, August 24th 2011

Photo by London Permaculture via Flickr (Creative Commons)

If I do the math correctly this means 51.2% of Americans between the ages of 16-24 don’t have a job. Half of people 16-24, when they are physically strongest and most able to work… can’t find a job.

You can’t care about the youth of America and not wonder what you can do. You individually. You as a leader in the church. And you as an advocate for the young adults in your community. You can do something. You have to do something.

We live in a post-Christian society. Young adults have heard of the church. They likely know who Jesus is. But, in many cases, they won’t have anything to do with Jesus or the church because both seem irrelevant. In short, before they are willing to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ they need to know that the Gospel really is good news for them. If you can help them find employment– that’s good news.

Here’s 5 ways you can be Good News to unemployed youth in your community

  1. Start a childcare fund for single parents in your church struggling financially. One of the biggest challenges a single parent faces is consistent and affordable childcare. (Affordable doesn’t mean free.) If you set up a fund to employ 3-4 people through your church to either watch children in their homes or to set-up a 10 small daycare facility in your church, you’d be surprised how easy funding could come together. This would help single parents and it would help the young adults you’d hire to run the program. (There’s Federal/State grant money available for this kind of thing as well. Ask a librarian for help.)
  2. Sponsor a local grant for small businesses in your community to offset the cost of hiring part-time help between the ages of 16-24. One of the best motivators you could offer to small business owners in your community is a grant to offset some of the costs of employing a person. Work with your local Chamber of Commerce to help get the word out, pitch the concept to business people in your church, and ask your congregation to rally behind the fund. Keep it simple. If a small business hires a qualifying young adult, you verify that they worked 500 hours, you award the employer $2,000.
  3. Host job readiness seminars in your church. While the unemployment rate is shocking, equally shocking is the amount of young adults who are unemployable. Partner with Junior Achievement, the Chamber, and other like-minded local community organizations to put together a series of helpful seminars for job readiness. Teach the basics like, interview skills, resume` building, work expectations, etc. (Again, there’s grant money out there for this kind of thing.)
  4. Hire someone in your home. We’ve just completed our second summer of having a regular, summer babysitter. Last summer we hired someone full-time who also lived in our home. We found that was a bit too much for us, so this summer we “shared” a full-time babysitter with another family in our church. No, we couldn’t afford it. But this sacrifice was worth it– and helped us out a ton. Maybe you don’t need childcare? Hire someone to do yard work or complete the projects around the house you’ve wanted to do but can’t find the time.
  5. Start a job pool. A church is a great connecting point. If you acted as a connecting point between people looking for work and people who need work done, you could help a lot of people. More than simply having a job board… Set-up a simple screening process, set work expectations like timeliness and appearance, and coordinated both supervision and payment between people in the community who need work done and young adults looking to do work. If that’s too much work for your staff to handle ask a business person in the congregation or members of the local Chamber of Commerce to sponsor a 10 hour per week position from May – September to coordinate.
Will you commit to helping find employment for people ages 16-24 in the next 12 months? 
Church Leadership

Level of Difficulty

Does your skill level match the level of difficulty in your ministry?

I’ll admit it. I’m a recovering video game junky. Up until Madden 2005 I used to incessantly play anything football EA Sports produced.

One of the fun things about the Madden games is that you can adjust the level of difficulty to match your skill level in the game. So, if you were new, you could set it to easy and still have a good time. Then, theoretically, as your skills improved you could turn the game up so that it remained challenging.

One of the great injustices in the ministry world is that there is often a disconnect between the skill level of a staff member and the level of difficulty in a ministry setting.

In general, those who have a low skill level (new to ministry) are only able to get jobs in ministry locations labeled difficult or expert. Meanwhile, veteran church workers tend to flow towards jobs on larger teams in healthier ministries where the level of difficulty is significantly better matched to their skill level. (Not easy, per se. But ministries which match their skill level.)

In the past few years I’ve had countless conversations with pastors in way, way over their head. They’ve been in ministry a short amount of time and are in situations with no support, politics leaning hard against them, and socially isolated from people who think like them. They slump their shoulders as we sit down for breakfast, “Adam, am I crazy? Why does serving Jesus hurt this bad?

Why are these people hurting?

Because they are in ministry settings where the level of difficulty is a miss-match.

The Way it Works

We have a Darwinian approach to ministry jobs. Our church culture dictates that the newest, greenest, and least capable among us serve at the gnarliest of ministry sites. A youth pastor takes her first time job, replacing a youth pastor fired for sleeping with a student. A worship pastor hired from a larger church to lead a ministry from traditional worship to contemporary. A senior pastor right out of seminary replaces a long-tenured wise owl who retired after 40 years of successful ministry. A children’s worker will accept a calling to a church plant where they have to go out and raise their support while somehow trying to create a children’s program from scratch.

All expert level ministry jobs performed by newbie staff members. They don’t stand a chance.

A large majority of these newbies will get washed out of their first jobs in the first 2-3 years. Battered and bruised, about half will lick their wounds and find non-ministry vocations before they’ve even paid off their seminary loans.

Yet, a small minority will learn their lessons from these impossible ministry situations and move to more healthy levels of difficulty. Eventually, through survival of the fittest, a small minority manage to work their way into roles that are matched with their skill level… or maybe a little mismatched so that they are in jobs significantly easy compared to their skill level. (You know who you are.)

In other words, those of us with high levels of expertise gravitate to the easier jobs while our success in roles made to look easy encourages countless others into the flames of despair at the hard jobs.

The Way it Ought to Work

Ministry experts should flow to the expert level jobs. Jobs in healthy ministries should hire more newbies for shorter periods of time in order to increase their skill level and help match them with jobs that best suit their long-term skill level and interest.

This would perpetrate a mantra of healthy churches helping unhealthy ones instead of visa versa.

But that would be too much like right.

Church Leadership youth ministry

Labor Day Remembrance for Youth Workers

Labor Day became a holiday in response to the massacre of 13 employees to end the Pullman Strike at the hands of the Illinois National Guard. Why were they on strike? The owner of their company cut their wages on their 12 hour work day while holding rents on employee housing. When the owner refused to meet with the employees about the cuts 125,000 railroad workers brought the nation to a halt with a strike… until Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops to violently end the strike.

For me, I cannot think of the plight of the 19th century worker without reflecting on the working conditions of many of my friends in youth ministry. If we’re honest… being in youth ministry is very much like pre-organized labor days. Mike Rowe has never shown up at a youth group meeting. But just know that being a youth worker is a Dirty Job.

Today, I am reminded that thousands of youth workers struggle to serve Jesus while employed by churches who often, either intentionally or unintentionally, mismanage them.

The latest economic downturn has lead to a whole new round of horrible stories. No one is exempt. People who once thought they were in great jobs at great churches have learned that tough times can lead to miserable work conditions. And with so much re-thinking of youth ministry vs. family ministry vs. parachurch-styled youth ministry… an unprecedented amount of youth workers are currently either looking for new ministries or trying to figure out how to be tent-maker in youth ministry or looking to get out of the pressure-cooker altogether.

On this Labor Day, I want to draw your attention to some specific examples of their struggles:

  • Apparently, being pregnant or a new parent is the perfect time to fire a youth worker. I’ve heard tons of stories like Ryan Smith’s. What a horrible thing!
  • This is a tough time to look for a job in youth ministry. As I run the YS job bank, I know that churches often get hundreds of applicants for each opening. Many excellent/gifted/experienced youth workers are forced out of youth ministry each month because they simply can’t find a job.
  • It goes without saying that the youth worker is often the least respected pastoral staff member. Their role is seen as child’s play despite every statistic available which shows the importance of faith development during the teenage years.
  • It may be 2010, but nepotism is alive and well in the church. I have recently heard from youth workers who were fired because the senior pastors kid just needed a job.
  • Lots of people received pay cuts this year. They take the form of reduction in pay, losing medical/dental/vision benefits, foregoing conference/continued education allowances, etc. Of course, this is often in violation of an existing employment contract that wasn’t mutually re-negotiated. And churches balk when you ask for time off to do part-time work to make up the difference.
  • Most churches regularly break various federal employment laws, claiming to be exempt of all federal employment laws under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The church is not exempt from minimum wage laws except in a few circumstances. (Such as, ordained by your denomination.) No employer can make you work more than 40 hours without compensating you. You are not allowed to have uncompensated “ministry hours” on top of your work hours. I routinely hear of churches who advertise as a 50-60 hour per week job. Um, that’s against the law!
  • Many youth workers are punished or even fired because of the actions of their children or spouse in the church. You can’t be fired because your children don’t like the kids program or your spouse goes to another church. Working at a church does not mean you have no civil rights. (Interesting test of this by World Vision, good thing it only applies to the employee.)
  • Youth workers in small-to-medium sized churches work almost entirely in isolation. They have very limited fellowship with other people their age in the church. And their work hours make it quite difficult to have friendships with people in their community. Isolation leads to depression and all sorts of other bad things.
  • Speaking of small churches. These are especially difficult roles because youth ministry is just one of the myriad of things they are asked to do.
  • Part-time youth workers have it even rougher. Most churches that pay part-time really expect/demand full-time work.
  • Many spouses of youth workers are expected to be volunteers in the ministry. This is jokingly referred to as the “two-for-one” deal by churches. It’s a sick double-standard as the same is rarely expected of all ministry employees and is, again, in violation of the minimum wage/Civil Rights laws. I can’t think of another profession which makes the same demand.
  • The day-to-day job of a youth worker is quite difficult. It’s a multi-disciplinary role which requires skills in everything from teaching the Bible to counseling to marketing to event planning. Yeah, totally realistic.
  • Double-standards are the norm for youth workers. Just one example is work hours. They are asked to hold regular office hours. Plus, they are asked to be out evenings to work with students where they are.
  • When employment ends, many in youth ministry are treated poorly and without respect. There are countless stories out there from youth workers who weren’t even allowed to say goodbye to students they’ve ministered to for years.
  • Youth workers often take abuse from all sides. They work long hours which draws criticism from their spouse. Meanwhile, their boss is unhappy because their groups aren’t growing. All the while, parents express frustration because their child isn’t getting the 1-1 attention she’d hoped for.
  • This list could go on and on… but its a holiday and I don’t want to bore anyone before their barbeque.

Certainly, many youth workers have wonderful employers who respect them and treat them well. I don’t want this post to over-shadow that fact.

But perhaps those in great positions can take time to encourage those who are struggling today?

Maybe, in the coming months you would find ways to lift up and encourage brethren in ministry who are in bad circumstances?

Offer them a relationship of confidence?

Offer your home as a place of refuge and relaxation?

Share in your abundance?

Share resources and friendship?

Maybe be that calm and familiar voice who reminds them that this isn’t the way the bride of Christ is supposed to treat its workers?

More than anything… will you take some time today to call or email a youth worker in your life and affirm them? Tell them that their ministry matters. Tell them that you know their job is difficult. And tell them that they are making a difference in your community.

Church Leadership

2 Lies of Church Employment


Each week I encounter a new story of a church worker that angers me. These are stories from youth workers who have been wronged by the people they trusted with their lives… their church employer. Churches who fire them because they didn’t reach the right kids. Churches who fire a staff member because their spouse got pregnant. Churches who fire because a senior leader wants to hire a younger youth worker.

If not for a deep love of God and His bride I don’t think these people could go on. Know right now that I have a deep love for the church. This is not an attack. This post acknowledges that there are churches who are good employers and bad employers. (There’s my first disclaimer)

It sickens me that things routinely happen in the church, a place that represents Christ the king of Justice, that would be illegal in a business. It sickens me that I routinely encounter people who are wronged, been discriminated against, treated unfairly, not paid according to their contracts… and all of these people have a deep love for the church that just takes it.

I want to share with you two lies of church employment. These are lies that are so commonly believe that it will shock you when I address them.

1. The church is exempt from all employment laws. I’ve heard this lie so many times that I was SHOCKED to discover it is not true. A church is an employer in the United States. All employment is governed by the Department of Labor. There are very few places where the church is allowed to be exempt, your church better talk to a lawyer. But, in total, the church is not exempt from the basic provisions the government outlines. The biggest violations I see over and over involve the minimum wage laws. Unless you are a “professional” (e.g. ordained and/or certified somehow as a professional by an organization) your work is covered by the minimum wage law. So a church cannot tell you, “we’ll pay you the first 30 hours per week, but you are required to work 10 more as ministry hours.” If it is required, and you are hourly, they must pay you for that work time as well as overtime. Nor can a church have unpaid interns. Churches do this so often that you think its OK, it’s not. You can have all the volunteers you want. But if you call someone an intern and they have set work hours, you have to pay them. (Cash payment can be offset by living expenses, but its taxable income too!) This stuff goes on and on. The church, outside of “professionals” is not exempt from discrimination laws. (Age, sex, religious background, ethnicity, you know the routine) Nor can a church make your spouse and/or childrens attendance required as a term of your employment. Nor can they fire you because you are too old. Nor can they pass you over because of your gender or ethnicity. In short, the church is not exempt from federal employment laws in all areas! There is an assumption that the church can do whatever they want… they can’t.

2. You can’t take legal action against a church when you are wronged. This is a cultural stigma, isn’t it?  In the last 5 years I’ve repeatedly encouraged those wronged [I term this “left for dead”] to hire an attorney and pursue legal action. I don’t know of a single case where a person did that. Why? The stigma of suing a church is so strong. People always toss out a Bible verse and say, “it’s wrong to sue Christians.” I would agree with you if that’s what the Bible actually said! If you think its wrong to ever sue a church or an individual, please go read 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 right now. Paul is not saying you can’t ever sue. He’s saying people within the church shouldn’t sue one another over trivial things.

A family bankrupted and left for dead by their employer is hardly trivial! What about the pastor fired because the board wants someone younger? Not trivial. What about the salaried staff member who has wages garnished because he left 30 minutes early on a Sunday after putting in 60+ hours the rest of the week? Not trivial. What about the church worker who has a church completely violate his privacy and discloses medical information to the congregation? Not trivial! What about the church worker who has his contract changed whimsically by the board… he’s the youth pastor one day, the childrens pastor the next, and maybe not employed the third day. Trivial? These things are happening RIGHT NOW, like this week. Shouldn’t those people do something about it?

Simply by working at a church these people have not given up their rights to be treated fairly. Our legal system provides avenues of correction for both employee and employer. We all know 99% of these cases would never make it to a trial, but church workers need to feel the freedom to protect themselves. And churches need to know that they can’t mistreat workers.

When I hear these stories I know that most churches do what they do to their staff because they feel like they are exempt from employment laws and that no one will ever sue them. The sad reality is that nothing will change until we educate ourselves about our rights and make it known that church staff will take legal action against villanous churches who wrong workers.

I smell a guest post from an employment lawyer coming. If you want exact information about a situation, please consult an attorney. Just so everyone realizes this… I’m not giving legal advice! (There’s my second disclaimer)