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)

hmm... thoughts

Don’t Bail Out US Automakers

All of a sudden, the czar’s of the old guard Big 3 are interested in Washington again. (By Big 3 I mean Ford, GM, and Chrysler, not the real big 3 of Toyota, Honda, and Ford.) The news is full of stories of their CEO’s begging for federal bailout money to keep afloat. I can hear the words from here, “We only want $25 billion.” They probably each took their own corporate jets over there and are staying at $10,000 per night suites.

Here’s why giving the Big 3 $25 billion is a bad idea:

#1 Their problem isn’t bad loans, it’s bad labor contracts. I lived in Detroit for 5 years and I was totally sickened by labor practices. Over the last few generations an entitlement attitude has run rampant among workers. In short, until they can clean house and only keep the best workers regardless of union status or seniority any bailout will just be wasted on pouring more money into a broken vessel. Most people don’t know this, but they pay people not to work! They want federal dollars to keep paying people not to work! For $25 billion we need a federal right to work law. People should have a choice whether to join a union or not. Closed shops should be outlawed in every state… especially Michigan. Face a fact… unions were great at one point, but have helped bankrupt the auto industry.

#2 Their problem isn’t bad loans, it’s over-generous retirement plans. In the last few year’s they have gotten wise and started buying people out. But the Big 3 are levied with a tax their competitors don’t pay… pensions. (Most have been structured on 401k plans since day one.) Until they can shed those pension problems the federal government shouldn’t give them a dime. I don’t think that they should just fore go the pensions. I think, once and for all, they should sell those debts off and let someone try to make a buck on distributing those dollars.

#3 Their problem isn’t bad loans, it’s trying to sell cars people don’t want. Have you walked on a car lot lately? The Chrysler cars mostly look like space ships. The Ford ones look like Tonka trucks. The GM ones look like cars from the 1980s. I know that’s judgmental and I’m uneducated. But I was recently looking to buy a new car and literally laughed on most of the “U.S. Automaker” lots. For 20+ years they have whined about “foreign cars” on their market. The reason people aren’t buying them isn’t because they hate America, it’s because Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, and the rest are selling cars people want to drive.

I have no doubt that the auto industry will get bailed out. They will become federally subsidized, just like the airline and farming industries. If it’s not the $25 billion today it’ll be $100 billion next week. My only hope is that in getting the money they will start to repair the damage.

Meanwhile, I hope Michigan continues to look for a new economy. I hope they invest in the health care industry, technology, and financial industry. Michigan is full of amazingly brilliant people who want to succeed. Let’s hope that they get it sorted out soon!