Recently, I spoke with a young man who possesses a rare gift. Though he knew he had the gift, he didn’t see it for what it was, deciding to pursue other avenues rather than let his gift take him in a logical direction. Now that he’s burned out other options, he’s regretting all the choices he made that diverted him off the path his gift created for him. He’s not sure he can get back on the path, confessing that getting off it was perhaps the most lunkheaded thing he’s done in his life.
You can see the regret painted over his face.
I saw his train wreck coming. Everyone who knows him did. I’ve prayed for him a few times since. I believe he’ll be okay in the end. Though I thought he blew it at the time, I’m encouraged that he’s wised up. Most guys his age would’ve taken years to come to their senses. His confession holds out hope he’ll be able to turn his bad choice around.
Few topics nag at men more than this one: What might have been.
In contrast to the young man I just mentioned, I know dozens of men who thought they knew the best way to go, only to find the path dead-ending after years of travel. Most of the time, it’s a career cul-de-sac. They got into a particular line of work and it vanished, went overseas, proved soul-killing, demanded moral compromise, or some other unimagined outcome. Now they don’t know what to do.
I feel for these guys. No one knows what to tell them.
I’ve written page upon page here at Cerulean Sanctum about the invisible nature of our employment. Invisible, at least, to the Church in America. Sure, maybe once every five years you’ll hear a sermon about how to be a good employee, but most preachers never examine the nature of work itself and how it impacts the soul—especially when it all goes wrong.
Nothing we do in a day competes with work for the sheer amount of time consumed. Despite this, I suspect that in most Christian households, work alters more of the way we live than anything else, even more than our confession of Christ.
Untrue? Well, check how everything in our day revolves around work, even our devotional lives. If Christ were all that important, our work would be a blip in the day compared to how we live out our discipleship. A look at the typical family will tell otherwise. It’s almost impossible to separate our jobs from even the the most minute aspects of our lives.
Which is why the man who finds himself in a dead-end job or habitually unemployed in his “peak earning years” presents such a difficult puzzle.
I used to enjoy The Simpsons. One of the recurring characters is Gil Gunderson, a parody of the Jack Lemmon character in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. The running gag with Gil concerns his series of humiliating jobs and the utter desperation that surrounds him like a haze. He’s always hoping that the next deal’s the one that will save him, but instead we see him reduced to so much human grist for the corporate mill.
I know plenty of guys like Gil. They wake up one day and realize their one chance at the brass ring passed them by years ago.
Some try to reinvent themselves. I saw this in spades out in Silicon Valley. When the Internet bubble first showed signs of bursting, companies ditched gobs of forty-something guys, the ones who did all the dirty work in the startup days but earned a few too many cost of living increases. How did these guys respond? They all became consultants. The Valley teemed with consultants of all kinds, each little guy desperate to find his one tiny morsel in the limited consultancy pot. They’d crow about how they empowered themselves, but you knew every single one was sweating blood at night praying some company would rescue them out of the hell of making $5,000 a year as a “consultant.”
Next stop, real estate. Then what?
I hear they’re hiring for the crab boats.
You find a lot of these guys in the ministry, too. When they were young, nothing fit, and the ministry looked like the only option. They end up hanging around for decades, their ministry amounting to a mound of legumes.
On the other hand, you’ve got some guys with a calling bigger than the planet, yet one church after another treats them like bubble gum stuck to the bottom of their congregational shoe. They wind up pincushions for whatever the pitchfork-toting natives dream up.
I feel for both. I feel for all men discouraged in their work, ministry or not.
I’ll probably never understand in this life why this happens to decent guys who work hard. I got an e-mail today from a guy talking about how bosses praise and praise till their oxygen runs low, gushing over the unmatched skills of the one receiving praise, yet the praisee’s the first one pink-slipped after Conglomo Corporation suffers a less than stellar quarter. And for what reason? Who knows? Guys who muddle through this never find out.
What can the Church do for the Gils of this world? How can we help?
I think about this nearly every day. My wife and I have discussed starting a ministry that meets the needs of people in just this fix, but we never get any clear direction on how to start. Nebulous social issues resist change simply because framing their limits proves so difficult.
What do you do for a fifty-year-old autoworker who’s been one all his life but discovers himself on the unemployment line with no one hiring? What’s he going to transition into?
Again, back in my Silicon Valley days, I saw plenty of guys burnout in their careers, yet somehow they found a way to start a completely different one. After years of watching some Midwest guys try the same thing, I now understand how the Silicon Valley guys successfully segue from the boardroom to handmaking bicycles in Marin: They’re filthy rich.
Sadly, that assembly line guy isn’t rolling in the kind of cash that allows him to self-finance his whim. So I don’t know what to tell him.
The stock market drop spooked people. Not much of a drop as I saw it, but that jittery look’s returning to some faces. The Cincinnati Business Courier is sponsoring a symposium for business leaders on how to prepare for the looming U.S. economic disaster. Talk about inspiring positive energy!
I want to help men left wondering what might have been, the Gils of the world. I think we in the Church need to get our collective acts together to brainstorm this issue because it’s only going to get worse. Greenspan dropped the word “recession” the other day and, despite the fact he’s no longer the Fed Chairman, grown men soiled themselves.
It’s bad enough we’re minting Gils. (Look around. They may seem invisible, but they exist in numbers too large to ignore.) Now imagine a country filled with them.
What’s the American Church’s response?
27 thoughts on “The Church of Gil Gunderson”
It’s been a long time since I’ve commented. I’ve been lurking, but you see… Monday I got fired. More importantly, Monday I was set free.
I guess I’ve known for a long time that I’m not a 8-5, m-f type. I’ve always hung on to the “find something you love and the money will come” type. Granted, that is hard to grasp when your mortgage comes due.
I’m called. I’ve known that and this door slamming was just God’s way of putting me back on the path I was supposed to be on in the first place.
As a church, we have allowed ourselves to look like the world and become consumers. We all need to learn to live with less, be content with what we do have, and work with what is given to us, all with joy.
The churches response… pray, and hire that unemployed guy to work around your house if you can. What ever happened to the Acts church where those with more sold their extra to give to those without? Nobody in the church should be without. If we are truly a family, then we need to act like one.
Sorry about your job.
I’d be cautious about the “I’m free now” feelings. They don’t last when the bills start piling up. I’ve been in that boat before, too. The strange elation I felt rapidly turned to despair.
Yes, we in the Church just can’t pat people on the back. We need to think how we can help, then actually help.
It’s okay Dan. My husband works, and we make enough to pay all the bills as long as we don’t overspend. 🙂 It’s just time I learned to be obedient with the calling I have. 🙂
This is an excellent post. This subject is one I hadn’t really thought too much about … I guess because I am a woman and I’m a stay-at-home-homeschooling-mom and when I did work I taught school. My husband is self-employed, as is my brother and many of the men that I know.
I have no idea what the answer is. I watched my dad go through the junk of “you may not have a job in 6 months” for too many years in the corporate world. He was doing what he really enjoyed, but the company restructured and resturctured and restructured ……. he never lost his job, but the stress of it was almost too much.
But I think what Ronni said is right on –whatever happened to the church that sold their extra to give to those without??? We have allowed ourselves to look like the world and to be consumers and we don’t live like disciplies of Christ.
Self-employed people are at the mercy of market forces, too. It’s amazing how you can go from being in demand from everyone to wondering where all your clients went!
Living with an unemployment “gun” to your head really stinks. It makes life very difficult to live.
As for the Acts 2 & 4 church, finding one is a blessing. Now try to find one!
I am a minister with a small church in Michigan. That’s right, where the major industry is automotive related and the big 3 auto makers are in the process of letting go literally hunderds of thousands of workers all across the state. Your post really hits home and describes a dilemma that I see the church must learn to deal with soon. While I do not have any answers or suggestions at this time, I would like to echo your call to begin brainstorming and would like to be included in that discussion. I, too, echo the sentiment of the previous two responses that we are to much like the world, consumer oriented, and lack the togetherness of the church of the first century. So, in part, any answers we seek must include a revival of what made the church the church … with true koinonia fellowship / partnership in life matters.
Yes. I wish more of us would wake up on this issue. What’s happening to the U.S. automakers could take down the whole country. I heard an economist say that he and his compatriots used to think that a slump in housing and a downturn in the auto industry were blips. Now they think they are potential disasters in an already limping economy. When you realize these guys are a mix of liberals and conservatives and they’re all nodding in agreement, that’s a wake up call we can’t ignore. And yet we go on ignoring it.
Just the other day I read that Daimler Chrysler’s sales last year were down 27% percent. That’s astonishing in an industry that usually doesn’t see double-digit drop-offs in sales. Maybe 7%, but not 17%. And certainly not 27%!
Are the churches in your area saying anything about this? Are they preparing anything to help all these autoworkers who will lose jobs?
I know a lot of people who say the Japanese car manufacturers in America will absorb those workers, but that’s a pipe dream. I predict more Japanese makes will be scaling back their US plants as they shift to China.
We just don’t seem to get it!
Dan, I have been reading your posts about this and sharing your concern. One thing my church is doing is hosting a Crown Financial seminar on managing family finances. I know the pastor has a heart for the struggles of the young families in our congregation, so I believe this will just be the first of many things we will try to do. What those other efforts will be … well, I think we’re open to just about any ideas.
Maybe we could set up a kind of mentoring program in which those who are employed could work with those who lose their jobs … help write resumes, job inquiry letters, help look for training programs. You know how job search can be almost a job in itself.
I think one of the biggest barriers to the church living up to its potential is that the members of the church are pre-occupied with earning a living, rather than living for Christ. We are not helping others because we are too busy helping ourselves. When Jesus ministered in Judea, and people came to Him wanting to be His disciples he seemingly discouraged them by telling them that they would have no place to live, no wealth, no family, and that perhaps they should go home and count the cost first, lest they become a joke.
We cannot have cable and be in debt as well, we cannot eat dinner out and live from paycheck to paycheck, and we cannot buy a Humvee and see our brother in need. Not “should not”-Can Not. There is no way we can live a Christ-filled life and live beyond our means. And conversely, we can only afford a luxury when no one around us is in need.
We don’t need to wait for the Elders to meet in conclave and announce a new ministry. We don’t have to set up a food pantry in the church office. It’s the personal responsibility of every Christian to take care of the needs of others: Fellow believers first, and then outsiders as possible. When we redefine what “living” is according to God’s definition instead of Madison Avenue’s, then we will see whole new vistas open to us.
Some people have no choices given the way our society functions.
I don’t like eating fast food, but we had to do so three times in three days because of scheduling issues. My wife gets home at such a time at night that if we have an evening activity scheduled we have to eat out if we’re to eat as a family at all!
For instance, I had worship team practice at our church at 7 PM Tuesday. Since my wife doesn’t get home till 6:50 PM most nights, we had to meet in a centralized spot closer to her work so we could eat and she could take over childcare while I jetted off to practice. We got ten minutes to eat together in a cheap restaurant.
The day before that, we had to do the same thing because I had a once-monthly meeting of my writers group.
The day before that, we ate some really bad pizza at our church before the quarterly leadership meeting. We’d come right from a practice for the community choir my son sings in.
I wish it wasn’t that way, but what to do? Two of the three are church related and the third one’s a gathering of Christians as well.
In order to fix that, we’d have to massively restructure the way our entire society operates, plus change everything about our own work lives. How to do that? Heck if I know!
But we’ve got to at least acknowledge it and start shining light on it or it’s not going to improve.
This is a very convicting and edifying comment. I must admit that I am guilty and the Lord is really working in my heart on this very issue right now. Thanks for posting your thoughts.
I found that almost every church leader had absolutely not a clue to the job market. The best response any church I have ever heard of has made is to help people write resumes. But this really won’t help that much, and you can go to the library like I did and get tons of resume writing books out.
Since, as you know Dan, I was in this situation too, I have also thought about the church’s response and frankly, the only thing I can come up with is the same thing the church needs to do for any problem their congregants have -learn how to listen to God better and DO NOT give your own opinion. This drove me nuts and I had to stop asking church leaders for prayer because their advice was based on ignorance.
Lee Anne Millinger,
Good for you, Lee Anne!
I think it must get far more radical than this, though. I believe we Christians need to consider setting up some sort of alternative economy that function alongside—but also apart from—the normal economy we experience every day. We need to consider having our young people learn valid trades (taught by tradesmen and women within our churches.) I believe we need to look at alternative forms of living arrangements, pooled resources, and so on to ensure no one goes down in flames while the richer of us keep getting richer.
Hundreds of ideas exist. We just need to start brainstorming them and planning for them before it’s too late.
I have commented here before, and I read your blog regularly, but I’m posting anonymously on this issue to avoid possibly embarassing my husband.
Despite the fact that we are both educated, despite the fact that we both have years of experience in our chosen fields, we are experiencing some very, very tough times right now. I was laid off from my job as the Education Director of a large nonprofit arts organization over two years ago (a job I greatly disliked; I have to be honest) due to budget cuts, and I remember thinking, at the time, that God must have something really great in store for me that doesn’t involve a 60 – 70 hour work week (I was also teaching several evenings a week and continuing to work as a professional artist). I believed he was rescuing me from a killer schedule (I was also quite sick at the time. I honestly thought at one point that I really might die from all the stress) and freeing me to follow my calling – art.
Well, I’m following it somewhat – I am still teaching, although my programs are community-based and the paperwork (the State is involved in the funding) is enough to make me want to hug a tree out of sheer sympathy. God has not opened many doors (I have been put in touch with two galleries thus far) with regard to a full-time art making career and there are days when I wonder if I should just pack it in.
My husband is older than I by a fair number of years, and he has passed the magical age of 50. Despite the fact that he worked for a number of years for a MAJOR corporation in positions of leadership and responsibility (he even worked for a major league baseball team on a part-time basis), the only job he has been able to land since moving is at an electronics store, for a little over $11.80/hour! He has applied to over 140 companies.
Don’t get me wrong – we are grateful for the $11.80, but this has created a situation where I am the primary wage earner. My husband is so dejected over this state of affairs he has largely abandoned his leadership role as head of the household. Add to that the fact that I haven’t worked in nearly four months (I was diagnosed with a brain tumor in August and my surgery followed in November; I am still in recovery) and the bills, which we cannot pay, are piling up. I receive no benefits aside from mortgage disability insurance payments. We applied for and received one grant (reserved for catastrophic events), we received some help from family and friends; we are grateful, but we are close to the bottom of the barrel. Our vehicles were in 4 accidents in 5 months (only one incident was my son’s fault), they are in need of repair – in short, we are behind on everything. I could go on for there is more to tell, but you get the idea.
Perhaps Ronni is poised for a real breakthrough in terms of following her calling – I hope so. For me, I have yet to experience that “now-I-get-it” epiphany – that shining moment so many Christians speak of when all the pieces come together and everything makes sense. I have NO idea what God is up to, or why we are the target of a seemingly endless barrage of major problems.
I’m not sure there IS an answer. I am grateful to God for his provision, which is far greater than that of most of the rest of the world – we certainly live much more than a few notches above the poverty line, but expenses are outstripping our income, and three major surgeries since 2004 have put us thousands of dollars in debt.
I said all this to say – I can relate only too well to those who are bewildered by what is happening in our society. We are told that working hard will yield certain rewards – we also expect that as we advance through life, our professional experiences will stand us in good stead in the event of an unforeseen change in circumstances. No longer.
Can the church REALLY deal with multiplied thousands of people who are going through this kind of economic stress (and worse)? What about when things REALLY get bad?
Oh well – I still have a job to back to, which is more than a lot of people have.
Sorry this is such a long comment. I hope it doesn’t annoy you. I just think your post uncorked some bottled up feelings on this issue.
Oh – and did you know that once you reach 50 years of age, 40% of the companies out there will not consider you. Once you reach 60 years of age, 80% won’t. Nice, huh?
Your story breaks my heart, but I hear it so often. We will hear it more often in the future, and unless we get smart, it may be coming out of our own mouths.
Just today I was reading about the sad state of the auto industry in the US, the record number of personal bankruptcies, and the frightening number of defaulted home loans. Banks are losing their nerve to even loan to people anymore.
The Church here cannot be silent. Nor can we try the same tired methods to combat it. Huge problems call for radical solutions. We can do it, but we need people to consider ways of living that never entered their radar.
Let me know how I can help.
Why don’t churches become microlenders?
Churches could encourage successful business people to:
* train the underemployed and unemployed and misemployed to discover their gifts and interests,
* help them focus on a career path within them,
* help them write a business plan and
* accompany them to banks and lenders with letters of recommendation from church leadership that the church will match the amount of the loan with their own interest-free loan with a two-year delayed payment schedule.
Then lenders would be accepting only half the financial risk of establishing new small (and micro-) businesses, which could eventually grow to employ others whose employment situations are unsatisfactory to them.
Churches could plow payments back into the microlending ministry to invest in new firms.
There might even be ways for these microbusinesses to be ministries themselves … coffee shops where people talk about God; used bookstores focusing on religious tomes; maybe even a sex store with early works by the LaHayes or Joe Beam available. (Call it “Eden.”)
Okay … maybe that last one is a little too far “out there.”
But it’s an idea!
It’s a good idea. But smarter people than me will have to put it into play!
I know ourselves, to be content with what we have and where we are is a big thing. All of my cars need repair (both hit by non insured drivers in the past few months). I’ve wanted a newer car for months so I can drive to places without having to intercede for my car on the way there… but I think all of this is really just a faith grower.
God wants our faith. Every issue we come across is an opportunity to grow in that faith.
I still owe a ton of money due to cancer bills. But… God provides. When we get low on something, somehow He always comes through.
I hope this is my breakthrough. I know I’m pressing in. I’m breaking out my watercolors again too, so it has been freeing in so many ways.
I hope so and blessings to you.
I’m going on 25 years worth of problems like the ones I described. Will I forsake God because of adversity? Never. He has always come through and I know he will continue to do so. I think, however, that I failed to make the point that major issues, over time, have a way of eroding hope and wearying people – even Christians. I don’t like owing money to anyone with no real way to pay them back. I don’t think it’s an issue of discontentedness and a desire for more, more, more; we live very modestly compared with most Americans. I think the problem is that these sorts of events can snowball very quickly and create a very real financial crisis in people’s lives.
That said, God is sovereign. Anything can, and does, happen.
Your post is timely and correct. I don’t think there are many Christian bloggers that tackle the topic of faith and work. I’ve lurked on your blog enough to know that you do so and do it in a thoughtful manner.
I started my blog Every Square Inch 9 months ago for that specific purpose – helping connect the dots between Sunday sermons and “Monday-Friday” living. It’s about engaging business and culture with a gospel centered view.
However, unemployment and job transitions are a sad fact of corporate life. The question is how to we make those transitions with joy and hope rather than fear and trepidation. We need to draw attention to a big God who is with us when we’re riding high in the board room as well as when we’re standing on the employment line. That’s good news.
Methinks Keith may be onto something. Here’s another idea. Why aren’t Christian business owners and managers looking at their churches for employees?
Been doing a lot of thinking on this and blogged about it today.
Money management, learning and using our spiritual giftedness, learning 21st-century job skills, and placing the proper perspective on work are some of the building blocks in this area. Just in these 4 areas, there are tons of places where the church can minister to the local body and use it as an outreach if they want.
Thanks for responding.
Money management – Absolutely. The only debt I recommend anyone carry is a mortgage and one car. Most people are so leveraged it’s a joke. At a money talk at our old church, the pastor asked how many of the 2,500 people in the seats had at least six months of salary stashed away should they lose their income. Six people raised their hands—my wife and I were two of those six. That’s insane.
Spiritual giftedness and career – Don’t always mix. And when they do mix, they may not pay all that much. I know a lot of spiritually adept people working in jobs that highlight a gift, but they’re living on subsistence wages. That ain’t right. A workman is due his keep.
21st century job skills – Have to disagree STRONGLY on this. It’s the people with those skills who are getting whacked the hardest. They command the highest pay, but are easily replaced by upstarts overseas who will work for far less. At that point, why bother? If I get a Masters Degree in computer science but a computer scientist in India will work for a fifth of what I can live on, how can I compete? I can’t. All highly-trained people who work jobs that don’t directly interface with people regularly are easily replaced by someone cheaper overseas. Ask me. I know this topic intimately! The biggest lie out there is get more education to improve your skills and command more money—companies simply won’t pay it and you’ll find yourself priced out of the marketplace.
Proper perspective on work – What is it? I don’t think anyone knows. Here in America, we’re willing to burn all aspects of life on the altar of work. So who has a proper perspective?
Dan – 21st century job-skills. The basics have to be in place. I agree that someone from India (or Russia or China or….) will/can/want to do the same work for less money. How do you take the job skills todays’ world requires but put it to use in something that cannot move? (For instance: landscaping companies are difficult to do in America other than local, or how can you take what is being done for less elsewhere and add to it to make it something people will pay a premium for?) The job-skills are changing constantly so it’s a constant opportunity to learn something new. Combining these new learnings with experience and such can lead to new ideas which keep people valuable to their company.
Proper perspective on work is balance: Me, I’ve chosen to leave work at 5pm each night. I won’t be the next executive in my company, but I’m entirely OK with that – I’m unwilling to sacrifice the time with my family to achieve a title and the money that comes with it. I also believe it’s balance for the kids as well – they cannot be in art, drama, music, science clubs at school and participate in soccer, football, baseball, youth group outside of school. Other than youth group, we have our kids pick one and stick with the one until the obligation is filled (ie: end of the season). Life is full of choices, and the world does not revolve around our children – there is give-and-take for every family member when there’s need. This also goes to not serving on 15 different ministry teams at church, but picking one or two.
To me it does seem to start with money, living below your means, and managing it appropriately (before a crisis). In my current situation we have several months of wiggle room and only carry a mortgage as debt. That reduces the impulse of jumping at anything that comes along.
Our government is actively working to expand H-1B visa definitions so that jobs that can’t be exported can be taken by bringing foreign nationals into the country. It used to be only tech. Now it’s expanding into many other fields. When you can’t ship the job overseas, you bring the cheaper worker here.
I know a lawyer who said he’s seeing more and more legal work going overseas. I had a bridge-builder tell me his company farmed out all the work to Korea and put him out of work. Doctors in Indonesia and Malaysia are being used to make remote diagnoses rather than use local doctors. When doctors, lawyers, and construction teams aren’t safe, what is? We can’t all be garbagemen. Some futurists are saying that twenty years from now the entire US economy will be entertainment-based, most manufacturing and knowledge work outsourced overseas.
BTW, if you haven’t noticed, local landscaping companies are in trouble because they can’t compete against landscaping companies comprised of foreign (immigrant, both legal and illegal) workers. Especially in states like California, you see this phenomenon.
Constantly changing job requirements put people on the outside looking in. People cannot maintain a normal life and always be having to change their skillset. I know this firsthand. I once applied for a tech job in which I possessed 22 of the 23 required tech disciplines for the job, most of those disciplines in flux. The company would not budge on the 23rd, even though it was a minor point and could easily be learned. Claiming they could find no one capable of “doing the job,” they farmed it out to an H-1B visaholder who they had to train in several of the disciplines. Right now, not a single one of those disciplines is currently in use.
That’s how things are today. Age drives a lot of this, too. Get too old and it doesn’t matter what you learn. Learn too much and you’re too pricey for the market. The Wall Street Journal ran a feature exploring why the sons and daughters of high-tech engineers are not following their parents into those fields. Much of it is because of these kinds of shenanigans.
We Christians need to start asking if there’s a way to work that we’re not exploring. We must ask if we must accept the current business world situation at face value, or explore alternatives. Have you read my business series? Check out the sidebar “Best of Cerulean Sanctum, Best Posts of 2005.” Nancy Pearcey, the author of Total Truth found it a compelling read and an accurate gauge of today’s business environment.
Dan, thanks for the very thought-provoking blog. I really enjoyed reading it. This is a topic that I have also pondered many times over the years. Many churches seem to do a good job of reaching out to those who are unemployed to help them financially, or maybe even help them land the next gig. The real issue, however, is not financial. We need to help people find the work that God designed them to do. Work is not as much about making money as it is about joining God in the ongoing process of creation.
God’s view: Our work is an act of worship in which we use the talents and gifts He gave us to serve Him. He is our provision.
Our view: We work to earn a living and provide for our family. The job is our provision.
Good stuff, Dan.