The Church and the Employment Dispossessed


Ageism & employmentIf 2013 was marked by any one trend, it was a sobering one: Many of my peers lost jobs.

For me, peer is anyone in that 46-56 age group. Somehow, we have been redefined as the new elderly—at least by some in the corporate world.

I don’t know if health care fears have driven some of this, but it is startling to see people who are supposedly in their peak earning years instead walking the unemployment line. Worse, the likelihood of such folks returning to the income level they enjoyed prior to being let go runs just about to zero.

This is not good. It’s not good for those people, nor is it good for America.

And it may be worst of all for the Church, since these are the folks who had the incomes that funded their local congregations.

I talk about a lot of Church issues on Cerulean Sanctum, but I think no other “daily living” issue is more ignored by the American Church than our work lives. The advice most churches dispense on being a Christian who works is to start a workplace Bible study and to practice ethical work habits. That’s as far as it goes.

But when churches start discovering they have many people in their late 40s and early 50s trying to find work and not succeeding, SOMETHING must give. This trend is not one we can continue to ignore. Technology is putting more people out of work, and tech job availability is not compensating for the losses. Worse, one recruiter told me that anyone with gray hair who walks into a tech company looking for work is just wasting his or her time. Even worse? The same recruiter told me it’s not just tech companies anymore—it’s every company.

Again, this is an enormous issue. Which Christian with a national presence is talking about it? In fact, which Christian with a national stage is saying anything about issues of health care costs, stagnant wages, the increasing ranks of the un- and under-employed, and this creeping down of when someone must consider himself or herself “done” with a career, even when he or she doesn’t want to be done?

I continue to get the sense that while the Church in America has no qualms talking about spiritual issues, issues of everyday living (such as work) are going unaddressed, and those issues cause the most worry and grief in people. They are looking for answers, and the Church is not providing them.

Problem is, Jesus didn’t leave behind an answerless Church. It may be true that in this world we will have trouble, but Christ has overcome the world. For Christians to throw up our hands and do nothing is not the way of the Lord.

15 thoughts on “The Church and the Employment Dispossessed

  1. This may seem harsh but a lot of the church as an institution is primarily concerned with self-preservation and is completely unequipped to deal with issues like this beyond pious sound bytes. To make matters worse we have a church culture where everyone is expected to put on their best clothes, best smile and best act because the last thing anyone wants to hear when preparing to “worship” is somebody’s problems. I don’t mean to say that Christians don’t care, just that our religious culture makes it nearly impossible to share each others burdens.

    • Arthur,

      I both agree and possibly disagree with you.

      Agree: The Church IS primarily concerned with self-preservation. It IS unequipped. I think people ARE unwilling to hear bad news. Our religious culture DOES make it next to impossible to share each other’s burdens. That all needs to be fixed.

      Possibly disagree: If you read between the lines of your comments, it almost feels as if this is purposeful and planned. I’m not sure if the American Church is that “devious” in avoiding the issue. I think it is more of an issue that no one knows what to do. If anything, it may be that the issue is too big and “leaders” feel like they have to get to it later after all the smaller problems are dealt with. Is that ignorant? Perhaps, but I’m not sure if it’s as planned as it appears.

      I guess I’m thinking that people don’t know where to begin. This is especially true in that we have a specialist work world, which is immediately too niche and makes it hard to help. That said, there MUST be some answer. This can’t keep up.

      • I don’t mean to imply that by and large this is planned, it is more a reflection of organizational inertia that occurs in a lot of institutions: education, religious, government, business. The problem is that the church was never intended to operate like an organization, leaving many Christians aching for something more.

  2. Diane R

    Frankly, I do see the church concerned about people’s problems. In fact they are obsessed with it. But the people they want to help are on skid row and Africa. Church leaders seem to think that their own people are all very well-off middle class people and need no help whatsoever. That is the real problem here IMO. Then, when the church see that some of their people (mainly widows and the unemployed church members) don’t give scads of money to the church’s pet projects for the poor elsewhere, they are accused of being greedy and uncaring. Sad indeed.

  3. ccinnova

    I’m grateful to live in an area where several churches sponsor ministries to job searchers. Even with that help it took several years to find full-time work after I lost my last full-time job, and I’m now living on a lot less than I previously made. At least I’ve only got one mouth to feed; what about those trying to support families?

    As far as why the church isn’t speaking out, perhaps there are too many preachers so busy trying to further their own careers that they could care less about anybody else’s career. Perhaps it will take a major drop in giving to get their attention. Then again, as Diane said, these preachers may consider such folks greedy and uncaring.

  4. My wife and I discuss our Life Insurance plans often. With her being healthier than I, I tend to carry a larger payout to care for her and the children should I meet an earlier demise.

    In hindsight, the gist of our discussions come to the fear that the church would not be there to care for her in her elderly years – or help her transition and needs in her younger.

    So-we rely on a worldly construct rather than the one God says to put in place. It is sad that the cultures view of the elderly continues to effect the churches practice regarding their care.

    As a non-believer, one of my biggest contentions were that the Church hardly cares for its own – and that contradicted what I DID KNOW about Jesus…

  5. Heartspeak

    You raise several issues that deserve dialogue. One, the financial future of the North American Church and two, what is the church’s role in our current society/culture.

    I have a thought on the first one and am still ruminating on the second one.

    Even without the unemployment figures you’ve cited of the 46-56 age group. The figures I’ve been hearing is that the primary givers in churches are already over 55. Some say that the majority of our givers will have passed on to glory within the next 15 years!

    While at first glance this is troubling, I’d say that it could be quite freeing! The local church must change or die. Christ’s Church, of course, won’t die. Resource allocation within the NA church has long troubled me. Salaries and facilities take up the vast, vast majority of giving. The early church had neither, yet it survived quite well. When the Body is the Church and functions smoothly and rhythmically together, ‘dollars’ aren’t the issue.

    I’d say that primarily the same applies to the second issue. When God’s people are living out their faith amongst their culture, the Church will and does have an impact on that culture. Maybe it’s not the church organizations who should be doing the giving! What would happen if folks actually gave, oh, let’s say 10% of their income to folks already around them and in need? Of course it would be difficult to ‘track’ and brag on and you won’t get a tax deduction for it in April…… so what? Folks who were generours with what they have with their neighbor would be rather notable and remarkable, no?

    When we start living like the Church is us, rather than that organization down the street, things might change. As for the world?…. well, we’ve spent a few centuries training them that it was the ‘organization down the street’ so we’ll have to forgive their confusion….

  6. Oengus

    Yeah, Dan, I am in the boat too. In effect, my job of nearly eleven years at a software company got shipped overseas to faraway lands. So here I am, out of work, almost 63, and I have to start all over again.

    I don’t know what will happen next. Will it be to hold on a few more months until I can start collecting Social Security, although I won’t get my full benefit, and look for part time, minimum wage work? I try not to remember how our government’s policies over time have basically created this situation. I try not to remember because otherwise I might get very, very angry. I don’t want to be angry.

    I am trusting that He will provide something for us.

    • Oengus,

      I commiserate. Or should I say that my brother-in-law does, as he is 63, and after about a dozen years spent working side-by-side with a high-end custom guitar builder, he ended up jobless this year due to a persistent downturn in that field. He is an exceptionally hardworking person and is in excellent health. What does he do now? How do his skills translate and transition?

      I was reading One Big Thing by Phil Cooke, and I asked the question internally, What about the Renaissance Man? And turning to the very next page, I was told that the Renaissance Man is dead, long live the specialist. Specialize or die.

      And yet here are all these niche jobholders, these specialists, that find their world’s rocked when the market takes one small step left. Suddenly, their One Big Thing isn’t wanted anymore, and they have no options save for “retraining,” which is the biggest joke in the world. Anyone out there want a 63-year-old man who does some of the best mother of pearl inlay work in the world? Maybe that someone exists. Maybe. But even then, they’re looking at someone who does that work and is 33, not 63.

      Specialize or die? I guess for some it feels like die is the only option. Welcome to 2014, the year of Logan’s Run. That vast silence you hear is not you going deaf; it’s the lack of answers from the pulpit.

      We have got to stop being such weenies when it comes to these hard issues. Jesus has answers. Christians need to start listening for them and implementing them–NOW.

  7. I guess the first problem I have with the churches of America is that we continue to make this totally artificial distinction between secular and sacred. The veil was ripped in two – there is no valid argument for the separation we make save that society demands that “you religious people know your place and get in it. Once there, if you can’t go along with us, shut up!” That accounts for much of what I see as the failure of the churches apparent inability to stand up and address the issues.

    I’ve intentionally kept it to a lower case “c” – Christ’s Church in America, those who are His and live according to the teachings of the apostles to the best of their abilities? We’re scattered. We’re praying, but we’re also confused. When someone comes along who *does* challenge the existing socioeconomic order, as Pope Francis did recently, our political conservatives rise up and do their best to discredit him, rather than having the guts to say – “Maybe we are wrong in how we treat people, and nations – maybe we could revisit Adam Smith and see if perhaps we’ve missed something.” Do we listen to the man with the money because we all want to be like him in terms of earnings, and therefore never question the system – or do we listen to the Lord who says you cannot serve two masters?

    Good thought-provoking stuff as always, Dan – pardon my absence; I’ve had a few issues of my own to attend to. Happy New Year to you and the family, and may God bless.

    • Rick,

      No one in society today can stand a square peg in a round hole. The entire world has become OCD, and it whittles at the edges of anyone who doesn’t fit. There is no worse offender than the American Church, and I say that with extreme grief. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about those exceptional people that he dubbed Outliers, but we do not celebrate such people in American Christianity. If anything, we want our Outliers to stop making us look bad or weird. We want Conformists, not Outliers. And conformity means never asking the bigger questions, because all that does is lead away from safety and comfort, and we can’t have that now, can we?

      Prayed for your health, Rick. Be strong!

      • Thanks, Dan – it has been a bit of a challenge, but as God wills it, so it shall be – for me as well as the world. That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to get ugly during the shake-out. 🙂

  8. Pingback: The Idea To Specialize Or Die Is An Idea Full Of Crap

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