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Religion’s Role In A Job Search

November 13th, 2007

Helping HandsA couple of weeks ago I wrote a post that I had wanted to write for 18 months. It was about depression. I wasn’t happy with the post, and hoped to get some comments. It has turned out to be one of my most favorite “blog discussions” so far, with 15 heart-felt comments (and counting) about depression in the job search.

Scientist is a commenter with some very thought-provoking questions/ideas. Here’s part of her comment:

I would like to ask how the clergy people in your religion (without naming the religions) have responded. I have not been able to get any clergy person in my religion willing to make an appointment with me or offer me any help. I am thinking about converting, and I wonder what religions are being supportive. Mine is not. I think religion involves a sense of community and not just going to a service once a week.

Wow – what a great question. I’ll attempt to answer it with my own experiences, and would love to know what you guys think.

Help from individuals in our congregation

When I lost my job, word spread throughout our congregation pretty quick. We live in a nice neighborhood with a lot of professionals who are excelling in their careers, and there was only one other person who was out of work.

A few people came and asked us how we were doing, and how they could help. We found ourselves in a very uncomfortable situation of being in a fishbowl where a lot of people that we didn’t know suddenly had some level of interest in what was going on. More than once we would answer the door at night, only to find bags of clothing, or boxes of food. Sometimes when we opened the mailbox there were envelopes containing anything from cash to gift cards at the grocery store.

Once, I got a bill from a utility company with a few hundred dollars credit. I didn’t understand it at first – it took me about 30 minutes to (a) understand that someone would pay our utility bill a few months in advance, and (b) pull myself together to tell my wife.

It was an extremely humbling period. My wife and I had stingily helped others throughout our marriage (let me clarify, I was the stingy one, not her… she would gladly give all we had and more to help others while I wanted to give only what we could “afford”), but we had never been on this end.

Throughout this entire process I was amazed at the kindness that people showed. I’m not talking about giving 10 or 20 bucks here and there. Remember the gift cards for the grocery store? There were three of them. I called the number on the back of each card to find out the value… and I could not believe it – they were each maxed out at $200. That means that someone gave my family $600 to use at the local grocery store.

I felt embarrassed, humbled, stingy, grateful… all kinds of things. I wasn’t concerned about my welfare as much as my family’s, and getting anonymous gifts from neighbors and congregation was so, so appreciated.

Help from our bishop

One of the early calls we made was to our bishop (congregation leader). I knew people were talking about us (it felt uncomfortable, of course, but it also felt right, since I would be talking about how to help someone else with others in our congregation). I just wanted to let him know what was going on, that I was sure we would be okay, that we didn’t need any help, of course we would reach out to him if we did, and I wanted to clarify a few things that I had heard that were not accurate. I certainly didn’t want to worry him.

He asked us if we (my wife and I) could meet with him in his office. We were pretty clear that we didn’t want or need any help, and that we could get ourselves out of this mess.

We sat down with him and he asked how we were doing. Then he asked us if he could understand our monthly expenses, and asked us specifically about our house payment, car payments, food budget, utilities, etc. Within a few minutes we all had an idea of what kind of money we needed monthly. He told us that he wanted us to take advantage of a program commonly referred to as “the bishop’s storehouse” where he would authorize us to go and get whatever groceries we needed. He emphasized that the storehouse is there for situations like this, and we would probably feel embarrassed, but he wanted us to go in and take as much as we wanted… it was there for us.

We told him that we were okay, and we didn’t need it. He countered with “I’d rather have you save your money for bills than for food, so please take advantage of the bishop’s storehouse.” How grateful we were to have this resource and not feel like we were moochers, beggers, or opportunists.

Was it embarrassing? Absolutely. The bishop’s storehouse does what it can to make you feel comfortable but when I went it seemed as if everyone there had their eyes down… embarrassed to be there. We were just a bunch of people down on our luck, really. We went for a few months but stopped when we decided to make JibberJobber a full-time business to pursue. It was definitely a blessing.

The rest of the story

My job search was going on and on. Everyone can feel sorry for you for the first few weeks or months. The “charity” died down, certainly, which was good for us and everyone else. I appreciated everything that people gave, and it changed my perspective on helping others, but I didn’t want to be seen as this no-good-mooch.

Some people didn’t quite understand my web-based business and I felt as if they thought it was just a psychological reaction to feel better about my employability – so we had the occasional “Jason, here are job postings for you” even after I repeatedly explained that we weren’t’ looking anymore, that I had a web business. I guess that’s part of being an entrepreneur – people wondering what the heck you are doing :)

I have friends that told me different stories… where their bishops would call them in and chastize them, tell them to not be so lazy or selective, and really make them feel horrible. I hated stories like these, and realized how lucky and blessed we were to have a bishop that was intent on helping, not harming.

It makes me sad to hear stories like that of scientist, but I think (I hope) I know what’s going on. I think that those people have no idea what to do. Perhaps they haven’t been through it before. It doesn’t help the pain at the time, but I want to (I really want to) give the church leaders the benefit of the doubt and hope somehow they can learn about the depth of the unemployment issue.

I’d love to know what more churches are doing with regard to this issue – unemployment in the congregation affects a healthy congregation! Not only can people not donate to the church, but you then get all kinds of issues tied to emotional health (depression, suicide, ability to serve others, etc.).

Want some resources?

I have three links to share with you:

  • Between Jobs Ministry – this is the most impressive organization that I’ve come across in my travels. These guys get it, and do it right. You won’t get much out of their website (hint: call them), but they should be an example for a bunch of others to offer real career management service, regardless of religious beliefs. The worst thing about the Between Jobs Ministry is that they are in Houston… so it won’t help many of you. But still, five stars, and hopefully others will follow their example.
  • LDS Jobs – this website is kind of clunky, but here’s what you do (again, non-denominational) – find the link to their locations. They offer an excellent (free) two day workshop on job search. You aren’t going to get preached at, although they do pray and have scriptures, of course. I have networked with many of the people involved in this program and I recommend it as a first step if you are just starting your job search. It is the thing that turned my job search around (I was totally headed in the wrong direction).
  • Google the phrase “job ministry – Thanks to expert recruiter and sourcer Jim Stroud for this idea. It is kind of hit-and-miss but if you put in Job Ministry and your city (like “Job Ministry Atlanta” or “Job Ministry Sacramento” or “Job Ministry New York” or “Job Ministry Florida” or “Job Ministry Chicago“) you might luck out and find an active job ministry to help you with techniques, network contacts, support, etc.

This post is way longer than I wanted… sorry for that. Feel free to share your own religious/clergy/church job search experiences!

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16 Comments »

16 responses to “Religion’s Role In A Job Search”

  1. Thanks, Jason, for the information in this post!

    Our family has been in rough spots because of un- or under-employment, and support from a local congregation was very helpful; not only from helping physical needs get met, but also from helping spiritual and emotional needs get met.

    From my own experience, it is vital to find people you can talk to about how your doing, through a local congregation for sure, but maybe even through a therapist. Some local communities have grants that let them see people at reduced rates or, in some cases, for free.

  2. Chris says:

    Jason:

    A very nice and thoughtful post. I am also glad to see you aren’t embarrassed to share this with the rest of us.

    Keep up the great work.

  3. billiesucher says:

    Jason, thanks for addressing this subject. I applaude your courage in the subject matter you purposefully choose to write about. As I was reading your post, it led me to this thought…although it is not church-related necessarily, it is a resource to be aware of….and that’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255.) There was a story on one of our local tv stations here this morning asking each of us, as citizens, to spread the word of this phone number. To reach the VA Hotline, dial the same number and press “1”. Courage…a good word to add to your brand. Thanks as always, Jason!

    billiesucher

  4. Jason Alba says:

    Dan – thanks for those thoughts – it’s true that the congregation leader should be able to help you with the spiritual (of course) and emotional aspect of this major life change. Hopefully they can really be empathetic (or sympathetic) enough to offer real help, and not just tell you to get over it and get a job flipping burgers.

    Chris – still plenty of embarrassing things I haven’ written about. I didn’t want to write this post earlier… it wasn’t until I had a reader ask me about it that I realized how important the information could be for someone else :)

    Billie – that is an excellent resource… I’ll blog separately about that later. Thanks for the kind words (note to everyone else, Billie Sucher is a career expert, I reviewed her book last year, and she has been one of my heroes since!)

  5. Greg says:

    Jason,
    I guess I am lucky in this respect but many local churchs in my area have people that run networking groups. While the group might meet in the church they welcome everyone. Though most of the groups are run by church members they concentrate on helping people develop their networking skills.

    I would encourage anyone who has not gone to a networking group because they thought it was going to be a prayer session to call the leaders of the group and find out how the group operates. I do think think that anyone would object to starting a networking meeting with a prayer ( some of the groups do and some dont) but in any case I have found the prayers inspirational even if they have a different orientation than what I am used to.

    Greg

  6. Barry Groh says:

    Jason,

    Thank you for your honesty about the issue of religious support for unemployment. In my present position I deal with people almost daily that have nothing, and are going from church to church trying to make ends meet. I also have strict guidelines that I am required to follow when deciding when to help others, but I also have to do much of it by “feel”.

    As a member of a church staff, I have seen how many of my collegues respond to unemployment, and it’s not pretty. Many want to either not deal with it at all or want to just throw money or food at them quickly (or tell them they have neither) and get them out of the way. Everytime someone comes into my office I have a painful feeling in my stomach, knowing that without this position I am not far from being in their shoes. I also am not only willing, I many times take part of my day to sit and listen, pray with, and find solutions that I can to help out.

    That’s not to say that our congregation is the best at dealing with the issue of unemployment. We do help in many ways, but many times at an arms length, or at least in a way that is as “clean” as possible. We host a homeless shelter in conjunction with other churches during the winter months, but after our two weeks are up we pretty much go back to our ivory towers and try to forget the problem exists.

    The reason I personally got involved was because of both my position and my heart. I believe that we must do all we can to help, but I also know that we must be careful to not be an enabler. We need to be available to listen, to hear the struggles, to help materially as we can, and to, if nothing else, help to make the person regain some of their pride and honor. That can be done by truly listening, truly being “with” that person in their struggle, and strive to find ways to help where we can.

    I have seen over the past year three situations where persons have not only begun to put their lives back together, but also begin to break the cycle of homelessness and unemployment. Is it an easy struggle? Absolutely not. Is it time consuming? Absolutely. But, is it worthwhile? In many cases I believe it is, but unfortunately not in all cases.

    For the church to be the church it needs to be available to help those who are hurting, and I feel the church must do that to be in keeping with our understanding of the Gospel. How will that play out? In many different ways, but hopefully always in one that is affirming and supportive.

    Barry

  7. Mori says:

    Jason,

    I thought I was lucky when I left my job. I had some savings and no other mouth to feed except my own. Fast forward to now things are really tight but I’m too embarrassment to talk about it so I just joke around. Its also the reason I haven’t mentioned it in church, I just can’t deal with them. Its hard enough when you hear, “what you haven’t found a job yet,” from your own family. So I’m glad stumbled upon your website this month and several of your posts. It gave me a chance to vent and clear my head.

    I’ve been reading about how I need to go to networking meets or get togethers. Not sure where they would be or even how to find them. So thanks to this post, I actually tried the third option. It seem like it was going to be a miss but after several tries I hit the mother load. There is junior college I actually went to, that host meetings along with a list of churches in my county that also have meetings. Though a few of them at a ungodly hour in the morning. I have to wait until after the holidays to get started but hopefully its the step in the right direction.

    Mori

  8. Jason Alba says:

    Mori – I’m glad this blog and this post has helped you :) Also, it’s been almost two years and I STILL get questions about getting a job!

  9. […] Jacob Share, Israel’s most popular job/career blogger, had a good post a few weeks back about showing compassion to job seekers. I’ve talked about this a number of times, in the depression post and the “religion’s role in a job search” post, in another post that I can’t find, and in passing in a bunch of other posts. But his list (you can find it here) inspired me to create my own list. […]

  10. […] wrote a post last November titled Religion’s Role in a Job Search.  Go read that, and then search on Google for job ministries near you (or check out the Work […]

  11. […] walk in the church doors and talk to a leader, you might get some help.  I’ve blogged about religion’s role in a job search before.  Aside from any help you might get from church leadership (which might be help with food, […]

  12. […] Was this helpful? You might find this helpful also: Religion’s Role in a Job Search. […]

  13. […] of each of us becoming more secluded. Thoughts? Was this helpful? You might find this helpful also: Religion’s Role in a Job Search. PC Footnote 1: Spouse can be defined however you need – think significant other. I’m thinking […]

  14. Elisabeth (Harney) Sanders-Park says:

    JASON:

    Thanks for sharing. I have done some work training the LDS Employment staff and love the church’s commitment to helping people provide for their families through work.

    I also know of very active employment services offered through churches across the nation — The Church at Rock Creek in Little Rock runs a full program, Mariners Church in Irvine, CA has a monthly events and ongoing support, and there are many, many in between, but too any churches haven’t stepped up.

    I have felt for spiritual leaders over the last two years who have been bombarded with unemployed congregants who need help they are not equipped to provide. Unemployment and job searching is more than logistical; there is a spiritual element to being out of work and trying getting back in, while maintaining your sense of value and providing for your family. Prayer, fellowship, resources and spiritual support can be very helpful. But most religious leaders are unprepared to help with the practical side of getting back to work.

    Here are a few resources from Susan Whitcomb that could be helpful for groups that want to offer more:

    — The Careers Crash Course for Ministry Leaders: Tips, Tools, and Do’s & Don’ts for Coaching People from a Biblical Perspective on their Job Search Journey.
    Access at: http://www.mcssl.com/SecureCart/ViewCart.aspx?mid=E18EF348-D24F-4D67-B46F-13312BA9123D&sctoken=4b60b7557f544fee84870e2ef926dc43&bhcp=1

    — ‘The Christian’s Career Journey’, available through Amazon. This book would be a great resource for the church library or to have on-hand to give out to people in need.

    Churches that want to esablish an employment ministry could reach out for support at
    http://www.worknetsolutions.com

    Thanks for starting this important conversation, Jason, and for all you do.

  15. Thanks for sharing this Jason. There is always a reason for everything. Aren’t you glad you were unemployed for a while? It certainly makes one think, but it is hard to tell what the future holds. You just have to go with it and keep the faith. =)

    One minor correction under your “Help from the Bishop” paragraph. You wrote:

    The bishop’s storehouse does what it can to make you feel uncomfortable but when I went it seemed as if everyone there had their eyes down… embarrassed to be there. We were just a bunch of people down on our luck, really.

    I believe it should read: comfortable. =)

    We are lucky to live in a region of the world where true kindness is abundant.

  16. Haneef N. Nelson says:

    What a great post Jason! There’s a church in Windsor, CT that hosts a job search group in which they not only share job leads with one another, techniques for interviewing, and other useful tips, they also talk to you about you and how you are doing, something I found very important. It was a great experience as everyone in there began to help everyone else get connected to leads, networking events, as well as job fairs.

    I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through my job search without that group!

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