Saturday, July 30, 2011

Why I Don't Work at a Church, Part One

Back in 2005, I quit my job at an engineering firm and moved to Cincinnati to start my M.Div. A couple months later I was in a great role at a fantastic church. I'd thought since I was 15 that I'd spend my life like that, and I figured once I started I'd never stop.

When it became clear that we were moving to Wilmore, I started looking for churches in the area where I'd like to work. I found two with openings that were a good fit for me, and I went hard after both of them. I really psyched myself up for both interviews... putting my best foot as far forward as I could, emphasizing what I'd bring to the role, etc. This week a year ago, I was sure I had landed one. Neither materialized.

That hurt. I realized later that I've never in my life not gotten a job I've applied for (less because I'm so awesome than because I never apply until I'm sure I have the job). Both jobs were a great fit for me, so what exactly was the problem? Bill Hybels talks about the Three Cs of hiring: Character, Competence, and Chemistry. Where did I go wrong? I called both hiring managers and asked if they'd meet with me and help me learn what kinds of things hurt me.

Talk about a lesson in humility... or make that humiliation. I met with both for an hour each, and they gently walked me through my strengths and weaknesses in the application process. I'd been trying so hard to prove Competence, but they both said the same thing: the problem was either on Chemistry or, more frightening, Character. They both used the same sentence, almost word-for-word: "I'm not sure the right word to use. It's not 'arrogant,' but it's one step under that."

My initial instinct (the first time) was to argue: "What's one step below 'arrogant?' 'Confident?' If I'm not actually arrogant then what's the problem?" But I bit that down and tried to listen. And when the second guy said the same thing, I knew there was something there I needed to deal with. But it was hard to take.

I'd be a liar if I said I never struggled with pride (cue C.S. Lewis). But I've spent so much time and energy in the past ten years trying to root that out; for it to show itself so thoroughly to total strangers? When I got home, I talked to some folks around me, trying to figure it out. I was surprised with where I ended up.

The people closest to me said "Pride? Absolutely not. They got it wrong." The people who knew me less said "Pride? Maybe. I don't think so, but I could see where they're coming from." The people furthest from me said "Pride? Absolutely I see that in you." So what the heck is that? What kind of character flaw is hidden from myself and those closest to me but easily apparent to those further away? It took me a while to figure it out.

The ugliness that both churches saw in me wasn't pride. It was insecurity (cleverly masked as pride). It never showed up around those closest to me, because I'm rarely insecure around them. The less secure I feel, the more likely I am to act overconfident.

It's a coping mechanism that's worked well for me for a long time, and in certain circumstances still does. It's certainly been good in my present job. But when you're looking for spiritual maturity, someone who comes across as prideful isn't the one you'd pick.

So, as much as it pains me to say it, the reason I'm not working for a church right now is a lack of spiritual maturity on my part. I wasn't ready. In part two, I'll talk about the ways I think God is changing me through this.


Susan said...

Micah, love this post, what great transparency. And kudos for having the courage to keep on the trail until you understood the issue. That tenacity is a great quality. I'll be interested to read "part 2."

Zeddy Lynn Koster said...

Micah, thanks for being so open with your readers. I think that facing character flaws is the hardest part of life. God has a way of humbling us, and it hurts. It's just a moment where we realize we need to press on.

I've never had a negative thought about you, if that helps any. :)

cdwalker247 said...

Wow! That really explains a lot of things that I have experienced recently. I think that I have the same tendency to over compensate for insecurity with fake confidence and it is received as pride and arrogance. Thank you for sharing this because it will definitely help me with my own endeavors.

Micah said...

Heh. Chris, I read "That explains a lot" and thought "Oh crap. It's worse than I thought."

Glad to be helpful.