Chasms Where the Cracks Once Were
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I want to start by saying that in one month this site will be 9 years old. Writing this one month away feels right. One year from 10. One month from 9. Over 500 posts just written by me, and the amazing guests who have stepped in and wrote their own words. Enough words to fill two short novels or one epic story.
If I were paid only minimum wage for all the different ways I’ve worked for Fig Tree (recording, planning, writing, and creating), we are looking at 150,000 thousand dollars of my time- donated. IF my work was only worth minimum wage.
This donation of time continues. While I’m the one who initiated it, and maintained it. It frustrates those around me who want me to not only be paid a living wage, but a living wage doing ministry.
I’ve been saying for months that Covid didn’t create anything new. It made hard truths easier to see, and created chasms where there were already cracks. Specifically, I want to talk about how we treat servant leaders in the United States.
The theology of using.
In my college days, I was working as a student assistant in the music dept at Kennesaw State. (With three others, I recorded sound and video for students and teachers.) My boss taught me a very important lesson. When on the clock, give your best work. When off the clock, stay off the clock.
I was also working my second church job I’d ever worked. I knew I was being paid for 10 hours of work each week. I gave the best 10 hours of work I could give. I created lesson plans, and planned events. I already knew if someone else tried to do what I was doing, it would take more than 10 hours. That’s because an hour of work was worth about $10, and $10 at that time was almost twice minimum wage.
Eventually, I wanted a raise in hours. I wrote out everything I did with my time. I brought examples of my work.
One of the Elders and one of the ministers flat out told me, “We assumed you’d volunteer your time over and beyond what we were paying you. You should be working more than 10 hours per week.” Basically, they were paying minimum wage, but didn’t want to feel bad about paying an employee minimum wage so they gave the real sacrifice to me to feel better.
The Crack that Unfairly focuses on Females.
In November of 2019, Nathen Eva wrote on the emotional toll of leaders. While the article was the emotional toll of all leaders, he spent some time specifically on female leaders. He found there was a disparity between men and women in roles of leadership. Men were almost always rewarded for exhibiting nurturing habits as a leader. Meanwhile, women were expected to be nurturing, and punished when they are not.
I also don’t think this is healthy nurturing. When I nurture my children sometimes it’s during the hard lessons. I sat with my daughter yesterday morning as she fought while tying her shoes. (Something she learned several years ago, but likes my ties better.) The easy choice would have been to take over and do it for her. That would have appeared to be nurturing, but it wouldn’t have really. My daughter has to learn self-reliance. Nurturing was sitting with her while I was mentally pulling out my hair, as she verbally fought me on the silliness of tying shoe laces. It was uncomfortable, but it was right. I’ve seen women get shorn down for healthy nurturing, because it doesn’t feel good. I’ve also seen men get raised up for feeding sugary emptiness under the guise of love. Real nurturing from women, and fake nurturing from men.
I can begin to see how the disparity works against me. It’s harder to see my sacrifice because society has incorrectly learned that I should naturally suffer it. My value is only equalized by my self-inflicted suffering. Yet, I feel the tide has begun to turn.
This tide has felt relieving for myself. I give, and my giving is not looked at as something I should naturally do, but as (what it is) a gift. And, as I watch areas begin to show equal treatment between males and females, I have seen some men struggle with a more equal footing. The overabundant of ease has been taken away. They feel it is unfair, and push back, only to find women showing their form of nurturing, and not liking that either.
The Crack that Broke Ministers.
There were so many ministers who needed a break during the Pandemic. What was already more than a full time job, became a monster all it’s own.
First off- you can’t just become an online minister. The camera doesn’t work the same way as the human eye and ear. Even I, who has had education on recording through school and work, found the “look” of ministry to be different than anything I had previously experienced. I struggled figuring it out, as the look of the video is the sanctuary of the worshipper. There were ministers who had never recorded a single thing in their life, now attempting to understand Facebook Live and Zoom on top of a demographic that had neither program.
Secondly- There were so many people who “needed” servant leaders, they abused servant leaders. This goes beyond ministry. Education is also filled with servants who give up more than what they are paid for, and are told it’s part of their job to break personal boundaries. Now, any servant leader that somehow was able to maintain healthy boundaries were forced to break them with in-house studios. They had to take their work home, because home was where they were working. Also, everyone needed support. We were all dealing with a life altering event, and no one considered how servant-leaders were impacted by all this. Your leaders felt like tools or things instead of people, and that was because that’s how you treated them.
You are not losing all servant leaders right now; only the ones with healthy boundaries that felt they were pushed too far. Those are the ones we need to hold on to. Those are the ones who know how to say, “no,” in a way that shows love.
The American Church was built while we were explorers. People came to America to seek freedom from oppression. Only, those oppressions no longer exist, and the American Church still wants to be oppressed by something. They also have allowed snakes and wolves into their leadership roles. They see the brokenness, while refusing to accept their role in it.
The Crack that Broke Education.
Education was built during the Industrial age, and was created to be a machine. It was made to educate as many people as possible as cost efficiently as possible. Only, as the Industrial Age closed, and people started seeing the humanity in the kids, they never changed the systems, only “differentiated” the system. Today, it’s bloated with no way for any teacher to do all the things asked of him and her. Basically, education is a giant machine, tasked to do it’s main duty, while also tasked to do a million side projects.
These are men and women who also found their boundaries crossed with at home studios in 2020. Education and ministry has many overlaps, including a collection of individuals who are praised when they spend their own money and time to make a broken system work. Since education is primarily filled by women, they are also dealing with the collective system that simply assumes they need to give freely of themselves. To do so, means they only break even.
Where are we going?
I personally cannot even fathom how these systems will continue to exist as they are. They were already on the edge of failure before the Pandemic. Now the cracks are chasms, and the solution is duct tape. (Where duct tape is to continue to use our servant leaders like tools instead of people.)
As we pretend to want to go back the way we were, we are going to find that things are too broken. Perhaps next year we'll make it work, but that's simply a fool's errand. Our systems, as we've understood them, are now gone. If we are not proactive in what takes their place, we are asking for something worse to take their place, and we won't have anyone to lead that.