We all have bad days, but is it time to quit your job?
I have regular conversations with people who are considering quitting their church job (side note: firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk). I’m glad that I’m trusted to be a sounding board for people who, in many cases, want me to talk them out of quitting.
(For clarification, this situation looks very different if everything is good and you’re taking a new job or moving to a new city, but this post is for someone who is at the end of their rope and ready to throw in the towel.)
In most cases, the people who contact me thinking they’re ready to quit really love their church, and they really love some major components of what they get to do – the people they work with, or the work they get to do, or the results they’re seeing – but something has come up along the way and they’re not sure how else to address it besides quit.
Often something has changed:
- ‘Part-time’ requirements and salary have started to creep into full-time hours
- They took the job at a lower pay structure because that’s what their church could afford, they wanted to help, and suddenly their spouse has been downsized at work and lost their accompanying income
- They were promised a decision-making seat at the table, but restructuring the organization leaves them reporting to someone who doesn’t understand their work
- “Other work as assigned” has become so broad and inclusive that they no longer have time to do the things they love and were hired to do.
This list has infinite possibilities, but usually boils down to X (expectation) has turned into Y (reality) and now you’re not sure you’re still a fit.
While it’s way more profitable to have the conversation about what reality will be BEFORE taking a position at your church (check out this post on conversations to have before taking your church communications job) here we are with today’s reality, needing to make today’s decision.
5 conversations, Adam? I’m ready to give my notice today.
Hold up. In most cases, you took your job at your church because you love serving your church, wanted to help make a difference in your community, and had an excitement unlike any other job you’ve taken before – you saw this as way more than a job – so, before you jump to a decision, let’s see what conversations can be had to bring that excitement back for you and your church.
When I was getting ready to move on from my church communications job, it came with about 6 months of conversations and I gave 10 weeks’ notice. I wanted to do everything possible to position our church to succeed as we were transitioning, rather than create a void.
After a culmination of discussions with many people in many positions at many churches, I’ve discovered 5 conversations that need to be had before you quit your church job.
A conversation with your spouse / close friend
Someone who has known you for a while can help you see where you have repeating patterns in your life. Maybe the conversation looks like,
“You change jobs every 3 years. It’s been 2 and a half years. Is this something you need to mature out of?”
“You had the same complaints in your last two jobs. If you decide to move on, make sure you ask questions during the next interview process to find out if you’re going to run into this same complaint again.”
It’s possible – more than possible – that the problem isn’t the job, but that you’re the one who needs to learn and grow through this situation. If the problem is “My managers always have their thumb on me,” or “I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off,” then maybe it’s time to evaluate whether or not the job, or the manager, or the co-workers are really the problem.
Your spouse or friend will also help you recognize if the stressor looks like A, but may actually be B. Is it possible…
- The issue is not your salary, but an issue of not having a budget at home.
- The issue is not that you’ve got too much to do at work, but you’re distracted because a family member is sick.
- The issue is not that your manager is putting too much on your plate, but that he or she has an idea and you’re not willing to have a conversation about saying no, or asking what could be dropped in order to take on that new piece.
A conversation with a mentor
Hopefully, you have a mentor in your life who is not your boss. Use this framework for a conversation with them: “I’m feeling __________, and I think it’s because of ____________. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
Here are some examples:
“I’m feeling overwhelmed and I think it’s because our staff’s expectation is that any project they come up with should be completed “By this Sunday.” Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling frustrated, and I think it’s because the volunteer team I lead was built without clear expectations by the last person, so they don’t feel a need to show up on time, or sometimes at all. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling distracted at work and I think it’s because when I took this job we agreed to part-time hours and salary, but the workload is more like full-time hours. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling exhausted, and I think it’s because I want every sermon to be perfect and I’m staying up late, getting up early, and losing sleep that my sermon isn’t perfect. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling undervalued because I have creative ideas on how to do my work, but my manager is telling me what to do and how to do it, which isn’t what I was expecting when I was hired. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
Often, there’s a solution that’s right in front of your nose: a change in perspective or a new piece of software to help you with your tasks or a conversation worth having with your team or the person you report to.
Set a clear action and a “by when?” date.
“By next Thursday, I will find a piece of software to help me get organized.” or “By our volunteer meeting, I will prepare notes to help our volunteers understand the impact we’re making and the importance of showing up on time.”
An exploration conversation with the person you report to
Hopefully, you’re having regular conversations with the person you report to – maybe weekly or monthly – and this is the first of 3 conversations you’ll start with them during this process. The conversation may take multiple sessions, involve other people, and at times leave you with more questions to come back and discuss later.
This exploration conversation is about my expectations and your expectations.
The framework for this conversation looks like “When I started, I was expecting _________, and it seems like your expectation is _______________. Could we evaluate and clarify the expectations for my position in writing?”
Let me jump in and say that most of this confusion is often caused by not having a job description. How is this possible? I’m not exactly sure, but it seems to be a common trend in churches. It starts with “We’d like to bring someone on to do X. Would you be interested?” and the X turns into X & Y, and then eventually X, Y & Z, and the kitchen sink, and the dishes, and then… well, you get the picture.
It could look like:
When I started, I was expecting to run digital marketing – social media, website, email newsletter, and it seems like your expection is that I’ll be doing all marketing, like printing, graphic design, and video editting. Could we evaluate amd clarify the expectations for my position in writing?
When I started, I was expecting part time hours, and it seems like your expecation is full-time hours in order to accomplish X, Y, Z, kitchen sink. Could we evaluate and clarify the expectations for my position in writing?
This conversation could also happen in the context of something you took on in a pinch.
When I was asked to take on running the nursery, I was expecting that it would be temporary for 3-6 months until we found someone who is passionate about doing that, and it seems like there hasn’t been any progress in finding someone to do that. Could we evaluate and clarify the expectations for my involvement in leading the nursery?
The follow up to this conversation could be that the expectations are reduced to match your hours, or your salary is increased to match your workload, or part of the expectations are outsourced to someone who specializes in that area.
Again, I’m saying this purely for the sake of redundancy: Expectations are way better addressed BEFORE you accept a job. If you’re about to start working at a church or haven’t created a job description, here’s a post I wrote about creating a church communications job description.
A conversation with God
This isn’t just thrown in for the sake of saying it. It’s actually really important to pray about this decision at THIS POINT in the conversation.
Take the conversation you’ve had with your spouse, mentor, and the person you report to, and pray about those conversations. Pray, listen, trust God.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
A ‘To-The-Point’ conversation with the person you report to
This has the risk of coming across as an ultimatum, so you need to be very clear that’s not how it comes across to the person you report to.
It could look like “This isn’t an ultimatum, and I want to be sure that I’m clear with you that after our last conversation, I’m still wrestling with ___________ (my salary, my hours, my workload, my temporary project that seems to have turned permanent, my relationship with a co-worker, etc) and I may have to make a different decision about where I work if we can’t find a way to resolve that. Can we discuss how to resolve that?”
This isn’t the time to express your feelings about the situation, but to give factual information: Basically, my ability to continue to work here is based on _________. Not “Here is the emotional reason why I’m a victim or under-appreciated or so mad that I’m justifying this decision.”
If your part-time salary isn’t sufficient for the full-time expectations, then that’s the fact. Being angry, or annoyed, or sad, or disappointed doesn’t change the fact that your salary is insufficient, so do your best to leave your emotion out of the conversation.
Don’t leave any facts out of this conversation. If your concerns are your hours AND a specific co-worker, then don’t just mention hours. You’ll put yourself in a predicament if your hours get address, but in 2 months you need to start these conversations over about that co-worker.
As careful as you may be in this conversation, it’s possible that this is the last conversation you’ll have. It may simply be perceived as an ultimatum, which leads to the person you report to saying “It’s not going to change, so I guess you’ll be moving on.”
To be as careful as possible to avoid this, be sure to frame your conversation as above with “Can we discuss how to resolve that?”
A conversation with yourself
Yep, I’m that guy who talks to himself. Late night walks are my friend, both for praying, and also for self-reflection.
This is where you’ll need to make your decision based on all of your other conversations. If your “To The Point” the conversation ends with, “Sorry, nothing can change right now,” then you need to decide what your priorities need to be, or are there external ways for you to continue to make this work.
A conversation where you give your notice
In my case, I gave 10-weeks notice. This not only showed goodwill toward the organization, but also positioned them to find a replacement, decide how they were going to address the decision with the staff, my volunteer team and the church (depending on your position, this may not be necessary), and gave me the time necessary to organize my passwords, put some pending systems in writing, make a list of services, clear up pending expense reports, etc.
Make sure you request a meeting with whoever you think needs to hear this conversation at the same time. This may be the person you report to and your Lead Pastor, or you and your spouse might meet with your Pastor, or it may be one-on-one.
This may be a difficult conversation to keep emotion away from but try your best – not that we deny the emotions that God has given us, but don’t treat emotion as the reason for your decision.
This needs to be a factual conversation, not driven by disappointments, blaming or a flippant attitude.
“We’ve had conversations about X. I understand that’s not going to change, so I need to make a personal change that includes finding somewhere else to work. My last day will be X. I want to thank you for the opportunity to be part of this team and learn here.”
There will typically be a few follow up questions, and it’s important to answer those as clearly and factually as possible.
Just to be clear: I did this wrong
I wasn’t emotional, and I wasn’t mad, and we didn’t have a blowup, but I was so unclear in what could have been a clear conversation that someone had to ask “Are you saying you’re leaving?”
Yeah, that’s embarrassing, and I shake my head just thinking about it, and even more so I basically had to resign twice, once without clarity, and once with clarity in the same meeting.
I started with “I love this team, and we’ve been learning about growing into our calling, and I would love to continue to be part of the team, and I want to maintain our friendship, and I think my next season is in business, and ….”
After I was asked, “Are you saying you’re leaving?” then I was able to create a helpful conversation.
For your benefit, the benefit or your church, and what they could learn for when they hire the next person to replace you, clarity is the best approach.
These aren’t always easy conversations, but you started working at your church for a reason. Don’t let a bad day, or a conversation left unsaid be your tipping point to walk away from something you love.