One year ago today, I was fired from my job at a suburban megachurch.
Why? Well, in the short meeting that was held to inform me of the decision the only reason given was a nebulous, “you’re just not a good fit for the role.” I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on that after my inquiries for further explanation via email went unheeded. I think that there were probably a variety of bad fits that led to my dismissal.
First, the cultural fit. I entered the church’s employ as a college minister. My wife and I actually discussed what a big transition this church was going to be over the smaller, more intimate missional communities of which we’d recently been a part. It was a calculated decision to walk into a megachurch culture that was foreign to us. Over the years that followed, I would grow increasingly uncomfortable with the ways that consumerist habits were reinforced and appropriated. Toward the end, I began vocalizing that discomfort.
Second, the philosophical fit. My work with college students led to the opportunity to oversee all the church’s small groups. At over 700 people involved in small groups, that was no small task. One of my concerns was the revolving back door of small groups. Despite 100+ people joining small groups every quarter, the overall number of people in small groups remained largely unchanged. I am convinced this was due to poor leadership within the groups and an overemphasis on social engagement (finding a place to “fit in”) at the expense of “transformational discipleship” in the groups. I set about a change in how we trained leaders and what we expected of them. Toward the end, I was told to “quit focusing so much on the philosophy of small groups and focus more on how to get people excited about joining one” (those words still ring in my ears, over a year later).
Finally, the personal fit. What started out as great relationship with my supervisor and with the senior pastor of the church became strained and, for the last few months, untenable. Over the last year, I’ve seen that I contributed to that dynamic as much as either of the other parties involved. In my frustration I became stubborn, obstinate even, in my interactions with my supervisor. If I had to put my finger on “one thing” that led to my dismissal, I’d say it has to be the personal fit. It certainly wasn’t a moral failure. Nor was it a failure to meet metrics (there were none) or performance goals (none of those articulated, either).
So, in the end, I was let go for being a mis-fit. A misfit.
The last year has been very mixed for my family and me. Only now am I able to think and write about any of this without getting flushed with anger. For a church model that loves to appropriate business practices, the attractional megachurch sure does suck at firing people.
Fortunately, I was employed with another job before my two weeks’ notice was up. It took us clear across the country, to the Pacific Northwest, far away from family and out of vocational ministry. But I’ve met some incredible people as a result and had opportunities to go places and do things that I never would’ve had before.
I’m still not “over” it. As I’ve talked with other people who’ve been fired from churches I’ve discovered that it will likely be decades, if ever, before I’m “over” it. I still keep in touch with people that I first encountered while I was in that church. That those relationships continue beyond my association with that particular employer is heartening to me. I even see that some of the things I argued for are starting to be implemented by that church, so perhaps even from a strategic ministry standpoint it wasn’t all in vain.
What I’ve learned–am learning–is that I am not my role. I guess I’ve struggled with that my whole life. Letting my identity be determined by the different roles I play in life. As an actor, I took on roles and was able to empty myself of my problems. Doing so off the stage just creates problems.
My new job is going well. I like my colleagues, my work, the students and alumni I serve, and we’re part of a vibrant faith community. I still struggle with “being myself” (whatever that means) and the temptation to look to my function at my workplace as a place in which to ground my identity. If you read my previous post on isolation, you’ll remember that I think I’ve just passed through the first stage into the second. Still a lot of healing and a lot of clarification to go.
As I was reading the account of Paul Petry (a pastor from Driscoll’s Mars Hill–thank God my situation isn’t nearly as bad as his) who was fired several years ago, I came across a post by Len Hjalmarson on recovering from situations like the one I’ve gone through. He writes,
“We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new — not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to the people and places that have defined who we are. Even positive changes (being accepted to the school of your choice or having a baby) produce these unexpected losses because we identify ourselves with the circumstances of our lives. Our lives are ‘storied’ by the geography, culture, people and events we have known to date.
Endings involve …
. . .
No new time of life is possible without the death of the old season. To gain, you must first give up. An ending clears the ground for a new beginning. The ending of an outward situation thrusts us into a season in which we process its implications–this can seem like ‘hell’ as we go down before we go up. We let go of an old way of being before picking up a new one. We then we begin to act—even when the tasks seem impossible–knowing that the Spirit will meet us ‘there'; in that place where we have run out of our own resources.” (emphasis added)
I’m out of my own resources and ready for new beginnings. It’s time for re-engagement, re-identification, re-enchantment, and re-orientation.