Saturday, November 6, 2010

What it's been like to work for a Christian organization

When I moved to Dallas I took a job with a Christian organization. I was hesitant about that choice. I was longing for a job that was doing something that I perceived as “meaningful” since I really wasn’t motivated by sales and just making a company more money. This job offered work in an area I perceived as meaningful, but I was also pretty suspicious of the evangelical world (wrote about that last week on my other blog) and really wasn’t sure how I would do surrounded by Christians. Being raised among missionaries and in church gave me an insight into some of the very best and some of the worst things about Christian groups.

That was almost three and a half years ago, and this fall as we reevaluated my ability to work post-baby, I faced the loss of this job. I've found myself reflecting on my experience working at a Christian organization.

One of many gatherings in the kitchen to celebrate something or someone

Of course it hasn’t been perfect. Christian organizations are still run by human beings, and even those with good intentions make mistakes (and sometimes there are those run by people who are truly awful). Christians can be quirky people, and our office is certainly full of unique individuals and personalities…. But you know most of the time I love that. I love quirkiness and oddities; it makes me laugh, and most of the time the eccentricities are endearing in the end (and then there are a few that persistantly drive me crazy :)). There are, of course, people I disagree with. During the elections when I was rooting for Obama and was receiving forward after forward declaring Obama the anti-Christ or a secret Muslim terrorist or a liberal communist… I thought I might go crazy. I still internally roll my eyes when I found myself interacting with people with VERY different view points from mine politically or theologically who assume that what they believe is what all Christians will believe. I am, after all, in the deep red of Texas. But still. That’s bound to happen anywhere, one way or another. Most of us have people around us whose viewpoints we think are crazy… most of the time you can disagree with them and manage to get along.

Lunch out with some ladies

That's really part of it. As I began to interact with the top leaders in this organization, I was so humbled... by their humility. The now-former president is semi-famous around here but you'd never know it by meeting him. He has hilarious quirks, like how he insists on scaring people as he walks up behind them. Or how, when parking spaces are full, he just drives up on the lawn and parks wherever. When he found out I was pregnant he told me he took his wife to Disneyland to ride the roller coasters to induce labor one time (for real!!). And his stories from being a marine in Vietnam are incredible. Not only does he make me laugh nearly every time I see him (partly because he can hardly hear anything anymore, which makes holding a conversation next to impossible), I also see a deep deep love for people, of all types, not just the ones with money in their pockets. EVERY time I hear him speak I am blown away, and not because he is such a powerful orator. He refuses to get distracted by whatever issue is the current hot topic.... he always pulls it back to .... do you love Jesus? Everything about his life and the ministry he founded stems from that driving passion that I can see visibly in him ... he passionately, deeply loves Jesus. When I got here I thought that sounded cheesy and cliche. Now I believe it, because I've seen it, and I can't just roll my eyes anymore. I've been immensely challenged by this, by the simplicity and centrality of devotion to Jesus.

Fall Retreat

The other leaders too.... none of them are perfect, claim perfection, or ask for unquestioning assent. It's so powerful that they admit mistakes. I've seen several leaders publicly apologize to all of us when they realize they've either made a mistake or offended or acted unwisely. I have the privilege of sitting in on meetings with the leadership in which big decisions are made and often am in the middle of intense, emotional debates. I've learned so much from this experience about not having to be cheesy and avoid stepping on others' toes - you can be honest, drive your point home, and hold fast to what you believe. AND then you can be respectful, let humor lighten the atmosphere, and work to a consensus or compromise. You listen. You evaluate in prayer. Their example of how to work together to be strategic in love has taught me much. Oh, AND.... I wondered how they'd treat women. No worries there. There is full respect, and honor, and hiring of female leaders, even young ones.

Community in the office

One of the most striking things to me was watching this organization hire people. They hire with such… grace. They hire such imperfect people, who are obviously flawed. Honestly, sometimes they are people that I would have hesitated to hire. And they hire, believing that God is working on everyone and will use their time here (hello, what a revelation of my own pride and judgementalism!). They actually almost hire flawed people intentionally. They hire with such grace and love for the individual, believing that God is working in them. It's AMAZING to see what God does with that, and how much depressed individuals emerge to new joy, isolated people like myself find community, the cynical people (again like myself) are humbled by love, the shallow are deepened, the ambitious and prideful are challenged by humility, the sheltered and conservative folks are shown diversity and taken out of their culture, etc., etc. It's all in a process but it's like I see (and have seen even in how I was treated) full acceptance just as you are, and then love and a commitment to Jesus slowly change people.

"Antlers up?" It's a Rangers thing I think...

Working here hasn't been a breeze. I don't want the fact that I have been humbled and loved give the appearance of a perfect workplace. I still really struggled with finding the right fit in my particular position and spent a lot of time wrestling with discontentment in my particular position. Job satisfaction, productivity, and interpersonal relationships are still issues in a Christian office and they can still ruin your work experience. There's always the question of philosophical agreement with the purpose and mission of the organization. I’m incredibly thankful for this year’s job situation – for feeling busy, useful, productive, and an integral part of a team. I am SO glad that I get to continue to work here, because after three and a half years I feel like this is family.

Air guitar and a can-can line at a co-worker's wedding reception

Texas pride when the Rangers made it to the World Series...

From day one, in the midst of my loneliness in this new place, the people there really worked to know me and to love me. I’ve been a high “C” on the DISC personality profile during my time in Dallas, and I’ve often been task-focused and almost hidden myself away from people, especially in the depression of my first year. And yet… and yet these people gave me rides when I was walking and taking the train to work. They asked about my family, about my childhood in Indonesia.

Baby shower
A brusque ex-military boss cried when I announced my pregnancy. This week they threw me a baby shower. Older couples sit me down and just asked to hear my life story. A sweet single woman drove the me and the refugee family to the hospital for a scheduled surgery before I had a car. Katie came by my desk every day to chat, and though her life and community were full I never felt like she just felt sorry for my loneliness - she offered real friendship.

When some people found out Isaac and I were struggling financially, I found a check on my desk almost every day for a week until our bills were paid. The girls… they pursued me past my reserved fa├žade and we ended up having election parties and Lost parties and weekly soup lunches…

Campfire games

I have been so loved here. I feel like they have loved me like a family, and I feel as though I have not deserved that love. A few weeks ago we had a staff retreat in beautiful Tyler, TX, and I sat back and watched my co-workers gather around a campfire and roast s’mores, laughing and joking, and was overwhelmed by who they are, how they have loved me, and the atmosphere they’ve cultivated at the office.

I guess that in the end working at a Christian workplace is the same as working anywhere else. It can be bad, it can be good. It just so happens that I've been loved and humbled, and when I look back at these past three years and what I've been given in this office, I am so thankful.

1 comment:

Bethany said...

Very cool to read this! It sounds a lot like when I was working at the school (three years there for me too). I definitely miss it :( Overall it's a great environment...and no job is absolutely perfect.