On Working Harder For FreeEssays, Social Justice — By Matt Miles on August 21, 2012 at 6:47 am
I hate to say this, especially after the past couple of weeks, but not all conversations on Facebook are terrible. Many of them are, and also pointless, and a wonderful excuse to talk about everything but the original point the speaker meant to bring up in the first place. And maybe that’s what happened a month and a half ago, but if so, this was definitely in a good way.
It all started with a blog post I thought worthy of sharing, because while I disagreed with part of it, the rest convicted me. A Gen Xer myself, I cheered along as one curmudgeon after the next proceeded to take them young uns down a peg. The nerve of their ego, thinking they’re so special and all. Of course, I never bothered to peek at the other side of the story, and this link helped provide that. I’d argue the dilemma, however is not special to millennial s, and I wasn’t comfortable with the “us versus them” generational sniping. Still, the rest was worth hearing, so I shared this and argued my objections in a comment. The response on my feed surprised me.
Two commenter s, uncomfortable with the post’s complaining, argued there was too much entitlement based whining and not enough working. On reading the link, I’d argue, you’d have to at least concede the hard work was accounted for. Some commenter s quoted Scriptures about working quietly, and tough love was debated. Somewhere in there I subtly suggested a moratorium on the term “bootstraps” being used ever again (unless sarcastically by Stephen Colbert). In the end, as is custom on the internet, we gave up. That was that, or so I thought.
The following day one of the commenter s sent a message asking about thoughts on what the church could do to help the unemployed and underemployed. I thought about it, and included some of my thoughts below. It builds on reading I’ve been doing on the topic of work, and the sad reality of what is lacking in the church. Pushback is encouraged.
Here’s the thing about church and work. Os Guiness, Skye Jethani and Scot McKnight, among others, have shared thoughts on this better than I ever could, but the church seems to have an awkward relationship with work. If it’s not missions or pastoral and you still get paid for it, the church kind of treats it like its nether regions. We know this thing is necessary, but we need to cover it up and to be honest we’re kind of ashamed of it. Think about the story of a new convert who asked Martin Luther how to serve God. “What’s your occupation?” “A shoemaker,” the man replied. “Make good shoes and sell them at a fair price,” Martin Luther replied. As someone who was raised in evangelical circles, this sounds odd to me. Just sell them? Not give them away and say God bless you, or even at least writing John 3:16 and/or the plan of salvation on the tag or anywhere but the soles? How then could the work itself be worth anything?
That’s where we’ve come: from the theology of vocation to the church’s no no spots. Unless, of course you have that verse handy or work for free.
One realizes upon meeting a new group of believers and revealing one’s profession who in the church are in the same field. Say you want to be a teacher, are looking for a job and you get steered towards the teacher with twenty plus years classroom experience. This could be an excellent opportunity for mentor ship, but it often ends up with the experienced person giving a list of opportunities to use this skill in the context of “ministry”, translation: for free. And I’m not talking about helping people who can’t afford the services, either. Often this is extra kindness, offered as an opportunity to share God’s love with people who could afford to pay for the services. The only problem is, it’s not very loving to the people who planned on providing these services so they can eat.*
Obviously, the problem here is not an issue of the heart or motives. This is kindness, just with unfortunate bearings. And I’m not slamming volunteerism, either. Along with trade schools and entrepreneurs, it’s the best hope many of us have for meaningful employment. But we’re not going to find this on our own, and this is where the church can help.
Again, others discussed this better than I ever could, but we need mentors to take unemployed, underemployed and recent graduates under their wing. Be a mentor to fellow present, future or past teachers, small business owners, etc. Give advice on starting a small business. Tell them the best places to volunteer that will lead to paying jobs. Listen to them, and find out their true calling. Even steer them away towards a better fitting field (and another mentor), if need be.
In order for this to happen, we need to admit we are in this together, and begin to value all meaningful work as a calling from God. And before we get to that, we need to grieve that we got to this point in the first place, which as much as it troubles some of us to hear it, may involve listening to gripes.
* This is the part I’m concerned will be misunderstood, so as far as volunteering services to help those who cannot afford them, find a good organization that does this and support them financially or even volunteer there. Or just be a friend to someone in need.