People are sometimes surprised to find out I don’t attend the church I serve during the week. Occasionally people question my ability to fully support the mission of my work church. But for me, working at one church and worshiping (and volunteering, studying and bringing something for the potluck) at another is the healthy choice and provides some surprising benefits.
Why Space Between Work and Worship Works
I like boundaries. I like a little space between my work relationships, my church family and my friends. Space gives me perspective and lets me develop and nurture those relationship for their own sake. I find I am more comfortable expressing a difference of opinion with the lead pastor at my work church, because he is only my manager, he’s not my pastor or my spiritual advisor. Likewise, I can talk to my pastor freely about personal issues, knowing it will not affect my work life.
The church needs boundaries. Unfortunately, churches have a bad track record with boundaries. I’m not talking about the things that make headlines. I am talking about the tendency to expect staff to do things outside their job description or to work extra hours for free—for the sake of the mission. Sometimes church staff work on their volunteer projects at the expense of their staff work. We all stretch what we do and how much we do at our church jobs. But when I am “just staff,” it’s easier to draw a line when I need to and not feel like I am letting down my friends, family, and God as well.
My worship time can be worship. When I was on staff at my church, I was mentally and emotionally (if not financially) on the clock during worship. I got distracted by errors in the bulletin. I was pulled into (or pulled others into) work conversations. My Sunday mornings were spent at work; Sunday afternoons were spent stewing over work. In short, church events—especially worship—no longer sustained me.
I have an outsider’s perspective. It’s always tempting for churches to fall into thinking the way it is for them is just the way it is. But I know from personal experience there isn’t just one way to communicate a capital campaign, invite the community to an event, or create a newsletter. Likewise, while I may be familiar with my work church’s insider language, it’s not a part of my church DNA like it is for many of my coworkers.
I’ve put my eggs in several baskets. For a while I worked at the church I was (and still am) a member of. It was a wonderful experience. But when I left it was painful. Leaving a job is often painful and messy, but this decision involved and impacted my church life which added layers of guilt, betrayal, and loss. It also eliminated one of my chief emotional supports at a time when I needed it most. It was six months before I attended worship there again. It was over a year before I felt completely at home again. Not every “I work at my church” story ends that way, but I know several people who have had similar experiences. It makes a difference when “this just isn’t working out” clearly pertains just to the job and not your whole faith community.
I get a double dose of church love. I love my co-workers. I especially love that someone who knows me mostly for my coffee habits, my deadline enforcement, and my irreverent humor in meetings loves me enough to pray for me when I need it sit down on a rough day and ask me softly how it’s really going.
I grow spiritually from working with different churches. Someone at my work church recently asked me what differences I noticed between the Lutheran church, where I work, and the Methodist church, where I worship. I joked about being shocked by how much Lutherans like beer. Then I said, “grace.” I am familiar with grace as a theological concept, but the ease with which my Lutheran colleagues talk about—and extend—grace has made an impression on me. I will never give up my Methodist journey to holy perfection, but hopefully, thanks to my Lutherans, I can extend grace along the way.
How to Work Where You Worship
I know my need for space and compartmentalizing is not universal. And I also know being present at worship is work for many church employees. Still, I think everyone can benefit from being aware of the potential problems of working where you worship and knowing how to insert a little space.
Sometimes we don’t have a choice and working where we worship is required. Here are a few ways you can insert a little space in those situations:
- Cultivate an outside perspective. Ask yourself, “How would someone who doesn’t know us see this?” Ask it often. Ask it at meetings. Run your print material past your non-church friends occasionally.
- Experience other kinds of church occasionally. See how churches of other sizes and traditions and denominations do things. Do more than check out their website or social media. Enter their space, listen to their music, worship with them. It easy for churches to confuse “how we’ve always done it” with “how God ordains it should be done.” Remind yourself how vast the God’s Word is and how infinite its expressions are.
- Seek out other church communicators. Join a church communicators’ group in your area. It can be a formal group that meets on a regular basis and to discuss a topic. It can be lunch with the communicators in your area. This can give you both fresh ideas and be a support group too.
- Nurture your spiritual life outside of work. Take your spiritual development out of the office and make it yours, not an aspect of the job. Develop a spiritual practice like centering prayer. Worship with another congregation on a weeknight or Saturday. Find a daily devotion that speaks to you. If you frequently lead worship at work, invite others to lead prayer at work meetings.
Whether you’re forced to work where you worship or you have more freedom, pay attention to that divide between work and worship. Being aware of how it impacts us can help us take better care of ourselves.
For more help taking care of yourself as a church communicator, check out the member resources from Courageous Storytellers, including a digital copy of You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators.
Beth Beaty wrote this originally at Church Marketing Sucks .