Sunday, February 3, 2013

religious walmartization

I see a counselor a couple times each month--this shouldn't be a surprise--who is also a former evangelical minister (Southern Baptist, more inclined now, he says, to Methodism).  We spend time haggling over my issues and most of those revolve around work or lack of it.  This last week he told me a story.

A friend of his is a professional house painter.  This is how he makes his living and feeds his family.  But the past few years he's discovered that clients are demanding he lower his price for what he does to be competitive with college students who do the work in the summer for beer money.  "But I'm not competitive with them," he explains.  "I have a professional reputation to uphold, references you can check, examples you can see in the community, skills to be utilized to do the job exactly the way you want it done, and the expertise to do it quickly and efficiently.  They are doing it during the day after drinking all night and hurrying to finish before you notice what a hackjob they've done.  That's why my price is higher."  "Regardless," he is told, "they cost less and I want you to do all you promise for less than what they charge or you don't get the job."

This, my counselor told me, is an example of people wanting a skill but not wanting to pay what it's worth.

We were having this discussion because I'm in the midst of moving from my previous profession as a professor (not altogether willingly) to that of a professional minister and chaplain.  My concern is that, given the changes we see all around us in churches and their finances, but not a resultant willingness by congregations to lessen what they expect of a pastor, and a glut on the market (similar to that of doctoral students in teaching) of younger graduates willing to do the job for less, I'm uncertain I can expect to have a career after graduation.  After all, I've had 2 careers shot out from under me; at post-50 I'm not anxious to have a 3rd.

I added to our conversation the story of the server initially stiffed of her 18% gratuity by a minister, and then fired for having publicized that stiffing, and he smoldered at the idea someone who would consider herself God's representative would abuse her station like that.  He agreed this is what we are heading for, an economic system that punishes complaint at injustice.   As we talked I began to form an idea of gathering people together at my seminary for discussions on this situation:  what are we heading into?  What can we expect?  What will we be asked to do and what will we be paid for doing it?  We can't, of course, make any determinations about it.  We aren't Walmart.  But the point is that we're heading out to work for a religious system that has itself been Walmarted--megachurches putting out of existence tiny congregation who themselves now face being put out of business by a competition, usually apathy but sometimes responsibilities in the form of children's activities and work.  Is there room between the self-taught Bible-bangers and the Reverend Doctors for the rest of us?

(In revising this post I realize I have never been this self-referential before.  Does this mean I've somehow arrived at something?)

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