Because the establishment already has an idea of who they want and if you don’t fit their mold, you’re not getting in.
Because the establishment has leverage, a.k.a. money and platform, and that’s what you need.
Because the whole idea of just being yourself deludes you into thinking that they value you being yourself as much as you do.
These are the stark realities for you as a creative looking for a church job. I’m using the word job because that’s what it is: a job. This is not a family business, no matter what they say. You’re too new.
I’m also using the word establishment because…well, that will help you cut through the fluff of your preconceptions and preferences. Two parties can have two very different views of church. If you’re applying for a church job, you’re going to work for an establishment. If you don’t think that’s true, try smoking a cigarette, not calling the guy “pastor” or speaking your mind too early during your tenure.
Creatives working for an establishment is nothing new. This has happened for thousands of years; the Catacombs of Rome, the division of Christian art before and after the Edict of Milan, and of course, Michelangelo. But even Michelangelo had to get the job.
The idea that you’ll find some (large or growing) church to pay you to create at your prerogative is largely a myth. It’s a job. Nothing more, nothing less…at least for now. It doesn’t mean church can’t be more: more loving, more exhilarating, more meaningful, more of a calling…despite the smaller paycheck.
But creatives leave church jobs everyday. Most don’t leave by choice. They’re replaced, need more money, or fail morally. They feel rejected, disillusioned, older, and wonder if they’re still of value. I know there’s no way it could happen to you. But shouldn’t this make you think a little?
I’m fortunate. I’ve had three church jobs: youth pastor, worship pastor, and now lead pastor. Friends were made. Family was expanded. I had life-changing experiences. But it became those things; it started as a job. And as soon as I took a paycheck, it never became less than a job.
Action item! Count. The. Cost.
What is negotiable for you to still stay true to yourself? When you create for any establishment (secular or religious), others are involved. Having your art squashed hurts, but it’s near fatal when it’s due to establishment issues. I had a pastor try to ax a live recording two weeks before the date for a really weak reason. I could have poured more energy into the creative process; instead I had to fight to avoid the project getting aborted. It was demoralizing. I never told my team how close it was to getting canned. The project went through. People loved it. The pastor sang it’s praises (after we got good press). For me, the writing was on the wall.
Creatives, this is a part of the price we pay if we sign that W-2. These aren’t guilds we’re joining, they are establishments that often have hoops to jump through and minefields to navigate. It’s not ideal, but it’s normal.
So, can you work there knowing that you’ll have to give a bit of yourself up? If you can, maybe you can influence through your job using the platform they built with their blood, sweat, and prayers (this is the establishment’s viewpoint, and admittedly somewhat valid). And maybe you’ll be around a few years to build your own piece of that platform, make some friends, and have life-changing experiences.
But never forget; the first time you take that check it never becomes less than a job so make sure you prep like it.