Friday, May 8, 2015

Flashback Friday: Puppets, Red Flags & Black Holes

Puppets still make me nervous...
Today's Flashback Friday post takes a look back at one of the weirdest weekends of my life. And the worst job interview ever!

Every now and then I read a few posts and tweets that talk about the ups and downs of seeking employment as a youth pastor. I have even received a couple of requests asking me what to look for when interviewing with a church. I tell them to pray that God would direct their steps as they seek out a new ministry. They are also warned to beware of Red Flags. What do those Red Flags look like? Here is one example from my past, originally posted in September of 2010. Welcome to the Black Hole of youth ministry...

One of the churches that caught my attention in my 1999 job search was a United Methodist church that advertised that they were located in Cincinnati. From what I had been able to discern, they were a growing church with a solid youth ministry that had never had a full-time youth pastor. I spoke with a woman who (along with her husband) was heading up their search effort, and several things about the position resonated with me. After being dazzled by the New Orleans offer and the relentless pursuit of Dr. Tommy Dunbar, I felt good about this church. God was leading me to explore this ministry. I accepted their offer to fly me up for an interview.

In retrospect, there were a few warning signs before ever boarding the plane. It turned out the church was in the suburbs of Cincinnati, but was actually located in Kentucky. It bothered me that no one in the church seemed to be claiming Kentucky as home. It also seemed a bit odd that I was going to visit this church but had yet to speak with the pastor. I passed that off as a Search Committee doing a good job; I would meet the pastor upon arrival. The emailed me an agenda for the weekend less than 24 hours before my departure, and conspicuously absent from it was any opportunity to meet any of the youth. It just all seemed a bit weird to me. And finally, I arrived at the airport only to discover that the Cincinnati, Ohio airport is also in Kentucky. Everything just seemed a bit off.

The pastor (his name was Paul- I only remember that because I prayed for him for months afterwards...) met me at the airport and drove me to a restaurant. On the way there, he explained to me that he had been cut out of the loop on the entire youth pastor hiring process because he opposed hiring anyoneRed Flag #1  He felt like the church could not afford a new full-time staff person. Red Flag #2  He explained to me that the couple who were heading up the search committee had been the volunteer youth leaders for several years and had no intentions of leaving- they just felt they needed more help. Red Flag #3  We arrived at the restaurant and he dropped me off and left. And that was my last real conversation with Paul until I called him after I returned home.

Lunch was with several adults associated with the youth ministry, and it was pleasant enough. Afterwards we went to the home of the couple in charge and sat around their house talking about the future of student ministry at their church. The backbone of the ministry had been a Puppet Ministry, which they led- and neither wanted nor needed help with. Red Flag #4   It was their pride and joy, and really (their words) "the only thing that mattered." The job of a new youth pastor would be to run all of the "day to day" stuff while they focused on the puppets. There was no need for mission trips- the puppet ministry took care of that. Red Flag #5  There was no possibility for trips of any kind- all of the money went to puppet team. Red Flag #6  In fact, a huge part of my task would be to raise money for the puppet team. BIG HONKIN' RED FLAG #7  And on it went, never getting any better. When I started to ask questions and mentioned the concerns Paul had shared with me, they told me not to worry about it. They already had enough votes on the Staff-Parish (HR in a UMC) Committee to have him moved the next June. He was a lame duck. Red Flag #8  By the time we went to the church for my interview my only real question was "Can I fly out tonight?" It was awful. The committee confirmed that the new youth pastor would basically work for them. Red Flag #9  And finally, as I by now suspected, the salary that had been discussed originally was off the table. They were offering me less that I was making at FUMC-Kissimmee. Red Flag #10  Ten red flags and absolutely no contact with the youth. This place was a student ministry Black Hole, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

The worship service the next morning was wonderful. It turns out that Paul was quite a preacher, and very innovative as well. I got several ideas that morning that were used a number of times later on and which prevented the trip from being a total waste of time. By the time my plane left Kentucky that afternoon, they knew I was not interested in the job- and a few of them knew why. I did call Paul when I got home to warn him of the"coup d'etat" being planned against him and to tell him he would remain in my prayers. The whole thing was quite a mess, and for that one weekend working with  The Pastor Who Shall Not Be Named didn't seem quite so bad. But it only took one day back in the office to remind me that they were. So the search continued and eventually took me Chicagoland. But that's another story...

Because of Jesus,

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