It's All About Jobs … Right?

January 23, 2012

by — Posted in Blog, Ideas, Non-Profit/Faith-Based, Politics, Video

Yesterday I had the privilege of being interviewed by Doug Pagitt on his weekly radio show, dubbed “Religious Radio That’s Not Quite Right,” broadcast online and on AM950 in the Twin Cities, “The Progressive Voice of Minnesota.”

Doug invited me on to discuss a new report released last week from the Johns Hopkins Non-Profit Economic Data Project that shows how non-profit organizations have outpaced for-profit companies over the past decade (2000-2010) in terms of job creation. Here’s how the conversation went:

I was particularly interested in how this new data shows the success that the non-profit sector has had over the past 10 years, even during the three main years of recession (2007-2009), adding jobs at a rate of 1.9% per year while the for-profit world shrank by 3.7% year over year during the same period. Today, the non-profit sector is the third largest employer in the U.S., with 10.7 million workers.

As someone who has worked in the non-profit world for the past 15 years, I am not surprised to see the data reveal that non-profits are creating more jobs than for-profits. Recently a reliable source confirmed for me that more than 500 new U.S. non-profit (501c3) organizations focused (in some way, shape or form) on addressing sex trafficking were created in just one year alone (2010). Those new non-profits no doubt employ people, in order to do the good work they are setting out to do (locally, nationally, or internationally).

It’s worth noting that this kind of “cause d’jour” proliferation of non-profit work is actually leading some leaders to suggest we need fewer non-profit organizations rather than more — fewer organizations that collaborate more/better with each other.

Churches vs. Non-Profits
Related to this whole conversation is the parallel story that the most common organizational form/financial structure for Christian churches in the U.S. has become increasingly unsustainable. Going the way of the dinosaur are churches of 50-100 people with full-time paid staff and large, inefficient buildings to maintain.

At the upcoming Funding the Missional Church conference in Minneapolis, speakers such as Bob Carlton will be discussing what churches can learn from successful non-profits about telling a compelling story, casting an inspiring vision, and engaging people in participation in the work of the ministry.

Ryan Kemp-PappanWhere Are the Church Jobs?
A third conversation related to all this is being generated by people like Ryan Kemp-Pappan around holding denominational systems accountable for convincing women and men (especially young adults) to rack up enormous financial debt for going through seminary, doing unpaid internships, etc. — in order to attain the prize of a full-time paid ministry job at the end of the rainbow.

The argument is that the institutional church has made a promise to these folks and that promise includes gainful employment that will allow them to get out of debt, if not right away at least eventually. But the reality is the cost of higher education is putting everyone deeper and deeper into the hole, and the church ministry jobs that were supposed to be there when they got out of seminary (and through all the hoops) simply aren’t there.

My Presbyterian Church (USA) friends Landon Whitsitt and Carol Howard Merritt have already addressed this question to some degree already. I was slightly encouraged to hear Craig Van Gelder from Luther Seminary in the Twin Cities confess last week: “We’ve done a lot to address student debt, mostly by blaming the student. The problem is not the student, the problem is us.”

Much more has been said and will need to be said about this. Seminaries are an industry in the midst of deep change too.

At the risk of being accused of promoting a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” philosophy, I will say that seminary graduates (and others) will need to become a lot more entrepreneurial and create opportunities for themselves, rather than wait for opportunities to be handed to them. My advice: Create a position for yourself rather than waiting for someone else to hire you. Or, to put it another way: Spend less time searching the employment listings and more time creating your own business ministry plan.

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