Today's question is a tricky one:
OK, this is a slightly ticklish situation, but I think others may have this problem...
I need a reference from my former boss The Senior Pastor. Problem is, when I resigned to finish my M.Div., SP told everyone I was "on leave to finish school." I am NOT on leave. I ainta goin back!!! No way! No how! I got my dignity and my pride and my sense of call back, and I know that God has other plans for me!
Every potential employer will wonder why I don't list SP. Some may even know SP. I know I need to have some kind of "gently censored" story on why SP isn't listed... but where do I go for a reference when I need a "denominational supervisor"?? They asked for seminary profs too, so I can't use them instead of SP.
I know SP would see this request for a reference as abandonment. (Did I mention SP has control issues?) My permanently leaving also makes SP look less than truthful. Can I go behind SP's back and ask another staff member, a peer, to do the reference? I can't go over SP's head because they are all chums, if you KWIM.
St. Casserole writes:
Dear Moving On,
Nothing will be gained now or for your future in ministry by playing with the truth. We want pastors who tell the truth, behave genuinely and who don't play games.
If you need to ask the former SP for a reference, ask him. Make clear what you want. It sounds to me as if he had a problem with your leaving and so used the excuse "on leave" to explain why you left. Perhaps he has a history of bad relationships with staff and was covering his trail or people were disappointed you left and he was reassuring them you would return. Whatever is going on, people understand people moving on to new jobs. We don't stay in one place in ministry forever.
I beg you not to begin a pattern of untruthfulness or caginess as you move into ministry. Won't do you any good and will harm you eventually. When I say this, I'm encouraging you to tell the truth and have good boundaries at the same time. For example, your work with SP at that Church may or may not have ended well. Don't bore people who interview you with details of how awfully you were treated. Instead, talk about what you did and what you learned. If asked about staff relationships, answer positively without going into details about how the Devil and the SP are first cousins.
How can I advise you to speak positively about SP when I've told you to tell the truth? Complaining about other staff gets you nowhere. You will appear like a difficult to please victim which will not enthuse the committee interviewing you. If you are a real victim, law enforcement must be notified.
One thing more, the SP may or may not have the power and authority in your religious community that you think he has. Newer clergy often overestimate what SP or denominational bigwigs can do to or for them. If the SP is a stinker, people know this. Your refusal to trash talk about him will earn you respect.
Best wishes to you and let us know how it goes.
It sounds as though you do not wish to list the SP as a reference. Ideally, you’d want to have a conversation with the SP that sets the record straight about your resignation and clears the air, so that you don’t have to play any games now or every again. Is that possible? Is it possible to have that conversation with a mutually respected third party present, who can hear both of you and help create a conversation that will be healthy and helpful? That’s my suggestion, rather than trying to leave the SP out of the loop entirely.
And mompriest counsels:
Oh my...this is such a challenge. I do not think it is a good idea to go behind the back of Senior Pastor and ask another member of the staff. That will put the staff person in an awkward position and compromise you too (think, Triangulation). I think the only solution is, the difficult one, which nonetheless maintains your integrity - speak with Senior Pastor and share your desire to look for other employment. Be grateful for your time there but certain that its time for you move on to other challenges. It's difficult to feel resentment toward someone who is grateful and appreciative. After that conversation then you can use Senior Pastor AND someone else on staff so there is a balanced reference. Perhaps you will have an opportunity to tell the potential employer that Senior Pastor doesn't want you to leave so they have a context for what ever Sr. Pastor says.
The matriarchs have offered some good advice for this tricky situation. What about the rest of you? What thoughts and/or experiences do you have that might help our colleague out? Please share your comments!
And as always, we would love to receive your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org .