Maybe Jesus Shouldn't Be Your Job
PS, he doesn't pay much
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Unless you live under a rock, you’re aware of the side hustle boom. For the last handful of years, more and more people are ditching traditional jobs for work-for-yourself gigs. Everything from MLMs to running AirBNBs to freelance writing to content creation has become doable. I work for myself, and I absolutely love it. I left the cubicle life six and a half years ago, and I can’t imagine ever going back.
One byproduct of this side hustle economy has been what I call Jesus jobs. Newsletters (hi) and podcasts (hi), social media platforms with sponsors, products so that you can live liturgically with paper plates themed for the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Speaking and worshipping, blogging and YouTubing, all in the name of sharing the faith. Most of these Jesus Jobs take place online.
John Paul the second called for a New Evangelization in 1983: “Look to the future with commitment to a New Evangelization, one that is new in its ardor, new in its methods, and new in its expression”. We picked up our iPhones and answered the call.
Except it isn’t really working.
Fewer people are going to church than ever. Even those among us who would say we’re Catholic aren’t living out basic tenants of the faith—weekly Mass, participating in Confession, prayer, tithing. Perhaps all of this DigiEvangelization, all of these Jesus Jobs, are a bulwark holding an onslaught of atheism at bay.
Or perhaps they’re taking precious time away from the type of evangelization that doesn’t happen behind a screen. I don’t have time to join a Bible study or small group; my podcast takes up too much of my day.
Perhaps we’re turning to Jesus jobs because they allow us to check something off on a to-do list. I evangelized today! Yes, my best friend I hang out with four times a week has literally no idea I’m a Christian but hey, the internet does!
Perhaps we’ve realized that the faith can be a brand, one more reed in the braid of late-stage capitalism that we can profit from. Marketing teaches you to sell the happy ending. What’s happier than heaven?
This is all hypocritical, you say. Look at you! Running a substack! Most of your articles are behind a paywall! This very essay was going to be behind a paywall until you last minute decided to make it free!!!
The only thing more In than being an influencer is hating on influencers, so I’m loathe to do so. Some people are called to publicly proclaim the name of Jesus, and use the internet to do so.
I write about Jesus because I write about things I love, and things that matter to me. Jesus is the answer to every one of those questions. I don’t write about Jesus because it makes me popular (it does in some circles and really doesn’t in others). I do it because I talk to him every day, more or less, and I feel like he wants me to.
But if that is not the reason you’re doing your Jesus job, stop doing it.
If your reason is because you think God needs you to, or other people need you to help them get into Heaven, or because you have amazing talents that need to be shared, or because you want to earn more money, you should not have a Jesus job.
Dumbledore once said that the people who are best suited to power are the ones who have never sought it, and I kind of think Jesus jobs are the same way.
Everything has become digestible, shrunken, easy-to-process. Entire books have been written on the sacramental life, but hey, this reel of how to prepare for confession is kind of cool. We distill the faith into bite-sized memes and hot takes, and if someone’s willing to pay for it, why not, right? The faith becomes a brand, a clickable, a link to share. It becomes a way of sharing instead of a way of living.
Whenever I see someone post a bland quote, something about Reminder: You Are Loved!!!, I see someone comment, I needed this today. One could point to this and say, see? DigiEvangelization opens lines of communication, it reminds us of things we need to hear!
Last year I read Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, and a way he framed social media usage was helpful to me. He said that social media does have uses, but it isn’t often the best means to achieve an end. So, sure, Instagram can expose you to art…but is it the best way to be exposed to art? Twitter can give you the headlines, but is it the best way to give you the headlines? Canva graphics can remind you that you’re loved, but is it the best way to be reminded? I’d argue that it’s not. Of course you’re loved. Any first grader in VBS has been told that. But a simple square telling you you’re loved isn’t enough! It’s just not. These simple messages are beautiful and good and true and important, but they’re lacking years of learning that have come before them, beautiful bursts of theology that are waiting for you in books and other people, context that should be studied and prayed over. If telling you you’re loved in a soundbite were enough to make you truly believe it + live your life in a certain way because of it, we’d all be saints. It begs the question: are these Jesus jobs, these DigiEvangelization tactics, really about evangelization? Or are they kinda-sorta about us?
Amy Welborn wrote in her stunning essay on online faith-writing that “Constantly focusing on the self, on packaging one’s life as a spiritual model, even if you continually brush that off and say all for Jesus or something; putting yourself out there, making your carefully composed faux-messiness a daily destination for those seeking insight and comfort; making yourself a thought-leader whose opinions on everything must be posted as quickly as possible; producing a social media feed you say is about evangelization but is, somehow, not much more than a wall of photos of your face—it all has the power to form one’s own faith in ways that are subtly prideful and do indeed, put the focus on us. Nothing new here: ‘When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they cried out in Lycaonian, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form’’ (Acts 14:11).”
And then, of course, Jesus jobs make evangelization feel easy.
It is easier for me to write this essay than to talk to my family members about Jesus.
It is easier for me to discuss pain and heartache with strangers than it is my best friend.
It is easier for me to chat on Instagram Live than it is to ask my next door neighbor how things are going.
It is easier for me to allude to some real, hard, back-breaking life difficulties in an Instagram post than it is to ask my Real People to pray for me.
It is easier for me to talk about the Gospel than to live it.
When I was interviewing for FOCUS, the regional director interviewing me looked down at the questions in front of him and rolled his eyes.
“These are kind of dumb,” he said, pushing the paper aside. We already knew each other; I was best friends with a missionary at the time and he was her boss, so I’d chatted with him on multiple campus visits. “Why don’t you tell me why you don’t want to be a missionary? Because it seems like you don’t.”
I told him the truth: that I didn’t want to work for the church. I wanted to be a writer.
“Good,” he said. “I don’t want you to work for the church either. The church has too many people working for it. We need more holy people in book publishing.”
Most of us probably shouldn’t make Jesus our job.
Most of us should probably just be doctors, secretaries, stay-at-home parents, basketball coaches, data analysts, HR representatives, and Very Normal People who don’t post 19 photos of our face a month. That’s the hard stuff. I frequently have people express in a weirdly apologetic tone that they have a hard time talking to their mom or neighbor about Jesus but they’re so impressed I do it to thousands. Hear this, loud and clear: writing a substack essay is way, way, way easier than you talking to your mom about Jesus. I need you out there doing that, way more than you need me doing this.
Someone is going to read this who is a faith-based life coach, or a Bible study writer, or a missionary, or a speaker, or a substack writer and going to get all fidgety. The defensiveness will bubble up in you like hot water in a kettle, until you are ready to burst at me that you are different, that your Jesus Job is ordained, and who the hell am I to tell you what to do? That all may be true. If it is, carry on.
The internet is not a terrible place. It’s a tool. Fr. Mike Schmitz homilies legitimately transformed my life in a way that’s hard to explain. I still enjoy listening to Abiding Together. I hang out on the ‘gram, albeit less and less these days. What I worry about is these tools, and ones of lower quality, replacing a vibrant, in-person faith.
And I worry about it even more when the creators of spiritual tools, programs, or content are making bank for watering down the teachings of Jesus. I worry about it when people who are lacking a prayer life or struggling deeply in their faith feel the need to continue talking about Jesus because he’s become their income instead of their savior.
I feel 0 guilt about charging money for this newsletter. In order for me to craft it well, I need to be away from my children (if you can write a thoughtful, intelligent piece while a 14-month-old is yanking on your ankle and whining for more applesauce, God bless you, you are better than me.) I need time and space to research, think, and edit. My children’s care workers are hardworking, delightful women (seriously…I love our daycare) who deserve to be paid fairly. My kids are maniacs, so that comes out to approximately 8 billion dollars an hour. I’m also a professional writer with over a decade’s worth of experience. I’m not anti-fair wages or anti-capitalism or anti-asking you to pay me for this newsletter, obviously.
Most importantly, I never—ever, ever, ever—say that you NEED this newsletter to grow in your faith. You do not. I often liken spiritual memberships, coaching**, etc. to a health program. Every single person knows that to improve your fitness, you need to eat nutritious food and exercise. You don’t need to belong to a gym or meal subscription service to achieve that. But some people find those things very helpful, whether for the accountability, the tips, or the community. I’m not against you spending money on growing your faith—my receipts from the bookstore will tell you that.
Just look at what you’re paying for, who you’re paying, and what you’re really getting out of it. That’s all I’m asking.
Maybe you find daily you are loved text affirmations helpful. But if so, I suggest looking somewhere else for the same message: Jesus. He can tell you that every single day—for free.
*This is the internet, there will always be bad-faith grifters.
**The fact that a ton of people are now offering “spiritual coaching” (not even sure what that is, to be honest) online with no evidence that they’re at all certified to do so is a whole other can of worms for another day, but, um. Think twice before hiring someone you met on Instagram with no letters after their name (MD, LPC, LMFC, etc.) to help you walk through spiritual trauma or any kind of formal counseling. I am very qualified to give you advice on the best snacks at Costco and very unqualified to talk to you about your trauma. xo
On My Nightstand
Here are some things I’ve been reading lately that have made me think!
I’ll See Myself Out by Jessi Klein: This is one of those books I feel a little squeamish about recommending because it has some *very very* not Catholic things in it, but I also read *very very* not Catholic things often + don’t really feel like it’s rotting away my soul in any substantial way. (Maybe it is! Pray for me!) But this book of essays on motherhood by a former SNL writer is so. flipping. funny. I was doing that awkward thing where you laugh in public places and try to hide it.
The Psychologists Treating Rape Victims in Ukraine: There’s no word for this piece except haunting. Lord have mercy.
Every Abortion Law Protects Women With Ectopic Pregnancy : I’ve been in the pro-life game a loooong time, and I’ve never seen such an effective misinformation campaign take place as the one where everyone’s cousin’s neighbor almost died because a Catholic doctor was suddenly too afraid to treat their ectopic pregnancy.
In case you missed these Letters:
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing - for subscribers
Thank God We Have a Hell - for everyone
Deconstructing Deconstruction - for subscribers
It’s kind of ironic that I wrote this month’s free essay about not necessarily paying every person with a Jesus job. But the truth is, I believe in every word I wrote here, and I also pay my mortgage by writing about Jesus. *IF* these newsletters are helping you understand who God is and what it means to be his daughter, feel free to become a full subscriber, where you’ll get access to our entire archives as well as two additional essays just like this a month. Inflation may be cray but this newsletter is still 5 bucks a month, which now makes it cheaper than a grande coffee at Starbucks (hey-oh, ask me how I know this).
I was struggling with my Jesus Job (loved that phrase, Claire) and discussing the situation with one of my professors when she said, "Who does your ministry primarily support? Because many ministries primarily function to support and please the minister." And since then I've seen it everywhere - ministries designed primarily to function for the ego of the minister who designed them (including myself, which was part of the reason I left my Jesus Job).
The other catch-22 with what you've pointed out is that, on the one hand, the people who get published in the Catholic/Christian space, who get book deals and speaking engagements, are people with large social media followings. And that means that they're spending a significant amount of time creating those platforms...time that's not spend in the real world living a life gaining wisdom worth sharing. While, on the other hand, some of the most interesting, thought-provoking Christians I've met would struggle greatly to get a book deal because they don't have a social media following. To some extent we're auctioning off our collective thought to the people most committed to branding Christianity rather than living for Jesus. I'm overstating this somewhat. I don't think everyone on social media isn't living a real life. And I don't think the people are just to blame - the risk-adverse "industry" of Christianity, where the people who get contracts and speaking gigs are the people who meet a certain social media threshold, is also at issue here for me. But all of it feels like we're living for the machine rather than dismantling it.
I'm 100% right there with you, Claire. Another thing I've learned, after being in this online "business" 12+ years — the creators I most resonate with are ones that do something else besides their creating. They're not *only* podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers, Instagrammers, etc. They also teach, or farm, or practice law, or bake really good bread at home, or lead their neighborhood book club. It's because whatever they then share online comes from an overflow of their life, not the culmination of it. I've learned this the hard way but it makes me a much, much better writer when I do other things like garden, teach high school, and lead pilgrimages.