One of the goals of The Tin Soldiers ministry is to develop a community where we can encourage one another to learn, as Paul said, to be content no matter our circumstances. Contentment is a major issue for so many of us, especially in the area of our work. So often, I hear friends and acquaintances express restlessness over their particular situations with their jobs. Some of the most common statements I hear are…
*Why can’t I find a job I am passionate about?
*My work feels meaningless, like I am just a cog in the machine.
*I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing…and I don’t understand why God doesn’t make it clear.
*I have achieved more than I could ever dream, but I am still not fulfilled.
These statements are the starting point for my conversation with Reese Roper, frontman for Five Iron Frenzy. I’ve been friends with Reese since my band played our third-ever show with FIF, back in 1996. He is someone I can honestly say desires to please God with his life. He is also clever, hilarious, and a good lyricist. Reese has experienced his fair share of ups and downs in his travels through the music industry and beyond, and his story is one of personal perseverance in faith through life’s questions. I believe his words will provide some encouragement for the discontented among us, and give proper perspective to those searching for direction in the area of career. It should be noted that questions and answers provided here in this piece are not meant to be gospel truths, but rather lessons we have personally learned from our experiences. We share these experiences to spark discussion, provoke thought, and hopefully, help those who feel directionless.
Schwab: Reese, for those who aren’t familiar with you or your music, please write a bit about your story, both as an artist and just as a “dude.” Tell us about starting to play music, your career with FIF, and your job since the band “broke up.” What was the catalyst for taking a break from music to pursue an entirely different path? What brought you back to doing the music alongside your “other” job?
Roper: Well, we started Five Iron when I was in college. It was a pipe dream for most of us to ever be successful, but somehow we were. At first, our goal was just to try to open up for any punk or ska band that toured through our town (Denver), but within a year we were signed, then touring the country…and the world. It happened so fast and seemed so powerful that it was hard to question wether or not it was something that God had ordained for us. But after many years, most of the guys started getting married. Instead of touring with eight people, which was difficult enough to orchestrate, we had wives and kids as well. As our popularity waned, so did our willingness to travel with such an entourage, and it became increasingly difficult to tour constantly like we were having to do to make ends meet. We also grew tired of playing mainly just for Christians, which was largely a product of our record label’s influence. So about ten years ago, we formally broke up.
It’s weird going from something that works, something that you know God is behind, to seeing it dwindle. For me, I felt very lost soon after FIF broke up. I had tried to put together a type of “super-group” with Sonnie, one of our guitar players, and it fell apart. I had one class left to finish my biology degree-a genetics class that I took my Junior year and found out that I needed more than the C- I had received for my degree requirements. And when I took the class again, I got ANOTHER C-. Then, I broke up with my second fiance’. I was lost. Our old record company president reached out to me at that point and asked if i wanted to create a new band to do the one thing that both of us regretted never being able to accomplish-breaking into the general market. We made one of my favorite albums ever, and tried to make it happen for two more years, but it was like butting my head into a brick wall. Nothing worked.
The one good thing that came from that debacle is that I met my wife while we were recording. After the new band fizzled, she encouraged me to finish that one class, and somehow I pulled out a B+. I graduated, and took the first job I could with a biology degree, as a laboratory technician in a genetics lab. It sucked. After a few more career turns, I went back to school to become a nurse at the prodding of my wife. So, that’s where I am now. I’ve been a nurse for four years. In the meantime I finished the last album for our Five Iron side-project, Brave Saint Saturn. And recently, we have reformed Five Iron Frenzy on a pretty limited level.
Schwab: It’s in our DNA that men find a great deal of meaning in our careers (check out the curses in Genesis 3, for starters). But today, many guys are having difficulty determining their “calling” in terms of work. And as a result, they are having a hard time finding contentment. From your experience, what is the relationship between calling, career, and contentment as it relates to dudes?
Roper: I really wish I had an easy answer for this. The main thing that I have found, is that we as a society-and particularly as Christians-are obsessed with “finding our calling.” Not that this is a bad thing, but it’s just that we have made such an enormous deal out of it that we all expect to become the president one day, or superheroes. If that were the case, who would be the dads? Who would fix our clogged pipes? It’s easy to overemphasize our need to find our “calling” and then imagine our calling as being something that the world sees as fantastic. I think the greater challenge is to look around at where we are, be aware of what brought us to that point, and try to find God’s presence in that. I really don’t believe that God makes mistakes, and I think he has allowed us all to become who we are today for His purpose. I believe that there is a reason most of us are stuck in jobs that go nowhere, or living out what the world sees as average and menial. If we want to be content, we need only to find God in that. Really, for me, when we were touring the world, I was never content. I still felt like we should be doing better, and that we could always do more. I feel that now as a nurse. I felt it as a student. We can always push ourselves harder, but that doesn’t necessarily make us content. What makes me content are small things…like getting a good nights sleep, or a good cup of coffee, or a great conversation, or really having a worshipful moment with the Lord, or high-fiving my two-year-old daughter. When those things come around, it doesn’t matter what job I am doing, or where I live, or what my prospects for the future are. God will take care of that stuff. You may end up doing something that is not grandiose in the obvious sense. But I do want to throw out that I think that when God calls you to something, it will scare you. It doesn’t have to be orthodox at all. And you’re right. It is in our DNA to never be satisfied with what we produce in our vocations, but we do gain satisfaction from the DOING of those jobs. That is where the meaning will come from.
Roper: We represent a God who was born in a barn, who become a carpenter, and then humbled Himself to become a homeless preacher, walking from town to town to heal the sick, and then was executed between two criminals. That is our example. There is a vast difference between “muzzling the ox while he is treading out the grain” and driving a Lexus. A man cannot have two masters.
Schwab: What about the believer who works in public ministry, or a Christian organization? As someone who has worked in the Christian music industry is there a line that should be drawn between public ministry and commerce, and what would be the Biblical basis for such a line? In other words, for the man who makes a living either directly or indirectly from the gospel, is it wrong to equate success with wealth?
Roper: I have struggled with this from both sides. When you work for the church, you are beholden to please the church itself and its members to earn a living. When you work for yourself, you are usually broke. The Apostle Paul both said that it was okay to get paid for ministry, and went against his own advice by keeping his day job as a tentmaker. My advice is to pray about it. Some people in ministry love their jobs and feel like they are given every bit of freedom that they desire. Some, like myself, can’t stand it, and have to keep their day jobs. As far as ministry vs. commerce, I think it’s okay to do get paid for your ministry-up to a point. There is a point when you are taking advantage of the weaknesses of others to make money, and that is wrong. In fact, it is the one thing that Jesus actually got violent about. He chased the money-changers from the temple for doing what a lot of church leaders are doing today.
Schwab: What do you think is the biggest challenge or obstacle that young, Millennial men face today in determining their calling?
Roper: There is too much noise. It is so hard to quiet all of the voices that are vying for our attention. I think it is important to separate yourself from the noise, and just listen to God sometimes. Press on. If it was easy, you wouldn’t appreciate it when you got there. If you feel stuck, pray about it, and then look for God in the small things where you are. And enjoy the small things. Give your kids a high-five. Go have a good cup of coffee. Be at peace. God is in control.