Friday, November 9, 2012

post-pro-pastor pt.4

I used to be paid as a pastor, but I'm not so convinced anymore that I should be...

but who knows, maybe I'll recant and receive a gracious compensation package in return for my 'sacrifice' - hopefully involving budgets for books, coffees, conferences and massages

running the risk of alienating myself from every paid pastor in the western world, I'd like to address the logistical problems that arise through the demands of paid clergy


when we cease to function as a living body with Christ being the head and instead turn to business-like endeavours with Christ being our tour-guide, our trajectory changes dramatically

I may be speaking out of turn, but when we become more interested in keeping the bottom line 'healthy' than where the Holy Spirit is leading...we have gone off-course

you can tell a lot about a person/ organization/ church/ family by how they spend their money - this is a particularly sensitive area to most everyone in north america (myself included)

I can claim to care about the poor, disenfranchised and the like - but I would submit that in an affluent culture in which I find myself, if there is little indication through my spending...then I probably don't care overly much - though I may be over-emphasizing the point

a church-body can state how much they care about (blank) - but I would likewise submit that if there is little indication through their spending, then they probably don't care overly much


as a litmus test of priorities, peruse the spending/ budgetary habits of your typical church-body and I would guesstimate that the overwhelming majority of bottom-lines go to staffing and building costs with a sprinkling of conscience-cleansing 'giving' to others

is it possible that we (and I am firmly planting myself in that category) have placed an undue amount of importance on paying for staff and buildings?

what seems to happen is this - when a church-body decides to hire a professional pastoral(s) and buy a building(s) there is a gravitational pull created, pulling everything around back into itself

*disclaimer: pastors and buildings are not inherently bad - the idolization of them are

the body begins to make decisions accordingly, asking questions like: how are we going to pay pastors? and how are we going to maintain buildings?

unfortunately, these questions become louder and louder, drowning out other questions like: what is the Holy Spirit doing? and how can we be a part of it?
the body continues to program and utilize the facilities and staff that it now 'owns' - less and less likely to actually 'go and make disciples,' the focus turns to 'come to our building and listen to our dynamic pastoral staff'

the body begins to grow frustrated and disenfranchised with the trajectory they are now firmly on - but they have invested literally millions of dollars (if they've been around awhile) building a machine that only wants more and is never satiated, and the idea of turning off the machine is too risky

as mentioned in the first post: "I believe there are many, many pastors who sense God leading them in directions that may not align or lend themselves nicely to 'working' for an established church...yet, given the options - they choose to remain" 

I know of many people who feel a clear sense to plant and nurture new church communities, but are hampered greatly by the felt need to raise enough money to pay staff and possibly buy a building

sometimes there are agreements made between specific church bodies and the denominations that they align themselves with where the fledgeling church starts Day 1 in financial debt, knowing in 3-5 years they need to raise enough support (read: money) to be self-sufficient

though I appreciate the working-togetherness of this approach, all too many times this puts undue pressure on an otherwise beautiful movement

rhetorical thought: think of all the new plants and communities and expressions of church that would/could spring up when freed from the demands of paid staff and building


Jesus told a lot of stories - parables if you will

I do not pretend to understand the deepest implications of them

he told one about servants who were given money by their boss...and the boss evaluated how each used the money they were given - I find this parable particularly sobering

churches like to talk about wise stewardship - this idea of 'how' we use what God has given us

with that 'how' in mind, do we think that, as relatively wealthy churches who have been given so much, that Jesus looks at our accumulation of buildings and multiple staff and says: "well done, good and faithful servants."?

immediately following this parable in Matthew 25, it is recorded that Jesus goes on to talk about the distinction between sheep and goats with compassionate care being firmly placed as paramount in the telling: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned.

if the pseudo-importance of staff and buildings supplant our utter dependence on God and the obedient following of Jesus' commands they have indeed become idols


it's funny, because one fellow pastor/twitterer, was able to communicate very succinctly what is taking me many words to say: "churches may be healthier without paid staff"

maybe I should've just tweeted that...


Rob said...

I've loved them all but this is the best post yet.

Randy Neufeld said...

Hey Tyson,
You are hitting very "eloquently" on thoughts and issues that have been, but are no longer, simmering for me.
My involvement in ministry has always been volunteer or part-time. As such I never gave up my "tent-making".
In many ways this was freeing. I've been able to serve because I want to, not because I "need" to.
Several years ago, as part of a diploma program I read a book by Paul Stevens called "Liberating the Laity".
One of his major points was "...the primary task of a Christian leader is not to do the work but to equip the saints to do it..."
Where's the balance?

Andrea said...

Great posts, Tyson. I would love to hear what you think is a workable model for a church without paid staff and/or a building. You make many good points on the drawbacks of paying pastors, but there are a number of good reasons why they are paid -- namely to ensure they have the time and energy needed to devote themselves to true leadership in the church. As a sunday school teacher who knows how much work it is to prepare for just one hour of teaching a week, I do not think the paid staff at our church would be nearly as effective if they also worked full-time outside the church (though some of them work part-time outside).

Anonymous said...

Some people say that only that money which is given to the local church is truly tithe. Any other generosity, while good, is just extra, but shouldn't be considered tithe. Which means that, despite giving 20% of my gross income every month to help care for child afflicted by HIV in the 3rd world, I actually have tithed $0 this year. I say that anonymously, and not to brag, and not to attack anyone. For me, giving to the poor is one of the great joys of doing my job. It's actually one of the great motivating factors that keeps me coming back to work everyday. But, personally, even though I know the local church needs funds, I just can't give my money there because I feel called to give it to the poor elsewhere. I consider it to be tithe, an offering to the Lord. I know that God will raise up other people to give to the church as needed.

Rikk Watts in his lectures on the book of Isaiah refers to the Idolater's Curse: that God will hand people over to the powers in which they place their trust, and allow those powers to act as a means of His judgment on them. The Pharisees placed their trust in their religiosity, their buildings (ie. the Temple, see Mark 13:1 and Matthew 24:1), their ethnicity, etc. And, it was that idolatry that caused them to miss the Word of God in their midst. They were at the mercy of their idols, and it destroyed them. Maybe the Widow's Offering of Mark 12:41-44 isn't an example we're supposed to follow so much as a warning of the fate of the Temple in Mark 13:2.

Tyson Liske said...

@randy - you are definitely an exception and I think of you quite often in that role. I would agree that leaders need to be equipping - but I would hazard to guess that it still remains that roughly 20% do about 80% of the work (and I use the term, work lightly - as I think it's the specific workings that we need to revisit)

great question: "Where's the balance?" I do not want to swing the pendulum so far back, but there is a balance to be found. I believe the balance can be found once we are able to prioritize what is and what is not actually important. I would submit that most churches are caught in a system where they pay staff to continue ministries/ programs that are no longer effective. I also believe that layity are capable of far more than most are doing now and leaders should raise the bar of what is expected.

Tyson Liske said...

@andrea - I am still trying to develop a working model in my own life - it's coming along slowly.

I agree that leading effectively does take much time and devotion.

I would say though that many churches have placed the wrong expectations of their pastors and are requiring them to do things that may not fall under the leadership that God has gifted them to do - but it's easier to just pay a pastor to do it because they're already 'there' - IE church-owned building.

I would also feign that a workable model looks a lot more pared down that we we have grown accustomed to expecting.

I believe that as pastors and leaders are discipling and equipping other pastors and leaders, more 'smaller' churches, thus the expectation on each pastor becomes 'less' in terms of looking after 30 people instead of 300 per se.

so, instead of accumulation, multiplication becomes the direction.

instead of requiring more staff, bigger buildings, more programs - people are empowered to go and make disciples...

I could go on - but I'm sure I'll address this in a post in the nearish future.

Tyson Liske said...

@anon - thank you for your candor

I know many people who wrestle through this exact point.

I believe we are called to be obedient to God (this involves our giving) and ultimately we will be held accountable by Him.

may you live in such a way as to please Him and may He bless you so that you may continue to be a blessing to others

Anonymous said...

The balance may lie in the concept of "simplicity". I have in the past attended a church that met in a community hall each week. I believe it cost something like $100/month because Sunday was not a high demand time slot. They threw up some basic speakers. Sunday school was a 10 minute story by a volunteer.

I believe a typical "Church Inc." style mega-church (wanna-be's and actual) struggle to give more than 5-10% of its income to charities beyond "running the machine". On the other hand, the simple church I attended at the community hall spent less than 10% on the expenses related to rent and other misc. No paid staff. 90%+ of income when to charities.

There must be balance, of course. Some in the church burnt out from putting in so much volunteer hours, and family relationships were at times strained or broken (other factors involved too). But this was perhaps some individuals pushing themselves more than they needed to (perhaps running away from problems in their lives).

I think the issues with the "Church Inc." model echo larger issues in our culture at large. Issues of attempting to make everything into a multi-national corporation, including health care and education.

There is not enough space here to dig into all these issues here, so I'll leave it at that for now. I hope to see more discussions on this blog on these topics.

Tyson Liske said...

@anon - wow...I'd love to hear more.

yes, I hope to see more discussions along these lines as well.

how old is this church? are they still communing together?

ADG said...

Enjoying this, Tyson.

A few random thoughts:

- I'm sure you've read Fitch's stuff wherein he argues for the tent-maker style of pastoring. His reasoning is mostly founded in the belief that the future holds a reality where churches, because of their small numerical size (we're on the decline), will not be able to afford full-time pastors even if they wanted them. Therefore, we might as well get ahead of the curve now. He's likely on to something.

- You haven't touched on the increasing trend of churches allowing, even mandating in some cases, that pastors build into their job description an element of working in the community. For example, I've built into my weekly routine that I spend 1.5 days a week justing being in the community. This is an attempt to re-embrace the parish priest idea that was more or less killed by the need to do stuff *in* the church. Aside: that need to do stuff in the church was a need created by both churches *and* pastors. The blame for that system lays squarely at all of our feet: pastors, congregations, boards, etc. Many of us lost our missional heartbeat.

- I agree with your critique and challenge of the professional pastoring business. I'm applauding many of your points. And at the same time I can think of several churches/contexts where there are buildings, full-time staff, etc, etc and I can't find a good reason to argue with what they're doing. For example, in one of those contexts the building is being used every night of the week by multiple community groups, bands, etc. In fact, the church leadership just gives out keys and alarm codes to community groups. No rental costs. No crazy supervision. And no preaching. I know that you're aware of this stuff, and I know that you're not trying to say that there's a right way and a wrong way. This issue is one worth discussing and wrestling with (for all of the reasons you've appropriately described), but like most things, it's contextual.

- I'm the full-time Resident Theologian in a budding church plant. However, I've already brought up the idea with our group that this may not be a "forever" kind of set-up. At this point, though, I think I need to be full-time (aware of the fact that part of my job is to simply be in the community). All that to say, living in the tension of the discussion you're having is where we all need to be. If we're not willing to engage this discussion as full-time pastors, then we're swimming in dangerous water.


Tyson Liske said...

@AG - thank you my friend...I've thought about you a lot through this series (and in normal life too)

I have not done justice to those who are finding a balance and I appreciate so much the way you continue to serve obediently where you are

I think you have it right when you point to context

let's keep chatting and finding balance together


Anonymous said...

In response to: "how old is this church? are they still communing together?"

A response from Anon November 8, 2012 10:33 PM:

The church I mention (that meets in community halls) has been around for decades. There are numerous similar groups like it. The unfortunate part is this particular group tends toward fundamentalist extremism. So they tend to fly under the radar and avoid public awareness.

But I presented the model as an example of what could be. I think the model can work without the fundamentalist extremism.

It comes down to a sort of disciplined simplicity and humility. In our culture it is very hard work and unfortunately, very counter-cultural, to resist the tidal pull of materialism, the glitz of the technology and shiny buildings, the classy business-like professionalism, etc. Others make you feel guilty for living this lifestyle, like you are somehow depriving your family.

The mega-church, Church Inc. model is very comfortable to upper middle/upper class, because it is the world they tend to live and work in. It is the world they have created and have found "success" in.

But for the low-middle and lower classes, it tends to be uncomfortable and feels removed from their reality. Because it often is.

Surprisingly, the community hall church I attended seemed capable of spanning classes to some degree, though the lower class still seemed somewhat under-represented. But I think if they worked at it, it could be a place where a diversity finds comfort.

Anonymous said...


"Others make you feel guilty for living this lifestyle [of simplicity and humility], like you are somehow depriving your family."

It can also be tempting to find pride in a life of simplicity, as a misguided hedge against the cultural tidal pull. True humility is nearly impossible!