“He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13 (The Message)
This is a topic I know a little bit about. I have 3 professional pastoral degrees . . . 3. Undergrad in Student Ministry, Masters of Divinity and a Doctorate in Ministry; all from accredited Universities and Seminaries. However, about 16-17 years ago, I fired myself from pastoring being my ‘paid’ vocation and I became bi-vocational. I really dislike the term ‘bi-vocational’, it supposes some nice and clean sectioned identities where your pastoral open sign is on or off. The apostle Paul talked about a trade he had in tent-making to support himself financially so that he would not be a burden to the people he was called to serve with his pastoral gifts. Over the past 16-17 years, I have been a: manager, educator, administrator, advisor, consultant, estimator, writer, speaker, coach and customer service rep. All of those things have paid me $ to support my habit of using my gifts to lead, serve and teach the Church.
Why? For me it has been both strategic and personal. The majority of the context of people I serve have been hurt by the church, are skeptical of the church, have lost trust in the church or believe the connection of church and money is a conflict of interest. If I cared about my neighbors, I needed to remove the barrier of $ and my care for them. I didn’t want my message of care to be tied to anything else other than I genuinely care because the goodness of God flows through me. No unnecessary barriers, just opportunity and conversation about what is real and true in life, trust could be earned again. Secondly, I had a dream of doing church without $. What could it look like to not have any bills or overhead so that 100% of our collected giving could go towards missional needs in the community? In the 15 years of Ordinary Community Church, even as a small community, we have given away over $100k towards needs because we have no bills. A church without walls, without borders and without overhead.
This is not the ideal model, it is just one of many forms the church can take in the early 21st century. Nothing wrong with paid pastors or church overhead, just know that every choice and decision we make around $ makes an immediate statement to our ministry context and cultural identity. Pastoring has become big business in many ways, particularly in the US. It is not uncommon for large churches to pay tens of thousands of dollars in search consulting fees to help find the next talent to feed the sheep. There is a church corporate ladder to climb just like in any other industry and I’m not even judging that, it’s probably a natural flow of the right people getting to the right fits. I just get really uncomfortable when I hear pastoring being equated with a job. A pastoral salary is not an entitlement. Would you do it if you never got paid?
Why be a tent-maker?:
- Longevity and sustainability, finances of church do not depend on support
- Leaders invested in tangible community, builds trusts and adds credibility
- Be missional – ‘Pay the price to understand a people until they know that you understand them’
- Pastor not seen as a CEO leader, not a consumer relationship of an exchange of goods and services
- Eliminates divide between sacred and secular
- Will Gen X and Millenials financially support large church structures and organizations in the future given their skepticism towards institutions and consumption patterns? (Will the $ even be there in the future when Baby Boomers and Builders pass on?)
Pastoring is not a job, it’s a gifting to act on everywhere and with everyone. It’s a life of service to give away, there is not entitlement in it. Our job is to deny ourselves, serve an unseen God by loving a seen people right in front of us.
Count Leo Tolstoy said it well: “All men are to be loved equally. But since you can not do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into close connection with you.” You don’t have a job, you have a gift, go use it.