Shadow economies in pastoral ministry
(Two very helpful sources in learning more about shadow economies are: a book entitled Working In The Shadows by Gabriel Thompson, and an episode from the radio program and podcast Freakonomics Radio, called "How Deep Is The Shadow Economy?")
Our economic structure is not exactly favorable to shadow economies, but it doesn't prevent them either. And they are very present in the church and Kingdom, as well. In some cultures (especially in highly churched cultures, such as the American south), pastors are particularly frequent recipients of the benefits of a shadow economy.
We could think of this in a Jeff Foxworthy-style way: if any of the following have ever happened to you, you might be part of a shadow economy!
- If you have ever been given a car...
- If you've ever received some cash with the encouragement to take your wife out to dinner...
- If you have been given a gift (for Christmas, pastor appreciation Sunday, or some other occasion) that was collected from all or most of the congregation...
- If someone from the church has volunteered to clean your house/mow your lawn/etc....
- If you've been given bags or boxes full of clothes for your children...
Again, let me qualify: these are not wrong or illegal, and in almost every case you don't need to worry about reporting them on your taxes as income. (See this FAQ from the IRS on gifts.) If your church—or individual members in your congregation—are able to be generous with you as their pastor in one of these ways (or dozens of others), you should be thankful!
Why bring it up? Because shadow economies can make a difference in how you understand your terms of call. I can think of at least four ways that this is true. All of these are real-life examples.
Example 1Pastor Bill is paid $xx,xxx annually by his congregation in housing and salary. In most years, this is barely enough for Bill and his family to get by on, and money is fairly tight for them. However, there are a couple of families in their church that are always on the watch for extraordinary expenses for Pastor Bill, and who step up and help out when these show up.
When Pastor Bill's wife delivered their baby, one of these families began to buy disposable diapers, wipes, and baby formula for Bill's family a couple of times a month. For the first couple of years of the baby's life, Pastor Bill never had to buy a single diaper or can of formula!
In this case, the shadow economy served Pastor Bill in a very beneficial way, including saving hundreds (or probably thousands) of dollars in regular expenses because of the diapers, wipes, and formula.
Example 2Pastor Joe is a minister for First Church, which pays him $xx,xxx annually in housing and salary. Much like Pastor Bill, Joe and his family find his salary enough—but barely so—and they are grateful that they, too, have a few families who are especially generous. In Joe's case, the elders at his church are attuned to his needs, and have given him very generous "bonuses" and other gifts through the years. In one case, they gave Joe $4,000 when the engine in his car needed to be replaced.
Joe and his wife want to buy a house close to First Church, but the real estate there is not inexpensive. Though they have saved enough for a down-payment, and are confident that they could afford the monthly payment, Joe and his wife cannot qualify for a home loan because the bank sees the amount of income claimed on his taxes as risky. Yet, when Joe explains this to his elders and requests that they consider a raise, they are reluctant—isn't their generosity enough? Hasn't the church taken good care of Joe and his family?
Of course the answer is that they have taken care of him and his family—and yet, this is an example of the shadow economy working against Joe.
Example 3Pastor Mike is a candidate for a new pastorate, and he feels called to serve them; likewise, the congregation has extended a call to Mike, and now he is negotiating the terms of his new call.
One elder in the church, Phil, works with a missionary agency. Phil and the others who work with that missionary agency all live nearby to the headquarters, and they have an elaborate volunteer structure. Phil and his fellow missionaries regularly have volunteers who fix their cars, repair their furniture, or do work on their homes. Even the homes in that neighborhood have been sold by one generation of missionaries to another at prices far below the market rate. Phil is a beneficiary to an extensive shadow economy—however, Phil has lived within that shadow economy for so long that he doesn't recognize how much he benefits.
Phil therefore cannot understand why Pastor Mike "needs" as much in salary and housing as Mike claims that he needs. Even though Mike has given full disclosure to the elders of his monthly expenses and most of the elders agree that his expenses are reasonable for a family like Mike's, Phil is insistent and votes against Mike's salary package being, as he says, "way too high."
Though Phil is out-voted, this puts Phil and Mike on rocky ground from the start and it is a long while before the tension of this rough start eases between them. Here's another example where a shadow economy can work against a pastor—and while this one is from outside the congregation, it is still within the local Christian community.
Example 4Pastor Jim was called to serve Community Church following a challenging season in the congregation's history. Jim brings a great stability to the church, and during his years of service he helps them regain a firm foundation in Christ and begin to rebuild.
Jim served as a navy chaplain for a full career before coming to Community Church, and consequently had a nice retirement pension from his military service. When Community Church called Jim to be their pastor, he agreed to take a minimal salary—far less than he could have afforded were it not for his military pension. Were it not for Jim's ability to do this, Community Church would probably not have been able to afford to pay any pastor, and this was one of the key factors in their turn-around.
When Pastor Jim retired from ministry at Community Church, they extended a call to Pastor Adam. However, because of a number of years without having to pay a full pastor's salary, Community Church struggled for several years of Pastor Adam's ministry to pay him enough to live on; they were forced to cut expenses elsewhere, and many in the church didn't understand why the church was cutting out what they perceived as "vital expenses." Consequently, some in the congregation suspected Pastor Adam of not being supportive of the same kinds of ministry that they were, and his early years of service there were difficult in a number of ways.
This example is more complex, because Pastor Jim's retirement pension from his chaplaincy was not part of a shadow economy, but in a sense it sort of created one within the church. Pastor Jim was essentially a bi-vocational pastor, but he neither acted like one nor was he treated like one—except when it came to his pay.
[I feel that I should mention this as a sort of disclaimer: in ALL of the examples above, the effects of the shadow economies were overcome and the pastors described had fruitful ministries in their congregations.]
Closing ThoughtsThe tricky part about shadow economies is that they are, by definition, almost impossible to quantify. You cannot "count" the financial benefits, nor can you easily calculate the financial costs, that shadow economies create.
This leaves me with very little advice on handling them. Mainly, you can be aware of them. There may be times when you can point them out to others in a way that lends clarity to a discussion (especially regarding terms of call). You might ask a search committee about them, though you will likely have to explain what you mean and what you are asking about (this will require extreme tact, lest you appear to be asking about "off the books" perks and/or how big your Christmas gift will be!).
But you can have your eyes open, at very least. Knowing that these are factors in many ministry circumstances can be enough, perhaps, to help you navigate these waters more carefully.
Reflecting on the basis of a call to ministry (or a lack thereof)
Dr. Milton writes:
[Martin] Bucer teaches us that the warrant, the calling and the work of the pastor, must be grounded in the Word of God and in the theological commitments of the Reformation and must be embraced personally by the pastor. In other words, the pastoral ministry is not just a Biblical idea, though it must be that, it is also a Spirit-shaped reality in the soul of the one called to be a pastor.
He also recounts a conversation before his own seminary training, in which a seasoned minister challenged him:
You only have your call from God! When they give you a Christmas raise and then run you out on a rumor, when the devil stirs up opposition against you for the sake of Jesus, and when you are hurt like our Lord was hurt, you will only have one thing to help you pick up your things and move on to the next field of service. Do you know what that is?” I decided not to answer. “You know what it is? It is your calling from God.” We both stood there looking at each other without talking. This eternity lasted for about a minute. Then he laid down the hammer for the final time. “Son, are you called by God to be a pastor according to the Word of God?” I whispered that I thought I should go home and pray about that. Brothers, that is just what I did.
(Read Dr. Milton's whole letter here.)
Dr. Milton's words, quoted above and in the rest of his letter, are both profound and wise. When someone is called to the ministry, it is not on the basis of the approval of their congregation, the outward affirmation that they receive (or that they don't receive), or any other external measure that should be what "keeps them going" so to speak. It should be their unequivocal sense that shepherding the flock of God in his church is all that they can do—the only thing that they can do.
This is why Charles Spurgeon frequently admonished his students that, if there was any other profession in which they felt they could be satisfied and content, they should run as fast as they could from pastoral ministry and do that! (See Spurgeon's Lectures To My Students.) It wasn't that Spurgeon didn't want more pastors coming into the church, but that he recognized that (in his day) the ministry was seen as a cushy and undemanding job, and maybe one in which someone who didn't want to work all that hard might find their ease.
Still today, pastoral ministry is a job where a lazy man can find a decent paycheck without too much work. Now, let me be clear: it is not that it should be this way, but for some it is. I've known lazy pastors, who present a façade of busyness and activity while hiding in their studies or wandering around, whereabouts unknown. Their sermons were ill-prepared and poorly presented, their visitation (what little of it existed) was infrequent and filled with empty clichés, and they didn't know their sheep from the wolves among them. These men were more susceptible than most to failed marriages and to the temptations of pornography, plagiarism, and other scandals that eventually wreaked havoc in their congregations; while they usually didn't stay more than a year or two in any one congregation, they did great damage during their brief visit. Thankfully, most of the men I'm thinking of are no longer in the ministry.
I think Dr. Milton's admonitions are invaluable today. I believe our day is more like Spurgeon's, in terms of many men attending seminary and dabbling at the possibility of a career in ministry, than most of us would like to admit.
As I commented on in my recent post reflecting on the decrease in placement, I believe we can see the fruit of the problem I've listed above (among other problems) in how many qualified candidates there are who are called as Dr. Milton described, yet who have not found placement into a ministry position. I don't think we can chalk that up entirely to the decline of the church, but also to the fact that, for years, there was a shortage (or an apparent one, at any rate) of called, qualified pastors and pastoral candidates, and therefore we threw open the doors of our seminaries and our presbyteries and welcomed in all who would come. Now we are seeing one of the consequences.
I think a second factor that has led to this (and to the decrease in placement issue as well) is that some—perhaps many—of those entering seminary do so because it was either implied to them or outright said that, if they were really serious about maturity in their Christian faith, they would go to seminary and pursue a career in vocational ministry. This is dead wrong! Not least because, as Dr. Milton reflects, this is no basis for a true, biblical ministry of the Word. There are many professions (most of them by far, in fact) in which a godly young man or woman can serve God faithfully.
If you are a seminary student—or if you are a seminary graduate who is pursuing a call to be a pastor—I would urge you to read Dr. Milton's words and take them to heart. There is no shame in determining that you are not, in fact, called to be a pastor! But if you are so called, be encouraged, as Dr. Milton (and I) long for you to be, by the true and biblical basis of your call to ministry.
On aging and succession planning in ministry
Congregations: do you have an aging pastor? Has your leadership had frank discussions with him about how he (and they) are planning together for how this will inevitably take place?
I would strongly urge pastors (especially aging pastors) to watch this video together with their leadership as a discussion-starter for this needed conversation.
What’s going on here?
Challenging the conventional wisdom on Ministerial Calls
Trueman observes that the practice often is in conflict with similar practices in other parts of our congregational life:
I have often wondered why it is in Presbyterian circles (and probably other churches too) that we routinely call men in their twenties, straight from seminary, to be ministers when we would never dream of calling someone of such an age to be a ruling elder. It seems odd to apply the biblical norms only to the latter.
I think he is more right than wrong here. I know at Covenant Seminary, where I studied, there is a requirement that a man must have at least three years of pastoral ministry behind him before beginning a Doctor of Ministry program; I have wondered why a similar requirement is not made for those who would enter the ministry. Why not at least one or the other of the following: either several years of work experience in secular employment, or several years of ministry experience as an intern, pastoral assistant, or non-ordained ministry position?
Trueman goes on to point out that, too often, churches and presbyteries simply rely on seminaries to do their jobs for them, with regard to determining whether a man is fit for ministry. If they have completed seminary, the conventional wisdom goes, they must have some "chops" that make them suitable as a pastor. He makes the following point about that:
What is needed is a clear understanding that seminaries are not presbyteries: they do not make any judgment on suitability for ministry; they simply teach the necessary technical theological skills at the appropriate level.
He concludes with a poignant reminder about achievement and potential vs. fitness and qualification for ministry:
An MDiv degree, a congregational vote, an `internal call' and an act of presbytery do not mean that a man is really called by God to be a minister.
This is much-needed re-thinking. I know that our presbytery has ordained men on these bases, when in fact several of us have had serious questions about whether they were truly ready to serve the church as pastors-- or whether we were setting them up (and their congregations as well) for potential devastation.
Read all of the posts here:
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls I
Some Questions and Thoughts on Ministerial Calls II
On effective succession planning in pastoral ministry
Churches seem to settle quickly into the assumption that, now that they have a pastor, he's there for good! And some great churches have seen devastating results as a consequence of that neglect. On the other hand, the exceptions prove the rule here; think about the congregations (or even large ministries) that you know of that have had a strong, capable leader follow another, and go on to advance the existing ministry even further than their predecessor did. I can count on one hand those that come to my mind.
That's one reason why this Gospel Coalition article from Collin Hansen, "Gospel Integrity and Pastoral Succession," is so valuable.
Hansen holds out Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan as a current example of effective succession planning. Few churches in our day have ministries as strong and with as great an impact as Redeemer, and few pastors are as recognizable as Keller. Yet Keller and the leadership of Redeemer have put in place a succession plan that spans the next 10 years, and surely lays a foundation for the future leaders to build upon. Hansen comments:
The succession plan corresponds with a larger ministry reorientation for Redeemer. For about 20 years, Redeemer grew as members invited their friends to hear the exceptional music and Keller’s compelling sermons. Without Keller as a draw, however, the church’s strategy will need to change. Church leaders and members will need to become more missional.
Hansen goes on to consider several other prominent examples, all learning from the foibles of others in church history who, great though the leaders were, failed to adequately consider the need for a strong succession plan.
Succession isn’t simple. It isn’t smooth. It’s not often successful. Yet it’s a matter of gospel integrity. God doesn’t promise our churches will evermore yield wide influence through a preacher’s exceptional leadership. Surely, however, we can testify to his steadfast love by making more of Jesus Christ than ourselves. And that means planning ahead for generations who will never hear the great preacher’s voice.
Read the whole article here.
Trevin Wax on "11 Questions Every Pastor Should Ask"
His questions fall out into two general categories: About Preaching and About the Mission of the Church. In the first category, he touches on:
- Whether my sermons pointing to the "big-picture" message of Scripture
- Whether my message is distinctively a Christian/Gospel message
- How I am applying God's Word for His people
In the second set of questions, he asks questions about:
- The impact of my congregation in its context and community
- Evangelism and reaching the lost with the Gospel
- Making the best use of time and other resources
I think these are valuable questions that, as he put it, every pastor should ask-- but I would especially urge new pastors and recent seminary graduates to keep these questions frequently in mind, particularly during the first, formative years of pastoral ministry.
Read the whole post here.
General Assembly seminar
The seminar will be loosely based on the topic of my booklet, Grafted Into The Vine: rethinking biblical church membership-- though the content will be quite different (and different from last year's seminar as well).
The seminar is at 8am, and is tentatively scheduled for Meeting Room(s) 4A&B. I hope to see you there!
(PS: many of the Doulos Resources titles will also be available through the PCA CE&P Bookstore, including Grafted Into The Vine.)
Eugene Peterson on being a pastor
The dirty secret of churches wearing out pastors
I thought of that this morning as I read this piece from pastor and blogger David Foster (HT: Mark). Pastor Foster does a great job of exposing what he calls the "dirtiest little secret" of the American church:
"that we regularly, relentlessly, and without mercy beat-up, chew-up and spit-out our leaders."
Rev. Foster correctly diagnoses (and describes, more than I've reproduced here) five ways that many churches abuse their pastors:
- We starve them.
- We have outrageously unreasonable expectations of our leaders.
- We strip them of power.
- We let pretend leaders bully them.
- We leave them in financial peril.
Quite pastorally, Pastor Foster also offers five well-articulated antidotes to his diagnosis in the same post:
- Let's pay them a livable wage.
- Encourage them.
- Give them time off for vacation, for training, for restoration.
- Stop the complaints you hear about them at their source.
- Give them a safety net.
Even those congregations that don't regularly fall into the traps of the first five would do well to regularly re-evaluate their diligent attention to these five solutions. And congregations that are in transition would do very well to take a hard look at both lists; what an opportunity, in this season of change that is already upon you, to make healthy changes for the better!
I would encourage every church member, and especially every church leader, to read David Foster's blog post.
Singleness in ministry and transition
A long time ago, I blogged briefly about a couple of struggles that singles might face (see "Singleness AND Carelessness?"); my aim, however, was not to fortify the underlying rationale that makes it difficult for singles in ministry, but to point it out as something that singles would be wise to be aware of. According the the Times piece, these difficulties still remain-- and if anything, they are getting stronger.
The article focuses on Mark Almlie, a pastor (age 37, never married) who is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and has experience as a pastor. Mr. Almlie, who has also written on this topic for Christianity Today's popular blog Out of Ur (Are We Afraid of Single Pastors? and part two) argues that, biblically, singleness is equal, if not preferable, to marriage as a quality in a future pastor:
Our married pastors need to preach the goodness of singleness in accord with 1 Corinthians 7 (consider emailing this post to your senior pastor). Denominations should write position papers affirming singleness as equally biblical as marriage. And pastoral search committees need to stop listing marriage as a requirement in their job applications.
Finally, prominent Evangelicals concerned about the importance of marriage need to avoid obscuring the importance of singleness. Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Seminary) recently wrote: “From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible assumes that marriage is normative for human beings.”1 The Bible makes no such assumption. In 1 Corinthians 7, for instance, Paul argues that both marriage and singleness are normative for Christians.[ref.]
I don't disagree that singleness has its own dignity, nor that Paul is arguing that singleness has its advantages when it comes to ministry; in my own experience, I remember being a single Youth Pastor and reveling in my freedom to devote as much time as I wanted to my ministry pursuits (and, likewise, reflecting some years later on how marriage could sometimes require turning aside from ministry for family matters, and seeing the validation of Paul's argument). Neither do I disagree that the church in general has done a disservice to singles, and made them to feel like second-class members. I'm certain that I have participated in that, in spite of my heightened sensitivity from my sister's long-time singleness.
But I don't fully agree with Mr. Almlie's exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7; I don't believe that Paul is arguing (contra a huge chunk of the rest of Scripture) that singleness is equal to marriage and normative for a believer. Frankly, I think he takes that point too far, and perhaps discredits himself in so doing. While some Christians are obviously single, and while this shouldn't leave them without a sense of belonging or place in the community of Christ's church, Scripture does teach that marriage is normative. If marriage is normative, then singleness cannot be-- for they are clear opposites.
However, he has a solid point when it comes to the biblical rationale (or total absence of one) for excluding singles as viable candidates for a given pastoral position. And I think Mr. Almlie's points to that end are solid and valuable:
The bottom line is that it is not about being single or married. It’s about being called and gifted by the Spirit to minister to people both like and unlike us (race, gender, marital status, etc). I plead with search committees everywhere to reflect on the implications of 1 Corinthians 7 before overlooking your next single pastoral candidate. They deserve to be evaluated on their excellence, not their marital status.[ref.]
What's interesting is just how uniformly pervasive this problem is. In all of the church profiles and other documentation concerning what sort of candidates a congregation will consider-- in all of the ones that I have seen-- I can't remember ever seeing one that checked single as a preference, or even that indicated no preference. All of them indicate a desire for a married man, and most prefer "married with children".
Some of this is due to poor biblical exegesis: verses such as 1 Timothy 3:2, which speaks of an Elder being a "one-woman man" (as a fairly literal translation) leave many with the assumption that the prescriptive texts about the qualifications of officers require that he be married. This rules out widows, also-- can you envision a man stepping down as pastor solely because his wife passed away? Oh, and it also rules out Paul and Jesus.
Some of it is due to really lame reasons and excuses offered by inconsistent thinking and irrational fear. Mr. Almlie testifies to his own experience here:
When I press people on why they think single pastors are treated with suspicion, 99 percent of the time I get a list of fears rather than actual evidence:
“What if he’s gay?”
“What if he flirts with all the single women at church?”
“What if he tries to steal a married woman for himself?”
“There must be something wrong with him because he’s single.”
“Aren’t single pastors more likely to molest our children?”[ref.]
Ironically, as Matt Steen (another single pastor) points out, all of these can be struggles for married men, just as much as for single men. "Many interviewers seemed to fear that he might 'do something stupid, like get involved with a student,' he said. 'I told them that I understand the concern, but that I’ve seen married pastors make the same mistakes.'”[ref.]
Some of the problem is due, sadly, to a notion that a married pastor is a "two-for-one" bargain, and an unrealistic model for congregations. Witness the example I posted about a few months ago: "Wife to Assist". From the Times piece again: “Sometimes, parishioners have an unspoken preference for a happily married male with a wife who does not work outside the home,” Cynthia Woolever, research director at U.S. Congregations, wrote in a 2009 article. “She also volunteers at the church while raising ‘wholesome and polite children.’ ”[ref.]
Whatever the root, it's a problem that needs to be rooted out. Search Committees, take note!
Ministry Reality Check
There is a lot to agree with in this article, and it certainly portrays some of the great difficulties of ministry very accurately. What I love, though, is Cho's call to love, care for, and pray for pastors. His goal isn't simply to complain and say, "look how tough pastoral ministry is!" That would serve little purpose, and might even be sinful (Philippians 2:14-16).
No, Cho wants to urge congregations AND pastors to devote themselves to healthy ministry. Here's what he says toward the end:
"Churches must seek to honor and care for their pastors and staff and build healthy structures to ensure such care. Similarly, pastors and their families must make choices to be holistically healthy! We must rest, Sabbath, enjoy God, love the Scriptures not simply for the sake of sermon preparations, be in deep friendships and community, exercise, work on our jump shot, continue to be a reader and learner, love and honor our spouses, nurture our children, laugh and have fun, eat healthy and drink good refreshments [use your imagination here], examine and repent of any possible addictions, and [add your contribution here]."
This is great advice-- and I'd love to see more search committees folding a self-examination step into their search process, wherein they took stock of these kinds of questions.
At the same time, pastors and especially seminarians aspiring to be pastors would do well to read this article as a reality check of how difficult ministry can (in some ways) be.
I have spent the past few months thinking almost exclusively about burnout. Watching my friends spin out of control and seeing ministers more gifted than I leave the ministry frightened me. Plus, knowing my own heart and feeling the pressure and exhaustion of the past five years has forced me to wonder how much longer I could go on.
What makes burnout such a big deal for pastors? Why don’t I see it in other professions?
Finally, last week it hit me. If a dentist burns out on his job, he can turn away from it, or compartmentalize it with no detriment to his soul. But a minister can’t do that. There is only one source of true life and revival. Jesus is the only fountain of living water; there is no other stream.
When Jesus seems more like your boss than your savior, he no longer provides rest. When reading the bible, rehearsing the gospel and praying feel like drudgery, there remains no other place to go for true rest. You can force your wife to restore you, but she will fail and you will resent her. You can divert yourself with crosswords or puzzles, but the work you put off only increases as does your desire to escape it. Bored, exhausted, resentful and unwilling to turn to Christ, the only respites left lead to death: alcohol, porn, or worse.
What is the answer? Well what attitude got into this mess in the first place?
Luke 15:27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’
Somewhere along the way, I felt like the only one who really cared about the church. I started being the responsible one bearing all the weight. Now, for all these years I have served God without disobeying, and I never was given a time to celebrate. No one really noticed. God stopped being my loving father and started being my boss.
So what is the way out? I don’t know for sure, hopefully I’ll know more this time next year. But right now I know where it starts. It starts with repentance, asking God to forgive me for counting the blood of Christ a small thing. I need him to forgive me for considering the ministry a burden and not a wonderful blessing. I need Him to forgive this self righteous pharisee.
A funny thing happens when I repent like this. God stops feeling like my boss and starts being my redeemer again. Prayer doesn’t feel like work, but more like my only hope. And Jesus becomes this dead man’s only source of life again.
How to be a member of the clergy
How far in advance should a pastor give notice?
The commenter expressed concern about becoming a "lame duck" if he announced it too far in advance. I think this is a valid concern; we sometimes see this take place in a political office when an incumbent has been voted out: there is a season when he may feel he cannot act on his conscience and convictions, even though he still occupies that office for a time. A pastor is called to be a spiritual leader of his congregation, also in an office of authority and leadership. If his congregation, lay-leaders, or fellow staff have the impression that he does not have the "right" to function in that office, he cannot effectively function in that office.
The commenter also stated his desire to allow the congregation and leaders to begin moving toward finding a replacement. Again, I'm sensitive to this desire, but I think other factors may mitigate it a bit: first is the "lame duck" problem, and another is the realistic fact that a few weeks, a month, or even a couple of months will not likely represent a significant advantage to most congregations in this way.
Let me start with the shorter end of time-frames: I think a month is the absolute minimum that is appropriate; less than that, and a congregation doesn't have adequate time to make adjustments, say goodbyes, and begin preparing for a season of transition. It may also unintentionally communicate that the departing pastor "can't wait to get out of there"-- which will cause them to question their leadership and themselves in unfair ways. Even if he is leaving under difficult circumstances, a pastor should commit to staying for another month after his announcement.
On the far end, I think three months is probably the far-end of how long a pastor should typically stay. By the end of that time, he will almost certainly face a lot of "lame duck" tendencies. Still, there may be things that will take time to properly hand off and/or delegate to those who will handle them in the interim (especially in larger congregations).
In my view, somewhere around two months is ideal. This gives ample time, in most cases, to say goodbye and to make good preparations for the ministry hand-off. There will be time for the congregation to begin the process of searching for a new pastor in earnest, but not so much that the outgoing pastor will be around to make things awkward.
There are always exceptions. In the case of a pastor who will be retiring after many years of service, that announcement might be made six months ahead (or even more) without impropriety. And unfortunately there are sometimes circumstances that are so dire that the quickest departure that is possible is needed. But these are obviously not typical scenarios.
Let me also say that this is with regard to the public announcement before the whole congregation. The lay-leadership (like Elders and Deacons) might be told further in advance-- and probably should be in most cases. It is usually respectful courtesy to inform fellow staff members even before the transition is certain.
Pastors Search for Churches, Home Buyers
The article points out a reality that more and more churches may NEED to consider if they will be able to bring in a new pastor in the coming years: the return of the parsonage/manse. Says Hansen:
Churches might be in a different position today if more still housed their pastors in parsonages. Threatened with burnout, pastors have been counseled to separate their home and church life. Parsonages, often located near the church, make erecting such boundaries more difficult. Plus, financial planners advise pastors to take advantage of the tax benefits that come with a housing allowance and build equity.
But new economic realities may alter this thinking. The New York Times surveyed analysts in August and reported that home ownership is not expected to pay off in the foreseeable the future the way it did between 1950 and 2008. “More than likely,” David Sreitfeld wrote, “that era is gone for good.” Going forward, housing values may only keep pace with inflation. If this analysis is true, then the parsonage may return. Churches may even recruit younger pastors burned by the market in recent years with the incentive of free housing. Now would certainly be the time for such churches to buy low.
This is an excellent point, and something that more congregations (and perhaps ESPECIALLY the smaller ones) ought to consider more seriously.
I highly recommend this article posted at the Gospel Coalition website.
Joblessness Hits the Pulpit
Here's a vital take-away from Joe Light's article for those who are in the midst of transition (interestingly, from my own denomination, the PCA): "Right now, the Presbyterian Church in America, which includes about 1,700 churches, has about five pastors looking for work for each of its 54 job openings, about twice the level before the recession."
This statistic isn't presented as an anomaly, but as the norm. That means that, if you are in transition into ministry right now, the "competition" is as high as it has been for a long time. It also means that seminary students are particularly disadvantaged in at least one way: most churches would prefer to hire a pastor with experience over one who has little or none; likewise, most will ordinarily prefer a pastor who has been out of seminary and is already ordained than one who is a fresh graduate.
Another interesting note from the article is that "[n]early half of the 3,000 members of the National Association of Church Business Administration say they have reduced or frozen salaries and benefits." I certainly know guys for whom this is true; I'll be you do too, even if you don't realize it.
On bi-vocational ministry
Along that line of thought, here is a great post from a guy named Todd Hiestand, called "10 Suggestions/Thoughts on Bi-Vocational Ministry".
I don't know Todd or his circumstances, but as someone who has served in bi-vocational ministry myself (and who works with an Associate Pastor who is bi-vocational), his thoughts and suggestions all strike me as spot-on.
Here are his ideas:
1. Try and find a second job that feeds your gifting and passions in some way.
2. Try and have your second job be a career type job and not just a part-time placement where the only positive is that you make money.
3. Do what you have to while you search for that kind of second job.
4. You better really be ready to sacrifice a lot.
5. Be more committed to the Church than your career as a pastor.
6. If you aren't prepared for it to be hard, it's way to easy to become bitter and resentful.
7. You better be willing to admit that you can't do it all.
8. Make sure your spouse is on board.
9. Be ready to learn how to be self-disciplined.
10. Being bi-vocational isn't more spiritual or better than being a full-time pastor.
11. Being bi-vocational has both positive and negative aspects to it.
Todd expands on all of these in his post. Be sure to read the whole thing.
I'm a bit curious about a couple of the commenters who take issue with #10, and who seem to be cynical about pastoral ministry in many ways. I've never encountered that before, and at first I was surprised by the fact that such a viewpoint existed.
Otherwise, though, I highly commend this post to you.
Spiritual preparation for an interview weekend
First, remember that you will be in-residence as a minister to the people you are with during your interview weekend. They are sinners in need of God’s grace, broken and wounded, growing in their faith and knowledge of God, and being increasingly bound together as His body. Therefore, you must begin beforehand to pray for them— by name, as much as possible. You must prepare well for whatever lessons, sermons, or other preaching/teaching opportunities you will have. You should consider what you know of their circumstances and recent history, and marshall the pastoral knowledge and wisdom that you have for that context.
You also have preparation to do personally, and in terms of your candidacy. Here again, pray for your own discernment and for theirs: that your ministry among them would demonstrate accurately to everyone in what ways He could use you among them; that God would reveal to all whether there is a good “fit;” and that He would begin to bind you together if so. Ask Him to give you the endurance and fortitude to carry you through the whole interview time. Pray that they would also be both aware of and sensitive to the trials that an interview can be.
Questions before starting a D.Min.
- Do I have time?
- Will my church support me?
- Can I commit 4-7 years to the process?
- Do I want an accredited degree or just the title?
- What criteria will I use to select a D.Min. program?
Be sure to read Chuck's particular explanation and reflections about each question. Visit Chuck's blog (Confessions of a Small Church Pastor) to read more.
From the archives: making a healthy transition #8
The floor examination has a clear purpose: to test your readiness for ministry.
Notice: I didn't say, “test your knowledge” or “test your theological acuity.” This is a test of how ready you are for the day-to-day, hour-by-hour work of ministry.
A little background-- when a Candidate for Gospel Ministry pursues ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), he will be examined orally at least twice: once by a committee of presbytery, and once on the floor of presbytery. The committee exam will be private and closed, generally speaking. No one else will be there but the committee and possibly a few other ordinands. This exam will also take longer than the other; the committee exams sometimes go for several hours.
The floor examination, in contrast, will be an open exam. Everyone in attendance who is a member of presbytery will be there, and any other visitors are welcome to attend. It is not uncommon, for example, for an ordinand's wife or parents to come and watch. In fact, visitors may even stay after the ordinand has been asked to leave so that the vote may be taken (although the presbyters do have the right to call for visitors to be excused as well).
The committee exam is essentially all about what you learned in seminary and in other preparation for ministry. They will grill you on church history, fine points of theology, your knowledge of the English Bible, your understanding of the sacraments, and so on. These questions can be as particular as, “what was the point of difference between Ratramnus and Radbertus?” or “explain the rationale for a supra-lapsarian position,” or “give a detailed outline of the books of 2 Chronicles, Nahum, and 2 Thessalonians.” They want to be sure that you have learned as much as you can learn.
The floor exam, on the other hand, is quite different. There will be a few obligatory questions from each major area, because the Book of Church Order of the PCA requires that the floor exam include them, but when the questioning is opened up to anyone at presbytery, most of the questions will not be so particular with regard to “book learnin'.”
Instead, most will be directly related to the kind of issue or question that your ministry will put you in the line of fire for. A recent floor exam I sat in on included a question about how the ordinand (who had a call to an upper-middle class suburban church) would encourage racial and ethnic diversity in his congregation, and another about how he would support and advance that church's already active pro-life ministry.
Many of the questions in a floor examination will touch on things that the ordinand may never have considered before, and he will be forced to articulate an answer on the spot. A friend of mine told me about a question he received at his floor exam: must a person believe that the Bible is the Word of God in order to be a Christian? His answer: “No, one need not believe that the Bible is the Word of God to be a Christian, but I believe that if you are a Christian, you will believe that the Bible is the Word of God.”
The best thing about this kind of examination is that it requires an ordinand to understand his Bible, his theology, his confession of faith, and even his church history in practical, tangible ways. How else should a man be examined, after all?
Recent graduates: I offer you my prayers and hopes that every letter of the Bible, every word of theology, and every moment of history that you were exposed to in seminary may become so real and useful, so life-changing and ministry-shaping, so Gospel-driven and Christ-centered that you will find your floor exams, and all of the ministry that follows, a delight and a welcome challenge. May God bless your transition and your new ministry.
A check on ministerial pride
The man who wrote these words is a good man, a great pastor, and a hard-working church planter. I'm grateful for his ministry and for the particular labor that God has called him to do, and I am thrilled that his church plant is thriving as it is. In saying what I'm about to say, I'm not trying to take anything away from his ministry. In fact, I'm not even sure that this is his particular attitude.
But his words reminded me of how many of the church planters I know embody an attitude that is unhealthy for the church-- a sense of ministerial pride. Yes, church planting is hard, and it is, indeed, physically and emotionally draining. But not anymore than any other ministry-- because the simple fact is, any pastor who is adequately doing his job and fulfilling his calling will inevitably find that it is physically and emotionally draining, to a degree beyond what he once imagined it might be.
I say this, because I know that no church planter ever had a week (plus a day or so) like I just had in a "revitalization" ministry: a week ago this past Wednesday, I got word that a lifelong-member in our congregation, age 74, had died of a stroke. I personally took this news to her best friend of more than 50 years, who has also been in the church that long, and to another long-time friend. I broke the news to much of my congregation that night, many of whom had known this lady all their lives, had been taught Sunday School and Bible School from her as children. I conducted her funeral on Monday, and then went to the hospital to visit with a second-generation member of our congregation and her family, as she gave birth to her first child. All of this, in addition to regular Wednesday and Sunday activities, plus a Christmas Eve service.
While the death of a long-time Christian isn't outside of the realm of possibility for a church plant by any means, most of the rest of those circumstances (even the regular activities and services) are. And the longevity of it makes the emotionally-draining quality that much deeper.
My point isn't to say, "you think church planting is hard-- you should try revitalization!" Rather, it is to say this: church planting is hard; so is revitalization. So is ministry in an established, healthy congregation. So is campus ministry. So is international missions.
Which is to say, ministry, if you're doing it right, is hard.
And we need to get over ourselves enough to acknowledge this better. The way my friend presented the difficulties of his year made me feel like he had to make the point that, for some reason, he felt his year was harder than mine because he is a church planter.
Maybe it is because church planting normally embodies leading people in new and fresh directions. Maybe it is because church planters are treated like the "rock stars" of the pastor world. Maybe it is because, for a decade or more, church planting has had a strangely special status in my denomination (the PCA). Or maybe it is for reasons I can't enumerate. But for whatever reason, church planters often seem to have this chip on their shoulder that proclaims, "what I'm doing is more important than what you're doing."
(By the way, all of us are susceptible to this struggle. When I was in college, it was foreign missions that took on the same attitude and pridefulness.)
Let me just knock that chip off by saying, in response: no it isn't-- and that sort of competitive spirit that you are always identifying your ministry (and, by default, mine too) by is antithetical to the Gospel. It is antithetical to Kingdom growth. Please stop it.
Thoughts on keeping your eyes open
Ed, I hope the following reflections on my transition are helpful for some of your readers.
First, a bit of background... My wife and I took our first job out of seminary in a very expensive metro area. It was great experience, but the cost of living was very high. My dream of providing for my family faded as my wife had to begin working full time and as we were dependent on her for providing health insurance. I began to compartmentalize—I served the church with as much emotional energy as I could afford, but also began looking for a way out (that is, a different job).
The Lord apparently had lessons for us to learn because another job didn’t open up for quite a while. We were left feeling the crunch for a couple years. However, another opportunity eventually arose; and when it did, God’s guidance was clear and unmistakable.
This is not an unfamiliar story, I know. What I’d like to share below are some of the lessons I learned, or at least hope that I’ve learned. After years of feeling like victims of an unfair salary and (what felt like) uncaring leadership, we realize that most of the problems concerned our attitude.
Here are some reflections:
God's timing. What struck me most of all, in retrospect, was that when it's God's time...things happen. Nothing opened up for us as we were trying to “settle down,” but when it was time to move on (and there were more objective indicators by that point) it was as if the red carpet was rolled out. While I don't understand God's timing, it seems He was pretty rigid concerning His plan for us: he simply would not yield to our desire to escape our uncomfortable situation. I see this now as a token of his love, like a father who refuses to give their child something that is not in their ultimate best interests. I do not regret searching for other ministry positions, out of a desire to be proactive concerning my wife's/family's (real or perceived) needs--but I wish I would have done so with less anxiety and more trust in God's ultimate best for us.
God's release. One time, a fellow pastor spoke to me about sensing God's "release" from a ministry position. He told me not to look for another position until you know in your heart God has released you from your present one—until you know your work there is complete. For me, this sense of release came eventually…but not until after I’d spun my wheels trying to get hired at numerous churches (where I always ended up being their “second choice”). Had I waited for this sense of release before sending out my resumes, I could have saved myself a lot of time and a lot of postage.
Heart issues, heart issues, heart issues. I am so embarrassed to say that I allowed myself to feel like a victim during my time in this ministry position. Now that the smoke has cleared my wife and I have had discussions about "idols" in our life that were the real problem. We had idols concerning the American dream and others too. I can look back in retrospect and see how we could have served the Lord so much more effectively had we trusted God more (as I've already stated) and been less anxious...less frustrated...less idolatrous. Had we limited the emotional energy spent on fixing our situation, I could see myself taking even greater advantages of the discipling/evangelizing opportunities that were present for me in this metro area. Another way of putting this same point is, “Don’t panic.” Or, if you do feel panicked, explore whether it may be because an idol is being removed from your hands.
Money: Another heart Issue. God provided for us wonderfully once we made our move, but financial issues still plagued us. This is because issues such as being gospel-centered, planning well for the future, etc, are present no matter how much or how little you make. This is not to say that churches shouldn’t pay their pastors better; they should. But we have to be careful about feeling entitled.
As you can see, most of these lessons involve attitude. I can see now, as we face another transition, that having a much more patient, trusting attitude--and trying to discern what God desires for us to learn right here, right now--is a much better way to go. It doesn't mean I'm not praying about, and investigating opportunities for, the future. But I feel more trust than panic.
At the same time, I'd like to note a few things on the "other side"...
Pastoral/session care. I would have benefited from greater pastoral and sessional care, even though the responsibility was ultimately mine. This hit home to me when, near the very end, I asked the senior pastor to speak to the session about a serious concern we had--only to find out down the road that the request had been utterly forgotten. I personally believe that better communication concerning financial struggles would make many pastor’s situations 90% better. Trying to serve while feeling that no one knows or cares—that’s where bitterness and hard feelings develop.
Tourists don't make the best missionaries. While I wish we had been less concerned about our finances and getting “settled down, it was a simple fact that our church was located in an area where the cost of living was far higher than our income. We always felt like tourists because we could not really live like the people we were trying to serve--meaning, we could not own a home or even rent one near the church. I realize now how pastoral ministry is greatly aided by being part of the everyday, "normal" culture. I'm not saying that you cannot do ministry otherwise, but I would think twice before taking a position where you’d be an immediate outsider to the typical rhythms of life.
I don’t know if these lessons will resonate with any of your readers. But if it leads someone to greater self-examination and even a sense of hope, that would be great.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #7
Most of the men I know who have remained in ministry for a number of years have done so through the friendships they made in seminary.
In whatever way that it has materialized, these men (and often their families alongside them) have maintained friendships with a few very close friends from their seminary years. Those friendships have been a central factor in keeping them in ministry, stable, and focused on serving God. I know few men who have been in ministry for more than ten years for whom this is not the case, and everyone I know who has been in ministry more than 20 years has done this.
It doesn't always look the same, but some common factors arise among all of the people I've talked to about this:
- All of them are in contact regularly-- usually by phone at least once a quarter, and visiting face-to-face at least once a year.
- All of the relationships have a component of basic accountability to them-- checking in on the health of marriage and family life, personal spiritual growth, avoiding temptations, etc.
- All serve as a “dumping ground” for ministry problems and frustrations-- allowing an outlet for all of the things that these men want and need to talk about, but feel they can't with anyone in their congregation (or even in their town).
- All eventually become a “true North-pointing compass” for the individuals-- giving them a safe and trustworthy place to explore where the Lord may be leading them in the future.
One man I know has a week-long “vacation” with two other families, and they've been doing this for over 25 years. Another man meets twice a year for 48 hours with his two closest friends from seminary, and they call each other periodically. One friend gathers with a dozen others for three days, and they close up on a family farmhouse to play, talk, sing, pray, and laugh together. Another takes turns with a best friend, each visiting the other's house every six months-- whoever is the visitor “dumps” everything while the other listens.
However it turns out, the constant among variables is this: having one or several close friends who can-- over the years, through the moves and transitions, in spite of geographic differences-- be the kind of peer and brother that every Christian needs has become one of the very few keys to long-term, Godly ministry for the men I know.
On the other hand, among any of the men I know who have been in ministry for 20 years or more and don't do this in some form, none of them has the kind of ministry that I want to be a model for my future. I simply don't have a lot of admiration for their ministries. I can't say for certain that this has been the deciding factor, but it certainly seems to have been a contributing one. (And I should mention that I don't really know very many of these-- which is probably also related to the absence of this factor; without this kind of support, you are almost certainly more likely to leave the ministry earlier.)
The lesson here for new graduates and/or new transitioners: get in touch with those few closest friends from seminary and work out how you will keep in touch. Then do it. Don't put this off.
New documents and templates
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #6
I don't know any seminarians who have lost weight or gotten in better shape during seminary.
Don't get me wrong-- I do know a good handful of guys that find time to exercise. Even I have found streaks of a few weeks where I've been on the treadmill regularly. But my pitfall is, I would guess, the same as many of my fellow seminarians': some point in the semester (exam time, a major paper due, a break to travel home for a few weeks, etc.) interrupts our exercise patterns and the continuity is lost. Regaining it proves very difficult.
Which is why the transition from seminary into a pastoral position-- or from one position to another, as the case may be-- is a great time to re-prioritize exercise for a pastor.
Once again, this can be difficult to rationalize; after all, when is it easy to find an hour (or more) to haul yourself over to the gym, get a full work out, then shower and change in order to get back to work? And doing this three to five times a week? Surely I'm kidding, right?
No... exercise has got to fit in somewhere. If it means you have to rise early to get to it, then rise early. If it means you have to sacrifice your lunch break (though not your lunch) two or three times a week, so be it. If there is truly no time to exercise, then you're too busy. (This goes for seminarians, too-- and consider this my public confession!)
Studies have shown that the lack of regular exercise affects levels of stress, fatigue, energy, attention-- all negatively. This is not to mention the increased strain your heart, lungs, and structural system endure when you gain weight, which is the result that most of us experience when we fail to exercise regularly. One doctor told a friend of mine that every pound of weight gained amounted to five additional pounds of pressure on the joints when walking or running. No wonder my knees hurt.
On the other hand, regular exercise is just short of magic in its effects on your body. As you exercise (over an extended period of time), your muscles grow and require more energy for even mundane tasks like getting out of a chair, walking across the room, or even typing; thus, your body loses weight more efficiently as your muscular system expands. Meanwhile, your metabolism increases due to the efficiency for burning carbs, proteins, and fats, so that you digest food more efficiently (leading to more weight loss). If you maintain a regular diet-- even the same diet you've always had-- your body will eventually balance out at a healthy weight. You rest more efficiently, you have more energy and endurance, and your overall health improves.
Amazingly, other things also seem to be “magically” handled through exercise: cholesterol issues, high triglycerides, and even diabetes and asthma can be managed, if not overcome, through exercise. Even smokers and heavy drinkers who also exercise seem to fair far better than their inactive counterparts. It is almost as if you can do just about anything you want-- eat what you want, drink what you want-- and, as long as you also exercise regularly, you'll be fine. (Almost... but not really.)
So you don't have to join the YMCA, or any other gym for that matter. If you'd rather jog around the neighborhood or swim laps in your next-door neighbor's pool, that's fine. Ride your bike to work on days when you'll be in the office all day anyway. Or get a treadmill and walk or run regardless of the weather. (If you read World magazine regularly, you know that Editor-in-Chief Marvin Olasky reads on his treadmill every day, finishing dozens of books a year.) Joining an athletic club does have this draw: by shelling out money regularly to a gym, not exercising will weigh that much more heavily on your conscience.
President Bush exercises 6 days a week; he says that it never enters his mind that he won't work out. If he can find the time, why can't you? Start tomorrow-- or re-start tomorrow; exercise is similar to your devotional life: re-starting regularly is better than the alternative.
[Note to self: I'm re-starting my treadmill plan tomorrow...]
Good thoughts on language
[A]n essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English--just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this exam should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test.
~C. S. Lewis, 1958 letter to the editor of The Christian Century, Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, 3:1006-7
Managing staff well
By staff, I mean administrative and support staff. Ministry staff should be viewed and treated essentially in the same way that ordained pastoral staff are, at least from the perspective of calling, terms of call, evaluation, etc. But administrative and support staff are a different ballgame, in many ways.
I want to reflect a bit on managing staff well. I have seen and known of staff being mis-handled in some ways, and I think the topic deserves at least one post! And some of these lessons have been learned the hard way. Here are some things to think about when it comes to managing staff well.
Are staff members part of the ministry team? In some ways, yes. Obviously, they fulfill functions that are vital to ministry execution. They often are responsible for significant logistical and front-line aspects of ministry. And anyone who has had a staff member with an obvious weakness will acknowledge how quickly that weakness can become substantial in slowing the progress of ministry.
So, yes-- in many ways they are team members. And to the extent to which they are, they need to be treated like it. Their value needs to be emphasized, and they need to be recognized and appreciated before others. Their input should be sought on appropriate topics, and their opinions taken seriously on all topics. They need to be attended to spiritually just as the rest of the ministry team does.
And, no-- in some ways they are not team members. Staffers should recognize the boundaries of where their participation with the team ends-- and they should respect those boundaries. It is reasonable to expect them to keep their nose out of business that they don't have a part in. They have the authority and right to make some decisions-- but not just any decision. They need to rightly understand their place as support for those who have been called to be the pastors and ministers of the congregation they serve, and realize that their value as part of the team extends only as far as they are able to fulfill that role of support.
If you want a great picture of what this looks like-- of what it looks like to be a significant part of a team without having to be the one who gets all the recognition-- read this remarkable piece from the NY Times on basketball player Shane Battier.
Works in Progress
Every staff member has weaknesses. In fact, every pastor does, too-- and it's likely that part of the reason why you have support staff is because your congregation recognized some of yours, and hired someone to fill the gaps. But those support staffers will have their own weaknesses, as well. How will you deal with them?
One of the best descriptions of how to work with staff members on an ongoing basis-- particularly with regard to their weaknesses and addressing them-- is from two guys named Mike Auzenne and Mark Horstman, whose organization is called Manager Tools. They detail the fundamentals of their methods in the "Manager Tools 'Basics'" audio discussions. I think so much of their approach is valuable in church staff management, as well. Here's the gist of what they advocate:
Open communication-- the first thing that Mike and Mark talk about is how vital it is that open lines of communication be established BEFORE there is a problem with weakness, etc. They talk about doing weekly "One-on-Ones" with each staff member under you (or "direct report" as they call them), wherein you briefly check in with them on personal things, family matters, etc.-- and let them get to know you in a similar way.
Appropriate feedback-- giving guidance for corrections is crucial, but knowing HOW to do that is sometimes difficult. Mike and Mark have developed their "feedback model" into a boilerplate approach, which lends helpful structure to the difficult task of correcting and re-directing. Notice, too, that this starts early-- so that problems aren't allowed to persist and fester.
Room to grow-- every staff member will respond well to feedback in some areas, and continue to struggle in other areas. What happens then? Mike and Mark have a model for that, too-- "coaching." They outline the benefits and strategies for creating constructive situations for staffers to learn and grow in the areas where they are weak.
One of the underlying premises that Mike and Mark emphasize, which I find so valuable, is the idea that firing someone is a last resort and an admission of failure on the manager's part. I've known many whose attitude is almost the opposite: "be glad you have a job, shape up and figure out how I want things done fast enough so that you don't get fired, and when the first mistake comes my way you're gone." That's unproductive and not helpful, for one thing-- but it's also wrong (as I'll get to in a moment).
Be assured of this, too: if they understand their role and place as they should (and as you can, in a pastoral manner, continue to instruct them in through one-on-ones, feedback, and coaching), they will not need you to shame them when their work falls short-- they will long to do better before you ever mention it.
If you have staff under you at any level-- even volunteers-- I urge you to give these audio discussions a listen.
Children of God
It is vital that the dignity of the staff member be kept in view at all times. This, sadly, is one of the greatest shortcomings of staff management in many churches.
Frequently, the leadership of the church is chosen from those who are successful in the business world. A corporate executive obviously knows something about running organizations, right? As a result, those execs bring their corporate expertise into a Session or Board meeting, and apply the same principles in the church as they do in the business world. The only problem with that is that the church isn't a business.
Now, in fairness to businessmen, many Christians who are in the business world conduct themselves in a manner that is distinct from their unbelieving counterparts. Nevertheless, 99% of the time that I have seen a Christian businessman who is in leadership attempt to apply his business expertise to the leadership of the church, it doesn't fit-- but he will push and work to shoe-horn it into fitting, resulting in a leadership fiasco. Leaders: if your only model for leadership has been the corporate business world, you must re-learn how to lead!
Never is this more important than in dealing with staff. In the business world, the bottom-line controls everything. All other principles are driven by profitability, which means that if someone isn't "pulling their weight" then they have to go. This is sometimes presented more coldly, while other times it is couched in more positive language (Jim Collins talks about "getting the right people on the bus"). Regardless, the mindset from the business world is, if your support staff is ineffective, then let them go.
This isn't the business world. Your staffing decisions aren't made by measures of efficiency alone. They are not just another paycheck that has to be distributed. These are people-- and they are children of God, created in His image, and granted all of the dignity of heirs of the Kingdom.
Your calling as pastor is to treat them as such. If it helps, employ this imagery when dealing with your staff: imagine that your administrative assistant is actually someone else-- think of the matronly widow whose husband was an officer in the church long before you came, whose children grew up and professed their faith in your congregation, who faithfully attends every worship service even when her health is frail, whose service as a prayer warrior on your behalf has been a frequent encouragement to you. Imagine that she has come in to volunteer in the role of your administrative assistant. How would you treat her? How would you deal with her?
I have a sense of how I would: I would find ways to muster greater degrees of patience than I knew I could. I would be grateful for her willingness and desire for service. I would offer correction gently, quietly, and tactfully. I would ask of her, not demand of her. I would try to let every encounter give attention to the needs of her soul, and not focus only on my own needs. I would give thanks in prayer for her before, during, and after she came each day.
What would the work atmosphere in your church offices be like if you, as pastor, treated every staff member that way? Your staffers have all of the dignity of heaven-- and while (as I said above) their value as part of the team extends only as far as they are able to fulfill that role of support, their value as children of God is something you can never strip from them. And you must be supremely cautious that you do not do so.
This dignity must never be forgotten or misplaced. It is your job, as a pastor, to constantly restore it. Remember the words between Caspian and Aslan, as Caspian was about to be crowned king of Narnia:
"I was wishing that I came of a more honorable lineage."
"You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan, "and that is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content."
Ordination floor exam advice
If you don't know what that means, here's a summary: after finishing a long written exam (or several) on theology, church history, church government, and Bible content, and an oral exam by a committee on the same, he will now stand before a whole presbytery (which is all of the ordained pastors in that region, plus representative Elders from all of the churches in that region) and face an oral exam from them, wherein they can ask them any question they want.
Sound brutal? It is-- and very intimidating. It's also, by the way, one of the best things we do: the ministry of Word and Sacrament are nothing to be taken lightly, and I applaud the way that the PCA takes it seriously. It ought to be hard.
Here are five pieces of advice I gave him about Presbytery floor exams in an e-mail this morning:
- Keep in mind that the floor exam is primarily about examining you about your fitness for ministry -- NOT your academic and intellectual development (The written and committee exams were for that). So they're looking for your ability to articulate that you have a "ministry sensibility" about you. This means that, often, the questions will be ones such as you aren't really able to prepare for, but simply must react to. That's okay. (I remember one of our classmates gettting asked what he would do to encourage and support the long-standing Pro-Life ministry of his new congregation, for example.)
- Keep your answers as short as possible-- at all times, but ESPECIALLY when it comes to "views" questions. Answer briefly, though not in a brusk or abrupt manner. Far better for them to ask you follow-up questions (to which you also give brief answers!) than to over-answer and take the discussion in a direction it wasn't going in the first place.
- Approach the entire process with humility. No one should come into this process with an air of entitlement or worthiness. We are all failures, and we are going to be failures in ministry, too. When you're asked a question, it won't hurt to thank him for the question, and then answer with confidence, but let your confidence be in the sure foundation of the Gospel and your knowledge of that, not in your own intelligence, academic achievement, or rhetorical ability.
- On a related note, floor exams are not an opportunity to make a point, instruct the brothers in an area where they are weak, or an opportunity to air out theological dirty laundry. Therefore, your answers need not be defensive or aggressive, but should always reflect a proper deference to the brothers and a teachable spirit. This is never more true than when you have a confessional exception or a variation of views. If you believe that the larger bodies are in error (and we certainly are, probably in many ways), there will be plenty of opportunity to study that and present it AFTER you are ordained. Don't let an over-confidence about how "you're right and everyone who questions you is wrong" stand in the way of your ordination.
- Finally, remember that everyone in the room with you loves Christ, and loves His Bride. All of them are approaching this process with a spirit of godliness, hope, and the desire for what is best for the Church and her members. They are for you and for your present and future ministry, and they want to see you succeed in both ordination and ministry. Their questions are not motivated out of fear, suspicion, or an unhealthy ambition, but are motivated out of a biblical view of what is good and right for an ordained minister to be and know. (Okay, the truth, very likely and quite sadly, is that for some of the people present, none of this will be true. Some people present at ordination examinations are, in fact, the antithesis of what I just described-- and it is possible that some of these will be at yours too. But here's another fact: all of the above OUGHT to be true of EVERY one of them. So you should go in expecting that of them, hoping that of them, believing that of them. Love them in that way, and you will start your ministry among them well.)
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #4
You think transition is hard on you? Wait until you see the fallout for your family.
Any transition is difficult-- not just for a pastor, but for his wife, children, parents, siblings, former friends... no one is left unscathed. Some friends of mine recently felt the force of this as they moved to seminary: they were doing pretty well with it, until it finally caught up to them. Like the rest of us, they were hit with the troubles that transition brings.
I can remember how it was. Coming to seminary was difficult enough: moving all of our stuff, settling into a new home, meeting new people, looking for/starting new jobs, finding a new church, and undertaking a new degree program. While we didn't have any children at the time, I can only imagine that those who do find the difficulty to be increased exponentially. The seminary transition, as most of my readers will understand (I presume), is beastly.
Yet, it was also wonderful in its own way. The anticipation helps a lot; I can remember just as well all that I hoped for: learning new things, meeting those who will become life-long friends, interacting with professors, getting training and experience for the fulfillment of our callings...
No, wait. That's just me who would be doing all of that. Marcie would be working to put me through that. (Or working at home to raise our children.) She wouldn't really get to experience very much of that at all, would she?
Yes and no. Marcie has had a great seminary experience too.
But if you're married and in seminary (or if you were in seminary at some point), hopefully your wife has communicated to you some of the differences between what you are experiencing and what she is. Sometimes it is like night and day.
Don't forget this.
Keen awareness of this point will be essential information during the transition into pastoral ministry.
Because often, in ministry, the situation is surprisingly the same: you, the pastor, come in with great anticipation of all that will happen. You'll meet many wonderful new people who you'll call your flock and co-laborers. You'll be able to jump right into the hands-on work of ministry. You'll become familiar with the community, the town, and the places that will become your regular haunts. You'll begin to catch a vision for what the Lord may do with you there, and the excitement will be nearly overwhelming.
Meanwhile, your wife will be at home with the kids. Or starting a new job. Or looking for work. She'll be lonely, stressed-out, and tired. She'll feel the pressure to get the boxes unpacked while you're writing a sermon or visiting the home-bound. She'll be the one worrying about the family budget-- after all, she still hasn't found a job and you've already been there four weeks!-- while you're going out to lunch with an Elder.
Sunday will come, and you'll go in early, teach Sunday School, chat with the members you met earlier in the week, lead worship, preach your sermon, and accept an invitation to lunch with your new friends. What a wonderful Sabbath!
She'll wander into church uncertain of what class to attend, stand to the side and talk politely with folks she doesn't know, sit alone with the children during worship, and quietly eat her lunch while you talk and laugh, all the while worrying about getting the kids down for a nap. Was that even a Sabbath?
Brothers, as you're settling in to your new position, making new friends, and getting a vision for the ministry God has brought you to do, don't forget the co-laborer that He gave to you for life-- the one who knows you the best. Share her concerns and burdens. Pay attention to what she is struggling with. Help with the boxes. Watch the kids so that she can get coffee with an Elder's wife. Open your heart and mind to her by telling her about the vision God is giving you.
And take her out on a date very soon after the move. And regularly thereafter.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #3
Anytime I'm left waiting in someone's office, I look at what is on the shelves: usually, the books capture my interest the most, though I was once fascinated to find a clean, yet broken, inner-race of a automotive constant-velocity (CV) joint on the shelf of a philosophy professor! (The CV joint is the amazing piece of a car's axle that allows the wheels to spin at different speeds around turns.)
You can learn a lot about a person from what is on the shelves in their office. In fact, you can learn a lot about them from the whole office.
Now, in spite of Tychicus' (valid and true) comments that motivated this post, I'm not going to post on “feng shui for the pastor.” But there is a psychology to the arrangement of a pastor's study that those in transition ought to pay attention to.
Take, for example, the shelves of books. Nearly every pastor or seminarian I know is a bibliophile, and most of us are somewhat proud of our book collections. Will my study be the best place to store all of my books? Inevitably, there will be those in a congregation who are intimidated by the scholarly nature of their pastor, and the fact that his study is entirely lined with books will not help the intimidation. Perhaps the avenues of ministry would be less congested if some of the books were housed elsewhere.
Obviously, there will be some books that are essential, or nearly so, to a pastor's ministry and therefore have a proper place in his study. But many will not: in my office at the last church I served, I had an entire shelf unit filled with my philosophy books, though-- oddly-- I never used them for youth ministry. They were a nice testimony to the degree I completed in that field, but probably hindered my ministry (and certainly didn't help it). At present, I would guess that 1/4 to 1/3 of my 2000+ books have no direct value to ministry whatsoever, and could be shelved at home when I transition into ministry.
Another aspect to consider is the desk and work space. It may take a while for a working system to emerge as the most efficient way of using the space you have, but let me make a few recommendations based on experience and/or reflection:
- Don't bother with the “In-box/Out-box” sort of arrangement unless you will actually use it. Since I never did, mine were always overflowing, which gave the impression that I was either overworked or never did anything!
- Keep file storage close-at-hand. If you have ready access to your filing cabinets, you are more likely to actually file things regularly. Filing is usually tedious anyway, so any excuse (e.g., “I don't want to bother getting out of the chair to walk across the room”) will be enough to prevent regular filing. [N.B.: for a good system to get this under control, I recommend “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” (David Allen).]
- If possible, place your desk so that it is visible from the doorway. When others walk by and see you working, it will affirm their sense of your work-ethic. Stated negatively, some congregants already suspect that a pastor loafs and slacks all week (“Pretty good pay for two hours a week...”), so if they can't see you working (or see the evidence of your work from the stuff on your desk), they may assume the worst. Obviously this only applies if you actually do work.
- An ancillary point to the last one: set up your computer so that the monitor can be seen from the doorway. Hopefully you're not tempted by pornography on the Internet, but if you are (or is anyone suspects that you are), this setup will provide accountability and dispel suspicion.
The size, shape, and kind of furnishings in a pastor's study vary so greatly from one church to another that it is difficult to offer any concrete suggestions about how a study might be arranged. Here are a few thoughts. Make the space as inviting as possible. Have comfortable seating available apart from your desk chair (one pastor I visited kept metal folding chairs behind the door for guests-- no wonder he seldom had them!). Light it well, but not harshly; indirect, incandescent light has been shown to be both soothing and restful, while fluorescent lights can make the eyes tired. The perfectly arranged study is one that is comfortable and functional for long periods of time, both when you are alone and when others are with you.
As Tychicus suggests, the desk can become an unintended divider between the pastor and his people. I've seen a variety of arrangements that accommodate this, with one thing in common: all of them had a part of the study that was structured for sitting with others-- almost an ante-room of sorts in some cases, while others were just chairs or a loveseat placed behind the desk, so that the pastor could turn around and face his visitors.
Finally, acknowledge the impact of nomenclature. What is the difference between a “pastor's office” and a “pastor's study?” Psychologically and semantically, there is a world of difference. An office is used mainly for administration, meetings, and business. A study, on the other hand, is a place for reading, reflection, contemplation (in other words, for studying). Which of those two best describes your calling?
William the Baptist
William the Baptist was published by James M. Chaney in 1877, and is a great book on Reformed, covenantal baptism. Some have called it the finest book ever written on baptism.
Unfortunately, it has been out of print for years, and the best copies available were simply facsimile editions that were often poorly printed. With Doulos Resources, I have updated this book for re-printing: the language has been gently edited to reflect 130+ years of linguistic changes; the Scripture quotations have been changed from the King James version to the English Standard version; Scripture quotes that were unattributed have been referenced in footnote; and a Scripture index is included.
I'm really excited about this, primarily because I have longed to see this book in print again for years. Check it out here:
William the Baptist
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #2
Sing along if you know it: Oh the postman always brings the mail, in rain or snow or sleet or hail...
The Sr. Pastor I worked with in Roanoke had an interesting experiment going on when I started: he would stop for gas at the station less than two blocks from the church property and would routinely ask the attendant for directions to our church!
When he first started this practice, the response was usually something vague, at best. “I've never heard of that place,” “Isn't that on ___ street [on the other side of town]?” and, “Sure-- it's a half-mile south of here [exactly the opposite direction]” were some of the answers he received. In time, it became a joke-- and not a very funny one.
Our church was fairly active in local issues, and though it would have been easy for my pastor just to explain who he was to the attendants, he wanted to see if they knew about the church by its reputation. I appreciate this desire, but I think that a new pastor can do great things for his ministry if he is attentive to intentionally building relationships with his neighbors, as well.
One of the aspects of transition that is probably overlooked more than any other is this sort of relationship-building outside of the congregation. Getting to know the physical neighbors around the church property (and around the pastor's home, as well) is definitely a ministry-builder, and an invaluable part of settling into ministry.
Here are a few things that such relationship-building accomplishes:
- It allows genuine fulfillment of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
- It heals past hurts-- particularly those inflicted by other Christians-- by showing true care and concern.
- It is itself an exercise in hospitality, and it opens up further opportunities for hospitality.
- It creates a venue for the Gospel to be shown and told.
- It helps in future circumstances when civil and political difficulty may arise.
Who are the people in your neighborhood? You don't have to try to meet them all in the first week or even the first months, but set some goals-- maybe you can get to know every merchant, businessperson, or resident on your block by name by the end of the first year of ministry. One new introduction a week would be fairly ambitious. Do you know your regular mail carrier's name, or the folks that make deliveries to your offices? How about the pastors of other nearby churches (more on this in a future post)?
Eventually, those station attendants did get to know us, and where we were. Not long before I left, my pastor can in from lunch beaming. “I stopped at the station like always,” he reported, “but when I asked if they knew where the church was, the guy said, 'You're there! It's just in the middle of the next block on the left!'”
They're the people that you meet each day...
Interview about placement and transition, part two
Here is part two:
8. Briefly describe your experience of transitioning into your role as pastor?
It's still going on, in many ways: most studies have shown that pastors don't really become as effective in their ministries as possible until seven years in, and that they don't effect significant and lasting change in the first 2-3 years. So in many ways, I'm just approaching the threshold of that second season, with the first a long way off.
That said, transition has been about what I expected: I dug in with building relationships with my congregation, began teaching and preaching on what I believed would best fit a new pastoral ministry, and started learning what my patterns and routines would be. I had been planning how I would spend my transition time for months, so it was not hard to know WHAT to do-- mostly just HOW to do it.
9. What surprised you about it?
I was surprised by little things, the kind of things that hide from plain view but make a big difference. For example, I fully intended to not worry too much with getting my pastoral study set up, but to spend my first days heavily with members of my congregation. But I picked up on cues that suggested that they WANTED me to focus on my study and get it set up-- that was a sign of stability to them, and they needed a strong sense of stability in their new pastor. Similarly, I felt very encouraged to spend extra time at home in the first few weeks, helping Marcie to get our house established; they wanted to love us by helping us set up our home, and part of that was freeing me from pastoral labor to attend to that.
(All of this, by the way, is more the nature of the hospitable people I serve than simply an artifact of transition-- they continue to be generous with my time in these ways, even now.)
10. What are some helpful tips you would give to someone about to go through the process?
Don't try to do everything at once! You're settling into a (hopefully) long ministry, with plenty of time to encourage growth, teach what is in your heart, and accomplish your goals for ministry. Don't be in a hurry.
Also, it's not possible to spend "too much" time with your congregation in the first months. I'm in a fairly small congregation, so I set out to visit every household once in the first six months. That didn't end up being possible, but I DID get to see everyone who was a part of the "core group" of the congregation. I tried to include someone from the congregation in almost everything I did-- lunch, a project at home, helping me find a mechanic or specialty store, etc. That relational investment pays big dividends.
Finally, don't be in a hurry to change things. Some things will need changing, but most things can change much more gradually than your instincts tell you. Remember: they are already going through a lot of change just by bringing you in as their pastor, so don't push them too hard on change. A lot of guys will tell you that the "honeymoon" season is the time to change as much as you can; I think that is short-sighted. Such change is seldom lasting, causes the congregation to feel overwhelmed with change (and maybe no longer at home in the church they once loved), and suggests to them that you have no value of anything that happened before you came. If you want to be in transition again in a matter of months, this is a good way to set the stage for it!
11. What do you wish you knew heading into the first year at your current location?
I don't think there was any one thing (or set of things) that stands out as a gap in what I knew: I was pretty familiar with the demographics of the area, what the prospects for ministry were, and what the culture was like. I knew the church's recent history, and had been briefed on the important details of what had been good and what had gone wrong in the past, particularly with regard to the previous pastor. I knew of many of the ways in which the congregation needed healing, and also had a good starting notion of where they were spiritually strong. In short: I knew what I was getting into, both in the great ways and the hard ways. There have been difficult moments, and even weeks and clusters of weeks where I have been challenged by the circumstances-- but nothing that constitutes a "blind side".
I think most guys don't have the benefit of this. Either they are stepping into a situation that is much worse than they were led to believe, or they are entering a culture they really don't know, or something where there is a point that they think, "I'm not sure I would have taken this position if I had realized all of that!"
For those guys, first of all I would challenge them that they probably WOULD still take it, and that they SHOULD. But probably the biggest thing is to go into a transition knowing that there are going to be things that you didn't know about, and that you're going to get blind-sided. I may yet-- who knows? But most guys probably will, and they just need to be ready for it.
12. How has the transition been for your wife?
It has been good in many of the ways that it has been good for me; she has been encouraged by the love and hospitality of the congregation, just as I have. She has noted on several occasions how well our congregation loves our family. She hasn't been forced into a pre-conceived role of what the pastor's wife ought to do or be, and that has been freeing.
It has been hard, too, since she left behind her close friends from seminary and has not found as many friends of similar "age and stage" in our area until recently-- and those are just now budding relationships, approaching two years in. Meanwhile, I've made friends with some other pastors in the area, and don't feel as much need for friends of the same age or life-stage as me anyway-- so it has been harder for her to see me find fulfilling friendships when she hasn't. She has dealt with that very well, but it hasn't been easy.
From the archives: making a healthy transition, #1
And, since many who were seminarians a week ago are no longer seminarians, but now are seminary graduates, I'm going to re-post my series on making an effective and healthy transition into a new ministry opportunity. Starting now.
Originally posted in July, 2005:
Start your ministry by stacking your boxes of books by the door of your office. Now leave them there for the next two weeks.
It should be no surprise that, if I am convinced that the key to placement is relationships, I am also sure that relationships are the key to good transition. If one of the key questions for placement is, “Who do you love?” then surely one of the key questions for transition is, “How do you love?”
Forget the boxes of books, the adjustment to the new places, and the sermon you have to preach next Sunday. (No, not completely; but don't you have a few sermons you could re-work and save some prep time?) Begin your new ministry strong with a heavy focus on relationship-building. Let the logistics of the new position take care of themselves-- or at least wait a while.
In one of the positions I served, I went the other way: I jumped into the logistical details during the first weeks of ministry. I spent time setting up my office, unpacking books, organizing my schedule, and establishing mobile phone service. Looking back, it was a big mistake that hurt my ministry for the long-term.
After all, ministry is not about those things. Not about cell phones, bookshelves, or offices. Not about the contents of the books on the shelves or the appointments on the schedule. Not even about the sermons you preach-- not essentially. If no one is listening, it won't matter how good you preach, how many appointments you make, or how many books you read. And once they decide that you're interested in things other than relationships with them (whether that is the truth or not), they stop listening.
Jump into your new ministry with both feet by building relationships. That doesn't mean you can't do anything else; obviously you must have something to preach on Sunday, and you should take some time to prepare for that. But let the bulk of your time be spent with people. And make sure they can see that this is your priority; if you can, see to it that everyone in the church knows that they'll get time with you soon. Maybe not this week, but based on how much time you're spending with others...
Responding to claims of seminary's irrelevance
I call "bull" on all of them. Really-- he has substantial flaws in every argument. Let me address them each:
1. Seminaries remove people from ministry contexts.
What Belder is driving at here is that, for those already engaged in ministry, packing up and moving to seminary will take them out of that ministry. But he pre-supposes that moving to another city is a requisite for seminary training, and/or that it must be done immediately. This simply isn't the case: I know a number of guys who are involved in ministry (several as Interns) while pursuing seminary study at the same time. Distance learning, mentoring models, and well-planned internships can cover a substantial amount of seminary training without requiring a move at all. I've heard or read about at least a dozen different programs for overcoming this problem.
2. The process of seminary is no longer effective in preparing for ministry.
Belder says, "When the dominant church model was oral proclamation, reasoned argument, and apologetics, perhaps sitting in classrooms studying the minutiae of supralapsarianism, practicing speaking skills, and honing rhetoric was helpful. Today, however, we are moving past such a model..."
When was that? I can't remember an era in my church history classes (or in my classes on historic philosophy in undergrad, either) where this description fit the church in the way that Belder paints it.
That said, I will say this: if what Belder is saying is that studying theology, learning how to preach effectively, and dealing with matters of defending the faith is no longer effective, then it sounds to me like he is giving up the ship-- or at least, he is abandoning any biblical notion of what the church is.
3. Denominations are becoming a thing of the past.
This is surprising, because of the rise of denominational (and denomination-like) affiliation that I see today. Some of the biggest things happening in church ministry today are at least quasi-denominational in their organization: the Acts 29 Network, Sovereign Grace Ministries, the Gospel Coalition... all very much like denominations, if not overtly so. The Presbyterian Church in America, the Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and many smaller denominations are all seeing regular and, in some cases, substantial growth.
While the mainline denominations are in decline (even, surprisingly, the Southern Baptist Church), denominations are alive and well. So what is Belder's rationale? "Most of today’s younger generation could care less about denominations." Maybe that's true-- until they actually begin to engage in the life and ministry of the church and, sometime after they are the "younger generation," recognize that the church is something much bigger than themselves.
4. The future of ecclesiology is in the priesthood of all believers.
Newsflash: the past of ecclesiology was in the priesthood of all believers, as well. Oh, wait a minute-- Belder doesn't actually mean that in the way that Luther, Calvin, and others in church history did.
What Belder means is that the PASTORS won't be paid for their ministries anymore. "Many future church leaders will be bi-vocational, making a dedicated graduate degree impossible. Dedicating full-time graduate level study to something that doesn’t pay the bills is not a practical option." Where does he get this? And since when has this been true?
Thousands of pastors are bi-vocational TODAY. Hundreds of thousands have been throughout history. Most of them, by far, received advanced theological training to prepare them for ministry.
5. Seminaries are about credentialing as much as training.
There is absolutely a lot of truth in this. And that actually makes it a reason FOR seminary, not AGAINST it.
There MUST be some standard for training. Many congregations (and not a few denominations) take this far too lightly, and they do so at their own peril. When we (existing pastors, members of the church, etc.) see that a pastoral candidate has a Master of Divinity from a recognized seminary, we've just saved ourselves dozens of hours of examination and questioning, because we can (rightly) make some assumptions about how educated for ministry the guy is. This isn't a problem-- this is actually helpful, and good.
I'll give you a counterexample: I'm meeting with a guy who is NOT seminary-trained, who wants to plant a church (with a denomination that allows this). He's desperate for help getting up to speed on what he missed in seminary, because he KNOWS his credibility will instantly be in question once those who might consider his church learn that he hasn't been to seminary.
6. The cost is too high.
I'll grant that seminary is expensive. So is any other graduate education. But simply counting the cost by putting a dollar figure on it is irresponsible. Let's go the other direction: what happens if we do away with seminary as we know it today, and everyone is basically self-taught. The local church becomes the classroom, and real live saints become the guinea pigs for pastoral learning-- less pastoral care and of lesser quality, coupled with greater division among believers (largely due to poor leadership), fewer conversions because of lower quality teaching and preaching, and a general atrophy of the church. How's that for costly?
On the other hand, how about run in the other direction: let's pour MORE money into seminary, and make them even better. What if the quality of leadership being turned out by seminaries was so high that we actually saw an increase in conversions and an advancement in discipleship-- which resulted in higher giving as a consequence?
7. Resources are becoming available for little to no cost.
I can't believe he put this one back to back with #6. Who are those resources being made available by? SEMINARIES!
There are a few other groups doing some modest work here, but by far the vast preponderance of free and low-cost theological materials being made available are offered by seminaries, which alone proves their relevance and their ability to keep up with technological trends, while at the same time making their very relevant training available more locally and organically.
8. Technology has made brick-and-mortar institutions less important.
I think this one betrays an equivocation of seminary training with plain "book learnin'."
The very reason it is called "seminary" (instead of simply graduate school or, in some cases, "divinity" school) is because of the seminar aspect, i.e., the face-to-face interaction with others. You cannot replicate that via technology-- not now, at least. Consider this a serious threat to the seminary as we now know it when Facebook, chat rooms, and conference calls are replaced with holographic conferencing that allows dozens of people to interact in the same "space" while physically remaining remote from one another. Until then, the face-to-face and in-person quality of seminary is too valuable to write off as irrelevant simply because I can listen to a professor's lecture via podcast.
9. You learn too much too quickly.
Belder's alternative: "A more sustainable model would be to take one or two classes at a time, take steps to implement those classes, and then move to the next topic." Talk about costly! For the 104 credit hours that I completed for my seminary degree, this approach would take about eleven and a half years of year-round study, assuming I took no breaks and was able to get three classes learned and "implemented" during that time.
But again, Belder is missing the point of seminary. NO ONE looks back on seminary and believes that they learned everything they needed to know; frankly, only the most naïve students enter seminary thinking that they will learn even most of what they will need to know for ministry. Neither, by the way, did the doctor that you go to for medical care learn everything he needed to know while in Med school; yet, surprisingly, most of us still see the relevance of Medical school training!
I've said before, maybe 50% of seminary is bibliographic: you're not learning all of the data you'll need, you're gathering the resources you'll need so that you know where to go for information when you need it. Add that to the widespread presence of field education requirements, internships, and other ways to integrate learning while in seminary, and #9 is a non-factor.
10. Seminaries usurp the role of the church.
Belder goes even further: "The fact that training has been outsourced to the seminaries is a sign of a failure of the church." Wait a minute, though-- did he just say (in #3) that, "many seminaries are bastions of denominational conformity and preservation"?
The seminary I attended was the seminary of my denomination-- as such, we view it as an extension of the local church, and consider its leaders as a part of our church. Even when a seminary is not denominationally-affiliated (which many aren't), it is incredibly short-sighted to state outright that the seminary is at odds with the church in this way. I think that Belder does not display a view of "church" that goes much beyond the local congregational level.
Nevertheless, he complains that seminary-level training ought to be the role of the local church, not an outsourced institution. Fair enough; how will the leaders of that church be trained? Probably by other leaders, right? And what happens when those who are newly-trained for ministry are released, and they themselves begin to train others-- will they be equipped to do so? Probably not, at least not at that level, and not immediately. It may be, therefore, that they look to the "mother church" that sent them to help with training. In fact, it may be the case that one larger, established and more central church equips several church planters, who then send leaders back up to the mother church for training initially, and so on. Is this not effectively a denominational seminary, writ smaller?
All in all, what bothers me the most about Belder's claims is that he is still in seminary while writing them-- thus, lacking the benefit of actually being a pastor to evaluate whether the training he is now receiving will be relevant for him or not. Ironically, he admits that he is in a program at Luther (shhh-- it's a seminary!) that has demonstrated to him how seminaries can adapt to cultural changes and remain irrelevant. Which is it?
When the search lingers... part 2
How should someone whose candidacy process has stretched well past his expectations, who is discouraged and heavy-hearted, who has begun to despair of finding placement and has even questioned whether God is truly calling him into ministry-- how should such a man continue to pursue placement into ministry?
To begin with, he ought to continue to serve whenever possible. Are there Sunday School classes to be taught at his church? He should make it clear that he is available to teach them. Are there other volunteer opportunities? Again, he should avail the church of his gifts and service if possible. Can he continue to serve in pulpit supply for area churches that need a preacher? The more the better.
There are a few reasons why. For one thing, ongoing service like this will keep him from getting "rusty"-- his skills and abilities will grow sharper, not more dull, with continued use. He'll actually continue to grow in the calling God has given him, not become stagnant. The discouragement he has from the absence of placement will be tempered somewhat by the opportunity to fulfill, at least in a small measure, the calling that he longs to have made complete.
It will help his candidacy, as well: churches aren't looking for someone who was seminary-trained a while back but shelved his education until he was paid to use it; they are looking for men whose sense of service to the church and Kingdom compel them to find any opportunity to use their gifts for God. They are seeking churchmen-- and a churchman will use all of the resources available to him to serve in all of the capacities available to him.
Such a candidate might also continue to advance his training and education. A "joke" at the seminary I finished was that, if you weren't placed by graduation, you could always start a Master of Theology (Th.M.) degree. While this was offered tongue-in-cheek, there's certainly no harm in continuing to learn and grow as a candidate awaits God's timing for placement. Whether it is a Th.M., a counseling program, a doctoral degree, or some other pursuit, he might seriously consider further academic work.
It doesn't have to be an either-or proposition, either. In most cases, degree programs like this can be completed, at least in part, by distance education-- so if he were to place before finishing the degree, he could continue to make progress (though he would certainly want to slow down!). He shouldn't see this option as "giving up" on placement; instead, he ought to continue to pursue placement while working on his ongoing training.
He also shouldn't feel like he must start another degree, either. There are plenty of seminars and workshops that he could attend; for example, I've mentioned the "From Embers to a Flame" conference on church vitality and revitalization that is a great four-day learning opportunity. There are probably short classes (week-long, or weekends) at the seminary he graduated from, which he could enroll in (perhaps at a discounted rate-- my alma mater offers such classes for free to alumni). Continuing to advance his learning doesn't have to be a long-term commitment.
Long-term or not, what it will be is an opportunity to gain more than what he was offered in his existing seminary degree. I know of no one who is in ministry who can report that seminary prepared them for everything. Every class, workshop, conference, or degree that a graduate accrues is an advantage to him and to his future ministry in this way. (And don't think that search committees won't recognize this, either-- they know as well as anyone that more training and education almost always means "better-equipped.")
Another thing he might begin (or continue) to do: cast an ever-widening net in his candidacy efforts. If he has been searching for an Assistant Pastor role, then he might open up his options to Solo Pastoral positions as well. If he has been looking only in a single denomination, he might also look in like-minded sister denominations. If he's been looking only in presbyterian circles, he might consider a more broadly Reformed circle. There are many avenues where he could expand your search without compromising crucial convictions.
I've blogged about this before, too-- and the longer I'm in ministry, the more I appreciate (and agree with) the advice that my friend Joe Novenson offered concerning that circumstance: there is more agreement, generally, than there is disagreement among brothers and sisters in Christ. Joe said, "I have more in common with my fellow pastors, even in congregations of very different theological convictions, than I do with an unbeliever who shares my political and social agenda."
This isn't to say that we should quickly abandon our theological distinctives for the sake of a pastoral call. But it does emphasize how much room there is to cast a wider net in our search.
Special circumstances: The unintentional interim
Here's the lay of the land: the pastor that served this congregation before my friend was their pastor for several decades. He was beloved by his people, and served them faithfully. This isn't to say that there were not surely more difficult times, but over their many years together they learned how to weather those difficult seasons more easily. By the end of his tenure as their pastor, his ministry was marked more by how well he knew his flock-- and how instinctively he could attend to their needs-- than by anything else.
Because of health difficulties with this long-tenured, outgoing pastor, it wasn't possible to execute a well-planned, thoughtful hand-off from him to his successor. It may be the case that such a hand-off was not in view at all, or that circumstances didn't allow one to take place. Regardless, there was only so much that was done to ensure that the new pastor would be empowered for a long, effective ministry.
In comes my friend: new to pastoral ministry and fresh out of seminary, hopeful for a fruitful and long ministry among his new congregation. Over the course of his first two years of ministry there, however, it became clear to him that a portion of the congregation wasn't ready for a new pastor; consciously or not, they still wanted their beloved former pastor instead of this new fellow. Before long, it was apparent that my friend's only true choice was to resign and move on.
Why it didn't work
There are a small handful of factors at play that are unique to that particular pastor and congregation, and I won't address those. However, there are several factors that are true of nearly all churches with a long- (or longer) tenured pastor that, in this case, led to the failure of his successor. We can recognize and avoid these.
- They needed to grieve the loss of their beloved pastor. When a pastor leaves, the congregation needs to deal with the sense of loss they experience. This is true regardless of the circumstances of the pastor's departure, but particularly in cases where the pastor was loved and isn't leaving under duress or troublesome conditions. In some cases, the outgoing pastor retires in the area, stays on as an emeritus pastor, or in some way remains present-- and in many ways, this can be even worse. There is still a substantial sense of loss ("he is no longer my pastor") that a congregant can be made to feel like he/she shouldn't have ("at least he's still in the area"). There must be a good, healthy grieving by the whole congregation, especially the leadership and others who were personally close to the outgoing pastor.
- They needed to actively plan the hand-off. Churches-- and especially the leadership, be it a Session, a Board, or what have you-- must address confidently and realistically the need for a succession plan. Many avoid this because they fear it will stir up concern among the members, or make a pastor feel like he is being pushed out. But the truth is that there is going to be a hand-off whether you plan for it or not. So you may as well plan for it, to ensure that it is done as well as possible. This should take place well before the pastor plans or needs to leave. I recommend highly the book on this subject called The Elephant in the Boardroom by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree (Jossey-Bass, 2004) for guidance on how to do this well.
- They needed to seek someone similar, but not identical, to the outgoing pastor. This was one of the factors that, in some ways, created the biggest problems for my classmate: his style of relating to the congregation was fairly different from his predecessor, if for no other reason than my friend didn't have 20+ years of history with them. Their preaching styles were quite different as well. This is common in pastoral transition for a church; consciously or unconsciously, they think, "this is our chance to fill in the gaps that we realize were missing with our previous/outgoing pastor." What they need, though, is someone who will expand the pastor's ministry to meet some of the most important needs that the previous pastor wasn't able to touch on, while not sacrificing the most important needs that the previous pastor DID meet. This can be difficult, but it almost always means finding someone who is like the outgoing pastor in many ways.
- They needed to be patient and forgiving. In many ways, they tried their best to do this-- and that is to their credit. Anytime a church gets a new pastor, there must be a season where everyone extends an extra measure of grace and forgiveness to each other, and especially to the new pastor. Most pastors are given this grace period, at least to a degree; in some ways, it happens whether the congregation is intentional about it or not. For someone following a long-tenured pastor, it ought to be consciously and intentionally offered, and it ought to be for a longer time period than "normal" (which is usually between 6 months and a year, at most). I'd like to see such a grace-period last at least 18 months to two years for such a church.
- They needed to work with him in his ministry. One of the big differences between a long-term pastor and a newcomer-- especially when the new pastor is recently out of seminary-- is that the seasoned, long-tenured pastor has a clear understanding of both role and expectations. The new pastor needs to be counseled in both in a helpful, godly manner by the leadership of the church. For a very new pastor, this may be as basic as helping him learn what it means to be an Elder in the church! He simply may not have enough experience to know how to do things like visitation, counseling, etc. Even an experienced pastor might be helped by some frank discussions about how the pastor has fulfilled his role in this congregation's past. There must also be clear, upfront discussion about expectations. It is too easy for a congregation to assume that the incoming pastor knows and shares their expectations-- but they should assume nothing of the sort. Instead, they should assume that the most helpful thing they could do-- for themselves and for the incoming pastor-- would be to spell out their expectations in as concrete a manner as possible.
- They should have seriously considered an interim pastor. An interim pastor is a vital help in a time like this. One of the things we in my denomination (the PCA) could learn from our brothers in another related denomination (the PC-USA) is how they handle long-tenured pastorates: they actually require that an interim pastor be brought in for a season of time, and that season's length corresponds to how long the outgoing pastor had been there. This affords everyone-- the officers, the lay-leadership, the congregation, the community around the church-- an opportunity to proactively think and plan for how the church's ministry and community will be inherently different, and how to maintain continuity as well.
In the end, my friend didn't have a strong hope of lasting long at this church. As I said, he unintentionally became the interim pastor that they needed. Thankfully, he maintains his commitment to his call to ministry and intends to pursue another opportunity; sadly, I fear that too many men, otherwise well-qualified for pastoral ministry, would leave the ministry after an experience like this one.
The bottom line: churches and pastors alike would do quite well to be cautious in such situations and recognize the dangers of an unintentional interim.
Happy Reformation Day-- another free book
An open letter to the organizing generation
To the generation of faithful men who, as Pastors and Elders, led the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA):
Dear fathers in the faith,
Thank you for the work that you did 35 years ago, in the years leading up to then, and in the years that followed. You stood against attacks on orthodoxy and biblical truth and refused to compromise in your deep commitments to the authority of Scripture and to the faithful teaching and preaching of the Bible. At great sacrifice, personally and-- in many cases-- professionally, you remained faithful to the essential convictions that the truth of Scripture was the final authority for faith and practice.
With grief and mourning, you fought for orthodoxy in a denomination that seemed committed against it, and when you recognized that you would not win that battle, you chose to separate and form a denomination for whom the commitments to the authority of Scripture, the faithful teaching of the biblical gospel, and the brotherly association of congregations would always remain pre-eminent. What you did was difficult and costly, yet, unselfishly, you did it for the sake of the gospel and Christ’s church.
Thank you. For your convictions, commitments, sacrifices, and leadership, Thank you.
The PCA is a wonderful denomination to serve in, and I am so grateful for her. Since her foundations, she has grown substantially through the efforts of church planting. Other congregations, seeking a friendly orthodoxy, have found refuge here. The uniting of two like-minded denominations increased the PCA’s size, stature, and reach in many ways. Ministries conventional and unconventional, in all manner of contexts and to all manner of people-groups, have spread the good news of Christ’s Kingdom where it was absent before. A worldwide emphasis on missions has made the PCA one of the strongest missionary denominations in the country. All of this had its seed in your labor to form this new denomination.
I hope you hear in my words above a sincere admiration, appreciation, and gratitude for your labor and service. I have only respect and praise for you. I know that you love the PCA deeply. I have come to love the PCA too-- not in the same ways that you do, of course, but deeply nevertheless. So I hope you will therefore receive the following questions in all sincerity, not as attacks or dismissals, nor as trick questions or traps. They are asked out of love, for you and for our denomination, and most of all, for Christ and His gospel.
- Through the years, you have remained vigilant in your efforts to protect the PCA from “liberal” theology. Again, thank you for this. But are there other things that we must be vigilant against as well? In the past 35 years, our culture has largely shifted from a world that generally believes in Christianity-- or at least something close too it-- and needs the perfecting of their belief, to a world where Christianity and anything close to it falls under suspicion. Is the new fight for the PCA not merely a battle against liberalism, but also against unbelief itself? In your wisdom, how might we find a balance between these two fronts?
- Surely theology is essential; we must have sound, biblical theology taught in our churches, as you have, for so long, labored for. But is not orthopraxy as important as orthodoxy? I’m thinking of Luke 8:21 and James 1:22-25 in this question. Of what use is our sound theology if it is not merely taught, but also practiced? How deeply do we understand our commitments to the doctrines of grace, if we are not consequently gracious? How much have we understood the Father’s mercy, if we are not merciful as the Father is merciful? From your experience, how might you advise the next generations of Pastors and Elders to live out the grace of God?
- You have shown through the years a great effectiveness for building and growing the church, and we are indebted to your capability in this way. The Book of Church Order is a model of efficiency and the very embodiment of gracious church governance, and the practices of worship and other ministry that have defined the PCA for the past decades have driven many to have a deeper heart of worship and a greater understanding of the truth. Are there ways to accomplish ministry in strict accordance with the principles that undergird our denomination without following the form and practice those have taken historically? As I consider Paul’s ability to adjust his ministry style and approach to accommodate the hearer without compromising the truth (Acts 17; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23), I wonder if we have granted the freedom of our ministers to do the same. Have we constrained our people not only in principle but in practice?
- Your readiness to defend against true theological threats is so valuable, and needed. Yet we often perceive threats where there are none, particularly when we have been attacked before. Is there a way to remain vigilant against heterodoxy without operating from a default posture of suspicion? Practically, it seems that an initially defensive response becomes a hindrance to growth and ministry. Biblically, Paul challenges us to deal lovingly with each other, even when declaring-- and defending-- the truth (Ephesians 4:15), and to hope and believe out of love that our brothers are acting in earnest (1 Corinthians 13:7). Shouldn’t our attitudes toward one another at presbytery and General Assembly meetings-- toward fellow Ruling and Teaching Elders in good standing-- embody this loving, trusting spirit?
- You were right to depart from a body that had abandoned its commitment to biblical truth. Yet, could it be that a contributing factor that drove them toward liberalism was a deep association of conservative theology with unloving, ungracious practice? Christ is a model of commitment to true orthodoxy in the face of bad theology, yet his manner toward even those with whom he disagreed was vitally loving and gracious (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 13:34). Ought not our practice toward one another-- and even toward those who oppose us-- be so gracious and loving that they may not mistake false teachings and poor theology as more closely following the model of Christ?
I am among the newest to join you as a Teaching Elder, Pastor, and Presbyter-- I haven’t yet been ordained for a year, and I’ve barely been a member of my presbytery a year. I wasn’t yet one year old when you were instrumental in forming the PCA. While I have enjoyed membership in the PCA for almost 20 years, and service in (non-ordained) ministry for 12, I realize that, often, I may be too young and too inexperienced, too brash and overconfident to know very well what I speak of. Had I not been confirmed in my thoughts by many other brothers-- some of whom have many more years of experience than I-- I may be inclined to second-guess myself here, as well.
I pray that these questions might be received for what they are: a genuine hope for the ever-increasing fulfillment of our vows to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the gospel and the purity, peace, and unity of the Church.
Ed Eubanks, Jr.
Sermon preparation and delivery, part 1
The first thing you should know is that I primarily preach verse-by-verse, chapter-by-chapter through books, in an expository* manner. When I started my ministry at Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church, I began preaching through the book of Luke. We have taken a couple of breaks from Luke, and in those times I have preached a series on the cross and a series on the Lord's Supper. Even in those cases, nearly all of my sermons are expository.
Expository preaching through a book has the side benefit of having a clear picture of "what's next." There's little mystery about where I'll preach next week, if this week I finished out chapter eight. So that is one part of my preparation that I don't have to think about week-to-week.
Another thing that is important to get clear is that I work ahead. I've been slowly worked ahead further and further for a number of months now, and I'm getting close to being as ahead as I want to be (for the time being, at least). I got ahead by increments: the first week, I developed a rough outline (proposition and main points only) for that week's text as well as the next three weeks after it. The week after that, my rough outline was already done-- so I took that time to build in more detail on the other outlines. The third week I drafted rough outlines for the next month, and in the fourth I fleshed them out more, etc. Right now I have all my texts outlined through the middle of January, except my Advent series (and I have rough outlines for some of them).
Also: I work ahead by planning ahead. I have a general idea of what I will preach in 2009, even though I haven't begun to outline anything past January. I have planned breaks three times during the next year, and I'll probably finish Luke in early 2010. I'm keeping my options open, but after that I'll probably preach a portion of Genesis before returning to the New Testament to look at Acts (thereby rounding out Luke's writings.)
So, there are some preliminary ideas. Next time, I'll begin to talk about how I prepare.
*Bryan Chapell distinguished an expository sermon as one that takes its proposition, main points, and sub-points directly from the text.
Tim Keller on, "why plant churches?"
Here's a series of audio messages of PCA pastor and church planter Tim Keller on the question, "why plant churches?" If you're considering church planting as the next direction for your ministry (or for the first step out of seminary), this series of videos may be helpful.
One of my favorite writers on church and ministry is Thom Rainer. His son Sam is a pretty astute guy, too.
Between now and Monday, you can get a copy of their book Essential Church? for free, as a downloadable PDF e-book.
The urgency of the preaching moment
In the front pews the old ladies turn up heir hearing aids, and a young lady slips her six-year-old a Life Saver and a Magic Marker. A college sophomore home for vacation who is there because he was dragged there, slumps forward with his chin in his hand. The vice-president of a bank who twice this week has considered suicide places his hymnal in the rack. A pregnant girl feels the life stir inside her. A high school teacher, who for twenty years has managed to keep his homosexuality a secret for the most part even from himself, creases his order of service down the center with his thumbnail and tucks it under his knee... The preacher pulls the little cord that turns on the lectern light and deals out his note cards like a river boat gambler. The stakes have never been higher. Two minutes from now he may have lost his listeners completely to their own thoughts, but at this moment he has them in the palm of his hand. The silence in the shabby church is deafening because everybody is listening to it... Everybody knows the kinds of things he has told them before and not told them, but who knows what this time, out of the silence, he will tell them.
Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth. New York: Harper and Row, 1977, pp.22-23. (Quoted in The Power of Speaking God’s Word by Wilbur Ellsworth, Farn, Ross-Shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000.)
Exercise: Two helpful videos
John Piper on "What is the gospel?":
Reflection: ask the leaders (Elders, Deacons, Sunday School teachers) and the rest of the search team about the gospel. Do they get it? Can they articulate it? Is it something that they have an inherent understanding that they need the gospel more than anything else? Do they understand that your ministry must be essentially and primarily about teaching and preaching the gospel?
Tim Keller on Time Priorities (ht: Mark):
Reflection: when you are interviewing with a search team, keep this in mind. How do they talk about your time priorities? How do they speak of protecting your personal and family life in the midst of the demands of ministry?
Keller on church planting
Here is a series of videos from PCA pastor Tim Keller on church planting that highlights some of the essential principles, attitudes, and elements that a church planter needs to get through it effectively. (Each video is a little less than 5 minutes long.)
SBC Conpensation study for 2008
Frankly, most of the data on my blog (really, all of it until today) is drawn from the Presbyterian Church in America's (PCA's) stats. That's because, well, I'm in the PCA, so that is the data I have ready access to-- or have in the past, at least.
But recently Lifeway Research released study data on church compensation in the Southern Baptist Convention. (Lifeway Research is, obviously, the research arm of Lifeway Publications-- and THEY are the publishing wing of the Southern Baptist Convention.) The study data is interesting (to me), as most data of this sort can be.
The headliner find of the study is that raises and increases in SBC pastors' salaries beat inflation-- but barely. (This doesn't mean, by the way, that it covers a normal cost-of-living increase; inflation is simply when the value of the dollar-- or any other currency-- goes down, while the "cost-of-living" is what it costs to maintain a certain standard of living.) There is a lot of other data there-- and if you're in the process of negotiating your salary (especially if you're in the SBC!), then it will be a helpful tool.
One caveat that I would add: one friend (who was formerly an SBC pastor before coming into the PCA) told me bluntly, "Baptists are notorious for not paying their pastors well." I pressed to see if that was simply based on his own experience, and he assured me that it wasn't. This may be an unfair accusation, and I would welcome any Baptist readers to chime in about it-- but if he is right, then take this data with a grain of salt, as far as what is "fair" compensation for a pastor.
Here are some links:
- Read a summary of the study
- Visit the Compensation Study homepage, whee you can view the results of the study broken down by category.
- The study homepage also includes a "customized report" that will project what your salary should be, based on the parameters and findings of the study
A great deal on software (Mac only, sorry)
Today and for a limited, they are offering a MacUpdate Promo. This is a bundle of programs for the Mac that are normally over $300, but you can buy them in bundle for $49.99.
Why am I mentioning this here? Three of the seven programs included in the bundle: DevonAgent, Mellel, and Bookends. I used all three of these throughout seminary.
DevonAgent is a great research tool for searching the internet.
Mellel is a word processor specifically designed for research and academic writing (including Hebrew support).
Bookends is an academic reference manager that makes it easy to put citations in your documents in the proper format.
It's worth $49.99 just for these three, but you'll get other great programs too. This is a steal for students and pastors alike.
Book recs for small church/revitalization ministry
I've written a post like this before, but it's been a while and I've read a lot of books since then. Plus, this one is more narrow in focus.
At General Assembly last week, one of my good friends from seminary (who is open to small church and revitalization ministry in the future) said to me, "I've read From Embers to a Flame [by Harry Reeder]; what other books would you recommend to me about church revitalization and pastoring a small church?"
Such a great question-- and I'm honored to be asked it. Here is my response:
Books on small-church ministry:
- Help for the Small-Church Pastor by Steve Bierly. Very practical and helpful, focused on churches that probably won't ever be any bigger than a "small church."
- No Little Places by Ron Klassen and John Koessler. For folks in a small church in small towns and suburbs, and areas in-between (like the area I'm in!). This is a good book that brings helpful perspective and addresses some of the identity issues that small churches might have.
- Effective Small Churches in the Twenty-First Century by Carl S. Dudley is a very helpful book that is based on thorough and useful research. Dudley deals with the data and concepts that arose from his study, so many of the ideas here are fresh and not found elsewhere (in other words, this one takes you beyond the "conventional wisdom) about small churches). Good stuff.
- What Is Your Church's Personality? by Phil Douglass-- of course, it's written for all churches, but you should recognize by now that the dynamics of communication become more influential as the overall size of a group gets smaller; thus, in small churches then it is ALWAYS a centerpiece issue. Plus, understanding how small churches think is so helpful for guys like you and me, because we're on the opposite side of the "wheel" from most of them.
Books on revitalization in particular:
- The Practices of a Healthy Church by Don McNair is, perhaps, the gold-standard in revitalization concepts. McNair wrote and taught in response to the church growth movement, arguing that the priority ought to be on church health, not growth. Still essential today.
- Historical Drift by Arnold L. Cook. This one is great for a church that doesn't yet know that it is a revitalization church (or that it is becoming one). Very helpful from a leadership perspective in such a circumstance.
- The Prevailing Churchby Randy Pope is very much like Reeder's From Embers to a Flame, in that you get insight into how an effective and seasoned Pastor grew and learned these principles by living them. Perhaps in Pope's case you get even more of a glimpse into that. Very good explanation of the principles that undergird a healthy church.
- And The Shofar Blewby Francine Rivers is a fiction book, but it gives such a real and clear look at the life of a revitalization pastor that it could BE real, as far as I can tell. Certainly, it unveils some of the realities and temptations that a small church/revitalization pastor will face.
- If It Can Happen Here... by Jeff Patton. I'm a little bit hesitant about recommending this one, only because it offers only a fairly narrow model of how true revitalization can happen. Nevertheless, it does so in a descriptive (not prescriptive) way, so it's good to glean what you can from what this guy did.
- Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by Jack Miller rivals McNair in being one of the staples of revitalization, in part because Miller began to teach and train what he did so early. Miller's ideas are so good, in part because they are so pastoral. I'm always ministered to when reading Miller, not just given new ideas.
- One Size Doesn't Fit All by Gary Macintosh does a great job of discussing what the leadership dynamics are in a small church, how they change as the church grows, and why some churches grow into large ones while others drop back to a smaller size and stay there.
- Surprising Insights from the Unchurched by Thom Rainer. I continue to be amazed that more pastors haven't read this book. Rainer's research is impeccable, and the insights he derives from it are not only surprising but SO valuable and practical. This is a handbook for working through the concept of vision and strategy for any church, especially small and revitalization churches.
- Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century by Aubrey Malphurs is probably the best book around on how to develop a vision within the church. (For a scaled-down version of the same content, check out The Vision Thing by Don Clements.)
- High Expectations by Thom Rainer pre-dates Surprising Insights but, in a way, picks up where the other leaves off. This book deals with the idea of "closing the back door" which is a problem in all churches, but can be crippling for the small/revitalization church. Again, great research and even better insights.
- Well-Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley, again, fits for all pastors in all churches, but also again can be especially poignant for the small-church pastor. How do you deal with the "problem" people in a congregation? Shelley handles this so ably.
- The Heart of a Servant Leader by Jack Miller focuses on the spiritual health and servant mindset of a pastor. You will not lead a church to revitalization unless you have also been revitalized; there are few books beyond Scripture that will lead you through personal revitalization than this one.
- Restoration God's Way by Donald McNair. Every revitalization church has those who have been bruised and broken by others; some have been left in the wake of a difficult season while others remain involved, perhaps even in leadership. You will need to understand healthy, biblical church discipline and restoration to shepherd such people effectively. McNair does as well as anyone at teaching this.
What makes it worth it
There are times when the ministry is tough-- enough to make you ask, "is this worth it?"
Let me tell you clearly: it is.
Every now and then, God will send encouragement your way to stoke the fires for ministry. Here are a few recent examples from my ministry:
- In an e-mail received on a Monday morning: "Just wanted to let you that the message was so good. We are so happy to have you as our pastor."
- A conversation with a couple just before worship a few weeks ago: "We wanted to tell you that you have helped us to love church again. Before we started coming here, we had almost reached the point where we didn't even want to go to church anymore. Through your teaching, your preaching, and your love for us, you've helped us get excited about church. Now we look forward to every time we come."
- In a note I received today: "Your sermon Sunday was an answer to prayer. Having suffered a harsh remark from someone I respect, I have harbored ill will toward them. This has troubled my soul. Thank you for pointing me to God's Word on that very subject and giving me hope that I can get past the hurt to pray for God's mercy for both of us. His message was what I needed to hear!"
John Piper recently blogged about "How can I bless my Pastor?" His take-away point was, "I want to see lives changed." When you're in ministry, God can and does use you to change lives-- and He will sometimes grant you encouragement that you have done exactly that.
That's what makes ministry worth it.
Bits and tidbits
A few articles, posts, and other such have come to my attention recently that those in transition (or considering it) may find interesting.
- How a Presbyterian Minister Should Resign. Good thoughts here on the way that a resignation is approached-- not in a strictly businesslike manner, but with care and consideration for one's responsibilities as a Pastor and Presbyter.
- PCA Ministerial Glut. Back in January, the "Warfield List" had a brief discussion (now fizzled out, alas) on how there are "too many" candidates for ministry and what to do about it. FWIW, I don't agree with most of the conclusions drawn, but my 3 or 4 readers will recognize a couple of themes that are burdens of my heart. (HT: Heidelblog)
- Finding a new job, when you're on the road. A good (brief) article from the NY Times "Shifting Careers" column. There are meta-themes here that working Pastors (and even seminary students) will be able to apply.
- The Unclutterer blog has been doing a good series on moving lately-- good advice. Catch their posts here, here, and here.
- The secret to success in ministry. A good little reflection from PastorHacks on why devotional life is important for Pastors (also has good application in seminary, BTW).
- Speed mentoring. Interesting concept-- wouldn't this be fascinating to see done at a General Assembly? (HT: 43Folders)
- The Business. Rands in Repose does it again-- this time discussing salary negotiations. As with all of his posts, this one is focused on the process in the context of the world of IT-- but there's a lot of application to be gleaned for the pastoral candidate. (I especially appreciate his advice on gauging your worth.)
More on wardrobe
A good while back I blogged about the importance of building a pastoral wardrobe while in seminary (though, of course, it's not too late to do so after seminary, especially for those of you whose realization that it actually DOES matter what you wear came late-- as in, after you accepted a call to ministry and still believed your Doc Martins would be the only dress shoe you needed.... c'mon, you know who you are!). Back then, I recommended Men's Wearhouse as a great source for good-quality clothes-- which I still recommend.
(By the way, I'm talking with the corporate folks at Men's Wearhouse to try to get them to put a discount coupon in the back of the book on transition I'm working on-- wouldn't that be cool?)
Anyway, I stand by all of that advice, in spite of the push-back I got from one commenter on that post. Naturally, other cultures are different from the western/American culture that I minister within, and I'm certainly not trying to impose western ideals on other cultures. The big point (clearly missed by some) was that, in every culture, there is a certain propriety to dress that Pastors are expected to adhere to, and there are very few ways to get around this without creating additional (and unnecessary) hurdles for ourselves in the process. (There are a couple of ways-- look for more on this in a future post.)
Continuing that long-dormant theme of wardrobe, then, may I point you to The Tie Bar-- an amazing source of high-quality ties of all sorts (yes, including bow ties) for astonishingly low prices.
While I'm at it, I'll mention the website that I found The Tie Bar from: Beauty Tips for Ministers. Yes, this is actually a serious blog, with a very large number of posts and some fascinating discussion. I recommend this blog with a huge grain of salt (think ice-cream rock salt), since it's written by a female Unitarian-Universalist Minister, and therefore focuses primarily on advice for women Ministers (which most-- if not all-- of my readers will not be). Nevertheless, she does have good (and funny) wisdom, and she has written a fair amount of tips for men.
Anyway-- good stuff, if you're trying to figure out what dressing appropriately for different pastoral contexts really means.
Revisiting the Eight Principles for Beginning Ministry Right
Back in the summer of 2005, I wrote a series of posts for those who had recently placed on the idea of how to start your ministry well. Having recently made a transition-- and having completed my first 90 days-- I thought it would be helpful to re-examine those sage bits of advice and see how much I still agreed with what I said back then!
Transition tip #1 was to focus on building the relationships. There's no way to disagree with this principle, in my view-- ministry is ALL about relationships. While we might be most excited about preaching and teaching when we are in seminary, once we are in ministry then the most vital part of our ministry is the relationships we have with our flock.
That said, let me comment a little about the hyperbole of my initial post. The first time around, I advised that a new pastor might leave the books in the boxes for the first couple of weeks. While there's good truth in that-- I still think the principle of putting relationships before "setting up" is essential-- you should take this with a grain of salt. At my church, the people were so excited I was there (really, they were just excited that they had a Pastor), they wanted me to settle in and get my office organized.
When I talked to my friend Craig about a week after we moved here, he asked me, "are the books still in the boxes?" The answer was, "yes and no." No-- I had begun to unpack my books, at the behest of my people. But also, yes-- in the sense that I was following the spirit of that advice, putting relationships first.
I also mentioned in my previous post about not focusing heavily on sermon preparation for the first few weeks. Let me say that one of the best things I did was to take my own advice in this way. Not that I wasn't concerned about my sermons; rather, I utilized a four-week series that I had initially prepared when serving in pulpit supply. While I did take time to refresh these sermons with thorough review, updated illustrations, and re-consideration of application, having the foundations already laid was a huge benefit-- probably saving me 8-10 hours of prep time a week for the first month I was here.
In all, as I re-examine my first principle of transitions, I say it still largely holds. Take stock of your people as you are getting to know them, and that will help you know how firmly (or loosely) to hold onto this principle.
ordination and you
I was examined by the Credentials Committee of Covenant Presbytery today, and they approved me for recommendation for ordination. This is huge, and it really feels great to get this step behind me. My friend Michael compares the completion of ordination to the struggle that consumes the movie Poseidon Adventure-- not a bad analogy.
Almost anyone emerging from seminary and entering ministry will be "ordained" in one way or another. Some will be ordained by the congregation that calls them, while others will be examined by a denomination. I am more convinced at this point in the process than ever: it is imperative that you view ordination, not graduation from seminary, as the completion of your training and preparation for ministry.
This was an idea that my good friend Richard once put before me, and I think he is spot-on with this. (Years of pouring that sort of practical wisdom and mentoring into me is one of many reasons why I've asked Richard to preach at my ordination service.) The truth is, you're not done studying just because you've graduated from seminary; in fact, you might find that you study more than you ever did during seminary!
Different denominations have different standards and requirements for ordination; even within denominations the requirements may change. In the PCA, for example, the general standards are set by the denomination-- but the actual requirements for fulfilling them are set by the individual presbyteries. In my presbytery, I was required to complete one written exam (it took me about 8 hours to complete, and had more than 100 questions), and face oral exams before a committee and the presbytery as a whole. Because I requested to complete ordination in two steps (I was "licensed" by presbytery to be a "stated pulpit supply" for my church beck in October), I face both the committee and the presbytery twice for orals.
Other presbyteries have more rigorous requirements: one that I know of has six individual written exams-- and each can day many hours to finish-- prior to committee and presbytery oral examination. Some presbyteries are more strenuous in certain areas, others more difficult on other areas.
What is true across the board in the PCA-- and, I'm sure, in any denomination or church-- is that there's a lot of work to do in preparing for ordination. Few, if any, seminary graduates are able to emerge from seminary and face this level of comprehensive examination successfully without any further preparation.
As Michael said: "We celebrated my graduation from Covenant Seminary in May. I am not sure why. For the last five months I have continued studying and taking ordination exams." He's right-- not that you shouldn't celebrate the accomplishment of completing seminary, but that you shouldn't see it as the end-- you're still studying and learning until you knock out ordination.
A month in the life?
Those of you who are still bothering to watch this blog may be wondering where I am! To be sure, I haven't kept up with Placement Reflections as much as I intended to-- or as much as I would like. When time gets crunched, I think blogging takes substantially lower priorities than the other things.
Still, I haven't forgotten this blog-- nor has my interest waned in maintaining it. I'll post more about that later (maybe tomorrow? maybe next week...).
Here's a glimpse at the last month (December):
- Of course, weekly sermons continue to be a requirement. In addition, we had two special services in December (A "service of lessons and carols" for lighting our Chrismon tree, and a candlelight service on the Sunday evening before Christmas) which added two mini-sermon "homilies" to the mix. So, seven sermons in December altogether! And, of course, the holidays themselves (Christmas Eve and Day, New Year's Day) and the reduced time for preparation has made these more of a squeeze.
- I also traveled to St. Louis for a two-day workshop I led as a consultant. This is a part of my ministry, and I want the church to see my consulting and other ministry that happens "beyond the walls of our church" as a ministry of our church as well. In other words, I want them to feel some ownership in this sort of ministry. (By the way, that trip was my third out-of-town trip in as many weeks.)
- During December I had three church members in the hospital, which required additional visits and trips; I'm learning that I really like visitation ministry a lot, and feel energized by it in a way. I like how hospital visitation brings a certain sort of spiritual comfort to people who may otherwise be scared, confused, or just feeling low.
- We also had a few of folks from the church over to our house-- not as many as we would like, but probably 4 couples came for dinner or at least a visit.
- In addition, we had a number of houseguests in December! 12/1 and 12/2 saw friends from St. Louis come in, briefly-- one member of the family spent the night (Jack and Molly's best friend Georgia), while the rest joined us for worship and a meal on that Sunday. Another St. Louis friend stopped through on her way home for Christmas break, and spent the night. Then my sister, mother, step-father, and step-sister all came for a long weekend for Christmas. On the following weekend, a dear friend and former student came to see us, again for a long weekend.
- Naturally, there were several parties surrounding Christmas. A family in the church had one in their home, and we had receptions after each of our special services. There was a brief one at the kids' school, too. On January 1, we had a drop-in/open house for our church family, and enjoyed having them see our new home.
- There was also a surprise called meeting of Presbytery in mid-December, which took up most of a day.
- Speaking of Presbytery, did I mention that I've been reviewing for my final ordination exams over the past month? One more factor of priority...
Needless to say, it has been a busy month (as Decembers always are in the church). I'll be examined for ordination next week by the Credentials Committee, and in early February by the Presbytery as a whole. If all goes well next week, I'll give a bit more attention to blogging here in January. At latest, February should see a bit more frequent posting.
For the Mac users among you, you might be interested to know that Accordance is having a Holiday sale on their Accordance Bible software.
If you're interested in taking advantage of the sale, you can find details of it here. For my money, Accordance is the best thing out there-- and I've used Bibleworks, Logos, and Quickverse as well, in addition so several of the free ones. I know one guy who switched to Macs just to use it!
Well, I'm back from my extended hiatus from blogging here (as you may have noticed from my old post which just showed up a couple of days ago!). And once again, I'm going to try to maintain a regular posting schedule: once a week on a transition-related post, plus once a week on a "week in the life of a new pastor) post. (I'm still catching up on the latter.)
Meanwhile, you might be interested to know that my new church has a new website. On it you will find a blog from me, as well as podcasts of my sermons. As you will see, my blog there is more general stuff, mostly related to ministry and church life; I want to maintain Placement Reflections as a content-specific place for my writing on pastoral transitions.
If you're still with me, thanks for reading!
Week in the life...
[This post was originally written on Oct. 14, 2007]
It's been a crazy week. As I mentioned a few days ago, we got to Tennessee very late. On Wednesday, we met our realtor for the walk-through of our house, then went to set up utilities. After lunch, we met our realtor again and drove to closing. We closed on the house and then went back to the hotel, where I bumped into a member of our new church! (He saw me pulling into the parking lot.) It is a pretty small town...
Thursday, the movers came and we were unloaded. Man, we're so grateful for a full-service move (at least the loading and unloading part). Special thanks to Larry Robbins of Cord North American, who gave us a gracious discount because we were seminary/ministry people. If you're in St. Louis, send Larry your business if you can. That evening, one of the sweet ladies in our church brought us dinner, and helped us unpack.
Friday was a lot of unpacking, and I took some stuff up to my office at the church. I also took a little time to work on my sermon for Sunday! And a trip to Lowe's emphasized the fact that we're home-owners again.
Saturday was more of the same, unpacking, trying to settle in, and preparing for Sunday. There's a pot-luck carry-in (the local term) on Sunday, and we're taking a delicious dessert that Marcie makes. My sister also came to town, so that she could worship with us on my first Sunday.
All in all, a very full week.
When does ministry begin?
"You need to remember that, on the interview weekend you are beginning your ministry to that church, if you end up going to that church. If you don't, then you have a weekend of ministry at that church."I think this is so important to remember, and too easy to forget. This is a key part of viewing the process itself as a ministry, and if more candidates approached it this way they would fair far better.
The leader of one search team I spoke with recently commented on the way that candidates approached and communicated with his team. He said that many candidates had an almost aggressive attitude, demanding that he respond on their time-table and acting with suspicion at every question.
Why would candidates do this? It may be that they have baggage that they aren't aware of: they've been burned by a trick question in the past, or they have had a church fail to respond to them in a timely manner (or at all). Or it may be that they are forgetting the very impetus for their contact with that search team: they are hoping to be considered for a Pastoral role.
Dalbey's words are a good reminder: you won't suddenly change once you have a Pastoral call, get ordained, or are granted title of "Pastor." You'll still be the same broken, weak person you are today-- utterly useable by Christ for His glory, and strong in your weakness. How you treat a search team today is how you will treat your congregation of tomorrow-- after all, that search team could be your congregation of tomorrow.
Douglass & Associates updates
There are also a few features that are entirely new to the Douglass & Associates website. The first is a blog called Church Personalities, where Dr. Douglass will be writing about his research, providing excerpts and other materials from his book, and numerous other great ideas. In talking with him about blogging, he reflected that he could easily work of of existing content for many, many posts before he runs out.
The other prominent new feature is a collection of forums, specifically set up to allow discussion of the many puzzles, problems, and issues of practical ministry. There is also a section for placement, which obviously I am hopeful will take off. Dr. Douglass already fields many of these sorts of questions by e-mail, and this will be a way for him to bring the same wealth of experience and wisdom to a broader audience.
I would encourage everyone to visit Douglass & Associates' online home, and check out the blog and forums.
Technorati Tags: Ministry
God meant it for good...
In my view, this is Gospel evangelism at its purest. Haggard was honest, humbled, and repentant through the course of this scandal, and by owning the consequences of his sin-- and his congregation owning it biblically too-- Mike Jones became curious about this church (and, though the Star Tribune doesn't report it this way, he became curious about the Gospel).
A telling remark came from Associate Pastor Rob Brendle:
"I told Mike, 'I don't want to impose my religious beliefs on you, but I believe God used you to correct us, and I appreciate that."'What a great picture of leadership! Of course, no one should hope for struggles and stumbling such as Haggard's, but everyone can pray that their leaders (and themselves) would respond to stumbling in a manner such as Brendle (and even Haggard) did.
Convictions vs. Preferences: where problems arise in candidacy
One of the first things that candidates must understand is that they do not get the same flexibility with these issues that others get. Only primary issues are matters that should be required for church membership. Agreement on secondary issues, however, must be present for church leadership; a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, for example, should not have a significant dispute with the Westminster Confession, because that is the doctrinal standard of the PCA.
This, for example, is why is is crucial for a candidate to understand the core doctrines of a denomination, and whether he agrees with them or not. A pastoral candidate has an obligation to state his exceptions to doctrinal standards, and if he is not approved for ordination in that denomination-- or is not offered a a call to a particular church-- because of those exceptions, he should accept that graciously. Responding otherwise will only extend the division.
But pastoral candidates should be aware that they are being evaluated at the tertiary level, as well. While there is greater room for disagreement here-- just as there is more room at the secondary level than at the primary one-- there still needs to be a broad amount of agreement for the ministry to work. A pastoral candidate should find out what the key tertiary issues are, and determine if he is in agreement with them.
For example, a pastor that chooses to home-school his children will find that some churches want the children of their congregation to be a witness in the public schools, and therefore the pastor will lose the trust of some of his congregation. Similarly, a pastor who introduces guitar, praise choruses, and new melodies for familiar hymns will not find a congregation that prefers a strictly traditional worship service to be very open to his changes.
This brings me to the second point about how the distinction of issues matters in candidacy. Both candidate-pastor and candidate-church must take care to ensure that the issues are properly categorized. It is too easy for those issues that are particularly dear to us to migrate up the scale of importance.
In many cases, those issues that are important personally will shift from tertiary to secondary-- or even, in some cases, from secondary to primary. In my experience, this happens in churches when there is little, if any, disagreement about the issue in question; because everyone shares the same perspective on an issue, the importance of that perspective elevates.
On the other hand, when this happens for a pastor or pastoral candidate, it is more likely the result of one or more of the following:
- He has spent a significant amount of study on a particular issue
- He has been heavily influenced by one or two mentors/pastors/professors who shaped his life in many ways, including his perspective on that issue
- He has met a substantial amount of resistance about his view on that issue, and this has made him defensive
The antidote to this "Creeping Priority Syndrome" is, on both sides, a good dose of humility. Proper perspective through humbling oneself is always appropriate, but never more so than when dealing with issues upon which others disagree.
At the risk of seeming cynical, however, I presume that the more ready (and more frequently applied) salve for this "Syndrome" is simply looking elsewhere. While the long-term problems of mis-categorized issues are not solved by this, in the short-term it is obviously easier to avoid facing them, instead seeking for a pastor or church that is more directly compatible with your view.
Primary convictions vs. incidental preferences
The diagram that has helped me-- and scores of other students at Covenant Seminary-- understand this concept was developed in 2002 by Bryan Clark, and the foundation of it looks like this:
Obviously, the premise is that the issues we face in ministry-- those things which we may disagree about to one degree or another-- should be broken down into three categories. And the key to the whole thing is how those categories are understood. What is a primary issue? How do you handle it? When must you agree-- or put another way, when may you disagree?
It's easiest to understand the primary issues as those that define orthodoxy in Christianity (think Apostles' Creed)-- these are doctrines that are essential to Christian life and faith. On the other hand, secondary issues are those which may typically divide one denomination from another (think Westminster Confession). These are doctrines for which there may be a large amount of biblical data, but that data can be construed in more than one way.
Tertiary issues are much more personal, and obviously have a great deal more variance than the other two. They may not be doctrines at all, but simply matters of preference or a conviction about the application or result of a doctrine. If they are doctrinal, they have limited biblical data supporting them-- in other words, they are more inferential than clear, evident doctrines. Tertiary issues are typically understood to be matters of conscience rather than dogma.
The biblical basis for dividing out issues into these categories can be seen in three verses:
- Galatians 1:9: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned.
- Titus 1:9: He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
- Romans 14:5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
Clearly, the scriptures themselves delineate different levels of issues or matters of division, and some are more severe than others. It may be helpful to think of them in this way: primary issues are matters you should be willing to die for. Secondary issues are matters worth sacrificing unity about, and you may divide over them. Tertiary issues should be those which you dialog about, but should not break fellowship because of them.
Examples are numerous, but just a few that come to mind are here. What should you do when these-- and many others like them-- present themselves? How should you handle them?
Clearly, deviation of primary issues requires church discipline, and persistance in such deviation should result in excommunication. The only way for the church to keep herself pure is to insist upon this. (This idea is latent in Galatians 1:9, above.)
Deviation on secondary issues generally does not requre formal discipline. However, if the differences here threaten the peace and unity of the congregation, discipline may be necessary. Excommunication, however, is seldom appropriate at this level.
For tertiary issues, deviation requires humility, acceptance, and dialog. We should seek to understand each other at this level, and even be open-minded to the perspectives of others. However, it is perfectly normal-- even expected-- that there will be many points of disagreement at this level.
Tomorrow I will finish this idea with particular discussion about how these issues matter for pastoral candidacy.
Dealing with "competition"
A friend and I were talking yesterday about how you should handle situations where you and friend are both candidates for the same position. As American men, perhaps our sense of competition rises to the surface too often. (I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Kramer fell off the gambling wagon by betting on, of all things, which flights would arrive next at the airport.)
But in reality there shouldn't be a very strong sense of competition in candidacy. When you are one of several (or more) candidates for a single position, you are-- at most-- competing for the time and attention of the search committee.
Beyond that, I think you must view candidacy from a perspective larger than yourself. This process is not all about you. Though you need to make wise decisions (and you need to ask the questions and get the information needed to be discerning), in the end you must put the needs of the congregation above yours. It is God's church, and He has chosen precisely the man for the position you are being considered for. And that might not be you.
(As my friend said yesterday, "God still has plans for you, even if you aren't the one for that particular position.")
Whether the "competition" is a close friend from seminary or nobody you know, don't be overly disappointed when someone else gets the call. You need to be emotionally invested in the process, but guard against taking it "personally" when you aren't chosen. It isn't rejection-- it is a victory for that congregation to have the man God has called. And if that man isn't you, you don't want to be there, anyway.
My attitude on this has been shaped by the wisdom of a 15 year-old. She was on the search committee that brought me to one of the Youth Ministry jobs I held. Her words stand out to me, not so much as an affirmation of me, but as a testimony of her faith. After I had begun serving in that position, her father told me about what she said. It seems that she came home from the interview and told him, "If this isn't the guy that God is bringing here, I'm really excited about who it must be!"
I translate this into candidacy when I face the struggles of feeling rejected: no matter how great a particular opportunity seems, if that isn't the church God has for me, I should be very excited about the one He does have.
Technorati Tags: Seminary
Why convictions are important to me
- They are looking for a preaching/teaching pastor
- They want a vision-caster and leadership-equipper
- They are in a strong area for growth and ministry opportunity
- They are in need of revitalization, and are aware of that (and desire it)
Add to this that I already know several of the leaders in this church, and have great respect for them. I believe they are favorable to me, as well. And in my prayers for them as they have been seeking a pastor, I have many times felt led to submit my name as a candidate. I have even had others suggest that I do so. They are here in St. Louis, so we wouldn't even have to move.
Yesterday, however, I determined that I cannot, in good conscience, be considered as a candidate for this church.
Why not? Because this church is in a different denomination, and there are a few fundamental differences in that denomination's distinctives that I cannot agree with.
In this case, the differences are matters of eschatology (the study of the "last things" or the end--times) and matters of church government. For some, admittedly, neither of these would be perceived as significant enough to matter. For me, however, they are substantial.
My eschatology is rooted in some of my most fundamental views of scripture itself, and it affects how I understand God's ongoing interaction with this present world, His intentions for the Church's place in the world, and what the hope of the future and the promise of eternity truly hold. A difference in eschatological views could indirectly result in entirely different worldviews.
My understanding of church government shapes how I interact with the immediate leaders within my church, how I view the authority and autonomy of the pastoral office, how one church is connected to others, and how churches submit to one another in accountability and service. Differences in views of church government can completely change the way that a pastor relates (and is expected to relate) to his congregation, and how that congregation and its leadership relates to other churches. In this particular instance, the church in question has had some struggles with leadership in its past, and I believe that a different view of church government (on their part) contributed to the difficulties that followed those struggles. (I'm not saying that if they had been presbyterian it would have made it all better-- but I do believe that they had to deal with the repercussions of their congregational government in ways that presbyterians usually don't.)
I don't think a pastor must agree utterly with every position or theological conviction of his congregation or even his denomination. He must, however, understand what matters are of primary consideration and which ones are more preferential.
These issues need to be weighed carefully in the candidacy process (or before). I think part of the reason why many pastors are not more effectively placed is because some of these subtle concerns have not been attended to, and their implications are unexpected.
Don't take yourself too seriously
But I've learned that I need to laugh at myself more frequently. As I realize my own brokenness more thoroughly, I must admit that I am both unworthy and unable to accomplish the things I set out to do, without the work and strength of my Savior. Rather than hiding my failures, by acknowledging them I can give glory to God that He is able when I am not.
When it comes to ministry, this is essential. Pastors and ministry leaders are already set apart and viewed differently from their constituents. It is easy for someone like me to play into this, allowing others to believe that I am able to do so much-- when honesty would reveal that I am afraid of failure and of being found out as a failure.
A conversation with a search committee member brought up the possibility of someone being "over-qualified" for a particular position. I don't think it is possible for anyone to be over-qualified for pastoral ministry. There is a big difference between being trained and experienced and "qualified" in the common sense of that term-- and anyone who thinks they are over-qualified is probably someone to be wary of.
[Of course, the real qualifications for ministry are weakness, humility, and vulnerability. Unfortunately, I'm too prideful to even have those down-- but I hope I'm much closer to that than to the other.]
One of the lessons for ministry that I have learned from a hero of mine, Joe Novenson-- who I am proud to also call a friend-- is that being broken, weak, and unfit is not an obstacle for God to use us for great things in ministry. Instead, it is something that, when owned and faced, can allow God to bring glory to Himself all the more.
Learning to live in weakness
So confessed Pastor Joe Novenson to his Session after 10 years of marriage and ministry. How did his Elders respond?
"If God is burning you, we're going to pray that He burns you white-hot."
And they gave him a sabbatical to get to know his God and his wife for three months. Joe says that those men gave him his ministry, and he will be indebted to them for the next 5 billion years of eternity.
Whatever we do in our candidacy and ministry, we must learn to face our brokenness like Joe, and to serve one another like Joe's Elders.
Leadership skills for future pastors
Bob works with pastors who have been in ministry for 5-15 years with the stated goal of "sustaining pastoral excellence." As a result, Bob is a huge resource for the research and ideas that I'm working through.
At Covenant Seminary, M.Div. students take a class called "Ministry Leadership" which addresses many difficult leadership decisions with regard to philosophy of ministry, the practice of strategic change, dealing with conflict of preferences, etc. It also exposes students to decisive factors like different types of churches (as in the evangelism-focuses church or the mercy ministry-minded church) and how to identify which church is right for you as a pastor. I don't know what other seminaries offer along these lines, but this is a great start.
What Bob means, though, is not just leadership in terms of knowing yourself and your strengths or understanding the dynamics of church ministry. Seminary students could stand to get more exposure to things like strategic planning, leading effective meetings, decision-making processes, conflict resolution, and how to mentor others (and how to be mentored).
I've been working on financial information at Wildwood Christian School, where I teach and work, and I would count things like budgeting and financial management into this mix. Would the average seminary graduate understand how to compile a budget or develop a reliable forecast? Maybe-- but I sure didn't. Yet, the pastor(s) in a church are the ones who are finally responsible to determine what the expenses should be, and they are also the ones who will be keeping expenses in check. (They are also a lot more responsible for the money a church takes in than most people realize.) In a church there is usually someone-- probably a Deacon-- who has some expertise in accounting and can keep the church from venturing into areas of questionable legality, but that doesn't absolve a pastor from the need to understand how to read a financial report.
If seminary falls on the side of "how well are they equipped for ministry" with regard to theological and biblical knowledge, where does the other half-- the "readiness for ministry" part-- come from? Field Education and Internships. After that, guys, you're on your own. How will you get the readiness you need?
Links, information of interest
My friend Craig Dunham, a student at Covenant Seminary, is writing about his "journey" of discerning a call to pastoral ministry. You can read the first of his posts on his blog, Second Drafts. You'll find the rest of Craig's posts to be good reading, as well.
Project Management Source has published 101 ways to organize your life. There's a lot of good content here, very helpful for the pastor, ministry worker, or seminary student.
If you're looking for a good resource of Bible maps, there's an online Bible atlas that is top-notch. Downloadable images, too.
Seminary students (and other students, too) who use Macs will find the freeware program Schoolhouse a useful tool for organizing assignments.
Writers (Mac-users, at least) may find their search for a good, usable writing program fulfilled with Scrivener, a writing tool developed by a writer. Scrivener combines the best features of a handful of programs to wonderful effect. Best of all, Scrivener is, for now, free; eventually it will be released in a paid-for version, but even that should only be in the $30-40 range. Good stuff.
Also, a few other bits of information:
The article I've been working on for ByFaith magazine is on hold; my editor likes the article and plans to publish it, but wants to pace the magazine's "political challenge" pieces a little more slowly. I can't say that I blame him; he's been coming under fire a good bit lately for, shall we say, controversial approaches to political issues.
Finally, look for the first-ever Placement Reflections podcast later this week. I'm not going to promise any sort of regularity, but there are topics that lend themselves to podcasting a bit more easily than blogging, so I'll tackle those in that format as I can. I hope to have that posted by Saturday.
Placement where God has called us
“We must be in our God-appointed place in the ministry. This is vitally important. A minister may be authentically called of God, and may have had abundant evidence in one place that God was there, but due to circumstances, personal or otherwise, a move to another place is made and the ministry goes dead. The new congregation is out of God’s will. Alas, all the plausible excuses in the world—the wishes of a spouse, the educational needs of a family, the difficulties of office-bearers and members, etc., will not justify a move out of God’s will.”
The Sunday School Lackey
There are those who go through seminary with the wrong attitude toward field education and internship requirements, seeing them as simply items to check off on a list instead of opportunities for growth, experience, learning, and ministering to others. These same students inevitably are little motivated or proactive about getting to know their pastor(s) and other church leaders, nor about finding their place in the ministries of their church.
And because they aren't known by the leadership, the leaders have no desire or confidence about putting these students into ministry roles of much circumstance or substance. So they become the "Sunday School Lackey".
Stuck in a Sunday School class, they are, the leaders decide, where they will do no damage. Instead they will fill the volunteer positions that are often difficult to find many takers for.
These Sunday School Lackeys would do well to take these opportunities as they come to them-- they won't be getting much else to fulfill their requirements if they don't. Better still, they should refresh their attitudes. What are they in seminary for, if they don't see the field education and internship as the opportunities they are?
One more thing: church leaders need to realize that there is plenty of damage to be done through Sunday School-- it is not simply a "safe place to stick the loose-cannon intern". According to the incredibly compelling research by Thom Rainer (see High Expectations), churches that want to keep their members will do so only when they begin to take Sunday School seriously. The plight of the "Sunday School Lackey" is as much an indictment of the Church's (or at least the PCA's) low view of Sunday School as it is the bad attitude of some seminarians.
Memorial Day reflections
One of the events of that weekend was a men's prayer breakfast, and at the beginning then Col. Peterson asked how many of the men present were veterans. As this was a small PCA church with an older congregation, I wasn't surprised that a number of them were vets; but I was surprised to figure out that they only three men in the room who weren't veterans were the two other pastors and myself!
That congregation was made up primarily of World War II and Korean War generation folks. (For reference, my maternal grandfather was a World War II veteran.) Back then, it was typical for most men to serve at least a minimal season in the military.
With the Vietnam War, the general attitude toward military service shifted. Even though the average American citizen is very supportive of military service today, our population is large enough, and our military specialized and technical enough, that we have a substantially smaller population of veterans. I believe that pastors who share military service in common with their congregants will be fewer and fewer in the coming years.
How will this affect the ministry? I'm not sure if the others at that prayer breakfast noticed the divide between pastoral staff and others, but if they had would the pastors' ministries diminish?
If so, then that's a shame. Like so many others, I deeply appreciate the service that veterans-- and those who we remember today who gave their lives in military action-- render to the rest of us. I hope that we pastors can serve you in Gospel ministry as well as you have served us.
If you don't know "podcasts", these are the audio and, more recently, video equivalents of blogs. Think of them as privately produced radio. (And the video version of radio-- what would that be?)
Manager Tools focuses on the "what to do" aspects of management. But so much of what they talk about is not restricted in application to management-- really it is about working with people. So a whole lot of what they're doing is relevant and useful for ministry.
A recent show discusses "Secrets of a great handshake". This strikes me as required listening for ministry professionals.
Another one that should be mastered for pastors and other ministry workers is "Giving effective feedback". They actually offer up a handful of shows on feedback.
Good stuff. If you have any sense of contextualization, you should dig into Manager Tools.
As I've implied before, the work I've done for Wildwood Christian School this year-- originally intended to be a one-year interim position-- has opened up an opportunity for me to remain in a permanent position there. I'll continue to teach, but I will also have some great administrative duties that I'm excited about.
As the details solidify, I'll post more on what I'll be doing and why it appears to be such a good fit for me.
Great magazine for ministry wives
One of the best around is a magazine called Just Between Us. It is published quarterly, and is edited by Jill Briscoe, wife of well-known pastor Stuart Briscoe. It is regularly filled with well-written articles that are relevant to ministry women, especially ministry wives, about personal and family issues as well as ministry issues. I heartily recommend it to anyone who is in ministry and married-- it will serve your marriage and ministry well.
(This is a great anniversary present idea for pastors to get their wives, by the way. A subscription is only $19.95 for a year-- less for two years.)
Technorati Tags: Ministry
Efficiency in the pastoral world
So far the discussions have been interesting and I've gotten some good ideas. You might think about signing up; go to this link to join.
He further asserts that there should be a growing increase in the ratio on the calling side. Over time, you should strive for much more than 60%, and eventually settle in at somewhere in the 80% range on average.
Last fall I was discussing seminary jobs with a classmate-- that is, the jobs that we hold to put ourselves through seminary. This particular friend has simply hated the job he held, although he is quite good at it. At one point in our conversation, he remarked, "right now I'd just be happy to be at 40/60!!!"
At times my friend has had to make changes in his job circumstances because he found he was burning out. He was living the 60/40 principle. I think this principle is a vital part of the picture when it comes to placement: if you're not certain you're going to be well within 60% or better, you should seriously question whether that placement is for you.
As I reflected on my friend's comments later, I thought of the work I was doing this fall for the school where I teach and work. What would my ratio be? I wondered. Upon consideration,
I decided that I would have to rank it somewhere around 90/10!
Now, I have no illusions that the job will remain at that level for the long-term, but even if it dropped off by, say, 10%, that would still leave me at a place that Dr. Douglass encourages students to aspire to over the lifetime of their ministry.
That's cause for careful scrutiny: dare I expect more from someplace else? Shouldn't I remain here until that ratio changes substantially?
When it comes to job satisfaction, it seems like a satisfaction guarantee.
Sin and spiritual warfare
The results of his sin for the congregation seem obvious at first:
many will be devastated by this, possibly leaving the church immediately. Many will struggle against the leadership as they lead the congregation through it. Some will refuse to believe it and may deem the leadership as improperly judgmental about their pastor. And he will, of course, face a long, difficult road for repentance, reconciliation, and restoration-- if he makes it that far.
But that's just the short-term. In the bigger picture, the implications are far greater.
Some will inevitably question their faith or even abandon it altogether.
Some of those who remain in the congregation will struggle with trusting and second-guessing their leadership.
Others will become jaded toward sin, especially the sin committed by the pastor. "If he can do it, so can I."
This pastor may find that, even if he is "restored" in ministry, this particular congregation will not be led by him any longer. He may have difficulty finding another call. He may leave the ministry, not by choice but because he simply cannot find a church that will extend a call to him. Thus, what God created him to do will not be done by him.
This particular church has a young seminary graduate on staff as a church planting intern. Will he be able to remain on staff? Will there still be a purpose for him to be around? My guess is that any plans to plant a church will be delayed, perhaps for longer than the church's income (or the intern's fundraising) allows for him to stay. He may be forced to move on rather than plant the church he would have in that town. In fact, any momentum gained toward planting a church may be completely lost by this congregation.
Some of the members of this church had been exploring the possibilities to start a school. They were hoping to do so in the church's facilities, and as a partnership with the church in ministering to the families of this congregation and community. Will they be able to continue their plans? Will their hopes be dashed? Or will they take them someplace nearby to locate their school? It may be that any possibilities for starting a school will be taken elsewhere, and this congregation will not extend their ministry in that way.
It seems clear that true spiritual warfare is taking place at this church. A young, thriving congregation, they have a great location, great facilities, and great potential. They have visionary leaders and lay-people who dream big for the Kingdom-- a church plant and a school both in the works. A perfect target for spiritual war.
One of my good friends recently told me this:
"Two things happened when I was ordained. First, I began to truly feel the burden of other people's growth, sins, and the spiritual care that I was entrusted with. Second, I realized that my own struggles were brought to the forefront.
"I think this is what happens with all pastors," he said. "They don't realize how much the well-being of other believers will depend on them. And they don't know how much their own sin will affect them. Whether your sin be money issues, anger issues-- they will be heightened."
Sobering words, and a sobering situation, as we prepare for the coming transition into ministry.
Letters at the end of my name...
Soon, however, I will become, “Ed Eubanks, Jr., M.Div.” This, too, seems trite in its own way; after all, is there really mastery involved? Is the title of the degree legitimate?
Don't get me wrong-- I have the utmost respect for my seminary, the degree program, and the faculty that teach it. And to be sure, many degrees that require 103 credit hours + 300 field hours are more properly known as “doctoral programs.” Having been through 99 of those class hours, I appreciate the level of education I have been given at Covenant Seminary.
Nevertheless, I wonder if it oughtn't be titled “Apprentice of Divinity” instead. So much of what a seminary education is about is simply gathering the tools for your ministry toolbox; the practical side of the training seems pretty close to reading the owner's manual with a particular tool.
When I bought a table saw, I read through the manual thoroughly, but when I was finished I was hardly prepared to begin making furniture. I knew the potential of the tool, and its dangers, but much practice (along with a lot of jigs and creative problem-solving) would be required to actually do the work of making furniture.
So it is with ministry and the “Master” of Divinity. Take homiletics, for example (that's the study of preaching). As I've mentioned before, I seriously question any student who believes that they are ready to preach regularly in a church if they've only done it in a few classes. Or counseling: is a new seminary graduate prepared to walk through the depths of depression with someone they minister to, just because they got an “A” in Introduction to Counseling? There is much work and practice yet to be done.
[By the way, I don't know about you, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea that someone might be awarded a grade of “A” in a class like homiletics. Doesn't that stroke the ego a bit too much, considering the gravity of the subject?]
What does it mean to hold a Master of Divinity degree? It means, at best, what it seems to be shaping up to be for me: that you've spent a lot of time with some amazing, Godly teachers who have themselves demonstrated that the parchment means very little; that what really matters is that you spend the rest of your life trying to live up to the title of “Master” of Divinity.
Pastoral prayers & prayers for pastors
The semester assignment for the class on prayer is fairly open, but one of the suggested ideas is to write a collection of prayers. I'm not locking in on a topic yet, but I am considering a collection of prayers for pastoral ministry-- specifically, prayers that I expect to find myself offering up in times of need, rejoicing, struggle, fatigue, success. If you will, it will be a book of prayers for those times when I am at a loss for words to pray.
I want to turn to you for input. Whether you have just transitioned into ministry, have been in ministry for years, are not yet in full-time ministry, or intend to remain a lay-servant, I want your thoughts on this question:
As you reflect on the recent months of ministry, transition, or preparing for ministry, what three or four topics have consistently come up? What do you find yourself frequently praying for yourself, for your family, for your ministry, for your congregation?
I hope to use your responses to inform the topics I'll focus on for this project, so please respond if you can. As I write these prayers (if I do indeed choose this topic), I'll post them here. Thanks for participating.
An amazing calling
At the time, I thought this was a neat idea; after witnessing the horror and shock of the past week, I think it is possibly one of the most amazing decisions that they could have made.
Ron and Judy Haynes have already served the denomination, and the nation, in great and amazing ways. Now they will be coordinating for the PCA what will, I'm sure, become the largest disaster relief project that our denomination ever undertakes. Please pray for this couple and their labors, especially as they begin to plan for the immense task before them.
If you want to learn more about what MNA and the Haynes's are doing visit this link to the MNA Disaster Relief page. There is information there about how to sign up to volunteer for relief operations-- something I would encourage you to pray about doing. You can also donate to MNA through that page or through the link on the right of this blog, or donate to the Red Cross through the link on the right if you prefer.
On a related note...
If you are interested in news specific to the PCA about damage from Hurricane Katrina, ByFaith magazine has a website that is updated daily on this; you can also sign up to receive e-mail headlines of the same information. Also, Wayne Sparkman from the PCA Historical Center is keeping a record of reports of congregations affected by Katrina.
Digging up bones
There are legitimate reasons why someone would want to know about past troubles in a church; someone considering membership, for example, may wish to know about the church they will join. And I not only admit legitimacy but encourage asking about such things in the context of candidacy and placement. A candidate-pastor must know about the church he will serve.
But how much is too much to ask? How far back must a candidate go to get the information he needs? Five years? 10? 20?
If the situation was turned around, my guess is that the answer would be quite conservative. What if someone considering membership (or, better said, being considered for membership) had to recount their own past history in order to pass muster? “Let's hear it-- all the juicy details,” I can hear them saying. Frankly, this is the more appropriate consideration-- not, “Is this church good enough for me to join?” but, “Am I good enough for membership in this church?”
[I realize that the last idea goes against the grain of our individualist culture: in the “me-first” world we Americans live in, how dare I suggest that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?]
“But wait,” you say. “Isn't there room for growth in this sort of circumstance? What about grace?” Indeed, grace is hard at work in my life-- and (hopefully!) in the lives of believers coming before a church for membership. In fact, it is that very grace-- NOT the circumstances of their history-- that should be the basis for membership.
This came to mind recently as I learned that a church that I once worked with was soon to be without a pastor. I pondered whether I would want to serve that church as their pastor, and upon deciding that I would want to, it occurred to me that they might not give me fair consideration. Why? Because they knew me 10 years ago. They saw me fail repeatedly. They are aware of the sin and simple immaturity of my past. Would they allow for the maturity and growth God has brought about in my life?
How much allowance should we who are candidates give churches? If we-- as the individual members of a congregation-- would hope and even expect the rest of the congregation to give us grace for our past mistakes and foibles, shouldn't we (as candidate-pastors, potential members, or outsiders looking in) also give congregations grace for their past as a collective group, in hope and expectation that God has been at work to sanctify His church?
I don't know how far back to go, but I do know this: it's what lies ahead that is more important. If past problems are still causing a stir, then my concern shouldn't be with the history but with the present. On the other hand, if there is evidence that healing and reconciliation has occurred, that is cause for praise and thanksgiving.
Every church has a past that is filled with sin. Why dwell on past sins unnecessarily, if God has reconciled those sins?
“The system” and some solutions
In the corporate world, a similar problem is solved by folks colloquially referred to as “headhunters”: someone who serves as an agent of sorts for potential employees, even offering advice on the job market and salary package fairness. Such a function serves to bring back the balance that I so often refer to, in a world where the big corporations otherwise hold all the cards.
How can we solve it in the church world? I think there are three levels of work to be done.
First, as a denomination the PCA needs to re-examine how good it is to be so thoroughly “grassroots.” In many ways, this plays out practically as not simply “grassroots” but “congregational” in governmental form. (I sometimes hear this as a complaint about the EPC--that they are too congregational; shouldn't we look at the log in our own eyes first?) Maybe there is a middle-ground between the top-down near-papacy that the PCA fathers feared and the reactionary grassroots emphasis that the PCA today embodies. How would that look? See number two for a suggestion...
Second, Presbyteries need to get involved. If the denomination would allow it at the Assembly level, then Presbyteries could play a more active role: one that is only advisory, but still one that is mandatory. (The nature of the role as “advisory” would provide the middle ground without forcing a compromise on the avoidance of authoritarianism that the founders of the PCA so wanted.) In other words, a Presbytery's approval of a “dissolution of call” (officially dissolving the relationship between a pastor and church) would automatically be accompanied by appointment of an individual or small committee who would work with that church and any candidates that they may seriously consider to advise and encourage them through the process. Churches could partially bypass this step (though not the part about the committee advising candidate-pastors) by attaching to the request for dissolution a notice of what consulting group they will be working with (and Presbytery would have the authority to advise against that particular consulting group if they knew of reasonable grounds to do so).
So third, churches and pastors would have help along the way-- and their part would be to accept that help. That's a taller order than many realize, because both Search Committees and pastors tend to struggle with pride and too much self-confidence, just like everyone else.
That is all working under the assumption that the pastors, churches, Presbyteries, and Assembly of the PCA would each take those steps to achieve middle ground. Until then, I think churches should, if at all possible, look for someone outside of their congregation to help. There are many excellent consultants who are doing this kind of work. Candidate-pastors ought to seek out advice, as well-- from friends and peers, from former seminary professors, from ministry mentors. Even from sources as humble as this blog.
And both candidate-churches and candidate-pastors could utilize loose organizations such as the network I work with: the Pastoral Ministry Placement Network. We occasionally work with churches and pastors in our denomination to help them toward finding a good “fit” in ministry placement. You could think of us as the “headhunters” of the PCA-- though it is not nearly so grand an enterprise as that. (See my sidebar for contact information.)
I think this problem can be overcome. It is up to those of us who are in the denomination to overcome it.
Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow
Pastor G is a model for me, as well as an great encouragement to what is to come. Though he is only a few years older than me, his already long and fruitful ministry stands as a monument to everything I hope for and anticipate in the Lord's work through my future.
Pastor G began serving this church as an intern during his last year of seminary. He was only 23 at the time, and newly married. The church had begun preparations to move to a new location several years earlier, and G was interning already with that congregation. When the move was to occur, however, a remnant determined to stay behind; thus, a handful of families (less than 50 people total) remained as the “mother church” while the rest (maybe 150 or more) moved to the new property as a “daughter” church. G was asked by the former pastor-- who went with the larger group to establish the new congregation-- to remain as a pastoral intern and shepherd the remnant while he finished seminary.
At the end of G's seminary studies he was offered the position of Pastor by this remnant flock. Against the counsel of everyone he asked, and through anguished and fervent prayers, G accepted the call and, at age 24, became the 9th pastor of that church.
The church was then, by every definition, a revitalization ministry. Due to the anticipation of a move, the property had not been maintained for years and was literally falling apart. Over the years, relations with neighbors had been all but devastated by unpopular decisions, and the remnant congregation found themselves landlocked in a neighborhood that didn't want them. And a significant part of the reason that the remnant stayed behind was their collective fear of change and desire to preserve tradition over progress. Pastor G became quite possibly the youngest Revitalization Pastor of our generation.
Over the years, Pastor G diligently labored at the task of renewal. He shepherded that small remnant even as he turned to them to help him learn to shepherd. He intentionally moved into the manse-- though it was also deteriorating-- in order to begin first-hand work at restoring the relationships with the church's neighbors. He oversaw the repairs of the property, at times taking up tools in his own hands to do the work. And from the start he took up the slow and patient work of teaching the Gospel to this flock.
Years past. Property repairs gave way to additions, then to expansion. Old grudges among neighbors were forgotten and new friendships were made. Pastor G's family expanded as well, with a son, then daughters. And under his capable teaching of the Gospel, the small remnant flock began to grow-- and grow. Ministerial staff were added, new ministries developed, and new vision caught.
When we arrived here four years ago, the church had grown from those 50 or so to nearly 800 total (including children). Shortly thereafter, another daughter church was established-- this one in a more conventional manner-- for the extension of the church's vision to reach the city. Within a year, the 150 or so that left to assist with that plant were replaced, and more. God is faithful to make prosperous the faithful preaching of His word, and our church is evidence of that.
Pastor G truly loves the Church, and he loves our church. I have never heard him speak harshly to us, nor have I seen or heard any indication of his sensitivity to the remaining unhealthy aspects of this congregation. Though I see them and grumble to myself, he never does-- though surely they are more present and clear to him than they ever will be to me.
And Pastor G is loved at our church; the news of his leaving was met with bucketsful of tears. To the end, he has been warmly and affectionately sent out. There is no doubt that he has completed the work that God gave him to do at our church. Now he is moving on to another church that is hurting, bruised, and needy; his ministry of revitalization continues.
I now sit where he was 16 years ago. There are many differences-- I am not interning at a church that needs a pastor, for example-- but one similarity stands out: just as Pastor G was less than a year from becoming the pastor of a major revitalization ministry, so I (if my sense of calling is in accordance with God's will for my ministry) am less than a year from beginning a revitalization ministry as a pastor. Pastor G's ministry at our church encourages me, and serves as a model of what I want to do and be. My prayer today is that my ministry will be a reflection of this wonderful model; Pastor G can truly say, “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
Thank you, Pastor G. I will.
Revitalizing youth ministry
But I'm even more thrilled about the topic that I determined (with the help of the YiMi leadership) I would present: “Revitalizing your youth ministry.” I'm going to be collaborating with the staff from the From Embers to a Flame revitalization ministry (I've mentioned them before in this post) to develop an application of those revitalization principles into the context of youth ministry. Since I have about 10 years of youth ministry experience in different forms, this is already something I've thought about somewhat. I think this could be an interesting and helpful angle to take on revitalization, which I am already quite interested in.
As I've thought about this in relation to placement, I wonder: is there a place for a Youth Pastor to approach placement as a “Revitalization Youth Pastor” just as I plan to approach general church ministry from the revitalization focus? I've known men in youth ministry who saw themselves as “builders;” could others serve as “re-builders?”
With youth ministry, the “life cycle” of the ministry is fairly short, so it is not too difficult to understand the idea of starting over after a while, bringing in a new Builder, and getting a youth ministry makeover from the ground up. But I've also seen this leave a segment of students stranded, without a familiar, stable youth ministry environment (since the ministry they had begun to invest in was effectively dissolved), but without a real stake in the new approach, since they would graduate before it was established firmly. Usually, these students become youth ministry refugees and fall off the map.
Could Youth Ministry Revitalization offer a solution for the refugees that simply bringing in a new Builder doesn't even pretend to offer?
This is an interesting area of study, and nobody else (that I have found) has done any good accessible work on this concept like Dr. Douglass is doing. There are tons of church consultants and many organizations and groups designed to help churches with constructing their search process-- I'll recommend a few in another post-- but it doesn't look like anyone is dealing with the interplay of personalities and how they can drastically affect the pastor-congregation relationship.
The great news is that Dr. Douglass is already under contract with P & R Publishing to produce the book that he is writing. This resource will be, I hope, a tremendous source for churches in the process of searching for a pastor or staff member.
From Embers to a Flame
I had attended the conference before, two years ago; that was where my commitment to revitalization was first cemented. Marcie had never been, and going through it with her was a great move. She has been uncertain about the idea of revitalization as the focus of our ministry, and reluctant to give herself over to that direction. However, the conference was encouraging to her, and she came away with a renewed burden for the church and a hopeful spirit about our trajectory.
Church revitalization is, essentially, restoring health to a church. Many churches have areas of their ministry or church life that are so unhealthy as to be cancerous; revitalization ministry is like precision surgery in those cases. Other churches are not on the death-bed (yet), but generally have areas of poor health; for them, revitalization ministry is like a personal trainer and coach, helping identify every area of life that needs exercise, change, or to be stopped.
The thing about revitalization is that really every church needs it. One of the speakers mentioned that he believed that 90% of the PCA's churches could be categorized as “revitalization churches” in one way or another. While at the conference, we had dinner with a friend who is a church planting coordinator for the PCA's Mission to North America agency. He told us that they were finding that even church planters were facing many of these issues, even before they become particular churches!
I think every pastor who is considering a move out of a ministry position ought to first consider whether something like the Embers conference could give them the tools and motivation they need to remain effective and fruitful in that ministry. If so, they ought not leave until they think God has finished the work he begun through them. If not, then they should consider the health of the church they are considering moving to, and look at whether revitalization needs to occur there.
Hectic holidays and pastoral ministry
I love Christmas. I love celebrating it with my wife: forging new traditions, crafting creative gift ideas, and relishing holiday food. In the years since we've been married (and for years before, but not to the same degree), I have found Christmas to be one of the best times of the year for us. I know that others don't find it this way, but it is for me/us.
Last year and this one, however, I have been too exhausted and swamped with work to really enjoy it.
As I sit here now, having been up until 3am several nights this week working on assignments, with more than 20 pages of writing yet to do, an exam to take, and a foot-tall stack of papers to grade, I am not enjoying the holiday season right now.
I wonder if it will be different next year: will pastoral ministry bring a holiday season of being swamped? Will I have more time for my family and our traditions? Will I be consumed with pastoral needs, preparation for special services and events, and the busyness of a church holiday?