Why I Keep Saying “Thank You But No Thank You” to Full-Time Church Ministry

no thank youFor the past 8 years, I have served in cross-vocational ministry.  I have willingly, intentionally, and consistently turned down several gracious invitations to return to “full-time” church-based ministry.  “Why did you say no?” you might ask.  Please let me explain.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with full-time, church-based ministry.  It is a high calling and something I believe firmly in.  As a ministry professor, I am thrilled when I hear that my students have accepted their first FT position on a church staff or in a para-church organization.  I remember well my first FT ministry position and how it changed my life forever.

However, I am seeing some trends in the larger landscape of ministry today that compel me to stay in a cross-vocational role with no plans of making a change in the future.

What are some of those larger landscape trends?

1. Issues with insurance.  While none of us enter into ministry to make the big bucks, the reality that self-employed insurance premiums can  drain our monthly budgets very, very fast.  Even with new government-subsidized insurance plans available, the cost is still significant to a ministry family.

If there are on-going medical needs, monthly prescriptions, or the desire to have a large family full of little ones running around, you could see a fourth of your monthly take-home pay devoted to medical expenses.

Churches are doing their best in trying to help their ministerial staff, but in all honesty, they are only able to provide a small portion of what is actually needed.  Going cross-vocational can assure that a second employer is there to help with medical expenses and possibly even provide medical insurance as a benefit over and above the salary.

2. Access to influence.  Everyone knows that the community influence once held by pastors and ministers is waning in the US.  The church is being pushed further and further to the periphery of society, being displaced from the central position it once held.  A voice once sought after in community affairs is slowing being silenced from the public dialogue.

Yet, by remaining cross-vocational, you’re influence in not tied to your church position. It’s tied to the relationships and networks you’ve built within your community. Because you work in this industry or are a member of that professional group, your voice within community is held much stronger.

3.  Invitation to conversation.   There are two types of people never invited to the party: the pastor and the police.  Yet, Jesus was constantly being invited to gatherings of all sorts.  He was invited because people wanted to hear what he had to say.

When you’re only answer to the most avoided question – “What do you do for a living?” – is pastor or minister, you know the conversation will quickly end as walls go up and stereotypes flood in.  But if your honest answer is teacher, nurse, sales, event planner, web designer, then you have a chance for the conversation to move forward. You will be given the opportunity to build a relationship and engage in a conversation which eventually could lead to the topic of faith.  When your lead is “preacher,” the conversation is pretty much over.

4.  Financial freedom from the finance committee.  Lastly, I continue to say no to opportunities to return to FT ministry because, frankly, I don’t trust a committee or volunteer group to hold my financial future in the palm of their hands.

I am not opposed to churches utilizing finance or stewardship teams in making decisions on salaries and compensation.  I actually applaud congregational leadership and the place value in seeking and hearing from wise counsel in decision making.

Yet, I don’t want an argument or disagreement I’ve had with one member of a single committee to become a foothold in my heart, creating fear and anxiety about my next paycheck or raise.   Nothing makes my blood boil more than a volunteer committee using the pastor or church leader’s salary as leverage to get what they want.

“If you don’t bend to my way, you will never see an increase as long as I am on that committee.”   This mentality is the exception to the rule, I assure you, but I have scene it with my own eyes and know it happens all the time.

The FT minister can be stuck between leading with courage and boldness and facing fear about feeding their family all because of a disagreement with someone on a volunteer committee.  When you have an income coming from somewhere other than the church, you can lead far more courageously.

For these reasons, and others, I am happy to say “no thank you” to the gracious invitations to return to FT church-based ministry.

Personally, I see the cross-vocational calling aligning well with the words of the Apostle Paul,

For you remember, brothers and sisters, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

 

The Pharaoh Effect in Leadership

10 So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people, “Thus says Pharaoh, ‘I will not give you straw. 11 Go and get your straw yourselves wherever you can find it, but your work will not be reduced in the least.’” 12 So the people were scattered throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. 13 The taskmasters were urgent, saying, “Complete your work, your daily task each day, as when there was straw.” 14 And the foremen of the people of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten and were asked, “Why have you not done all your task of making bricks today and yesterday, as in the past?” Exodus 5:10-13

pharaohHave you ever been confronted with the workplace concept of “do more with less.” For example, be more efficient with less people. Or be more productive with less resources. Or make more sales with a smaller sales force.

Pragmatic leaders can often look at efficiency, productivity, and task management through the lens of the Egyptian Pharaoh in the days of Moses.

We read in Exodus 5 that after a confrontation with Moses, the Pharaoh, or king, ordered the Hebrew slaves to continue their brick making, but without their daily supply of straw.

To make bricks you needed mud, straw and lots of sun.  Pharaoh’s punishment was to remove one of the necessary elements, normally provided to them, so that their work would be harder.  They would now have to gather the straw AND  make the bricks.

Yet, they were to keep their same quotas; meet their same daily goals.  Do more with less.  Keep up the same productivity levels, but now with less resources.

I call this the “Pharaoh Effect” in leadership and I see it everywhere in organizational life.  Do more, expect more, demand more, but with far less resources, staffing, and support.

How can this be considered good strategy?  How can this not be considered what it was in Moses’ day – cruel and harsh punishment.

As a mid-level leader myself, one of my goals is to constantly advocate for my team to the upper-level executives.  To show their value, efficiency and productivity to those who make the highest decisions.   I must work hard to never become the task-master who sees their work as inferior or secondary to my own.  The minute I begin barking orders and cracking the whip on them as slaves, I loose my leadership influence forever.

In other environments, I find myself as a first-chair leader.  I would never go as far as considering myself anything like a Pharaoh or king, but in some situations I sit atop of the organizational chart.  In that role, I must never, no matter the budget shortfall or the climate in the boardroom, choose to remove necessary resources from my team with the hopes of greater productivity.  I simply can’t take away the straw and expect the same number of bricks.

“Sorry team, our computers are gone until we pick up the numbers.”  “Sorry team, vacation and sick days are gone until we see third quarter gains.”

If the straw must be removed, competent leaders must find other ways to encourage their teams toward ingenuity, creative pragmatism, and out-of-the-box thinking to rebuild and grow.

The Pharaoh Effect in leadership is everywhere, but it should be avoided.  Give your teams the resources they need to succeed otherwise they might take an “exodus.”

 

 

4 Advantages to the Rural Church

Written by guest contributor Mr. Zach Gray – Master of Theology student in the Campbellsville University School of Theology

ruralWhile the statistics show that the Southern Baptist Convention is in decline, potential growth can be found back at its beginnings: small rural churches. For these churches, which have remained the “backbone” of the convention, the potential ministry is growing. For the sake of argument the term “small” are congregations numbering roughly 150 or less and “rural” meaning those churches out from the city limits serving a particular but smaller community. This concept is best known if you’ve ever been to one; you would remember it. So why would these type of churches have an advantage over a large church with many resources? Assuming the people are sold on the idea of doing missions there are at least 4 advantages for small rural churches on mission.

1.  Location, Location, Location.  

For those who have lived and attended church in the rural U.S., especially the South, the churches we attend have existed in the same spot for years. While some take the mindset of “if they were going to come they would’ve done so by now” approach, there is some advantage to this. When these churches were built, they were made at the center of the communities. It represents a place that brought people together. Jump back to 2016; these places are now known for division and disunity. If you’re the type of church that is serious about reaching the community you can still tap in to the former opinion, but now you have to prove it. Getting people back into the building could depend on your ability to draw on their familiarity with your location coupled by showing them that once again the church is a place where they are wanted.

Your immediate community, whether they realize it or not, know right where you are. It is part of the scenery on their daily drive to work. In recent years I have seen and heard stories of churches opening their doors for other reasons than to hold a service. With sometimes burdensome drives to town for the community, churches have become hosts for programs like A.A. or celebrate recovery. The possibilities here are limited only by imagination. Allowing other groups to use the facilities on off days can become a creative way to recapture some sense of the church being a community place and also a place where they care about people’s struggles. Every opportunity that a non-believer has to be inside your building can be turned into an advantage in ministry.

2.  Room for Growth

Older church buildings have experienced renovations and additions over time. Many churches, including my own, built with an anticipation of numerical growth. When this didn’t happen many were left paying on unused or underused space. When a congregation decides to become missional what are they to do if they experience rapid growth? The reality is that many churches could hold many, many more people that currently attend. If growth begins to take place (and I hope it does) the church has some space to grow into.

Another aspect to take into account is that this space may allow you to reach people you might not be able to reach otherwise. Growing up in farm country in central Kentucky, I would see a large number of Hispanic workers come in the summer to work in the tobacco fields. With the help of some Spanish speakers and our abundance of space we were able to house not only one congregation on Sunday morning but two! Since these were seasonal workers, they didn’t have a centrally located place to meet. This opened a whole other avenue for ministry as a church and while maintained, became effective in our community.

3. Ruth

Though these types take many names, they’re all essentially the same. These are the people that know just about everybody and the name of their dog. They’re usually older, outgoing, and been in your church a long time. Chances are they know your parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, friend, neighbor, or if nothing else, somebody that looks like you. The potential here is great. Since relationships are so key to doing ministry these people are masters of conversation starting and making connections. This can never be underestimated when it comes to church growth. If a visitor or new community member can’t feel connected within a relatively short amount of time, you might have already lost your chance. Where others may not know how to interact initially, Mrs. Ruth digs to find that one thing that could connect them with your church.

4. Numbers

In the eyes of many a small church size is an indication of failure or weakness. In some ways it could indicate a failure of the church to faithfully carry out its mission, but regardless of what caused the numbers to be small, you can use it as a strongpoint. For a world that is the most connected we’ve ever seen (via social media and smartphones) we are also among the least connected of any previous culture. The problem is that we have lost depth to our relationships, and now people are searching for it like no other time. The small rural church has something to offer: intimacy. In a way your strength can be in lack of numbers. This is an advantage that small churches have over big ones. Small churches generally allow more opportunity to let relationships run deeper. Offering a genuine sense of belonging should resonate with the community, and allows an avenue for spreading the gospel.

While this list is not exhaustive, I think it is a good place to start. For far too long small rural churches have been wrongly characterized as ineffective, but the true value is not in the numbers but in the ministry that takes place. If you are part of one of these church, realize that you have strengths to fulfill the great commission and spread the gospel.

#PreachingAintEasy

Written by guest contributor Mr. Justin Williams – Master of Theology student in the Campbellsville University School of Theology

pewI’ve been in the ministry for almost 7 years now. Next to being a teacher and husband, this is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me and is a source of joy, pride, and stress all at one time.

There truly is no feeling greater than getting up and standing in the power and presence of God to deliver His Word to people who need to hear and feel something that is greater and more powerful than themselves. But, I have somewhat of a confession to make… It’s not all as easy as some of us make it look.

I hear the wheels of your head spinning. So, let me help you understand what I mean. From a very early age, I was ‘hooked on drugs’. Yes, I was drug to Bible Study; drug to prayer meeting; drug to Sunday School and any other church service or event that was typical in the Black church tradition.

Needless to say, I was- and still am- a ‘churchboy’. This meant that I was exposed to much of the stereotypical characters of the church, including the black preacher.

Stereotypically, the black preacher was fiery, full of fervor, somewhat well-dressed (depending upon whether or not he/she was from the north or deep south), and could whoop like nobody’s business.

Yet, there were the negative stereotypes as well.  Greedy, fat, uncouth to a certain degree, and flirtatious.

Still, the majority of what I saw growing up fell into the former category and not the later.

On top of all that, God had the audacity to call my mom into the preaching ministry, which now meant that my siblings and I had to assume another moniker, “preacher’s kids.” Needless to say, at least one of us was bound to follow in these sacred footsteps. Furthermore, I bit that bullet!

Since being brought up in the closed doors and back doors of the preaching world, I have come to the realization that the deck is stacked against anyone who describes themselves as “called” to the preaching ministry.

You have to deal with the cliques, isms and schisms, and temptations of what I have begun to call The Industry. Behind the Sunday morning façade, there is a world that many people do not know of. What used to be seen as a noble profession and calling has become a caricature of what I believe it originally was.

Many of the headlines of recent years confirm exactly what I am feeling. From sex scandals to fraud and embezzlement, it is no wonder that many people would prefer to stay in the world than to come into the embrace of the local and ecumenical church.

Despite all this, I dare venture to say that there are still some people, like me, who believe in the power and efficacy of the preached Word. There are still some who do not mind holding up the blood-stained banner for truth, love, and righteousness. There is still a remnant that exists among the broken and scattered pieces of the Kingdom.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon me to sound the clarion call to all those who are maintaining the Kingdom in remarkable and unimaginable ways. Now is the time for us to come together and do the real work of MINISTRY. There is a cry in the land for more relationship and less religion. The time for just ‘having church’ is now over.

I have come to the realization that authentic ministry is now being done in unconventional ways. Though the Word remains the same, the methods and tools of ministry are different and have an almost instantaneous global affect. With the advent of social media and other instant sharing platforms, the propagation of the Gospel has reached a level of exposure that has never been seen before.

That being said, I have resolutely decided that preaching just ain’t easy. I know that that was improper grammar. But, it was a necessary colloquialism to express a sentiment that could only be understood with the eloquence of ebonics. There is pressure to be relevant, engaging, and holy all at one time. Additionally, you have to avoid the pitfalls and traps that are set for you by the trap kings and queens.

Now, more than any other time, I believe that preachers and church leaders must strive for impeccability in public as well as in private. With the world losing respect for the church, impeccability should be at the forefront of pastoral care and functioning.

Don’t get me wrong. Not at any point did I think that ministry would be easy- in any sense of the word. I think what is more important is that now I see exactly how complicated the call can be. There is always a balance between being trendy and being true to one’s self; being used and doing unusual ministry. We as preachers and leaders have to be careful to still maintain the efficacy of the Gospel to save, heal, and deliver while balancing alternative forms of ministry in a world and time where gimmicks are everything!

The Bi-Vocational Pastor

Written by guest contributor Pastor Jermaine Wilson – Master of Theology student in the Campbellsville University School of Theology

tug-o-war1I have served as a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church for the last sixteen years.  Within the 16 years, I have held other jobs.  This dual role has taken a toll on me spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  It is demanding because it is hard to find a balance with two professions, a wife and two kids.

The reason I continue to be bi-vocational is two-fold: 1) the need for me to provide for my family and 2) my desire not to be a burden on the church.

When I first started out in the ministry, an older preacher gave me some wise advice.  He told me to always make mention to every church you pastor, that “your family is second only to your relationship with Christ.”  I heard what he said, but at that time, I was still single.  I few years later, after getting married and having the first our two children, I understood what he meant.  I knew that it was my responsibility to make sure that I was providing for my family.

Over the years, as I was promoted to larger and more demanding churches, I would receive remarks from other pastors that I needed to stop working my secular job.  These pastors were telling me this because the churches I pastored, were historically led by pastors whose sole vocation was pastoring.

My father in the ministry has even made the comment to me that I was greedy.  I was unpersuaded and still stand on the premise that I need to be bi-vocational.   1 Timothy 5:8 says, “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (NIV).

It is very expensive to provide for the basic needs of children.  I believe that God wants me to do my best as it relates to providing for my family.  I have learned to look pass the comments of others because they do not know my situation.

The second reason I remain bi-vocational is my desire to be a blessing and not a burden on the church.  The last three congregations I have served were financially so bad that I had to take a significant cut in salary.  All of the congregations had less than $300 in their accounts and one of the three was on the verge of foreclosure.  Being bi-vocational not only helped the church but it also kept my family from going without.  The people at each church were so appreciative that I was willing to make the sacrifice in my salary, and they saw that I was there to serve them.

I have seen pastors and their families struggle financially because they were too stubborn to supplement their salary from the church with another income.  Not only does the pastor’s family struggle, but the church struggles as well.  Perhaps these pastors did not want to put in the extra work.  Unfortunately, when situations like these arise, it can lead to the pastor doing some unethical things.  I know pastors who are so desperate for money that they will ask the members in their church for a loan.  This is an unacceptable practice that can cause a major rift in the congregation.  I have also seen where pastors will find a way to steal money from the church.  This has been done through the pastor taking loans out in the church’s name, receiving rent money from tenants who lease property from the church, and unauthorized use of a church credit card.  Not only is this unacceptable, but also a criminal act which could land the pastor in jail.

You cannot be lazy if you are going to be bi-vocational.  It requires you to manage your time well, be intentional with spending time with your family and delegating duties. Time management is essential because you do not want to find yourself wasting time.  I work 37.5 hours a week on my job.  I therefore plan all of the church activities in the evening.  There are times when I must take off work and be at the church during the day.  These times include funeral services, church conventions, and celebrating an accomplishment of a parishioner.  I can only do evening bible studies and all meeting are held at night.  Sometimes, instead of having a meeting at the church, I conduct conference calls.

My wife is very helpful with planning family outings.  I try not to schedule any church activities on the days I spend time with the family.  My goal is to keep my Saturdays open and to devote that time for family.  Sometimes, this does not work.  On occasion, there are funerals and meetings in my denomination that I’m expected to attend.  Friday evenings has also been a time to spend with family.

What’s Been Up with You Lately?

whats-up-docI was in a restaurant the other day and a friend I hadn’t seen in a while came in to eat. We saw each other and approached warmly to give a handshake and a hug.

After exchanging pleasantries, he asked, “What’s been up with you lately?”  A very regular thing to ask to an old friend.  My response started, “Well…a lot actually.”

What would constitute a lot?  Well, my beautiful wife, Jennifer, finished her PhD in Family Ministry from Southern Seminary back in December, which was huge for us. This was a long 5-year long process that began with her being laid out on the coach recovering from a back surgery.  She defended her dissertation a couple days before Christmas and passed with high marks.  She will walk in May.

What else?  Well, back in July I made a switch from full-time faculty to full-time administration at Campbellsville Univ.  I still teach a two or three classes per semester in the School of Theology, but my main responsibility is to serve as Dean of Online Education overseeing 25 fully-online academic programs at CU.  I am only 6 months into this new role when, just over the new year, I was asked to take leadership of the Graduate School, which has graduate programs online, on the main campus, and in Louisville.  This has been a HUGE growing experience in academic leadership, vision casting, team building, and systems management.  The learning curve has been steep.

What else?  Well…I told my friend at the restaurant… I am still serving as transitional pastor at First Baptist Monticello.  We’ve been there right at a year.  It is such a healthy place to be.  Great people.  Sweet spirit.  Generous in ministry.

What else?  Well, my oldest son has to get braces and my younger son is really doing great in school.

What else?  We are just a couple months away from finishing off all our student loans. Hallelujah.  And Jennifer is planning a fabulous western US summer vacation to celebrate her completion.

What else?  Well…as I recounted all of these life developments with my friend, I began reflecting in real-time that I am as happy as I have been in years.  I am feeling the shine of God’s favor and blessing.  I am amazed at His goodness and kindness to me and my family.

So what’s been up with you lately?

Delayed Adulthood = Delayed Discernment of Call

twixters

Photo from Time Magazine. Jan. 2005.

Have you ever experienced something you don’t want to be true, but in your heart of hearts you know that it has already happened?  Have you ever observed a visible, tangible shift in the tides and wanted desperately for them to stop shifting out from underneath you?

Every single day, serving, teaching, coaching, mentoring 18-22 year olds on a Christian college campus in the middle of the Bible belt, I see the shift.  It is real and present and there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop it.

I haven’t heard anyone speak about it.  I haven’t seen anything published on it.  I haven’t even had conversations about it, except with a few of my closest colleagues. Nevertheless, I know it is there.  I know it is happening.  I know it is going to impact local churches and theological education for the coming generation.

What is it?  What is the shift I am so concerned about?  Here is my purely anecdotal hypothesis:

I firmly believe the prolonging of adolescence and the corresponding delay of entrance into adulthood is radically impacting Christian young people from hearing, discerning, and surrendering to the call of vocational ministry.

I recently heard Dr. Meg Meeker, M.D., founder of The Strong Parent Project and author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters share research that the new entrance into adulthood is 25 years old.

For previous generations, it was much younger.  For the Builders and Boomers, it was 18 when you could vote, move out, and be drafted.  For Gen. X, it was 21 when you finished college and could legally drink.  For Millennials, it has shifted again to 25 years old when a young adult is finished with college, maybe finished with grad school, and is getting established in their first career position.

This change has been recognized by many, especially educators and employers of younger adults.  We see it everyday.  Calling an 20 years old an adult is socially correct because they are not kids and calling them such is offensive.  The label teenager is so passe.  Putting the “you are an adult” spin on it helps a bit, but they don’t feel like an adult.  They have no desire to be an adult at this stage.  Adulthood is some far off, distant experience that comes after you get out of college, find a job, possibly get married and have to pay real world bills.

This delay touches all sorts of things in our society.  It touches the economy.  It touches the first-time home buyers age.  It significantly touches the thought of marriage and parenting.

We have more students in graduate school than ever before.  More young adults living at home with their parents for years after finishing college.  More young adults pushing back repayment of their student loans because they can’t find adequate employment in the struggling job market.  There are jobs to be had, but they don’t pay enough to support independence.

The delay also touches something near and dear to my heart: hearing, discerning and surrendering to God’s call for vocational ministry.

When mature, faithful, Christian college students are considering their career and future, I am fervently praying God will speak to their hearts about the possibility of surrendering to the call to vocational ministry.  Whether in cross-cultural missions, church planting, church revitalization, pastoral leadership, kids ministry, student ministry, non-profit work, community restoration, para-church organizations or any  type of kingdom-building work.

But if they are not entering adulthood until 25, I believe they are struggling to consider, to discern, to surrender to the call God may be putting on their life.

As they are delayed in their social, emotional, economical, psychological maturity, I see a corresponding delay in their spiritual maturity.  I find this to be particular true among Christian young men.

The problem I face is that I teach Christian ministry and leadership to primarily 18-22 year old college students.  That is my mission.  That is what I believe God has called me to do in this world.  But I am seeing less and less of them stroll through our hallways and into my classroom.

I wonder if any other Christian college theology or ministry professor is seeing the same phenomenon among their students.