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.”

 

 

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?

5 Ministry Modifications for Cross Vocational Pastors

coffeeThe complexity of cross vocational ministry has be to addressed by each and every pastor pulling double-duty.  You have to evaluate time spent at work, at church, with your family, with your church family, in Sabbath and in labor.

No cross vocational pastor will be able to do it all.  They must make strategic modifications to their ministry approach  in order to maximize their time and their efficiency.

Let me offer 5 suggestions which might help you modify ever so slightly.

1.  Use your cell phone as a conference room channel for team meetings.  Get everyone on the phone using the merge call function and have them open up individual laptops.  Once everyone is connected, use a shared church calendar or virtual planning app and let everyone contribute in real-time.  You might not be able to pull off a full, in-person staff meeting because everyone is at their “other” job, but you can plan and connect as a team if you are thinking ahead.

2. Use text messages & social media to connect to people that you won’t see during the week.  With your day-job absorbing the bulk of your time, you might only see your congregation when you are in the actual building.  To make a connection without being present, send a personal text message, post on the church’s social media channels, or write a church wide email.  Each digital touch gives your people a chance to connect with you, even if it is only with a “like” button.

3.  Write stock notes to be delivered when others make hospital visits.  There is no way you will be able to make all the visits and surgery runs.  If you have a team helping you cover the hospitals, give each person a stack of pre-done hand-written notes to take with them sharing your concern and prayers.  You might think it feels impersonal, but I promise the person in the hospital will appreciate a card from their pastor.  It is something tangible that will go a long way.

4.  Record voice memos of sermon ideas, staff meeting plans, and future ministry strategies.  You might not have a chance to come back and write down your ideas while at work.  So pull out your phone and record your idea before it gets away from you. You can even send those memos to various team members as voice messages allowing them to start stewing on the idea.

5.  Choose family outings where your congregation might also show up.   When you go out to your local bowling alley, movie theater, community festivals, farmers markets, or ball games and see people from church, greet them warmly.  You don’t have to neglect your family to be in ministry-mode, but just say hello and show interest.  It is another connection that makes all the difference.

The key to cross vocational ministry is to be intentional and strategic.  You must maximize your time and take advantage of the little things that can make a huge difference.

What ideas or modifications would you suggest?  Leave a comment.

Pulpit, Podium, Music Stand or Bistro Table

When you enter a church for worship, what piece of furniture do you expect to find on the elevated platform?  What you expect to find often speaks to what you believe about the importance and role of the preaching and teaching ministries in the local church.

When I say platform furniture, I am speaking of the wooden, metal, or Plexiglas structure that the pastor/teacher uses during the message.  I am talking about the pulpit, podium, lectern, or other make shift device that they stand behind.  Some call it the sacred desk; others refer to it as the hunk of wood that will never go away.

These furniture pieces have changed dramatically in the last 20 years.  These days you basically have eight options to choose from.

pulpit potters house

The Potter’s House Pulpit. Dallas, TX

1. The Wooden Pulpit.  The wooden pulpit can be natural, stained or painted wood.  It is usually equipped with a hidden storage space, sometimes a clock, maybe even a lamp.

The wooden pulpit establishes a high view of preaching authority.  Since the Reformation, wooden pulpits have been placed front and center to project the importance of the preaching/teaching moment in the worship service.  In predominately African-American churches, pulpit are becoming larger and more elaborate.

2.  The Plexiglas Pulpit.  plexiglas pulpitFor those who wanted to move away from the behemoth wooden pulpit, the Plexiglas pulpit became the preferred choice.  It was lighter, easier to move, and allowed for the church logo to be etched in the front, creating a branding opportunity.

The Plexiglas pulpit is see-through, breaking down some of the distance between the pew and the pulpit.  For the first time in years, you could see the pastor’s legs while they preached.  It was meant to make the pastor more tangible, more human, more accessible.

3.  The Cellphone Tower.  A new addition to modern pulpit design is what a dear friend of mine calls “The Cellphone Tower.”  This pulpit is portable, modern, and gives the appearance of being industrial.  It basically a podium made of piping or stage rigging.

cellphone towerBoth the Plexiglas Pulpit and the Cellphone Tower communicate something different than the Wooden Pulpit. They communicate innovation and an appeal to close the gap between the preacher and the pew.  Most pastors bemoan the large, wooden pulpit and tend to move out from behind it while they preach.  They believe coming out from behind the pulpit make a closer connection with their hearers.  These newer designed pulpits attempt to do the same thing.

4. The Music Stand.  The thought behind this piece of furniture is ease and utility.  The music stand is already on stage, nearly invisible and projects that the sermon/message is more about the communicator than anything else.

Consider the musician or soloist who uses the music stand for their sheet music – no one notices the stand, they focus on the artist.  The same thought is at work when the pastor preaches with a music stand – focus on the message, not the furniture.

5.  The iPad Pulpit.  ipad pulpitEven newer than the cellphone tower, the iPad Pulpit has entered the church marketplace as more and more pastors toss out the paper notes and go fully digital.  This pulpit looks sleek, modern, and like a control panel on the USS Enterprise.

As with the music stand, the iPad Pulpit places more focus on the communicator than the furniture piece itself.  It can be moved to and from the platform with ease, making transitions seamless, perfect when the stage hand has to place stage props or move band instruments.

For younger generations, the idea of packing a leather-bound Bible to church and scribbling out notes with pen and paper may seem antiquated.  Everything is digital these days.  Open your Bible app, use Notes to keep ideas, Tweet good ideas.  If the hearers in the pew are going digital, maybe the pastor should as well.

bistro table6. The Bistro Table.  In the world of conversation and dialogue, a new pulpit concept has emerged.  Enter the Bistro Table.  The bistro table says to the hearers, “Welcome. Pull up a chair.  Let’s chat.  No judgment.  No tradition.  Just conversation.” 

Bistro tables are present in your local restaurant or sports bar, why not at church.  They are cheap, sleek, and very easy to move. They are high enough to hold your notes and Bible with without problems seeing what you’ve written down.

As with the music stand and iPad pulpit, the view of the preacher/teachers is more casual and laid back.  No suit and tie.  No formal robes and vestments.  We are here to worship God and to be in community together.  There is no better way to communicate community than to preach with a restaurant table.

7.  The High Chair and Monitor.  Tossing aside the podium, lectern, stand or table, the high chair and flat panel monitor are growing in popularity.  Probably made most famous by Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church, this removes the pulpit furniture altogether and embraces a communicator-teacher-presenter effect.

The pastor/teacher interacts with the stage props, the audience, and the monitor all in real time.  There are no notes, no Bible, no manuscript. The message is memorized and rehearsed. The sermon is a talk.  The pastor is the presenter.  This is conference style communication. There probably isn’t much of an invitation or call to publicly repent, but that is not the design of the service.

Andy Stanley

8.  Nothing at all.  Consider the apostles, the disciples, or Jesus himself who preached to thousands with no platform furniture at all.  No pulpit.  No cellphone tower.  No monitor.  The founders of our faith preached on hillsides, from fishing boats, seating in synagogues and in open public squares.  They preached without notes, without furniture, without iPads, yet they preached with passion, vitality, and full of God’s spirit.

All in all, whatever platform furniture piece you use, remember these items are not essential, nor are they sinful.  They are tools to use.

Simply put: don’t let platform furniture become a sacred idol.  We can preach the Gospel with or without them and be perfectly biblical and Spirit-led.

The Explosion of Cross Vocational Ministry in SBC Churches

cross vocationalOver the past several months, I have been researching trends and developments which I believe will result in an explosion of cross vocational ministry across the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in the coming years.

I would like to identify six (6) issues which I believe will culminate in a huge increase in cross vocational ministry leaders across the convention.

1. Church planting.  As the SBC continues to start, launch, plant, and multiple new churches, the ministry staff of these new churches usually begin as individual church planters or part of a church planting team.  There are no full-time ministry leaders in the new church plant for a period of time, therefore, everyone is cross vocational.  Once the church is more established, I believe some leaders might want to remain as they started.

2. Health insurance premiums.  The cost of health insurance for self-employed individuals (such as church staff members) is outrageous.  Many pastors and ministry leaders will need another job in order to help pay the healthcare bills or to have an employer who can provide health insurance for their family.  Family self-employed insurance can reach $10,000 to $12,000 per year.

3. Decline in cultural Christianity.  As the American culture becomes more secular, more post-Christian, even anti-Christian, ministry leaders will need to access multiple avenues in the marketplace to meet and engage with unbelieving people.  Much like cross cultural missionaries in an international context use work platforms, church ministry leaders are seeing less and less unbelieving people seeking out the Gospel or a church on their own.  They are not banging down the doors to get into church.  Therefore the cross vocational ministry leader has more opportunity for evangelism and outreach if they are in the workplace than if they are isolated in the church office.

4. Smaller budgets, smaller full time staffs.  While giving to the IMB & NAMB missions offerings are up, overall church giving and budgets are continuing to decline.  Builders, who are the most generous and faithful, are passing away.  Boomers are moving toward their retirement fixed income and struggling to pay for rising healthcare costs.  Gen. X’ers are saddled with consumer debt and are not very generous as a generation in general.  The Millennials, who are very generous, feel more compelled to give to social causes than local churches.  The result is smaller church budgets which results in less funding for personnel.

5. Accessibility of online theological education.  More and more ministry leader are exploring online theological education.  The cost is affordable.  The availability is endless.  The flexibility is tremendous.  Decades ago, theological education required relocating to a seminary, finding a new job, new church, new place to live.  None of those are required now.

Cross vocational ministry leaders who are presenting serving in a company and a church who thought they would never have the opportunity to study and learn can take online courses from anywhere.

I had an online Master of Theology student who was a full-time Bible teacher at a Christian high school and served as a part-time youth pastor in his church.  The thought of leaving both the job and the church did not sit well with him, nor his wife.  He decided online theological education was the way to go and it worked very well for him.  His high school and church both chipped in for his tuition, which made the cost very reasonable.

6. Threat of tax-exempt tax status removal.  There has been recent discussion about the ending of the tax exempt status for churches and non-profit ministries.  If this does come down in the coming decade, churches will have to position themselves to work with less funding due to the tax liability.

In my humble opinion, the way around these issues is to bring on more cross vocational ministry leaders in a variety of positions or roles.

What if the whole church staff was cross vocational?  What if your church had the funding for two full-time positions and instead of two FT’ers, you moved toward four cross vocational leaders.  You double your ministry staff in one swoop.

I once suggested to a church that was seeking to bring on a FT senior pastor for 90k annually to consider bringing on three or four cross vocational staff instead.  If they took the senior pastor job description and broke it into three parts – preaching/teaching, administration, and pastoral care – they could fill all three roles with part-time leaders for 25k each and still have enough funds to add a ministry assistant or intern using the same 90k package.  Four staff for the price of one.

Certainly the look and feel of the ministry staff would be different, but consider the benefits: more numeric staff, more connections to various groups within the community, more relevance in the marketplace, and more innovation to break the traditional staffing mold with a new structure that looks more missional.  The church choose to not take my suggestion.  It was simply too radical for their liking.

Cross vocational ministry has always been present in the SBC, but I believe it is about to gain momentum out of necessity and innovative thinking.

Cross Vocational Ministry Demands Organization Skills

cross vocationalIn recent months, my role as a cross vocational minister has changed. If you are not familiar with the term “cross vocational,” it’s because I made it up.

Cross vocational ministry is my invented term for what was once called bi-vocational ministry.

I prefer the term cross vocational because the ministry leader has an everyday, normal job and a ministry calling which are constantly crossing over one another.  At times, the day job is the primary focus and at other times, the ministry role is primary. The cross vocational minister is constantly attempting to balance the two.

I also like the idea of “cross” vocational in the implication of Jesus Christ, who went to the cross, dying for sin, making a bridge for mankind to “cross” over from death to life.

In recent days, my day job at Campbellsville University has become quite a bit more demanding. After seven years of full-time teaching faculty, I have now taken on a role in academic administration in addition to teaching.  Whereas faculty members have flexibility in their weekly teaching schedule, academic administration is more of a 40 hours per week, 8 to 5, kind of job.

What I am now facing is what most cross vocational ministers have faced for years.  They work a full-time job, then switch, or cross over, to the ministry in early mornings, evenings and on weekends.  The time demands are pressing when it comes to sermon preparation, church leadership, communicating vision, and attempting to perform some level of outreach and pastoral care.

The main lesson I am learning in balancing these demands is that organization and preparation must be way in advance.  Time is limited in a full daily schedule, therefore the cross vocational minister must use every free moment to be planning, preparing, and working far in advance.

You never know when your schedule is going to change at the day job.  You might be called in for training or need to make a business trip or be given an assignment that must be finished by Friday. In order to meet these demands and the ministry tasks, you have to utilize every tool available to be organized, prepared and focused.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered for organization and preparation in cross vocational ministry.

1. Use your breaks wisely such as Christmas break, spring break, or long holiday weekends.  Use these extra days off to plan ahead.  I know there are other things on your agenda, but this “free” day might be enough to prepare several sermons or put together a major outreach effort.

2. Be constantly taking notes and jotting down ideas.  Use your smart phone or iPad to track thoughts that might come at the gym, on the road, at a lunch break, or even in the shower.   Carry a ministry journal with you everywhere working on upcoming sermons or to-do lists for ministry projects.  Pack a few blank note cards with you and when you are waiting for a haircut or a doctor’s appointment, write a note to a new member or a family that is struggling.

3. Communicate using web-based tools.  Use group emails, group texts, and group document sharing tools to keep everyone in the loop.  The more you communicate digitally, the more your team (who is probably cross vocational as well) will be able to do their work without a face to face meeting.  Social media and email can also help you connect to the wider church family without being “physically” present for everything.

4. Plan worship services collaboratively using Planning Center Online (planningcenteronline.com).  If you are the primary teaching pastor (as I am), use Planning Center Online to let other worship leaders including your worship minister, media team, vocalist, ushers, etc., know what you are planning far in advance.  You might not get the opportunity to do a sit-down worship planning meeting, but at least they will know where you are going and what you are expecting weeks (or months) in advance.

I plan on writing more this week about cross vocational ministry and several new implications for this type of ministry in the days to come.  From all indicators, cross vocational ministry is going to intensify and grow in the coming decade.