For 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 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 seen 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)