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 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)

 

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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.