Thinking Out of the Box? Or Out of My Mind?

The Facts

It should be common knowledge for most of you, at least those of you who regularly read my blog – because you are the more intelligent of all readers – that not all pastors are “fully funded.” In other words, over half of church pastors are what we call bi-vocational (i.e., they work at least a second job).

Well, it might come as a surprise to learn that many pastors, such as myself, receive no compensation from a denomination, either. At best, most bi-vocational pastors receive a small or modest salary and possibly an expense account, even more rare a parsonage (house). In other words, we are not getting wealthy from what we are called to do.

You see, the fact is that mega-churches make up only a small percentage of all churches. The vast majority of congregations in America have regular attendances of less than 400, and a good 30+% have less than 100 regular members. Why, then, would one choose to enter the ministry (accept the call), spend tens of thousands of dollars on years of education (4-10), only to expect a career that pays, on average, less than a 1st-year school teacher? Believe me, it’s not about the money.

We do it because we are called. We go because we are sent. And, in whatever way we can, if we have to, we will make tents (Acts 18:3). That’s why we work more than one job, if we have to, so that we can do what pastors do – shepherd the flock of God.

The Thought

But here is where I feel I was thinking out of the box yesterday afternoon: What if bi-vocational pastors could be supported like missionaries?

Stop and think about it. There are some areas where churches are few, and the ones that are there cannot afford to pay a pastor any kind of living wage (and, by the way, it’s biblical to pay a pastor). These little churches would love to have a seminary-educated minister teach and preach the Word of God, but most of the time end up searching for years until they wind up accepting whomever they can get. Not a good situation.

What if pastors of smaller congregations could raise support, much like what many missionaries do before going into the field? You do realize that the small, bible-teaching church down the road – the one which still serves a purpose and meets a specific demographic need – is still as important to the Body as the large church on the hill, don’t you? Whenever a small church closes its doors because of a lack of available leadership, the whole Kingdom suffers. Would it not be reasonable, therefore, to suggest supporting at least in some small ways, the pastors of these churches? Granted, there must be some considerations, but is it not a reasonable thought?

Pastoring a church takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day. When one has a family (if only a wife), puts 20-30 hours a week into church-related work and activity, and then has to maintain a “secular” career on top of that, something will suffer. When you add to the mix a pastor who is primarily trained and educated in ministry, not a technical skill-related field, the types of employment available – including the hours and days one must work – become more and more limited.

Am I thinking out of the box, or am I out of my mind? Are there ways this could be developed? Would it be something you would consider? Are there other options worth exploring?

What are your thoughts? 

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12 Comments

Filed under Christian Unity, Church, Preaching

12 responses to “Thinking Out of the Box? Or Out of My Mind?

  1. Great idea. I would never have thought about this. Thank you for sharing this 😊

  2. First, I sort of understand; it seems a shame that a pastor has to struggle to make a living. I also get that some little churches just can’t support a full time pastor. I don’t know how that would go down in the SBC, but I am not sure the concept would float in the ABA.

    Having said that, I have actually raised a similar issue in regard to some churches that seem on the edge of closing up shop and going home. I don’t think other churches supporting an organized, existing church would go over very well. On the other hand, if an existing small church did fold, and seemed to be in a population with possibilities, I don’t know why it could not be restarted as a Mission until such time as the folks could rebuild to a point to be self supporting. That’s just us, though; I am not familiar with how the SBC does missions. We do have some salaried missionaries at different levels, but mostly they are not salaried and are sent and supported by another local church as they conduct the deputation work to raise the support they need.

    How’s that for some thoughts?

    • Let’s start with the most simple point. Southern Baptist missionaries are, for the most part, fully funded. That is one of the big advantages to being a Southern Baptist missionary as opposed to an independent Baptist missionary, one that has to go on the road raising funds for two or more years. There are also other advantages, but that is for a different discussion.

      When it comes to any type of support for pastors, I think that is something that would be better handled on a local or state level, not from a denominational level as a whole. There would need to be a way to justify giving to that pastor or small church, and that is something that would be better suited to those who are able to be there on the ground and assess the situation individually.

      Now, when you talk about established churches helping other established churches, I think that it wouldn’t take long to show that that is absolutely a biblical thing to do, with plenty of examples throughout the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. Frankly, we have seen that kind of help even in our situation with our parsonage. Other churches have donated money and even sent men and women to help with the physical labor. The problem, too often, is that churches tend to be jealous of each other. That is one thing that the body of Christ does not need – jealousy. If another church down the road is a Bible teaching, Bob preaching, Jesus loving, soul reaching congregation, then we should do everything we can to help it stay afloat, if it needs help. We are all on the same wall trying to build it up, and just like Nehemiah suggested, when the horn sounds and the call for help goes out, we should do our best to be there.

      By the way, I’m not typing all this out; I’m talking to text! Get a preacher talking in the phone and this is what happens. 😉

      • Actually, every thing you say makes really good sense. I personally would support such a thing. In the long run, the work of the Kingdom would come out ahead. But, we are sometimes too busy shooting our wounded to do what makes sense.

  3. Oh yes, amen! We have actually talked about this where I live, funding pastors, supporting smaller churches as a mission field.

    Myself, while I think mission trips and work overseas are valuable, it is sad to me that we do not put the same kind of enthusiasm into working within our own communities. I definitely believe pastors should be paid,and paid with a liveable wage too. It is tragic that we sometimes do not recognize that as our responsibility.

  4. I find it shocking Anthony that you should need two jobs just to survive. I think you’re right, something’s got to give if you are forced to divide your attention between your vocation and your job. It shouldn’t be expected of you or your family.

  5. Anthony, I thought “thinking out of the box” IS “thinking out of my mind”! You are spot on. I personally know of a couple of congregations, large but not mega, who are doing just they. More than offering financial help, they are mentoring these smaller churches to become all they can become (sounds like a recruiters ad). In my Tribe, Africa is sending us “missionaries” because they truthfully see us as needing them more than we “need” to send missionaries there. Boy, talk about the inverse thinking of the Kingdom of God! Love it!

  6. Anthony, your thought has a lot of merits. When I was in a denominational setting, the denomination supported and planted mission churches until they could become self-sufficient. The current church we attend (it’s large, but not sure it’s mega) includes support for several local congregations and NPO Christian organizations within our community as well as international missionaries in what we call our Reach Ministry.

  7. What’s the first step? (Yes, prayer, I know that. Heard anything else???)

  8. As much as I agree and have tried to set up this funding model before I have found that it has gone from support to control – suddenly what was a missionary model becomes a satellite with a site pastor and a mortgage against the property to fund the parent churches aspiration to become the next big thing. I would not say that I am jaded but instead I would say I am extremely cautious. The truth is, a good model, I would even say a Biblical model (I believe this is a biblical variation of the support to the church is Jerusalem that Paul asked for) only needs one “I am in this for my reputation” pastor to turn a small church into a number to be added to the parent church’s attendance and a financial asset to be used for their own kingdom. Okay maybe I am jaded but that’s what experience will do to you.

    • I’m going to take a break from mowing grass and wait for my lawn mower to cool down, so I can add more gas to it, and talk-to-text a comment in response to yours.

      What I think is being misunderstood is that I am not suggesting larger churches support smaller churches, per se. What I am suggesting is individuals and or other churches supporting in some financial way, bi-vocational pastors themselves. In order to keep good men in the field, and to keep them from having to work multiple jobs while serving as shepherd of a small congregation, they could be treated as missionaries who were sent overseas. In other words, someone could send him $10 a month while a church might send him $20 a month. This is something that could last as long as necessary, depending on the financial abilities of the congregation. As the local congregation could pay Laura, support would not have to be as much. All I’m suggesting is that pastors should be offered a livable wage and not have to work multiple jobs in order to do the same amount of work as many fully-funded pastors do.

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