It’s Time for a Do Over

Posted: June 2, 2016 in Hermeneutics

Over the last three years working a full-time job outside of ministry I’ve learned many lessons, first of which is a real appreciation of balancing home, church and work. For nearly two decades I worked in full-time ministry. While I always appreciated and was grateful for the privilege of this calling, I slowly lost touch with life in the trenches of society. One of the aspects of human nature is that over time we begin to measure life according to our own experiences. This became an issue for me. Ministry certainly enjoy-capitalism-1301provides ample challenges and demands upon one’s life, but they are not the same as those experienced in most of the business world. Having worked for a firm that grosses somewhere around $8 million per year, the expectations upon the work force and the compensation were sometimes challenging to accept. Moreover, the expectations were often more demanding than I ever experienced in ministry. What I’d like to do in this post is to provide a brief comparison of ministry and corporate employment (based upon my small sampling of experience) and discuss more fully some of the detrimental effects of thinking about ministry as employment as well as treating it as such.

I want to acknowledge that the subject I am broaching is probably taboo for a pastor who relies primarily upon the faith and generosity of congregation members to provide for my family. I am truly grateful and humbled by this experience. As uncomfortable as it may be to have my income made public and part of the congregational conversation at times, I consider it first and foremost an extension of the blessing given by God. What I’m trying to get at is that somewhere along the line we as the church have made the mistake of seeing pastors as employees comparable to employees of a corporation. With this we have attempted to include the same expectationschurch-life for pastors as a company would place upon any employee. This to me is extremely troubling.

From a more philosophical and theological perspective I can certainly build an argument about bringing the marketplace into church governance or more detrimentally the application of capitalism upon the functional structure of the church. I want to make clear that what I am arguing is that the church is not a business and should not function or be governed by business principles. What I have ironically experienced in the Anabaptist/Pietist tradition is the full attempt to articulate the relationship between congregation and the pastor using the business language of employer/employee. Does anyone else find this troubling or is it just me? Sometimes I feel like I live on a different planet. There are three specific issues this form of relationship poses to a church whose basic fabric is woven in scripture.

The first issue is that unlike within a corporation or company of any size the pastor / congregation relationship is fundamentally based upon love. I’m not sure how we don’t quite get this but if love of God and others is united-corporations-of-america-graphicnot the basis of the pastor – congregation relationship then we are working with something other than church. The implications of this is far reaching within the church. If, for instance, Christ-centered loving relationship is not the basis of this relationship then what we expect of both pastors and congregations is nothing more than a draconian expression of legalism that quashes any sense of real Christian faith. What that means is that under such circumstances the pastor is expected to provide intimate service for the employers in order to be compensated monetarily (it bears unfortunate resemblance of another profession). In addition it opens up the possibility that if the pastor says or does something the congregation disagrees with that employment can be terminated. I have witnessed churches and pastors treat ministers of the gospel as ruthlessly as some corporations treat their employees when the company doesn’t meet profit expectations. When this occurs, how is it expressive of the love of Christ which is to be the foundation of the church?

Secondly, companies base their relationship necessarily upon production and market analysis. This is the way of capitalism which produced the saying, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” Accountability within corporate America is based upon the bottom line of production. If you don’t produce it shows up in your evaluation and ultimately in your lack of employment. While I’m sure this would be a very attractive proposal for some in a church that is experiencing decline, it does not reflect the mission of the church (To make disciples, baptizing them . . .). Nor does it take into consideration the effects of basing salary upon production. These bottom line numbers are never as clear as they make them out to be.  Moreover, if we are talking issues of accountability I am certain money should not be the basis. I’m pretty sure we can come up with a better model than those presented in the corporate world. Faith, discipleship, spiritual guidance; all these are forms of accountability base upon loving relationship. How is it that we can’t use a more biblical model?

Finally, while I’ve been out of full-time ministry I have had the opportunity to be on the other side of this relationship recently. In a corporate model, there are natural times of business. There are certain days of the week that we work and others we have off. When the pastor begins assimilating into a corporate model, there then becomes particular arbitrary times of being open for business and others not. As a member of the body of Christ I’m not sure I want the shepherds to be thinking of themselves as employees who are hired to love and care for me during particular hours of business (I would hope it would be a true friendship). On the other side when a pastor begins thinking in terms of employment the relationship can quickly become about compensation. Just writing this paragraph gives me a head ache. Is this really the vision that Jesus had for his followers? Was this what Paul was talking about with the churches when he spoke of compensating the shepherds? Somehow we have gone off the rails.

I have not even scratched the surface of the many relational implications of this. What do we do with the brokenness when the church fires a pastor? And what does it say about our understanding of Jesus’ love? If nothing else the church is about loving relationships. If this is so, then there are healthy boundaries placed within them. These boundaries don’t prohibit the person who is in life-threatening crisis from calling the pastor because it is her day off or it’s late in the evening. These boundaries are not governed by money that carries the expectation of reimbursement for extra time spent. On the contrary the law of love says that there is no place I’d rather be than walking with you through this right now.

I think the church needs to be cleansed of any corporate model based upon capitalist principles. I am convinced that many of the struggles the church is facing in North America especially regarding the break-down of community can find its source within these principles. It’s time for a do over!

  1. BenSB says:

    Enjoyed the post (as I’m sure you knew I would). I want to read the second chapter as well – and it is different for pastors depending on backgrounds and whether they ever had non-ministry jobs – but about how time back in the ‘real world’ helped you connect with people in the pews.

    I don’t have the benefit of seeing the ministry from your side, as an employment model being forced upon you, but I definitely have seen it from the other side, with ministers adopting a professional model for themselves – adopting something akin to office hours in academia, expecting levels of pay and benefits as a matter of right and completely divorced from performance, and becoming divorced from any connection to the working lives of their congregants while expecting a congregation to meet their needs.

    In short, as we have discussed, I see a ministry that eschews the employment model when it feels too constraining but that clutches it close when it offers benefits many in their congregation don’t enjoy

    • Andrew says:

      Ah yes and there it its. That chapter would have to cover the systemic issues including calling and training. As of right now we seem to think education qualifies the pastor rather than the call.

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