11 January 2007

Does compensation cloud calling?

Another thing that I've been mulling over as I've been thinking about these calling/ coming/ leaving issues the last couple of years is that I really only see this angst-y struggle occurring in seminary-trained, ordained pastors. The lay ministers I've met, most of whom are bi-vocational or second-career folks, many of whom are minorities, don't seem to be dealing with this stuff in their churches and ministries. Why is that?
One of our fastest growing DOC churches, doing really effective ministry here in Illinois is pastored by an African American guy who has two other jobs in addition to pastoring this church of 400. AND...
A good friend in seminary was part-time pastor/ developer in a Hispanic congregation where he was deeply appreciated and respected, where people tithed at a 10% or above level and where the congregation tithed to our denomination at a 10% or above level, where almost everyone was involved in real outreach ministry and evangelism and where the congregation doubled in two years. When I've talked to them about call, they talk about it being dynamic and fluid and developed in relationship with their congregations. Granted -- their churches are dynamic and fluid, so maybe that's where the impetus is, BUT...
I also have a good friend in Peoria who is a lay minister of a very small no-more-than-30-people-in-worship, congregation who is just one of the best pastors I've ever met and also has this sense of continued call WITH his congregation that is just amazing. They don't really do awe-inspiring ministry, but when I'm around those folks, it just seems as though everyone is very happy, very secure and very Spirit-filled. From looking at the numbers, they don't look like a dynamic congregation, but they are, in their own way. *
So why is that? Is there something about becoming "established" in the way that many of those of us who are seminary-trained and ordained have become, that clouds calling? And clouds the calling of both the church and the pastor?
When our denomination, as well as many denominations, took off here in America, churches were established and maintained by lay people. Professional preachers came in occasionally to lead revivals or tent meetings, or even to preach for special services, but for the most part, ministry was maintained by and for the laity. Even when congregations became established, pastors were often called, given a place to live, and given a promise that the congregation would care for them. Their salaries were often not formalized and certainly not to the extent that they included pension, professional expenses, healthcare, etc. In many places, this trend was abandoned only after WWII when other groups of professionals became more organized and formalized and standardized. That's not a long time, really. What generally DID NOT happen was that a congregation would spend 60% or more of its annual budget on the pastor and the pastor's benefits.
I wonder if the interdependence this kind of system would have created worked to the benefit of both pastor and congregation? Obviously, the roles of the pastor and laity had to be those of partnership. The roles of both pastor and laity had to have a necessary humilty to them. I don't, however, want to overly romanticize this situation. It had to be darn hard for men and women called into ministry. It was probably worse on their families. It must have been difficult for congregations, too.
But -- when a congregation calls a pastor and agrees to provide for her/his salary, benefits, housing, etc., do we lose something essential to being in effective partnership together? Does a congregation hand over the responsibility for doing ministry to the pastor, whether subconsciously or consciously? Does the pastor become dependent in unhealthy ways -- afraid to be challenging or resentful of perceived lack of care?
I don't really know if there's an answer here, but perhaps exploring those areas where our congregations are in vital partnership with their pastors would be an excellent step towards increased vitality in other congregations. And among pastors, too. Thoughts, anyone?

*(I could go on and on with examples, but, as I've said before, I hate to be too specific because we are, after all, "The Brotherhood," and the association with the mafia that might have popped into your head is apt, not so much for the internal squabbling/ rub-outs (although there's far too much of that), but more for the fact that we all know each other and even a small number of facts can clue almost anyone in on who exactly I know. These three guys know of my admiration for them and the fact that I regularly hold them up as shining examples of calling.)


thechurchgeek said...

I do think a certain level of professionalism gets in the way of our calling....

We begin to see the ministry as a job rather than a vocation, insisting on all the rights and privileges that necessarily follow in the business world.

Part of that includes appropriate compensation but it also includes the freedom to move on if the job no longer satisfies.

April said...

Jim... Yes! I wasn't thinking about the job vs. vocation aspect of it. Good insight. Thanks.

revabi said...

It is something i have wondered about myself, explored, prayed about. I have no answers. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there.