A few end o’ the year thoughts on:
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my transition from professional ministry earlier this year. I knew that when we moved to NC that my days of paying the bills through preaching or church planting were over. Not because I was burned out or couldn’t do it. Because I no longer thought it was as biblical or necessary as we make it out to be.
I’m now a hospice chaplain. Some of you may say I’m still in professional ministry. This is true, but it’s a totally different animal from the guy who makes his living from the free will offerings of church attenders. I’m paid by a combination of Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance.
Having been out of the “pulpit” for nearly eight months, here are some of my thoughts about professional ministry now that I’m on the other side:
- Professional Christians have it easy. Before some of you guys rip me a new one, let me repaint that picture. While many guys in professional ministry feel shackled by their churches (they put in way too many hours for way too little pay), many have the freedom to set their own schedules. They can be their own bosses. This was certainly the case with me when I was preaching at the church I planted. I could set my schedule and calendar exactly how I wanted. I’m not saying they’re not busy. If they’re doing their jobs correctly, they’ll be very busy. What I am saying is that most of them don’t have to punch a clock. They can get done what needs to be done when they want to do it (for the most part… and I know that’s not true of everyone).
- Professional Christians can easily forget the time constraints of “normal” people. I’ve been in the place where I complained about people not volunteering. Can’t they see that volunteering in the children’s program is essential to the mission of our church? Yeah, I know. People need to be willing to serve wherever they’re needed, even if it isn’t in their primary area of giftedness or talent. But when you’re slaving away, putting in 40+ hours a week at a job you probably don’t enjoy, and have to come home to a stack of bills, yard work, home repairs, and other family activities with little time for self to recharge, the last thing you want to do is hand out crackers and Kool-Aid or stand outside in the cold and haul music equipment into a building or handing out bulletins. We need to rethink what we’re calling people to do.
- Professional Christianity makes Christianity an event to attend instead of a life to live. Most of the time in professional ministry is dedicated to the Sunday event, mainly a sermon. If you’re in new church planting, you also have to put a lot of time into the service building up to that sermon–the music, the stage design (which are pretty elaborate these days), the timing, etc. Yes, there are other things that professional Christians should be involved with–leadership development, equipping, vision casting, etc. But let’s be honest: for most of us, Sunday’s where it’s at. And for most Christians, Sunday’s where it’s at. Christianity has become an event (or series of events) to attend over what it should be–a life to be lived.
- Professional Christianity makes it easy for people not to serve. Because that’s what we’re paid to do. The thing is, so many people in our churches want to serve. Just not in the ways we have available. They want more than changing diapers and staffing children’s church on Sunday morning. They want to (whether they know it or not) carry out the “one another’s” of Scripture.
- Professional Christianity shackles the church financially. Because it costs a ton of money. Obviously, professional ministers depend on offerings to pay their bills. But look at most church budgets (the megas may be the exception). Staff salaries consume a large portion of the budget. In my case in the church I planted, there was a time when my salary ate up over 90 percent of the budget (and I only made around $25k a year). Professional ministry perpetuates the myth that the church requires money to operate and be effective.
- Professional Christianity shackles a church in the area of leadership. It’s been observed that some of the new “franchise” megachurches will face a major crisis when the man who planted them retires or dies. Whether they like it or not, their churches are driven partially by their personality. The same can be said of any other church of any size where one man is the face of the church. Granted, there’s a lot to be said for long ministries. But there are also cons. As I heard one former elder say when I filled in for their preacher who went on vacation (and that preacher was a very humble guy who didn’t desire a person following), “If (that man) decided to go to hell, half our people would follow him there.”
- Professional Christianity shackles the professional Christian. I’ve known guys who have to exercise their Christian freedom in secret because if their church knew that they had a beer every once in awhile, or knew they got together with some non-Christian friends for a game of poker every once in awhile, they would be fired. Professional Christianity puts such a spotlight on the professional Christian that it is smothering. I know a guy who is twelve years into what would be considered a successful ministry of reviving a once dead church. He had an offer to take a professor position at a local college teaching another subject. He turned it down, but he didn’t want to. The reason: the limelight is so bright. The expectations are so high. And the “golden handcuffs” as he called them were sometimes frustrating to deal with: getting paid to preach, but fearing that one slip of the tongue will get you fired. Serving God shouldn’t be that way. But it is for so many.
It sounds like all I’m doing is dogging what I used to do. I’m not trying to. I’m just pointing out some flaws that I’ve both seen and experience. Whether we’re professional Christians or not, may we strive after the one main thing: faithfulness to Christ and His mission.
Tomorrow I’ll share some things I’ve learned about what we’re trying to do here in Greenville as it relates to ministry.