Saturday, July 26, 2014

Rethinking bi-vocational ministry

20 years ago the prevailing thought was that if you were a bi-vocational pastor, you were just not good enough to be a full-time pastor. Most every pastor's goal was to be full time.  After all, the job of a pastor, no matter the size of church, required more than 40 hours a week. For many the pastorate was viewed as a vocation, where one could make a better than average salary doing what you loved to do.
You went to seminary, got your degree and credentials and sent your résumé to potential churches.  Not much different from any other job.  You started out in a small church or a lower staff position to gain a little experience, then moved to a bigger, better church, with better pay and a better position.  You explain to your congregation with each move that God has called you to a new location. If you were fortunate enough and good enough you could eventually be called to a large church with a high paying salary.  Pastors changed churches (especially in the Baptist world) like college teams change coaches, working their way up the clergy latter.   

Today, the landscape of the clergy has radically changed.  More churches are struggling financially and full-time staff positions are becoming increasingly harder to find. Those going into the ministry today know that the big salaries of the past is not a reality anymore. And the perception of the bi-vocational pastor has also changed as the view of the pastorate has evolved into more of a calling than strictly a job. Those going into ministry have a purer motivation, sensing a calling much like a missionary would.  The church planters that I work with certainly don't start a church with the idea of ever becoming wealthy.  All of them struggle making ends meet, many sacrificing for their family, most having to raise their own support or be bi-vocational.
Many of our Missional Association church planting pastors are bi-vocational and there are some advantages to being bi-vocational.
1) A bigger percentage of the budget for missions and ministry
A few actually have chosen this course over a full-time pastor as a strategy to allow more of the church's budget to go to missions and ministry.

2) More members involved in ministry  
Having pastors who are bi-vocational also removes the stigma of the professional pastor who is paid to do the work of the ministry while the members come to be ministered to.  A bi-vocational pastor has to delegate, train and trust his members to do the ministry.  The pastor actually has to spend most of his time equipping the saints for ministry instead of doing it himself.  This is actually a good thing as members take on more of the ministry and feel a real ownership and fulfillment by using their gifts to grow God's kingdom. 

3) Pastors interact more with the secular world
Having another job working outside the church gets the pastor out of his office and among the secular world.  They will have more of an opportunity to share the gospel with non believers and they'll have a better understanding of what the members experience in the working world.   

The downside is that pastors seldom give away the ministry.  They often continue to work their 40 hours as a pastor and add their part time job on top of that.  Their families suffer and their health takes a tremendous toll.  A pastor transitioning into bi-vocation told me that since he was not full-time at the church, he feels out of the loop, like I'm losing control.  Maybe that's a good thing also.  A need to control is often the reason a church does not grow.

So if you are bi-vocatioal please don't consider yourself inferior in any way.  You may actually be in a better position to do what God has called you to do and your church may be healthier because you are bi-vocational.

For more on this, read David Wheeler's excellent article on the change in ministry from full-time to bi-vocational pastors.   David Wheeler's article

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Prisoners setting the example of how to share the Word

I teach in a prison faith based dorm each week with 54 inmates and I come away each time learning something from the guys I teach. Like this week I was blown away by the incredibly simple but profound way some of the inmates are sharing the Word to other prisoners.  One of the inmates named Robert gathered some other inmates in the dorm together and brainstormed about how they could more effectively share the gospel to prisoners outside of their dorm. They decided to write scripture verses on small pieces of paper and hand them out to other inmates in the prison. Robert explained to me that he and his team have written literally thousands of scripture verses to encourage others and have given them away or placed them all over the prison.

He said this past week he was eating next to one of the inmates who pulled out one of the small pieces of paper with a scripture verse and told Robert, "I don't know who keeps leaving me these verses but I sure hope they continue. I save them and mail them to my children."  Robert said not everyone accepts them, but knowing that some receive the scripture verses and are uplifted, makes their effort all worth while. 

I am inspired and humbled by Robert and his band of scripture writers and distributors. I don't even have to write the scripture verses. I can get cards preprinted or printed on the computer with any verse I want.  Yet, how many scripture verses have I given away?  Not nearly enough. I'm going to follow their example and keep a handful in my pocket to give away.  And not only did you inspire me, but perhaps many others will be encouraged to follow your example and share scripture verses!  You never know how God will bless and use our simple acts of obedience.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Church Planting and the NBA: Lessons learned from the SA Spurs

Would you allow me to share another bit of insight from the San Antonio Spurs that has to do with church planting? Here in San Antonio, as you can imagine, all the talk has been about the Spurs fifth championship and how well they played.  The headline in SA paper proclaimed the Spurs being America's team with a quote from the new NBA commissioner Adam Silver, "You showed the world how beautiful this game is."
Before the championship I posted about the Spurs' beautiful style of team basketball as it relates to the Apostle Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 12.  Every member playing an important role in the body of Christ.  This team basketball is a rare thing in the NBA today.  But with the success of the Spurs, the question a lot of people are asking is, will other teams now emulate this style of play, one where the ball moves and more players are involved in the offense.

The difficulty is that this type of basketball takes a great amount of chemistry between teammates.  It takes much longer to develop, and requires more practice time together. Not many NBA teams can accomplish this because owners are too impatient. Players are not willing to sacrifice individual accolades.  And most players don't stay on any one team long enough to get acclimated to their teammates to run this system.  The Spurs were able to do it so well because they had a nucleus of players and one coach who have been together for a long time. And they had star players that were willing to sacrifice individual stats in order to run the system.
Maybe the biggest reason you will not see many teams playing Spurs basketball next year is that it is just too difficult and takes too long to implement. It takes a lot of hard work, and it is so much easier to default to the one on one style. It is much easier to run the simple pick and roll offense, and if that doesn't work go one on one.

What does this have to do with Church Planting?  I thought about the comparison as I was coaching a young pastor who is planting a missional model church as opposed to the attractional model, which has been the standard way to plant and grow a church for years. The missional model focuses on growing many small missional groups and is a much slower process.  In the attractional model, the church basically grows from the typical worship service, advertising and trying to attract as many people to the service as possible. In this model, the focus is on the worship music and preaching.  Once the crowd is gathered, often the smaller discipleship groups are formed. The success of the church depends on the preacher and the band or worship leader on the platform.

Can you see the parallel to NBA basketball?  The prevalent way is to build around "stars" whether in church or basketball.  The Spurs way is similar to the missional model of church planting, as it takes patience, with each individual, member involved in the ministry, pulling their own weight.  The focus is not on the one "star" pastor, but teams of people discipling others.  The missional model may be a purer model of church, more like the early church in which Christians met in houses and caves.  It can be effective but takes much longer to develop.  That is why most church planters opt to go with the attractional model.  If they can find or be the "star" pastor, and have a "star" worship leader, they can attract people quickly and build a church much faster.  The problem for many churches, once they get to a certain size and their "star" moves on to another team, (church), they must continue to find the "star" pastor or worship leader to carry the church.  It is not easy because the "star" players are not easy to find.  But like going one on one, preaching from the pulpit is our default system of discipling people and growing a church.

Is there a better way?  Could the Missional model become the winning way we build churches in the future, or is it just too hard, too slow of a process?  As a church planter do you see yourself as the "star" instead of one of a team of players?  Would the world start to see how beautiful the church is, if we moved to the Missional model?

What Do Nesting Dolls and the Gospel have in common

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