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On Carrying Each Other’s Burdens

I’ve never been in combat nor have I ever trained to be in combat, but I know good people who have given body and mind to training and serving. They have told me that when one of your fellow soldiers goes down, you lean down, pick them up, throw them over your shoulder, and get them to safety and help if at all possible.

This is not a situation we are well-trained for in civilian life. In fact, more often than not, we walk by those in the most dire need holding our appointments or our assumptions that the person in need got himself or herself into the position in the first place as more important than serving another member of the human race.

I didn’t anticipate that being called pastor would change the way people saw me, but every day I have people who contact me asking for help. They ask for prayer. They ask for financial help. They ask for perspective. They ask for insight. They ask for hope that there is another human being who can see them.

And almost as often, I meet with friends who are ministers who are carrying not one fallen soldier, but five or ten or twenty-five. You can see it in their eyes and in their shoulders and in their walk that has slowed down from the weight of carrying another’s burdens. It’s something we, as ministers, train for in seminary, but the pure weight of the number of people who are in need and the time and energy to truly care for a person has increased as humanity has become more divisive and more concerned with selfies than with relating and interacting with those who breath the same air.

If asked, I am not sure anyone, a person of faith or a not, would volunteer to carry another person’s burdens, but if we don’t start carrying one another and leave it to those who are paid to care, then we soon won’t have enough ministers to care for all the need.

Slow down. Take the time to see the people around you and it won’t take long before you see the great need that surrounds you.

The Revolving Door of Ministry

It’s been a year since I graduated seminary and as the class who I was in classes with starts their final year of seminary, I wonder what they are walking into. What will the world of ministry look like in a year, especially for those who are looking to find positions in parish ministry?

I didn’t realize that “seminary student” was a special classification and that once you graduated and accepted a call to ministry, there would be a subtle, yet real change to how other ministers interacted with you. Although this makes sense, it is still surprising to me to be considered colleagues with those who have been in ministry for years. Yet, I have been welcomed into conversations, brainstorming opportunities, and even conversation in our state about what it means to be a pastor in 2015.

In the midst of these conversations, I have talked a lot about the nature of bi-vocational ministry and its sustainability as the future of the church. There are a couple of reasons this conversation is becoming more a part of mainstream conversations (even across theological dividing lines) about church work: church budgets are suffering and oftentimes personnel costs are the biggest expense and there aren’t as many full-time ministry positions available for the vast number of seminary students who are graduating and searching for positions.

The crux of the problem comes to those who are willing to try bi-vocational ministry when the new minister’s student debt or expenses exceeds the amount he or receives for the two jobs. Logically, it seems that this would work because by putting two jobs together that equal the starting salary of a minster, then the student should be able to make ends meet. The reality is that if you are working two part-time jobs, then the cost of health insurance, retirement contributions, and other benefits are covered by the new minister, making it nearly impossible to make any dent in student loans and other debts incurred while in seminary.

This is not a phenomena that is happening just in churches. In fact, as we live in post-2008 recession world, this mentality of paying less for highly-qualified people is called the interim strategy. Companies (and yes churches operate a lot like companies) have convinced themselves that “just for a little while” they will pay ministers less or combine two positions that were recently held by two people into one, so that the budget can catch up.

This interim strategy applies in reverse as well. Recent seminary graduates often decide to take jobs that are for less money, have less benefits, and more responsibilities as the end of their grace period on their loans looms overhead. They convince themselves that they are going to work in positions that they are overly qualified for or positions that don’t pay the average salary of minister “just for a little while” until they get the hang of ministry only to find out that they can’t make ends meet.

New, young ministers then get the reputation of not staying around in ministry positions for very long and leaving after one to two years perhaps from that “just for awhile” ministry position, but, in many cases, from ministry all together. This may not seem like such a big issue, especially because there is always a new crop of seminary students who will be looking for those “just for awhile” positions, allowing congregations to continue operating with an interim strategy, but the revolving door of ministry this kind of thinking creates is detrimental not only to the sustainability of congregations, but also to the gospel we try to preach and live by in those congregations. If we are suppose to welcome in those who are in need when they are hungry and need something to eat or when they don’t have clothes, give them something to wear, then are we truly living the gospel?

Maybe right now in the current economic context and in the midst of 7+ years of operating with an interim strategy, it’s our ministers who are struggling to buy groceries and clothes and pay for their houses and find themselves in need while also trying to serve others.

Finding Home

 

 

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, which has made me fall in love with her writing and her ability to tell a story all over again. As I talking to Elisabeth this week on our weekly podcast, she told me that Gilbert had done several Ted Talks, which of course I needed to check out.

You should listen to the whole thing:

What struck me about this is her interpretation of home. “Home is the place or the thing that you love more than you love yourself.” For her, it was writing and that drove her through 6 years of frustrating failure.

There are so many of us who live each day off kilter and out of sync because what we are spending our time doing is so not who we are that we exist in a constant state of unhappy stress. Maybe you are living there because you are scared of change or scared of failure or scared of the unknown, but I just keep thinking there are only so many days we have to live. Why not risk living them to find home or if you’ve already found home to go home and enjoy giving up yourself for something more important?

Bi-Vocational Ministry: The Future of the Church?

This summer’s travel to Dallas to meet up with pastors and ministers from across the country has reminded me of the importance of creating relationships with colleagues in ministry. This is especially important for those who are working in bi-vocational ministry and as single-staff church leaders who don’t have colleagues to brush shoulders with everyday.

There is a double-edged sword to being a bi-vocational minister. It is impossible to be there for everything the church does or everything that church members need. This enables a leadership model that empowers the people of the church (or a multiplicity of leadership) to minister to each other and to do the work of the church because quite simply there isn’t someone who is paid to take care of everything all the time.

I really do believe the church is called to into a multiplicity of leadership if it wishes to engage mission. There can be no hierarchy in the church on mission because hierarchy centralizes authority and power. For a church to engage Mission we must do the opposite: disperse authority and power.

On the other hand, having one person who is responsible for the theological guidance of the church can be dangerous because pastoring and ministering are never part time.

These demands aren’t part time. In fact, the early church appointed deacons because they recognized that the time demands on a pastor are big enough that they need to be kept from doing other things…Frankly, pastoring just takes lots of time. It takes sitting with people andsimply listening to them. Pastoring is slow work. Pastor’s are often called to just be present, not looking at the clock, wondering if this is going to go past their 10–15 hours this week. Pastors are called to pray and listen to God with their Bibles open, without hurrying.

If anything is evident from the recent Pew research, it’s that the model we have been using for years isn’t something that will last into the future. This means by necessity or by design bi-vocational ministry is going to become more and more of a reality for ministers and churches.The practicality of bi-vocational ministry runs in contradiction to the 9-5 typical work week and schedule of other industries. This means that ministers who are bi-vocational ministry are going to have to be creative about the work they do and the times that work gets done.  If bi-vocational ministry is the future of the church, then we have an awful lot of work to do as ministers and as congregation in dreaming up new ways to do church.