Six Years On

There are 45 Comments

John E.'s picture

By God's grace, our church has a full-time senior pastor, myself, and two lay Elders. I pastor part-time and write full-time. Or, rather, I'm supposed to pastor part-time and write full-time. Most weeks, I pastor full-time and write full-time. Many weeks, I don't have the mental space nor the energy to do much else. Some weeks, I struggle with discouragement as it seems, from my finite and fallen perspective, that I am tilting at windmills. As Trueman pointed out, much of a pastor's energy and time is devoured by those who are struggling and hurting in the church. I don't begrudge that, that's a big part of what we're called to do. But the reality is that that aspect of ministry is taxing and often discouraging.

I frequently tell my fellow pastors, "I can't imagine pastoring by myself." In context of Trueman's article, I add, "nor can I imagine being the sole (or senior/lead) pastor and be bi-vocational."

Tyler, (assuming that Tyler reads this), you often comment about how you believe that bi-vocational pastors are the reality of the future. It's not that I doubt you; I just pray that you're wrong. Assuming that you're not wrong, have you ever considered writing down ways in which churches and pastors can help bi-vocational pastors avoid burn-out?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm a bi-vocational pastor now, and it's not easy. I have an associate who's a retired missionary, but he's tired. My belief in "bi-vocational = future for Baptist churches" is because congregations are getting smaller, costs of living are ever increasing, and it's increasingly difficult for a younger man with a family to live on what an average Baptist church can provide for a salary and benefits. The student loan debt doesn't help, but how else will a man get a quality education? His wife will likely have to work, they'll always struggle, they'll have to rely on state medical for themselves and their children (etc., etc.).

How can a church help? I'll let you know when I figure it out!

My ultimate goal is to have two fellow bi-vocational pastors work with me at the church. I'm working on a second guy, and hope to have him on in a year or so. My current associate can become a deacon and step back. My goal is to have two other bi-vocational guys working with me, in the context of a congregational government structure, within five years. I think I can do it. We'll see.

Where will I find these men? There are plenty of good men out there who've been scorched to death and burnt out from trying the "one man alone against the world" model. They'll never go into ministry alone again, but they might be willing to do it in partnership with other elders (you know, like the Book of Acts shows us ...). I'll find two more guys to work with me, and I think it'll happen. I may already have one.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

When I started as a pastor there was a mindset implying that pastors/Christian school teachers should be willing to serve the Lord "full-time" and trust Him to provide. I did that for nearly 40 years. Occasionally there was church provided housing but life was paycheck to paycheck with some food bank times thrown in. There was resistance/refusal to me supplementing my income and/or my wife working. The end result was that at 60 years old I found myself leaving full-time Christian service, taking a retail job, and scrambling to try to save something for the time when I couldn't work.  (My retail job had great benefits and a great 401 (k). 

In my last search for a pastoral position ALL the churches available were for a bi-vo pastor. (The joke is that the full-time positions are being passed from fathers to their sons.)

If I had Doc Brown's De Lorean I would have had a trade that provided a steady source of income and maybe benefits and was flexible around my church work,

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

josh p's picture

What can churches do? Give more. If I have a garage full of toys and go on three vacations a year but my pastor is on state medical, my priorities may need evaluation. I start a new job in two weeks and I praise God that my slight increase in offering will go to helping my bi-vocational pastor go full time eventually. 

Larry Nelson's picture

josh p wrote:

What can churches do? Give more. If I have a garage full of toys and go on three vacations a year but my pastor is on state medical, my priorities may need evaluation. I start a new job in two weeks and I praise God that my slight increase in offering will go to helping my bi-vocational pastor go full time eventually. 

Is it commonplace for pastors in Baptist churches to be on medical assistance? 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Larry,

In my experience, almost every pastor I've known has had to do state medical. I know one guy who did a health care sharing ministry (my predecessor) but, if he'd stayed, it would have become increasingly difficult to afford.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Our church has lighter preaching and teaching responsibilities than some; Sunday school,, Sunday morning, and Wednesday:

  • The Associate handles Sunday school
  • I do Sunday morning
  • I do Wednesday, and that's an interactive discussion on different areas of systematic theology by way of 10-15 questions per topic.

I've done the "do the whole sermon on Saturday" thing, and it's not good. I try to get the sermon done by Wednesday. It's entirely doable, and it worked last week. This takes great discipline (obviously), because I work fulltime. I do everything I can to leave Saturday for the family. That's my most important responsibility for my wife; to leave Saturday for her. My responsibility is to do whatever I need to do (get up early, stay up late, etc.) so I have Saturdays open for her and the kids.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ron Bean's picture

I know a number of pastors who rely on government assistance for the health care of their children.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

I believe bi-vocational, dual-elder ministry is a better and healthier way forward for Baptist churches. This will be extraordinarily difficult:

  • Pastors need to be able to make a living outside the church. This means undergraduate or technical training in addition to theological training.
  • The current paradigm in the fundamentalist-evangelical sub-culture doesn't support this model. The current model for many men is "grow up in a church - go to bible college - go into fulltime ministry - nearly starve - have family - nearly starve some more - become senior pastor - burn out."
  • The dual-elder, bi-vocational model will only work if the churches and the men have the courage or foresight to be willing to break the bad model that has failed so often.
  • Online and virtual seminary training is a gift from God, allowing qualified men (even older men!) to stay in their church, receive quality education, and put these skills to the test in their own church, under the mentorship of their own elders.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

the current model is for young men to go to college, get a business, engineering, pre-law, or what-have-you degree and not think about the ministry at all

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

John E.'s picture

In conversations here at SI, I tried to remember that my context is my context and not necessarily anyone else's. But I must admit to scratching my head at this:

The current paradigm in the fundamentalist-evangelical sub-culture doesn't support this model. The current model for many men is "grow up in a church - go to bible college - go into fulltime ministry - nearly starve - have family - nearly starve some more - become senior pastor - burn out."

In my experience and "circle," the paradigm is to disciple men in the church, recognize gifting/desire/calling, more intensive mentoring/discipling for that brother, move that mentor/discipleship into a more formal internship-like role (if not a flat out internship), have the church confirm their calling (usually affirm as them as an Elder), and have the man attend seminary while ministering under the continued mentorship of a more mature Elder. Many of the brothers will move into church planting or revitalization. We have a couple of brothers that are in some stage of that within our church. The church pays for their seminary, which is not unusual in my "circle" (it helps that as an SBC church we get steep discounts at seminaries).

As far as expecting pastors to "nearly starve," that's not been my experience now. Sadly, I do remember times as a pastor's kid when my family had to rely on the benevolence of others in order to be able to eat. I also remember times when the deacon board complained because my dad was getting paid too much. While never riding in their car with them, I'm sure that they would also voice those complaints while driving their Lincoln town cars and Caddies. As Josh P. wrote above, some of these congregations need to give more.

This may be a perspective that's a "luxury" of my own context, but I think that instead of moving to bi-vocational pastors we should be admonishing Christians to give more. If your pastor can't afford health insurance, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't spend your money on that Caribbean Cruise. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

This may be a perspective that's a "luxury" of my own context, but I think that instead of moving to bi-vocational pastors we should be admonishing Christians to give more. If your pastor can't afford health insurance, maybe, just maybe, you shouldn't spend your money on that Caribbean Cruise. 

That would be nice, but it won't happen!

I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek with my comments about the current paradigm, but my point is that solo pastor, "the one man alone against the world" model is unbiblical, unhealthy and increasingly unsustainable for men in ministry. Churches are increasingly too small to afford basic salaries and benefits. Admonishing congregations to give more is a nice idea in the abstract, but it solves nothing. I think the more basic problem is increasingly smaller congregations as the cultural "Christian" gloss wears off in our society, not stinginess.

You also wrote:

In my experience and "circle," the paradigm is to disciple men in the church, recognize gifting/desire/calling, more intensive mentoring/discipling for that brother, move that mentor/discipleship into a more formal internship-like role (if not a flat out internship), have the church confirm their calling (usually affirm as them as an Elder), and have the man attend seminary while ministering under the continued mentorship of a more mature Elder. Many of the brothers will move into church planting or revitalization. We have a couple of brothers that are in some stage of that within our church. The church pays for their seminary, which is not unusual in my "circle" (it helps that as an SBC church we get steep discounts at seminaries).

That's a good model. I want to implement it myself. But, I've never seen it done. I've only read about it in the Bible and in other books. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

Our pastors are not on state aid, but we've had to give up standard insurance plans for coinsurance cost-sharing plans.  I've also stood up at a congregational meeting to endorse the notion of the church ponying up for the initial fees because our youth pastor couldn't get that until a month into the year--and with six kids at the time, that could transform a minor expense for the church of a few hundred bucks into a HUGE expense if an ER visit had been required.   Which, knowing and loving those kids, was regrettably likely.  

All in all, my take on the issue of underpaying is that it's simply a matter of priorities.  You have dozens of interest groups in churches asking for this, that, and the other thing, and you will simply have trouble figuring out what's important.  Couple that with a general view that the man living in basic poverty is somehow more spiritual--really the inheritance of over two millenia of asceticism, no?--and a general mood of "d**n the torpedoes, full speed ahead" on establishing ministries, and you're going to miss some of the things that are most important.  Like decent medical insurance for pastors.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

John E.'s picture

You wrote:

Churches are increasingly too small to afford basic salaries and benefits. Admonishing congregations to give more is a nice idea in the abstract, but it solves nothing. I think the more basic problem is increasingly smaller congregations as the cultural "Christian" gloss wears off in our society, not stinginess.

You might be right, but I'm not ready to "surrender" to that thought just yet. For one thing, growing up in a specific church culture context, I watched my own parents and pastor families that were friends with my family struggle financially. The thing was, the problem wasn't the size of the churches. The problem was one, lack of giving, and, two, as Bert pointed out, priorities within the church.  

Ron Bean's picture

From my perspective there seem to be two kinds of churches in the conservative/fundamental/traditional camp.

There are churches like John cites that take great care in preparing men for ministry and preparing churches to support those men.

There are also churches that either have never been taught or are apathetic to their responsibility to support the pastor. 

I recall a young pastor who was asked by the pulpit committee if he could live on X dollars a week. He naively responded, "Could you?"

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

the current model is for young men to go to college, get a business, engineering, pre-law, or what-have-you degree and not think about the ministry at all

The question is why.  Some would answer a lack of spirituality, others would answer that they're not willing to risk poverty for this kind of service.  I wonder how the answers would come out if you polled the two groups of churches Ron delineates.  Of course, I don't think too many church leaders are going to admit that they basically require their pastors to live as paupers, so taking the survey would run into some obvious problems. 

Back to the subject, one thing I remember from when I was a young pup in Christ was that being a "tentmaker" was a great way to go undercover behind the Iron Curtain.  For that matter, with my working passport visa, I was able to interact with people in Malaysia about the Gospel despite that being officially forbidden.  Just couldn't go as a missionary.   The trick, as it seems everybody is noting, is how do you make it work for yourself and your family?  Tyler's notion of multiple elders (you Presbyterian you!) seems about as good as any.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Steve Newman's picture

After 10 years of bi-vocational pastoring, I would put in these considerations:

1. For health care, we have done Christian health-sharing (Samaritan Ministries) and have been very satisfied with it. We get to bless other believers and they have always taken care of us. We could have gone on state health care, but it is matter of principle for us.

2. Someone who has an earned master's degree, such as you get from a good seminary (Central, in my case) should give you ability to do more than take tests. You can think and you know how to work hard. The Lord can use that. I've had some good opportunities for work (started working shipping and receiving at a computer store, and the Lord used that to give me 28 years in IT) and choosing opportunities that have possibility of learning on the job. 

3. Still, something has to give. I've pastored ultra-small churches (just not big enough to pay full-time) and there's going to be things you don't get to. There's just no way to avoid it. If you invest in your own spiritual life and that of your family, you won't be able to get to everything for church. Whether it is in areas of discipleship, in-depth study, or just fellowshipping with your people, it just can't all get done. 

JD Miller's picture

As a bi-vocational pastor I appreciated Trueman's article.  I am still in favor of bi-vocational pastorates, but I think it was wise of him to share the challenges so that others go forward with their eyes open. 

I also like some of the comments on this post about raising up pastors from people who already have training in the secular world.  This makes bi-vocational much more viable.  If I had to get half my income working for $14 at Home Depot, then it would not work.  Having said that, before coming here and becoming bi-vocational, I was a full time pastor and that $14 an hour would have been a pay raise.

One of the reasons I like Trueman's article is because I do not think that bi-vocational ministry is for everyone.  I was self employed before entering the pastorate and am a self employed contractor now.  This gives me flexibility- most of the time.  Still there are those times when a customer wants a job done asap but I also have to deal with ministry matters.  Most of my customers understand, but still that tension exists.  At the same time I can take a whole week off of the secular side for ministry if I need to and then work a couple extra days in the secular field the next week if I have to.  Other times, if I am caught up on ministry matters, I can put in extra secular time to bank ministry hours.  This also means I have to be disciplined and have the integrity to not steal time.  It also means that I discipline myself to take a day off each week, even though I could come up with plenty of work to do.  

On an interesting side note, my body is much healthier now than when I was in full time ministry.  I am used to doing manual labor (the trades pay well) so when I lost much of that during the full time pastorate, my body suffered.  

My hope is that our church plant grows to the place where they can support a full time pastor.  At that time I would like to bring on another bi-vocational pastor to increase our staff.   If we were both half time instead of one of us full time, we would still have the diversity of different talents and insights as well as more accountability.   

Larry's picture

Moderator

Two things:

1) Those who preach the gospel have a right to live of the gospel -- The bi-vocational approach to ministry is not always sin and can be necessary in some cases. But fulltime pastoral ministry is the biblical picture. A case can (and should) be made that a church who has the capability to pay their pastor and doesn't is sinning against God, the church, and him. The idea that bi-vocational ministry is superior does not seem to be grounded in Scripture. The Scripture seems pretty clear on this, and the principles of dual care from 1 Cor 7 seem applicable to more than just marriage. It is true that a pastor could voluntarily give up a salary, but the wisdom of that should be questioned both by the pastor and the church.

2) Bi-vocational ministry often leads to the life of a workaholic. Working a full-time job and then spending the time necessary to pastor can lead to something getting the short-shrift (family, self, job, church, etc.). There are only so many hours and our buckets can only hold so much. To work a full-time job and then try to devote the energy and time necessary to pastoring is challenging and will impinge on other responsibilities.

BTW, multiple elders is not Presbyterian.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Trueman wrote:

As I look back on the last six years, I am struck at how tiring it became.  Three brutal discipline cases took hundreds of hours and a huge toll on energy levels.  Few if any Saturdays – or any other day – off was hard on my wife.  And even with an excellent part-time co-pastor, a stellar session, and a conscientious diaconate, and a largely supportive, low-maintenance congregation, it was hard to do everything that needed to be done. 

And, as usual, it was the miscreants whom we had to discipline who devoured the little spare time that there was, not the people who actually worked hard as volunteers week-by-week to make sure the congregation kept going.  The decent people had to settle for whatever time was left over after all the necessary unpleasantness.  And slowly but surely I ceased to enjoy those hobbies and casual pleasures of life which used to mean so much.  Even writing – a matter which has typically been a weird and pleasurable psychological compulsion for me – became something of a chore.  Time was up.

I can resonate with this. This is why I plan to try and find one or two other energetic guys to help. We'll see how it goes. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jay's picture

SharperIron ran an article a few months back from SL Potts of BrokePastor; he has written several books on church leader finance and benefits.  One of them is called "Benefitting from Obamacare" [sic] and is available at Amazon or through the website.

I think a lot more full time ministers are using state/federal health insurance than we might suspect, because it seems like quite a few people I knew either bought a copy of the book or started following / quoting / referring to him.  Several pastors that I know are using Medi-Share or Samaritan Ministries.  In any case, I don't know how many churches pay a full time salary AND provide health benefits through places like Aetna, BCBS, or whoever.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ron Bean's picture

The challenge comes in how to tell the church about their responsibility to support the pastor and showing them how.

A pastor can accept a position at a church that claims they can't support him and then hope to lead them into supporting him. If this is the tact, tell them the plan before accepting the position.

A bi-vo pastor can start purposefully leading his church in that direction, understanding that it will be a slow process and there will probably be push-back.

Of course I have stories. Like thee pastor who had his deacons average their yearly salaries with the intent of making that the pastor's pay and discovering that it would mean doubling his pay.

Or the church that promised their new pastor in a writing that they would pay him a certain amount, allowing him to purchase a home, and then telling the pastor after his arrival that they couldn't fulfill their obligation.

The bottom line is how to get churches to do right and who gets the job.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Jay wrote:

SharperIron ran an article a few months back from SL Potts of BrokePastor; he has written several books on church leader finance and benefits.  One of them is called "Benefitting from Obamacare" [sic] and is available at Amazon or through the website.

I think a lot more full time ministers are using state/federal health insurance than we might suspect, because it seems like quite a few people I knew either bought a copy of the book or started following / quoting / referring to him.  Several pastors that I know are using Medi-Share or Samaritan Ministries.  In any case, I don't know how many churches pay a full time salary AND provide health benefits through places like Aetna, BCBS, or whoever.

Our church has on the order of 70 members, besides 20-30 regular attenders, some of whom are givers.  We pay both a full-time salary and health benefits for our pastor, but we are in a high-tech area, so the salaries are probably higher on average here than the national average.  I can't speak for "Benefiting from Obamacare," but since Obamacare has come into being, our church's insurance costs for the pastor and his family have more than doubled, and are going up at a pretty high rate year to year.  He's not on the ACA exchanges, but the existence of that program has changed the market in a way that has been only a very large negative for our church's insurance expenses.  Thankfully, God has provided and we have been able to keep up.  Not sure that will always be the case.  We would certainly hate to have to move the pastor and family to any state or national government program.

Dave Barnhart

Barry L.'s picture

If a church has one bi-vocational pastor and nothing else, then they should only have one service a week. There is nothing wrong with having one service a week. My guess is that the congregation can grow better with one quality lesson than two or three lessons slapped together.

 

CAWatson's picture

I came to my church about a year and a half ago, agreeing to survive on 25k per year, and living in a parsonage. The church has 20 members, most faithful, most givers, but most old and poor. So we budget carefully, and live very simply. 

However, we live in a century old parsonage, that has had its problems and maintenance more covered up than actually done - and has a list of problems pages long, and needs repairs costing nearly the value of the home. And my son has contracted lead poisoning from the home, and at the age of 3 and a half, doesn't speak, and has behavioral problems. And we just brought our third child home from the hospital - realizing that we need to be out of the house by the time this child is mobile. But we live in a small town. To purchase a home that would be suitable for our family would cost more than 120k - and we are in no position to purchase. There are no rentals available, and to rent, we would have to live 25 miles away, and pay far more than we could possibly afford. 

I did work a night/evening warehouse job for a few months, while trying to watch the children by day (my wife was doing a paid-volunteer position with the school). It didn't work. I learned that I couldn't do anything well when doing that much. I was working, not sleeping, caring for the children, and not preaching well. 

Then another church in another state called, and thus I will be candidating in a couple of weeks. It is still a small church (70 members) in a small town, but it can actually afford to take care of our family. It has a good parsonage, in much better condition, with a far higher salary - and the possibility of health insurance. If a call is not extended, I have not thought that far ahead on what I will do. When I announced my candidacy to the church, the conversation instantly turned to closing the church. In six months, it is possible that I will be jobless and homeless. But God is still sovereign. 

Concerning insurance, if my salary remains below 40k (for a family of 5), we are still eligible for state health insurance. I think that in my 13-years-of-work-post-college, I have only made 40k per year once. There is a fine line to walk, where if I make a thousand extra dollars, it could cost us several thousand in health care/insurance costs. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Your story, and mine from 2013 - 2016, is why I think the "one fulltime pastor alone" model is deader than a doornail.

We escaped from Illinois with no money, no job, no home and only one small car. From when we made the decision to resign, we'd packed and loaded a trailer within 18 days. My sister said our family of five could live in her loft attic, across the country in Tacoma, WA. So, we made arrangements for the trailer to be shipped across the country even though we had no home. Our minivan was hit and destroyed by an uninsured 19-yr old two days before we left. We pulled onto I-55 and left with our little PT Cruiser loaded with essentials, with no job, no home, no money and no place to put our household goods that would be in Tacoma in a few weeks. 

We survived. It makes me so sad to hear about pastors who go through this. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

CW, just letting you know publicly that I wish you well in your interviews.  Not the way we ought to be treating shepherds....

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

It's paying him as much as they can afford!

An overlooked resource: Retired pastors would be good for rural churches. For example:

  • I personally could afford to live in the town where CW pastors
  • I don't need much by way of income (retired with a pension & social security)
  • I could probably afford to renovate the parsonage and remediate the lead paint issue

Not pitching myself but I think of  our MBA rep that just lost his job (b/c MBA can't afford to pay him) or dozens of other men at 4th with seminary degrees in the 66+ age group. But churches want young guys (can't blame 'em) and as long as there is a young guy willing to work for peanuts they will get the call!

CAWatson's picture

Jim, 

I love the church. I love the people. We have no interpersonal conflicts with any members right now. But a year ago when we brought up all of the problems to the people, they looked at the checkbook and froze. They could have done a number of things - but their action was inaction. The balance of the checking account had stayed rather still since I came (which is good - it wasn't going too far in the red!), but the risk was spending so much on the house that they couldn't pay me a salary anymore. My wife and I talked through all of the possible solutions - and nothing seemed to work for us to stay. We would sit up late at night talking about the problems of the house. Then the night before the baby came, the church called and offered for us to candidate. 

I believe that the church can stay open and survive - if there is someone like Jim who would be willing to come, and live, and work for about a decade to stabilize the church - especially if he can afford his own housing, or afford to fix the housing that is here. I don't know if the people in the church are willing to fight to keep it open, though. 

Ron Bean's picture

This topic probably deserves a new thread.

How do you know a church can support a full-time pastor?

How do you get a church that can support a pastor to actually do it?

What does full-time support look like?

I was recently part of a church that was planted in an affluent suburb of a major city. The church started with pastoral support supplied by the church that planted us. It took 5 years but we got to the point where we could support the pastor with a salary that was comparable to other "professionals" (I don't like that word) in the area with full benefits (housing, insurance, disability, retirement). We were blessed with what I would call an unusually  sensitive and knowledgeable financial committee.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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