Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What if God doesn't give me a salary?

This article is written with a very specific group of people in mind. I often avoid writing to such a niche, but this topic has been on my mind for awhile now and I've been needing to get my thoughts out. Nevertheless, I hope that all Christian readers can get something out of this. Before I begin, some introduction is required.

The group to whom I write: Christians who desire to be in vocational ministry

Definition of vocational ministry: An occupation consisting of service in a church or parachurch organization as the main source of income for an individual

My background: I'm a missionary pastor in the U.S. I have two full-time "jobs" -- my day job, which consumes 50 hours of my week (commute included) and my service in the local church as an associate pastor. My wife and I receive some monthly missionary support from donors who believe in our ministry. We also receive a small amount from the local church in which we serve each month.

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Over the last seven years, many of the friends I've made live similar lives as me. Not only are they around the same age, with spouses and children that are the same age, and learning how to navigate American adulthood, but they are also actively involved in ministry. I went to a Bible College and earned my degree in a ministry training-specific environment. Most of the friends I met there were on the same trajectory as me. They were aspiring pastors and missionaries. They wanted to go out and change the world for Jesus.

Many of them have, in fact, gone on to do great things; however, in recent history I've started to understand just how much money factors into the decisions made by these world-changers. A salary package has become somewhat of a non-negotiable for many young men and women seeking to give 30+ hours of each week to a local ministry.

In many ways, I understand the struggle. We each only have a certain amount of time during the week; we all have limited amounts of energy and resources; men have to think about providing for their families. A salary package makes sense -- it's an important factor.

But it's not the only factor.

Now, in full disclosure, I should emphasize the fact that I'm a missionary and I'm constantly in recruitment mode. That means I'm constantly trying to get people to see past a salary package. Many of our churches could use mature Christians to help get them to the next level and any time I'm talking to one of these Christians, my first thought is, "I wonder if they'd consider moving to Utah."

Interestingly, one of their first questions is, "What kind of compensation do you offer?"

With that in mind, you should be aware that I am, perhaps, biased. But it is what it is, and I believe that my perspective has allowed me to discover the issue at hand.

My wife, Melissa, and I have been on the field for three years. I graduated college a year ahead of her and she gave birth to our first child two months before she got her diploma, which also happened to be two months before we moved out West.

As missionaries, we had raised support a little bit before the move, though we were going to leave at the end of May 2014 no matter what. And so we did. After gathering a quick 30% from donors, we loaded the U-Haul and took off. I told many people at the time that I'd flip burgers to feed my family as long as we could be where knew God wanted us to be. So that was the mindset.

God blessed us with a day job for me just nine days after arriving. It's about an hour round-trip and it's a great job. I've been graced with advancement within the company and Providence has been evident.

The job, however, does take 40 hours of my week. Depending on the week, my role as associate pastor at the church where we serve takes 25-40 hours. I get no salary from the church, other than a set love offering each month.

If I could completely manipulate my circumstances, I would not be anywhere else or doing anything else. This is it. And I love it.

The question naturally presents itself in my mind, though, as I talk to other ministry-minded folks. "Why aren't more people doing it the way we're doing it?"

The answer seems to be this: They don't think they have the time/energy capacity to maintain both a day job and a consistent ministry.

As it relates to this challenge, four particular areas of concern seem to be common.

  • Personal health/happiness
  • Family time
  • Quality of work
  • The general intimidation of such a lifestyle

Those are legitimate points and I do not want to belittle them in this article. I struggle with them on a daily basis (not an exaggeration!) and I'm forced to continually lean on the everlasting arms as He carries me.

That said, the detail of the challenge is not the final thought on the subject. Unfortunately, many people make it their final thought. I'm writing this to encourage those people to think through it more. 

What if God is calling you to something really hard? What if it's not as hard as you think? What if the difficulty of it all doesn't really matter because there's no way for you to know?

Here are some thoughts about money, ministry, and you. Am I recruiting you to Utah right now? If the Spirit permits. Generally, I'm offering some thoughts as a I guy who has been there, done that. You might read through this and still think bi-vocational ministry is not for you. That's absolutely fine. But I hope you'll understand it better.

Expect from yourself what you'll expect from your elders.

In the vast majority of churches, elders and deacons serve unpaid. Coincidentally, having a biblical view of leadership and shepherding means to regard it highly and to have an understanding of the wide variety of duties those men face. Vocational pastors have to decide whether they will keep those expectations for their lay leaders or if they will ratchet them down.

In any case, there are going to be bi-vocational leaders in the church whose lives will be complicated (perhaps the most complicated) because they have to manage their ministries along with their careers. They are expected to be devoted, faithful, and consistent because, after all, it's possible.

Understand that money is a fa├žade.

How much money do you need to be making for it to be enough money?

There are so many variables involved in determining an answer to that question. Beyond our individual contexts, we know that expenses often grow as income grows and everything will need to be adjusted continually. It's complex.

So if we can't answer a question that is that straight-forward, what makes us think we'll eventually have enough money one day if the circumstances are right? The truth is that we'll never have enough. You certainly need to factor it into your decision-making, but don't give it too much power.

Think about the ministries that might actually need you.

Have you considered the impact that you'd have on a church if you showed up, served humbly, and didn't require anything out of the church budget to do it? I don't want to make you prideful, but the impact could actually be immense.

What if there's a church somewhere that has a pastor (and maybe an associate pastor, too), but they need a Bible teacher, a nursery coordinator, and a music leader to really advance as a ministry? What if you're the answer?

Your service could be colossal to the members of that body.

Believe that God will use your example.

Do you have kids? How would their observance of a bi-vocational ministry influence the way they thought about church and community? It's significant.

Piggy-backing off of the point about elders above, I encourage you to think about how much more powerful your call to church members to serve in the body would be if you had given up a more comfortable ministry for a more challenging one. If you're faithful, humble, honest, holy, wise, and bold, you actually have the grounds to say, "Imitate me."

Challenge your presuppositions.

Perhaps you've always had in mind that ministry came with certain things: an office, a desk, a library, an energetic staff, a salary, days off, vacation periods, modern comforts, etc.

Perhaps you should read 2 Corinthians 11:16-29.

Ministry can be done in a variety of ways. Don't limit yourself by writing out your job description and benefits package before God shows you what He wants you to do. Be open.

Desire Gospel advancement.

God puts people in all kinds of places and I'm not here to say that anyone is in the wrong place.

But.

If all you looked at was stats on paper, which of these places needs the most help: A 50% evangelical rural area in the South or a 0.5% evangelical metro area in the West?

Someone needs to serve in the South and equip those believers to serve. But someone needs to serve in the West and reach the perishing.

Visit places where ministry is different.

Many people have never spent time with a bi-vocational pastor in a challenging place. By scheduling a visit and learning about different contexts, you'll have a better understanding of how they do what they do.

You'll meet people and see things that will greatly benefit you, not only as you make decisions about your own ministry, but as you serve in your current context. You'll probably be an encouragement to the believers you visit, too.   

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Is God calling you to this type of ministry? I do not know.

But I hope you'll consider it afresh and think about the points above. It's everyone's general anticipation that bi-vocational ministry will continue to grow -- mostly out of necessity. The topic won't go away any time soon.

So consider you ministry. Pray about it. Think about it.

Ask God to do some cool stuff through your life.

Thanks for reading.

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