Who gets paid in a new kind of church?

The recurring question of the times in 21st century America is: “What is the church?”

My flight is cancelled. That gives me time to blog. As I’m trying to get to Orlando for a couple of days at Exponential Conference with 4,000 other church leaders getting invigorated about church planting, there’ll be quite the mix of questions in its partnership with the Verge Network, where the conversation will veer towards more about being the church, and that typically looks different than a weekly worship gathering.exponential

One question in the rethinking church subtext that’s rarely ever discussed is: if the church isn’t about the weekly worship gathering, who gets paid? (And, along with that, what kind of buildings are needed?) On the one hand, ministers who are doing the work of pastoring can be paid and deserve it. In, he Apostle Paul explained that laborers deserve to get paid, but he decided to not exercise those rights. (cf. 1 Cor 9:13-17)

At this inflection point of the church, and there may well be an increasing number of churches that would no longer have a weekly gathering. And since the church is the people and not the building, so the thinking could go, there are other ways for people to stay connected, other ways for worship to be done. Meaning, there may not be a need for a full-time paid minister. At least not a pastor as we commonly know of one as clergy. With thousands of people who have invested years in seminary training for professional ministry, if the format of church changes, what happens to their livelihood? Bi-vocational work is one option, but there’s got to be other options. New kinds of ministry jobs may well emerge.

As someone who has worked as a paid pastor, this isn’t a hypothetical question. Just thinking out loud.

[update] and found this timely post in one of the Forbes blogs about “The Seminary Bubble” by Jerry Bowyer, where he describes “the prospects are worse clergy than for other forms of professional education…” and how all that seminary training doesn’t really hone the necessary skills of preaching and leadership.


14 responses to “Who gets paid in a new kind of church?”

  1. You can’t say more than Paul did not exercise his rights of getting paid with the Corinthian church. Am I wrong thinking that Paul explicitly states that this was a lesson for them, and that we have no reason for thinking he sis it anywhere else?

  2. I think more and more we are already seeing this with the more influential pastors leaving to mostly speak, write and coach. Jesus was more of a leadership development guy than he was a up front preacher. It seems like leadership roles in the types of places that this “new church” affords. Leadership, influence, strategy, marketing, administration, all are various skills of a given pastor. These are skills that can still be put to good use, in service to the kingdom (in addition to his flock), in a way that can sustain them as well.

  3. I see the church shifting towards Content Creators (read: teaching) and some admin staff getting paid. You’re going to see less and less supporting pastors (associates, counseling pastor, etc)

    Our new economy requires that you make something (create content) to have value to an organization or be indispensable to an organization(admin). If you simply ‘manage’ things (like a small group pastor might) you may need to rethink what you do.

  4. Great question! Thanks for raising it. We faced this very question a few years ago, and I was the FT guy on staff. We’re a small church and I’ve observed that only ministry leaders at big churches seem to have the luxury of jumping into the speak, write, coach track — just an observation, not a judgment. It is a significant paradigm shift, for pastors and churches.

    I stepped down from my position, and have had to look for work. @Scott, in a poor economy, the leadership skills you describe are undervalued, especially when the marketplace is flooded with other market-specific skills. Without going into details, It hasn’t been but God has provided financially for me and my family in amazing ways.

    @Vince has a good point. I would suggest that the move toward being content providers is, while a cultural shift, not for the Church. Relationships, foundational to the Body, are hard to “commodify.” YET, the question still needs attention — what’s a pastor to do? how does a church take care of it’s own.

  5. Thanks all for the comments! This is an underdeveloped question, and sitting here in a #exponential session w @edstetser about the bivocational pastor. He raises a good point that the great preachers/teachers are vocational pastors not bivo…

  6. As a bi-vocational pastor of a small, poor church, I see this an an opportunity to witness to more people than if I am just sitting in a church office somewhere. The church supports me in other ways…prayer, some assistance in my seminary in pursing a masters, and with cell phone costs, so to me, if I was a full time paid pastor, I would have less opportunity to witness to those who need to hear the gospel. Great article.

  7. Geoff Chang Avatar
    Geoff Chang

    In answering the question, “What is church?”, you can go in two directions: 1) the Bible has something to say about it, or 2) the Bible has nothing really to say about it, and it’s up to us to define it. If we’re going with #2, then the implications you’re laying out would be right. But if #1 is in fact the case, then we would need to rethink some of the assumptions you’re working from. To say that the physical gathering of the church isn’t significant is quite a leap, especially considering where the word “church” comes from.

    1. Geoff, thanks for dropping by with a comment. There is certainly something the Bible says about it, and there’s a number of different ways the Bible is read. For instance, the church did not start with paid clergy, and that’s one of the issues I’ve raised here in this blog. And, with over 3,000 denominations and sects in the United States, over 38,000 in the world, there’s a wide range of convictions for how the Bible is read and applied for how the people of God gather as the church.

      1. Geoff Chang Avatar
        Geoff Chang

        You’re welcome, DJ. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It seems pretty clear to me from the NT that beginning with the apostles, then on to the elders who labored in the church (1 Tim. 5), that the church was responsible for providing for those who labored among them in the Word. Of course, this can look different in different contexts (i.e. Paul in a missionary context among the Corinthians not demanding support from them), but the principle applies.

        But more importantly, my point was that the definition of the local church is something that the Bible defines, and that most evangelical Christians have had significant agreement on that definition for centuries. As I look at church history, it’s only in the past few decades, especially in America, that this definition has begun to be questioned or assumed irrelevant. The vast majority of the 38,000 denominations would be in huge agreement as to what constitutes a biblical church, especially when you go outside the US.

  8. If I remember right, in the Greek, church refers to an assembly of the called out ones. Yes there is the church generically defined as a group of believers with certain leaders and ordinances. As what constitutes a church body, yes, there is agreement.

    How they’re organized and paid, or if they’re paid, there is some variance. Thus the main angle of the inquiry in this blog post.

    Chuck Warnock had great thoughts regarding clergy being supported vs. being paid <http://chuckwarnockblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/what-if-clergy-were-supported-not-paid/> and touched on the history of monastic communities. Andrew Jones <http://tallskinnykiwi.com> can attest to many other forms and structures of Christ-followers in other parts of the world, where church would look very differently than the US. Church funding models have varied throughout church history, though not being a church historian, I wouldn’t be able to itemize it.

  9. Ross S. Heckmann Avatar
    Ross S. Heckmann

    Until very recently I have gone to church all of my life. I have become disenchanted with the great majority of both the paid and the unpaid leadership of the church. The great majority simply are not qualified for their positions and do not successfully fulfill their roles. I have been toying with the idea that it might be conducive to reform if there were a moratorium on paid leadership but as long as the level of compensation is reasonable and not extreme in either direction, I am not sure that that is the real source of the problem. Rather than a moratorium on paid leadership, there should be a permanent bar on unqualified leadership. If that means that some, most or even all leadership positions must remain vacant for the indefinite future, so be it. We should have more faith than King Saul who couldn’t wait for Samuel to show up, and who offered sacrifices that he was not qualified to offer. Let us instead pray and wait for qualified leaders; otherwise we shall continue to get the same disastrous results.

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