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What’s next? > Planting churches and having a job…

July 16, 2011

My good buddy and comrade Mike Bishop recently wrote an article on the how to’s of planting a new kind of church that is very local (like in your living room or around your neighbor’s BBQ), doable for all of us, empowered by more than great ideas, and sustainable over the long haul. Many of us have been pursuing this kind of church planting for a number of years but he summarizes it here in a way that is captivating, inspiring, and downright funny.

Mike’s first suggestions is to “Get a job.” Now this, in my experience, has many advantages and disadvantages.

Advantage #1: I forget the technical term (Chris Marshall can help me here!) but having a job gives one a credible way to be a part of one’s community without coming in as a dispenser of “religious goods and services.” It puts you in a position of serving your neighbors in ways that they really need your help and know they need your help. Yes, we might know that they need to be loved and cared for and enfolded in a community where Jesus’ good news is embodied but what they need is their car fixed or their lawn mowed or their children taught how to read. I have met and gotten to know many more of my neighbors by fixing their car than I ever did as a pastor. Now, that may be a sad commentary on my pastoral understanding and ability at the time but owning a business in my neighborhood has given me great confidence and opportunities to meet and interact with my neighbors in ways that are natural as opposed to the contrived serving opportunities ‘at church’ or worse, cocooning that most church members tend toward…

Advantage #2: I’ll have to track down the actual quote but I read it in an article that Tim Otto wrote in Conspire magazine that Wendell Berry was asked what advice he had for pastors and he said, “learn a trade.” He went on to explain that if they knew a trade they would never be fully dependent on a religious community to pay them and therefore could speak their mind and conscience more openly and truly. In short they could be more challenging and less fearful and that is often what faith communities need. Paying people to say things every week that you already agree with or that reinforce what you already believe will never lead to the disruptive change that is needed for churches and individuals to become the truly unique and special answers and antidotes to what perplexes and ails the world. And let’s face it: most people view their monetary giving or “tithing” at church as more akin to tipping for good service at a restaurant than sacrificial generosity. Sadly, the statistics support this.

Advantage #3: If you get a job and you’re really good at it and it happen to get paid well you will be able to be generous with your faith community and your neighbors in need. The truth is that pastors salaries are rarely very good and if they are good they get questioned and scrutinized much harder. In many traditions the congregational leaders (priests, pastors etc) take a vow of poverty. There is great wisdom in this, I believe. However, if you have a gift for giving or even just a high value for generosity having some surplus is needed. I know, I know. I can already hear the arguments… “well, there’s more ways to be generous than with your money… you can give your time or make really, really cool things out of recycled paper or…” blah blah blah… Let’s face it: if the kid next door needs shoes and you bring them over your latest recycled oragamy art piece they will likely be unimpressed. If you give them shoes, you’ve met a real need. If you get them the shoes they really really want even though they cost $45 more than the Payless ones then you have created a lifelong memory of how a Christ follower gives.

Now for the negative…

Disadvantage #1: A lack of focus… and with it a lack of traction. Now this needs to be said in the context of what one is trying to go for. If you’re trying to build a solid local parish type church you will likely never get there while being bi-vocational. There may be exceptions to this. I was not one of them. I constantly felt divided and exhausted and frankly teetered on the edge of burn out for many, many years from trying to do too much. I don’t blame my church for this. It is a large part of my brokeness to take on too much. If they had said “no more” I would have found some other way to do too much. However, I will say that I started and led several smaller “house churches” / missional communities before I was a paid pastor (and several while I was!) and they were among the best experiences of my life. When they were flowing they were really, really easy and enjoyable and meaningful and helpful to all who came… So being bi-vocational may be the best way to plant truly local, incarnational, small, missional churches. Planting the other kinds? Fogettabout-it!

I’m sure there are other disadvantages but I’ve run out of ideas and time… feel free to post other advantages and disadvantages from your experience in the comments… I’d love to hear from you!!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2011 2:25 pm

    The simple missiological term is ‘acceptable role’ in that culture. If the culture doesn’t have a positive category for your vocational presence, then you can’t incarnate and share stories with them. You are just an outsider. Though ‘pastor’ may have a sacred place in the Christian ghetto, on the postmodern streets with their severe distrust for institution, taking on another role/title in the culture as a vocation can help level the barriers and even create trust for more conversation.
    But certainly as you well pointed out, there are many pros and cons to this. Let alone questions of sustainability. This is the question I posed to McLaren and Barna on that panel discussion out in Seattle and they had no response for us. This is an issue still being worked out in praxis. It appears to me that only mainline churches are interested in putting emerging-pastor types on payroll, the middle of evangelicalism is yet quite skeptical as it doesn’t fit the attractional model and it flies directly in the face of consumerism and individualism.
    Mike put it #1 for a good reason, without something to sustain a leader financially, there won’t be much hope for a sustained community of Jesus followers seeking to love and serve their neighbors.

    • July 17, 2011 11:53 am

      Thanks Chris…. i thought it was way more academic sounding than that…. maybe I’m just getting smarter.

  2. July 16, 2011 2:59 pm

    This is really great stuff! I’ve been trying the missional living from the other side–the part of “normal” person with a degree/job in computer programming who is slowly learning to become an armchair theologian/pastor.

    Another disadvantage of having a job is the fixed schedule. Part of being available to one’s community is just that: being available. But part of being a neighbor is being able to respond when called upon. And those calls happen at all hours any day of the week. I am fortunate enough to be part of a single-income household and my wife is generally available any time of day–or at least her schedule is her own and things can frequently be moved around in order to take the time to help another.

    But by far, as Chris mentioned, having a job provides one with an “acceptable role” in the culture. If you’re a full-time pastor you are from a different world than your neighbor. To many that is a foreign and potentially off-putting presence.

    Kevin, Glad to see you blogging again. This series is fantastic.


    • July 17, 2011 11:56 am

      Bob! Love your blog… good, good stuff. Thanks for commenting and I appreciate your insightful (and absolutely 100% true for me as well) comment about our wives taking on that added responsibility. So true. They are typically the real unsung hero’s of our missional efforts. “Let’s hear it for the wives!!”

  3. July 17, 2011 2:12 am

    This topic has been discussed ad nauseum at various places on the web (I’ve seen several lively discussions at David Fitch’s blog). Invariably, someone says “Can’t it be a both-and sort of thing? Some people work regular jobs and others are paid staff?” The reality is that there are and will continue to be plenty of churches that cater to Christian culture and attractional models. In that context, you better have a team of paid professionals. But Chris was exactly right in why I listed “Get a job” first in my 10 Tips post. It is both deeply practical and prophetic for the kind of missionary effort we are promoting. It sets the tone for everything else we do.

    The major drawback (Kevin…I like how you worded it – lack of focus and traction) is something I feel almost every day. But the countering thought is that this is possibly God’s way of showing us our relative importance in the kingdom. Does he need us to have hours of available time? Maybe this is all by design…taking us out of the expected routines of pastor / leader / minister and letting him have free reign in the community. This is so deeply counter-intuitive for people that have been trained in ministry. But I think it is a necessary corrective for our time.

    • July 17, 2011 12:04 pm

      Mike, Yes! To your last paragraph’s point (and said a little differently but not better by any means!) it keeps us in “touch with our limitations…” a phrase that is in heavy circulation among my local peeps… something we will be unpacking for years as we are trying to live into those very ideas…. I recently made the comment that being in touch with our limitations reminds us that we are not God and a woman in our community said “Actually it is very God-like to limit ourselves” and pointed me toward the incarnation… so much for me to learn and live in that brief little exchange…..

      • July 18, 2011 12:07 pm

        “Actually it is very God-like to limit ourselves…”

        Wow. I’ll be thinking about that one for a while.

  4. July 17, 2011 2:44 am

    I think I need to write a post about what the female part of this crazy ten point plan for missional church planting should expect…specifically Bob’s point…if hubby is holding a full time job and Mom is home…with kids or working part time with a little more flexibility…guess who gets all the calls, texts and drop ins for prayer etc. You better be ready to put your big girl panties on and be with people hip deep in their stuff…because we do a massive share of planting missional communities and never get asked to speak at any stinking conference about what we see…just saying.

    • July 17, 2011 12:07 pm

      I’d love to read that post. I’d love to come to that conference when you speak. I’d pre-order 10 copies of that book when you write it. And I even want the T-shirt!! So true about doing a massive share… that is very true in our home as well. Tracy gets all the drop in’s and calls in the middle of the night (one came last night in fact!)… and she handles it with such grace as do you.

    • July 17, 2011 12:57 pm

      To Amber’s point, not having a paid role I think in a healthy way levels the playing field so that some gifts are not exalted over others. Our conversation can be about gifts needed and not about gender. In a model that requires great need for hospitality, the servers and mercy givers take a step to the front and those who aren’t naturally gifted in those areas better learn. As well, since there is no space for 30-40 minute oratories, the teaching may be facilitated but its deeply discussional and interacted with by all. The Spirit speaks to all the same without limitation. (see the Quaker heritage)

      There is no way I could even begin to explain how OCC works without saying it comes from the “we” of Nick and I. In fact, I think that if anything were to happen to me that my gifts of leadership/teaching would be more easily replaced than what my wife brings to the table, she is quite literally irreplaceable in her role in the community. As Amber points out, it’s the women who end up in the ‘know’ and drive much of the pastoral care. I also think there is historic precedence for this. At least in my research the women of the early church under persecution were the ones not only leading house churches and providing the ‘love feast’ meals, but it was their underground network of talk in the market place and villages that announced the meeting times and places for the underground gatherings. As Rome looked to squelch the voice of the men, the women carried on the Divine Conspiracy. 😉

      We often refer to Peter in Acts 2 as giving the 1st sermon of the Church post-pentecost. But I tend to think it was Mary in John 20, who when it was early and still dark ‘got up’. She got up to do the hard work while the male teaching celebrities (the apostles) were still hiding in the upper room. She went to the tomb and in her return gave the first proclamation of the Resurrection in her announcement of an empty tomb. In my opinion, this was the first sermon of the Church. The Church needs all the gifts and needs all to be available to listen and speak in the Spirit, let gender be a non-issue.

  5. July 23, 2011 12:17 am

    I’m a bit late to this conversation, but Bob Genis pointed me here after I wrote this ( on my own blog.

    I totally agree with all of the above pros and cons but would add a couple of thoughts.

    I started my business as a hobby and accidentally discovered the incredible value of it in both a missional and practical sense. I didn’t need the funds at the time so it was just a way of placing myself in the lives of people I would ordinarily struggle to meet as a church planter. I was blown away by how many people I came in contact with. Made great sense to me why Paul was a tentmaker.

    I honestly don’t think I will ever be a full time pastor again.

    Another ‘up-side’ is that when I get home from work (I do hard physical work laying turf and installing irrigation) I feel tired – and I don’t want to go to that meeting I had scheduled either! So when we work and ‘do church stuff’ we feel what other people feel. So we can both be more gracious when they show up tired and more realistic in what is attainable.

    On the loss of traction – I guess it depends on what we are trying to get traction on and what our vision of church is. If its to create a big gathering then traction will be difficult. If its to live with people and show them how to live then there is a heap of traction!

    Appreciate the thoughts

    • July 23, 2011 11:51 am

      Hamo! It’s good to see you connected to this conversation, Andrew. We corresponded a few years ago, and while disappointed that I wasn’t your brother Steven, you were gracious in responding. BTW, how is Steven doing these days?

    • July 23, 2011 3:33 pm

      “Another ‘up-side’ is that when I get home from work (I do hard physical work laying turf and installing irrigation) I feel tired – and I don’t want to go to that meeting I had scheduled either! So when we work and ‘do church stuff’ we feel what other people feel.”

      Exactly, Hamo. I remember we interacted a long time ago about this. Full-time pastors live and breathe church-oriented activities. Sure they work long hours because often the only time they can hold planning meetings is when their volunteers are done working for the day. Invariably, this same full-time pastor will be encouraging his people to read their Bibles, pray, reflect, study, etc.–These are the things he’s doing while everyone else is at their jobs. He feels he works hard *and* is able to cultivate his spiritual side…why can’t the congregation? ‘Cause they work all day, that’s why.

      But in a missional environment study, prayer, reflection takes place while a husband and wife are cooking or while two neighbors a cutting their lawns or while you’re listening to the stories of a customer who really just wants someone to talk to. Missionaries learn that it isn’t an matter of carving out time-slots for everything that needs to be done. It is living present to each moment as it comes and doing what it requires.

  6. July 23, 2011 12:28 am

    BTW Amber – my wife does as much speaking as I do these days – in fact when I do speak i credit her with teaching me what it means to love people.

    I had little clue what mission work looked like when I started out. I thought it was building a church – she showed me it was demonstrating the kingdom.

    I was good at church – not so good at kingdom!

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