My grandfather adhered to the position that the pastor of a Baptist church should preach on Sunday and “have a real job” the rest of the week.
He was proud of me when I became a minister, but I am not sure that he ever accommodated himself to the fact that I was paid a full-time wage as a campus minister and did not “have a real job.”
In almost four decades as a minister, I was fortunate to be able to pursue my calling while being compensated by various configurations of Baptists—primarily through state organizations of churches.
So I expect some criticism when I suggest that those who follow the call to ministry in the future must plan to have alternative means of supporting themselves and their families. There are several reasons for this challenge:
First, Christians are not financially supporting their churches as they once did.
Second, mainline churches are dealing with high maintenance expenses for aging buildings and have to make difficult choices about the allocation of declining gifts.
Third, many believers are motivated for mission outside the walls of the church and want financial resources invested there.
Fourth, because of the inflexibility of some churches, the most creative ministry is going to be done without congregational sanction and, therefore, without congregational financial support.
For those who will say that I lack faith and God will provide, I must respond that I have a strong faith in God and a commitment to God’s calling in my life.
If I am indeed called by God, I will pursue that calling whether I am paid for it or not.
If I have to earn my support elsewhere, I might not devote as much time to ministry, but I will still do it. Calling is not about compensation.
Let’s be honest—this is nothing new. In some states, more than 50 percent of Baptist pastors are bivocational.
These individuals serve local congregations and have full-time secular jobs. Without this kind of commitment on the part of their pastors, many smaller congregations would have closed their doors years ago.
The trend to bivocational ministers is growing in other denominations, primarily because congregations declining in membership do not have the resources to employ a full-time pastor.
Why do we resist this approach?
Churches that have had full-time pastors fear a loss of prestige and a fear that this acknowledges that they will never again be seen as a “healthy, growing congregation.”
Ministers resist it because they know that this is not the best-case scenario and that the expectations of church members do not abate when their minister is part-time.
The comment that “there are no part-time jobs, only part-time salaries” certainly applies. Many also fear the loss of status as a “professional.”
What are the advantages?
For the church, limited resources can be allocated in other ways, and they are assured of ongoing pastoral leadership.
For the minister, advantages include benefit packages from secular jobs (depending on the place of employment, of course), adequate family support, a longer tenure in one congregation, and perhaps a bit more independence in the pulpit.
For those preparing for ministry, now is the time to think about additional means of supporting yourself financially. This may be teaching either part-time or full-time at the elementary, secondary or college level.
The choice may be to develop skills in the digital domain, such as web design or Internet-based business.
For others, it may be in the creative area as a writer, musician or craftsperson using one’s mind and hands.
What is your “Plan B”? If you had to find another way to support you and your family today and still pursue your ministerial calling, what would it be?
Although this is not a comfortable question to ask or to answer, the question is crucial for those called to ministry in the 21st century.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, BarnabasFile, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ircel.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.