Paying Ministers

Charles Kiser —  April 6, 2009 — 12 Comments

The issue of paying ministers is a hot topic in many church planting circles.

One of my church planter friends in the Mission Alive network, Robbie James, just got a full-time job as a hospice chaplain. Another one of my church planter friends in the Kairos network, Phil McCollum, recently began to look for full-time work. Both made these decisions with some level of intentionality.

The money/salary topic is also at the heart of the institutional vs. organic conversation. Neil Cole, for instance, has recently written a series of blog posts concerning this very issue. You can view links to each of the topics here.

As we think about what it means for Storyline to be financially sustainable, we’re beginning wonder whether it might be a good idea for us (Porche and me) to pursue part-time jobs — not just to connect to the community, but also to prevent the Storyline Community from taking on overwhelming financial burdens.

Several factors contribute to this wondering:

1. Proponents of organic paradigms state that the financial overhead in the institutional model is so great that reproduction (i.e., church planting) is hard to do on a grand scale because it is so financially prohibitive. Paying a full staff, facility costs, and start up costs is expensive, after all. As a general rule, the more expensive reproduction is, the slower and less likely it will happen.

Organic churches are less likely to pay ministers because it makes them more reproductively agile and it does not perpetuate clergy vs. laity mindsets.

2. The apostle Paul seemed to be more interested in the spiritual sustainability of the churches he planted than their financial sustainability — if financial sustainability means paying staff salaries.

Granted, Paul says it is certainly legitimate for those who serve the cause of the Gospel to be paid (cf. 1 Timothy 5:17-18). But when it came to receiving pay from churches himself, he often refused so as not to be a financial detriment to the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:3-12). He could support himself with his tent making profession. There were other times when he depended upon offerings from churches (cf. Philippians 4:10-19).

I’m attracted to that kind of attitude. Storyline, in many ways, is spiritually sustainable. We are working for justice. We are connecting with the disconnected. We are experiencing life change.

Storyline is far from financially sustainable, however. Yet I would rather take a part-time job to relieve Storyline’s impending financial stress that to cause the community to ‘tank’ because it can’t afford to pay me a salary.

I’m wondering if Paul wouldn’t do the same thing.

3. My friend Micah Lewis shared an interesting historical tidbit with me the other day. Someone shared with him that in the early days of the Stone-Campbell movement, when someone wanted to learn to preach he would be given a tract of land.

His teacher would tell him: spend a year learning how to work the land. Then you can learn to become a preacher.

This idea of financial self-sustainability is embedded even in my denominational history.

4. I don’t buy “tithing theology.” The institution has used the tithe (giving 10% of one’s income) as a way of supporting its existence. People give their money and trust that the church will spend it as God directs.

There’s nothing wrong with giving 10% to the work of the church. Julie and I give 10%. We hope someday to give more.

I don’t, however, find biblical support in the New Testament for the 10% rule. I do find support for generosity. In many cases generosity means much more than 10%.

But for a struggling young professional who is up to her eyeballs in debt, sacrificial generosity may be less than that. I can’t in good conscience implore my recently disconnected friends to begin giving 10% because that’s the rule when it might ruin them financially…especially when a big part of the reason I’m asking is so that my family doesn’t experience financial ruin. It’s awkward. Maybe that’s lack of faith on my part.

5. A related point: our generation / demographic is much more suspicious of the institution and therefore much less likely to give blindly to a general church fund. We want to know that our money is being spent for good things, not institutional maintenance.

One friend recently observed that many people in our context view ministers as “social leeches” who mooch off the hard work of others. Now I certainly don’t think that’s true in many cases, but is it a hindrance to mission if that perception is shared by the majority of disconnected people?

6. I have more questions than convictions, really. Questions like, What is the end goal related to paying salaries? Is it a legitimate end goal for the church to pay staff full-time salary and benefits? In other words, do we pay staff full-time salaries when money is not a problem?

If it is no longer an end goal of ours to build a church building, should it be an end goal to pay staff on a full-time basis? Would Paul see the ability to support workers as a sign of maturity in the churches he started – or a liability?

Regardless, God will take care of the Kisers and Porches. And God will take care of Storyline.

It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Charles Kiser

Posts

Dallas, TX. Church Planter with Storyline Christian Community. Equipper and Coach with Mission Alive.

12 responses to Paying Ministers

  1. 

    Charles, I was thinking this morning of your ministry and the hard questions that you considered. This one is one that casuses much trouble and heart ache in the Lord’s church. Most leadership groups consider what effect a decison will have on their budget long before time is spent in prayer and asking God for direction. Losing the money will get the elders attention when nothing else works. I’m so encouraged with your wisdon and of your searching for spiritual guidence from God. He is the one that will sustain us long after the money is gone.

  2. 

    Thanks Charles. I’ve struggled with spending so much of the church’s money on salaries and buildings for a long time. I’ve been employed by the church since college. How can I really be objective? Seems to me most of the money given in the early church was for the poor.

  3. 

    This is an important discussion and you bring up good points. The answers to this has far reaching implications across Christendom. I am glad to be part of this discernment with you.

  4. 

    Charles – I like the openness in your posture here, making spiritual discernment what is at stake, rather than a rigid principle. Mission requires flexibility, adaptation (one of your values, no?), innovation, and sacrifice. Your reflections engage all of these. I can’t help but think of this discussion in light of the way that much of the missional conversation identifies our present occasion/situation as the end of Christendom. If this end comes as a series of disestablishments, maybe one of the next is surrendering the financial provision and security that ministers have counted on the church to provide. As your comments (and other posts) illustrate, “the church” in the mission/community of Storyline is already so intentionally not in a pattern of Christendom in a way it’s not surprising that you should be wrestling with these questions. Still it takes heart and courage and faith to do so. The gospel, of course, shows us the potential for ascetic moves, like the ones you are considering, to be creative and life-giving for the mission/church. Blessings in your discernment!

  5. 

    Thanks for your thoughts concerning this discussion. As I look into church planting/missions in the future I sometimes wonder what would be the best way of going about it. I pray and think about HOW to be intentional in my financial situation, not just drawing a salary.

    One of my own questions becomes how to interact within the community as I seek to reestablish my campus ministry. I still don’t think I have that figured out yet, but I am wanting to learn how to build intentional (random) relationships. One thought I have had is joining the Air National Guard as a chaplain; that way I can interact with people across the age spectrum and be intentional in my secondary career choice.

    Ok, I am rambling. Thanks again for your thoughts. I am praying for you guys.

  6. 

    I know this wasn’t your opinion but that of another; but if a minister is a “social leech” that mooches off the hard work of others, then what is a team of church planters that takes money from the same exact sources (those hard workin’ folk in various churches)? Do they think mission and church planting money falls out of trees or something? There is no offense meant in that; I think it’s an absurd accusation in both cases. I do not know your specific situation, but I would assume that if those hard workin’ folk in the supporting churches all at once stopped funding Storyline, Storyline would be in a bit of a pickle; no?

    I can understand the predicament. It would probably not be wise to expect a full-time salary from a small number of people, but I see no problem with some assistance from those you are serving at a point. Motivations mean everything here. You aren’t serving them for the money; and those you serve will most likely see that and in-turn, should understand you need funds to put food on the table. The LORD will certainly provide, and in most cases he uses His People as the means to achieve the provisions, in one way or another

    I also completely see the validity in working outside of your ministry for various reasons (being a part of the community as well as it being an income source), but there could be a danger in burnout if it takes too much of your time and/or your ministry could suffer because of preparation time being taken away. I don’t know this for sure, maybe you or someone reading this blog has done research into this, but I’m sure Paul didn’t make tents from 9 to 5 and just preached at night, and it is significant that the only instruction to Timothy Paul gives is yes, the worker (preacher/teacher) deserves his wages (as you cited).

    Is there a working example of an organic church that never received source funding and doesn’t have a paid minister (part-time or full-time) supported by the group of believers?

  7. 

    Jr:
    I’m sure people who view ministers as social leeches also view a team of church planters the same way.

    As I’ve reflected on this topic this week, I’ve grown more thankful for the support provided to us by our partnering churches. We couldn’t do it without them. I wouldn’t change a thing. I think there’s huge benefit in financial support to help churches get off the ground before there is a church there to support itself. I’m only wondering what support looks like when the church has come into existence.

    As for working example of an organic church without funding or paid staff: Neil Cole’s churches all fit that category. None of them start with any funding and usually do not have paid staff. You can check more out at http://www.cmaresources.org.

    Granted, it’s easier for such ‘simple churches’ to do so because they aren’t networked in the way we are. I think the lack of stability / continuity in such simple churches is too much of a liability not to network more closely. The need for funding increases the more tightly networked ‘simple churches’ are with one another (e.g., through worship gatherings, events, administration, etc.)

  8. 

    Charles, bro, if you were driving a Ferrari or heavily bangled with genuine bling or preaching the gospel of present prosperity rather than Word-ly wealth … then I’d worry about your question a lot more.

    I think that’s where the “leech” characterization was born. Not on the frontlines, among the poor, at the edge of personal poverty, in the deep urban needs of the city of God.

    It can be difficult to accept the grace of others with grace – those who want their gifts to support God’s work through you, because you know who you are and you’re not perfect and you’re indebted to them and you might someday/will someday let them down.

    Just keep in mind Who your benefactors really believe in; and in Whose bank they are depositing their gifts. (Philippians 4:10-18).

    I’m convinced that the reason it’s a tough line to walk is that God wants to keep us on our toes.

  9. 

    Charles,

    You said, “But for a struggling young professional who is up to her eyeballs in debt, sacrificial generosity may be less than that. I can’t in good conscience implore my recently disconnected friends to begin giving 10% because that’s the rule when it might ruin them financially…especially when a big part of the reason I’m asking is so that my family doesn’t experience financial ruin. It’s awkward. Maybe that’s lack of faith on my part.”

    I think this gets to the heart of the discernment issue. Rather than just worrying about our own financial needs, discernment means we need to consider the burden we are placing on others if we are to ask them for support. I have been supported f/t in local church work by both the congregation and outside sourses. The outside sources came from people whom God had blessed financially and out of a generous heart, were therefore able to give for the cause of Christ. However, it has become painfully obvious that receiving f/t support on from the local church I serve now is straining the congregation.

    I believe the challenge for all of us, whether our financial support comes from church(es) or through bi-vocational employment, is to not be driven my the desire for money. Of course, this is always a temptation. For some, Satan uses the fear of financial ruin and poverty to get us prioritizing money. For others, Satan uses the lust for material goods. Yet others, the need for future security. And so on…

    Any ways, my family and I are in transition. We are actually planning to move to Denver and work with Hobby and Jeri Chapin in church planting. This of course, will mean that I will be bi-vocational. It is a step of faith.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  10. 

    Charles,
    Thanks for the discussion about funding of ministry in general and ministers specifically. This is not a new discussion and I would encourage you to spend some time tracing the continuing arguments of those who identify their efforts as mutual edification and trace some of the church history struggle that includes vows of poverty.

    The answer is likely somewhere between extremes and should be a point of tension in plantings since ‘What we win them with, is what we win them to.’

  11. 

    Charles,
    I happened onto this blog after reading a great post(evidently written by you)in this month’s Christian Chronicle. I thought, “now, that was a really great article” and then I couldn’t believe it was written by you. That didn’t come across very well…not because of your ability or christianity or anything like that. I guess it is just weird to realize that people in your old youth group “grow up” and lead very productive lives. I’m very proud of you man and the work you are doing. It’s good to know where you are. Tell your sweet wife and all your family hello!
    God Bless,
    Jeff Sellers
    your OLD youth minister

  12. 

    So I’m only about a year late in stumbling across this post… As someone in f/t paid ministry people might be skeptical about my comments, but I’ll make a couple anyway.

    A couple of people have already pointed out that how the money is used plays a big part in people’s enthusiasm to give. In big churches it’s easy to see “waste”, but in smaller churches where people experience the benefits of having the minister work f/t, and know that he’s a good steward of his finances then I don’t think the “institutional skepticism” is a big issue. Of course, as the church grows…

    Also, if Paul could see the benefits of remaining single because he/she can be more dedicated to the work of the kingdom (1 Cor. 7:32-35), then the same logic seems relevant to paid church ministers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s