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.