Don’t Call Me “Pastor”

Seth Merrin said that having no titles is symbolic, but it really works. (Earl Wilson/The New York Times)

When I talk to journalists, I regularly need to ask them not to refer to me as “Pastor Tony Jones,” or “Tony Jones is a Christian pastor…” That’s because I am not, currently, a pastor. Call me a “minister” or a “clergyperson” or a “theologian-in-residence,” but not a pastor.

“Pastor” is a role, not a title. Even better than a noun, it’s a verb, and if one is “to pastor,” then one needs a congregation to pastor. Deriving from the word for shepherd, a pastor needs sheep.

But, as you might guess, I’d rather do away with titles in church life altogether. I am firmly against hierarchies — bishops, synods, general assemblies, district superintendents, etc. — because they are bad for the gospel. They may be good for organizational proliferation, but the gospel has absolutely no interest in organizational proliferation.

Last weekend, the New York Times reported on Liquidnet, a brokerage firm that has recently done away with all titles. Seth Merrin founded Liquidnet, and the interview with him is fascinating — and should be studied by pastors, church council members, and denominational employees. Here are some money quotes:

[Read more…]

Clergy Taxes Made Easier

Do you perform “sacerdotal functions”? If so, and if you’re “ordained” — yes, those are “scare quotes” — then you may qualify for a housing allowance, a funny part of the U.S. tax code that allows clergy and military to bypass federal taxes with a certain portion of income.

It’s not easy to complete clergy tax returns, and I’ve found that most tax preparers have no idea how to do it. That’s why for many years I’ve used Clergy Financial Resources. Mark and his team at Clergy Financial know the tax code, and they prepare tax returns for all states. Plus, they’re great to work with — always responsive, knowledgable, and kind.

I dislike tax season — it makes me anxious. But at least with Clergy Financial, I feel like I’m in good hands.

[Read more…]

Report: Clergy Are the Happiest about their Job

We clergy sometimes complain about our jobs, to be sure.  But my experience bears out the results of the General Social Survey: most clergy are very happy with their jobs.  They might get frustrated with the people in their congregations, and they think they’re underpaid, but they generally like their job.  Interestingly, if you click through to the article, you’ll see that most of the unhappiest jobs are in technical fields.

Psychologist, firefighter, and clergy are included in the list of the “10 happiest jobs” based on data collected via the General Social Survey of the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, reports the Christian Science Monitor. “Since experts say that social interaction drives job satisfaction, it makes sense that clergy are happiest of all,” Christian Science Monitor writes. “Social interaction and helping people [is a] combination that’s tough to beat for job happiness.”

  1. Clergy
  2. Firefighters
  3. Physical therapists
  4. Authors
  5. Special education teachers
  6. Teachers
  7. Artists
  8. Psychologists
  9. Financial services sales agents
  10. Operating engineers

Read more:


A Call to Clergy: Stop Performing (Legal) Marriages!

In 2008, after the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I blogged about my support for gay and lesbian persons and their right to be married.  If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the time since, it’s been how few people paid attention to the nuances of my position.  So I thought I’d take the opportunity to write a bit more about it now.

It is very odd to me that in the U.S., clergy act as agents of the government at weddings.  In my state, for instance, the bride and groom apply for the marriage license at the county court house, but they don’t actually sign the license.  Instead, it’s signed by a member of the clergy and by two witnesses.  And, of course, without the clergy signature, it is invalid.

When I talk to pastors and priests about this, almost all of them express extreme discomfort at this situation, for it actually requires the clergyperson to act as an extension of the state.  And that conflicts with the theology held by many pastors, Calvinist and Arminian, Protestant and Catholic.

[Read more…]