Tentmaking 4 (Jeff Cook)

Tentmaking 4 (Jeff Cook) December 27, 2010

Finances : Tentmaking 4

According to a 2008 compensation survey from LifeWay, the average pastor of a small church with between 50 and 74 members makes $39,459. For a bivocational pastor of the same size church, the average salary is $10,181. I had a recent conversation with a magazine editor who said that bivocational ministry is good because it allows the church to give more. This was reflected in many of the posts Monday when we asked why bi-vocational ministry is worth whiled.

Practically – Having a pastor that has a second job opens up many doors. As a church planter myself, I know I would not have been able to start Atlas (my church community) without having a second job. I sought support, came up dry, and had to find a different way to do it. Idealistically –

As the church reminds itself of the poor around the world, isn’t bivocational ministry a natural solution? Can’t we save countless lives if our leaders would simply get other jobs to support themselves? Yet on the flip side, isn’t then the burden *both* of giving and creating the church being carried by the pastor’s family? And should we expect one family in our communities to sacrifice and carry so much? Is not a communal sacrifice better—but how do we get there if we do not have someone dedicating significant –dare we say “full-time”—energy to leading?

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  • Jason Lee

    The questions at the end of this post present an interesting set of tensions, but there seemed to be one assumption that I didn’t follow: “…isn’t then the burden *both* of giving and creating the church being carried by the pastor’s family? And should we expect one family in our communities to sacrifice and carry so much?”

    Hmmmm…no…but maybe at the start. While it may be true that at the start of a church the bivo pastor(& family) carry most of the burden, why should we think it’d continue that way? You could argue that the bivo pastor’s sacrificial example would lend her a great deal of credibility among the new church members and so help draw and retain new members (wow, she’s not just starting this church because she’s paid to). So the bivo pastor might draw and keep more committed members. Furthermore, rather than it creating a lazy dependency, you could also argue that the bivo pastor’s sacrificial load carrying could be a way to lead by example and end up being a strong model for the church members to follow: “Wow, if she and her family are essentially volunteering so much of their time and resources, we can do that too.” So the bivo pastor’s sacrificial leading could provide a strong foundation for a culture of sacrifice and comittment for all in the church.

  • Why are we not challenging young people to consider singleness as a vocation, as the Apostle Paul advised in 1Cor 7, so that the “family demands” problem would not be as much of an issue for missionaries and church planters?

  • Rick

    “how do we get there if we do not have someone dedicating significant –dare we say “full-time”—energy to leading?”

    Maybe the meaning of “leading” needs to be redefined.

  • I’ll apologize right from the top,if what I am about to say has already been said and discussed. I have not been a careful reader over these past days of Advent and Christmas. Never the less, I’ll offer a couple of comments.
    In discussions of “Tentmaking” Paul’s example and life are brought up. I wonder how appropriate that is. Is Paul setting a standard for all ministry in all times and places, or is Paul simply responding to the social and economic situation of his times? Certainly the economic, social conditions of his time were quite different than ours. The church’s situation at its beginings and now is certainly different. I’m uncertain how normative Paul’s example is for our current situation.

    My other comment is this. In no other profession or job do we expect the person called to support themselves with other work. I come from a Christian tradition that expects clergy to be seminary trained, and that certainly shapes my view. People are called by God to all sorts of work and we don’t expect our doctor or accountant or whoever to work outside their field to support their calling. Leading a congregation (in the fullest sense of the word) requires a certain set of skills and abilities and a considerable amount of time. It seems unfair to the pastor, the congregation and quite frankly, to God to expect this task to be done well while working at another job. Don’t we run the risk of minimizing or being dismissive of the talents, skills and plain hard work and time involved?
    I don’t mean to say that members of the congregation don’t have valuble gifts to use, but leadership is a particular sort of gift with particular responsibilities.

  • Phil Niemi

    Hi Nancy,

    I am now among those that are bi-vocational church planters, having been a pastor for a good number of years. Formal Training is important, but not the be all and end all. I’ve met many “trained” pastors who couldn’t preach, teach, lead or pastor. They simply got the training. I’ve also met many who never continued in education, being stuck in the stuff of 20 years ago, not realizing the world has moved on.

    The biggest problem I have with your expectation is the fact that this is a “job”. It’s not, it’s a ministry position within a church, a local body. Church planting, if it became a “job” would die tomorrow. I don’t know many career church planters, people who have regular 9-5’s and steady pay cheque’s, pensions and 30 years and out.

    If church ministry is a “job”, when on earth did it start? Certainly not near the beginning. There is no wonder why Western Church has not continued to influence culture, pastors with “jobs” and churches with “employee’s”.

    This has been a tight Christmas, because I’ve started a small congregation and a small business this fall. Luckily, my wife, a teacher, is the primary bread winner, not something appreciated in conservative circles. But you know what…neither of us will go back to “business as usual”.

    I’m kind of tired, hope that made sense and wasn’t offensive, that isn’t my intention.

  • Robin

    Regarding tent-making and finances: This is certainly one option worth pursuing, especially when you are getting a church off the ground. And in some scenarios where being a paid pastor might make un-believers (or churchmen) think you are just trying to profit off of the gospel, then it is indeed the best way to organize the church. This was the explicit message of Paul in the first section of 1 Corinthians 9.

    But as for this idea that tent-making should be the norm and churches that use an alternative method are somehow less spiritual because they aren’t able to give as much…well we do have this explicit teaching as well “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Being bi-vo is no more spiritual than being a fully supported pastor, or vice-versa, it is just more advantageous in some settings.

    As to finances. Our church gives 1/2 of all collections to missions or need-based ministry. 12 families pledged $69,000 this year and there will be some additional donations. I’ve seen our budget and the one thing that is absent, that frees us up to do this is the lack of building costs. A $40,000 pastor’s salary is a small burden on the church’s budget compared to a million dollar facility that has principal and interest payments and annual upkeep, maintenance, and operations costs.

  • Phil, You weren’t offensive at all.
    I agree and have know folks (in various professions) who were in the wrong profession and who didn’t do the work well, didn’t keep up to date, etc. However their failing to do so doesn’t make the process of education worthless. I suspect many more have had their abilities and talents grow and be strengthened.

    Part of the difficulty in this sort of discussion is that “job” is taken to mean some lesser sort of work (WRT “ministry”). That is something that is solely done for the money, a thing to be endured until retirement, etc. And then also there is the (often unspoken)idea that being a “pastor” is the only “calling” God ever gives. For example, and I’m sure you know this, the best teachers believe they are called to teach. It is more than a mere “job” for them.
    I think that it is important for us to develop a fuller theologically rich and deep understanding of work. (there is much more that can be said about this)
    The other side of the coin, then is that we ought not to overly priviledge paid ministry. Despite protestantisms best efforts, we still tend to think that ministers are somehow more spiritual, closer to God,etc. It seems to me better to recognize that each of us has particular gifts, some of us lead congregations, some of us are brain surgeons, some of us work in retail sales. Does everyone have a job they love? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that satifying and fulfilling work for all ought not to be a goal.

    It occurs to me that we might be talking out of different church organizational experiences. As a member of a mainline denomination, we do support at a denominational level people who start new churches. They are not expected to do it alone. The system isn’t perfect but there is financial suport as well as suport for the myriad of other things new churches must manage.

    Like you, I hope this response hasn’t come across as offensive or confrontational. I appreciate the opportunity for this conversation.

  • Posts 1-6

    Jason Lee (1): Hey man; good comment. I am posing that the burden of giving falls on the pastor in a different kind of way because of course, the bivocational pastor (ideally) is worthy of a better salary. For example, break down what I made the first four years of Atlas per hour and it would maybe hit 1$ an hour. During that period our church still choose to give 15%. Now, in such cases isn’t the burden of giving from the church falling on the pastor’s family in a unique way?

    On whether it should continue, there is an assumption here that the bivocational pastor’s church will grow. That is by no means a given, ya?

    I agree full heartedly with your “self-sacrifice as an example to others” argument. What I have found difficult is actually telling my community of my family’s sacrifices. Apparently my right hand is not supposed to know what my left hand is giving away, and as such the “self-sacrifice as an example to others” argument has a clear counter which is difficult to get past (though I obviously choose to above cause apparently I’m a lawbreaker).

    Chaplain Mike (2). I think this correct. It creates all kinds of new tensions and difficulties, but many of us know: Bivocation + Family = Tri-Vocation, really.

    Isn’t it clear that Paul can thrive doing the bivocational thing because he doesn’t have to change diapers! We’ll discuss this at length in future posts.

    Rick (3). Unpack this. It seems to me good, church creating leadership takes time.

    Nancy (4). I like the idea here of normativity. My claims so far have not offered up Paul’s example as prescriptive, but as a clear biblical example of a different way to do ministry.

    I love your summation here of the unreasonable expectations that can be thrown forward on pastors. It is a professional vocation which can require graduate work. Let me put forward my own story here as a picture to analyze and criticize: I have 7 years of collegiate education, I’ve published a book and have another on the way with a fairly well-regarded publishing house. I teach at a university. In some ways, I am at the top of my field: yet after 5 years of work, I am now making a part-time wage without benefits from my church. This will not change this year or probably the next, and when I get practical, it seems insane to me. Perhaps that is a failure on my part to grow our community numerically and financially, and as such I am undeserving of a fulltime wage. Is that right? I’m not sure how to wrestle with this sometimes. Do you have thoughts here?

    Phil (5). Do you think the financial compensation side is important at all to discussions of ministry? There are passages in the NT which outline that some folks who spend large swaths of time leading a community should be supported, so it does start in the beginning. Jesus himself had to live off donations. Is that a bad thing in your mind?

    Robin (6). Good comments. I don’t know that anyone has suggested that being bivocational is somehow “more spiritual.” I do think you are right to bring in the “church building” into this conversation. That is an angle that needs to be addressed. How do you think it fits?

    Cheers all! Jeff

  • Robin

    Jeff Cook,

    In reality, I think everything traces back to the mission of the church, and our perception of it. Is the mission of the church (1) Evangelizing the lost (2) Nourishing believers (3) Sending missionaries overseas (4) Feeding the poor and caring for widows and orphans (5) Something else or a combination of the previous 4.

    Obviously, the true mission of the church includes all 4, but the emphasis depends on the location and the pastor. My church has made a conscious decision to focus on the poor. We have a secondary emphasis on evangelism and missions, and we just hope believers get nourished somewhere along the way. Most of our focus on evangelism relates to our physical and financial ministry with the poor.

    Because of our emphasis, we don’t need a building. We don’t care if we ever have large crows for teaching and evangelism because we are focused on mercy ministry. We meet in the elementary school in the poor part of town, partner with the local charitable organizations, and have adopted the poor children at that local school. Our understanding of the gospel, and our particularized local mission has dictated that we don’t need a building.

    I guess what I am really saying is that your vision for how the gospel will advance in your local area dictates things like pastor’s salaries, building needs, etc, it isn’t the other way around.

  • Robin

    Just a follow up on that last post, in one of my former churches the message, from the pulpit, was that the primary responsibility of the church was to disciple believers so that they would be mature in their faith and their lives would be marked by care for the poor, evangelism, etc. With that type of vision, what do you think the church looked like?

    We had our own building, Sunday school classes for every conceivable age group, we started a Christian School, had hospitality every week, intensive bible study classes outside the Sunday Services, and we recently started a local seminary that earns credits which are transferrable to several accredited reformed seminaries. Our whole church does go overseas on mission trips, but when just the pastors go it is primarily to conduct theological training for indigenous pastors.

    Your view of the gospel, and the role that the assembled congregation plays vs. the individual believer drives these decisions.

  • Jason Lee

    jeff (8):

    1. I’m not arguing that the burden doesn’t fall on the pastor(& family) in a special way. Clearly, leaders often carry a special burden (and often a material one). What I’m saying is that this special burden (thought painful) may actually have a huge benefit later.

    2. “On whether it should continue, there is an assumption here that the bivocational pastor’s church will grow.” No, there’s no such assumption. Church members may grow in their sacrificial giving over time (perhaps as a result of discipleship) without the church necessarily growing. Actually there is social science research that shows that after a certain point of church growth the average church member gives less (partly because people can “free-ride” more in bigger churches).

  • Jason Lee

    …and to anticipate a common misconception: No, small groups within a big church don’t make up for the negative impact of church size on member financial giving. That’s what the best research shows.

  • Phil Niemi

    #7 and

    Thanks for the comments. As too my understanding of churches giving to pastors, I definitely believe they can and should…but the question is how much and at what sizes. An I agree that church buildings more than anything can affect churches financially as ministry money needs to be placed in property.

    Also, churches can place pastors into very tight circumstances with both finances and direction by controlling their salaries. If more pastors (not all), were bivocational, I believe they would be able to actually lead leadership teams better (mostly in churches of under 100-200 people). I don’t think this would be feasable for lead pastors of larger congregations.

  • Jeff (8) I’m not sure I can answer your question. Each of us has to determine what we are called to do at various times in our lives. I too, left a job that paid much better than my current one. But I think it was the correct move for me.
    Your comment about deserving or being undeserving of a full time wage is interesting. Numberical or financial growth isn’t necessarily the most important measure, although they are easy to assess. It is a little bit of a “chicken or egg” situation, isn’t it? If a pastor is only able to work part time, how quickly can the church be expected to grow? Any of us only has so much time and energy. Again I think a better theology of work might help us think better about the work of pastors (and others) and how they should be compensated.

    Robin, I think your comments are on target. One size doesn’t fit all. The particular contexts of local congregations and each congregation’s sense of what it is called to do and be should shape the life and situation of the congregation.

  • I’ll just comment on the “I sought support, but came up dry” comment: this is an experience that others have had, but as a development director, I often find that this is because the missionary/church planter has not been given adequate training and coaching support on the fundraising side. There are a great number of people out there who will give if they are asked specifically.

    This a sideline, but perhaps an important one, to the bivocational conversation. I think I forsee a multi-faceted approach in missional church planting that involves *all of the above*: missionary-style support, outside incoming from parttime bi-vocational work, and some internal tithe.

  • I serve as a church planting missionary in Vermont, supported by my denomination. I also serve as the bivocational pastor of a specific church in Vermont. By combining these two roles, I free up a signficant amount of resources for further church planting. For example, the church I pastor gives 45% of their regular offerings to missions. 36% of that is going to church planting and social justice ministries inside Vermont that are desperate for financial support. Yes, it does stretch my personal and family schedule, but we do it for the sake of the Kingdom. Having too full time jobs has forced me to train others to help do the work of the ministry. Hmmmm…. sounds like a biblical concept to me. I have always “believed” in training others but bivocationalism forced me to finally practice it.
    Bivocational pastors have learned the value of taking up our cross and dying daily. Now, we must teach others in the church that same value, so it can also be lived out by others.

    Dr. Terry Dorsett
    Author of Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.

  • Chris (15). I asked 20 or so folks and churches that care for me to support us, and got one “yes.” Then I moved on. It could most certainly be a lack of skill on my part however — but that just complicates the problem further. Now the bivocational pastor needs to be skill at fund raising too.

    BTW – did you see the second post in this series? We quoted you to set the conversation.

    Terry (16). “Yes, [tentmaking] does stretch my personal and family schedule, but we do it for the sake of the Kingdom.” DO you think this is healthy, and when does the sacrifical bleed into a kind of poison to our families?


  • Robin

    Jeff and Terry,

    How many full-time pastors do you think would say their ministerial duties didn’t stretch their families. I’ve known quite a few preachers kids who have been convinced that their parents ministry responsibilities put a strain on the family.

    I think I’m getting a little tired of the notion that bi-vo pastors are exceptional, or face hurdles that the rest of us mere mortals cannot fathom. To put it another way, I’m pretty sure that bi-vo pastors aren’t the only Christians, or even the only ministers that have learned to take up their cross daily, and you might not need to “teach others in the church that same value” as much as you think.

  • Chris

    I’m not sure if it has been addressed, but what about the argument for Bi-vocation based on not pandering to American consumerism? This is what mostly pushes me to think about becoming a bi-vocational pastor. How does a church “do the work of ministry” when they have someone they pay to do it? This seems to be Fracis Chan’s biggest issue (see his last sermon at his old church). He articulates very well that the church has mostly become another place to consume goods and services, the pastors/staff being the providers of them. Hybels, seems to be REVEAL-ing this issue as well over the last few years. The church is not producing mature believers because we professional clergy need to be needed, need to justify our salaries, need to justify our self-worth, etc. However, would we produce more mature believers if we let them in on the game finally? Let them join alongside us, let them own, define, teach, lead, evangelize, pastor, etc. in respect to their gifting. It seems like a general principle that maturity happens, in whatever context, when one faces challenge and adversity. Perhaps, becoming bi-vocational allows a pastor to get out of the way enough for others to embrace the challenge and adversity of being church.

  • Robin (18). I think this is correct on one front. Everyone has struggles. However, on another front there is something to be said about the unique charateristics and quality of the issues that tentmakers experiences, and its okay to call them issues, and its okay to seek support without feeling as though we are suggesting that others don’t have difficulties.

    I do think anytime ministry life and choices hurt one’s family it is time to stop and reassess. There are lots of traditions in the Bible of religious people sacrificing their children on the alters of their god, and they are all roundly criticized.

    Chris (19). “How does a church “do the work of ministry” when they have someone they pay to do it?” It seems to me this is a potential though not necessary problem. There are some who are paid fulltime who do an outstanding job “equipping the saints for works of service”. That can be a praiseworthy fulltime roll that does not disintigrate into consumerism. It seems to me consumerism arises not from paid staff but from an unhealthy church model and self-understanding. I agree though that biovocational work can push one to multiply themselves and that is a good thing.


  • Robin

    Jeff Cook,

    My two paragraohs centered on 2 separate thoughts. I think it is true that all pastors face unique challenges and it is appropriate to consider how they manifest themselves in different contexts. I think the issue of “family strain” is common among pastorate types. I’ve been on familiar terms with a handful of paid, professional pastors, and from the outside looking in it appears that all have placed a significant strain on their families. Among the men I know, it appears that 60-70 hour work weeks are absolutely the norm when you combine pastoral care duties with sermon preparation, sermon delivery, sabbath day duties, etc.

    My second paragraph concerns the tone that bi-vo pastors are using. When you have a paragraph like “Bivocational pastors have learned the value of taking up our cross and dying daily. Now, we must teach others in the church that same value” if you don’t realize how incredibly smug that sounds, how it appears to put bi-vo pastors on a higher spiritual, or sacrificial plane than other pastors, then I don’t know what to tell you.

    I’m sure that being a bi-vo is hard, and lets examine that and support people doing that great work, but I think we can accomplish that without implying that bi-vo pastors have it harder than the rest of Christendom or that they take up their cross daily while uni-vo pastors (going to copyright that term) live in the lap of luxury and don’t face challenges.

  • Robin (20). Brief thoughts. Paragraph one, it seems to me that family strain is an unexceptable sacrifice to make. The church’s needs should go first. Would you agree? paragraph two and three, obviously your quoting Terry and not me. I think my point in (19) still stands. It’s okay to talk through specific difficulties of specific disicplines. Cheers.

  • Check that, my claims in (20). (19) is Chris.

  • Robin

    Jeff (22),

    I think it depends on necessary and reasonable family strain. Every family is strained. My family is strained because our finances are bad and mom has to work. Once we get that fixed it will be strained because she is staying at home and kids are tough to deal with.

    I think there is some level of strain placed on all families, ministerial or otherwise. I do agree that all people, especially pastors should make efforts to minimize that strain, but there are always going to be times when the pastor has to miss Johnny’s soccer game because a congregant is ill, and Johnny might feel jealous and that his father is sacrificing his family for the church.

    I think there has to be a balance in there.

  • Chris

    Jeff (20) Agreed. It’s not a necessary problem, but it seems a very real and difficult problem to address. What do you suggest in how to create a healthy self-understanding/model of church community for an established church?

  • Chris

    Oops, I meant Jeff (19)

  • Chris (25). Pain.

    Actually, I have no clue. I can name 20 books off the top of my head for building a megachurch, but I can name 5 on discipleship (and that because I’ve been looking hard for them recently). It seems that American church culture often values church growth more than discipleship, and those values need to shift. But let’s not kid ourselves. That will be massively difficult. And to be quite honest, I don;t know that there are a lot of good ideas out there right now. It seems to the problem is designing the 21st century church, not implementing it. What do you think? Much love, friend.

  • Chris

    I as well have no clue, but must live with the church growth value system as it pays the bills, if you get what I mean. I have tried unsuccessfully with a couple of small groups (missional community type efforts) to help them grasp the value of discipleship, but the busyness of life and years of conventional church conditioning seemed to kill any momentum. Anyway, if you get some good ideas or leads, I welcome them. Thanks!

  • Actually, I think small groups are great places to experiment with creating a new kind of church. We started a second service out of a small group at Atlas, and we changed quite a bit of our value system for what a gathering looks like in that group. It seems to me the best thing that could happen in the church would be lots of small start ups that just try new stuff and eventually, evolution like, new structures and practices will emerge. But I do think we need to recommit to discipleship as a primary focus. Unfortunately I don;t know anyone doing that well either.

    On another front, it seems there are lots of folks like yourself who are working for a large church but are not happy with that kind of work. I have a handful of friends who are likewise discontent. Why is this? What are the big problems that need to be addressed here? Do the pastors of such churches know so many folks hate their jobs with their organizations all over the country?

  • Chris

    jeff (29) Like I mentioned before, for me, mostly, it is the consumeristic mentality. Most of who I run into in the church display expectations that they should receive excellent teaching, children’s program, youth program, small group experience, etc. and when they don’t receive it, they move to a church that can give it to them. It is a me-centered experience. The kicker is that even those who get all of their expectations met, mostly still show very little to no spiritual maturity/conformity in Christ. The church is approached as another organization to service “my needs.” Ecclesiologically, this is messed up because just as much as the church cares for me, I need to care for it and the world, because we are all the church. Bottom line for me, if we are to look like Jesus, then I believe the central behavior is serving/sacrifice for others (christian and non-christian). The American church overall looks like someone who wants to be served, more than serve. The son of man did not come to be served.

    Trying to understandably help change this within the church is extremely exhausting, so often I feel tired and grinded. But, someone once told me to “be the change” (i know very cliche) and that is what I keep trying to do each day I get up. Hopefully, in my meager attempts, God is doing what he needs to do through me.

  • Chris (30). I fully sympathize. Perhaps your “other job” is working at a church as you experiment building the Church in a different way. It seems to me you hit exactly where I itch presently. I am consistently asking two questions now: what is a disciple and how can I help make them. The present american church can get there I think if discipleship itself becomes a dominant topic of conversation. If it is, I think much of the consumerism will be challenged. I may be naive here, but it seems a good start. – what is a disciple, and how are we growing them. What do you think?