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When elders/pastors don’t have to act like employees

Posted by on Apr 21, 2011 in elders | 20 comments

When elders/pastors don’t have to act like employees

I’m one of the elders among our church. (You can use the term “pastor” if you prefer it. We don’t have a separate group of pastors and elders.) However, I’m not employed by the church. None of our elders are employed by the church. In fact, we don’t pay any kind of staff at all.

The absence of the employee/employer relationship simplifies and clarifies many relational aspects of the church. For example, one of our elders works in construction. His hours were cut back drastically, so he started looking for a new job. He did not have to hide this from the church. Instead, he was able to share this issue with the church, and we were able to pray for him and encourage him and his family during this time.

A couple of weeks ago, he was offered a new job. This job is in South Carolina. Now, this happens all the time among churches. Elders/pastors get new jobs all the time. They quit their job at one church and are hired by another church. Often, they even move from one state to another state when this happens. But, the employee/employer relationship makes this change much more difficult.

In our elder’s case, we are sad that he and his family are going to be moving (and we are already making plans to visit them). But, there are no difficulties caused by the employment issue. We knew this was coming, and we were praying that God would provide a job for him. We rejoice with this family that God provided the job. We are not disappointed about the job at all. (Although, like I said, we are sad that we will not be able to spend as much time with them.)

Similarly, everyone who is part of our church knows that I’m looking for a teaching position. They know that if God answers this request, it will probably mean that we move out of the area. (Of course, we’re open to other possibilities also.) The church is actually praying that God would answer my request (one way or the other).

Could you imagine a salaried pastor telling a church that he is looking for another job? Or could you imagine him asking the church to pray that God would provide another job? (Yes, I know it happens occasionally. But, generally, the employee/employer relationship hinders this.)

I’m glad that my relationship with others in the church is not hindered or distracted by the employment issue.

(And, yes, I realize that having multiple elders increases the ease of asking the church to pray for a new job that may require one of the elders to move. It’s not all because of the lack of the employee/employer relationship. But that is part of it.)


20 Comments

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  1. 4-21-2011

    Great thoughts Alan. Maybe you should consider moving this way! :o)

  2. 4-21-2011

    That is right on the mark. When some Christians in a local church are employees of the other Christians, it changes our relationship with one another. It is a serious problem in the church when pastors are looking for another job at a different church. Often it is done in secrecy rather than with the support of the current local church. When you comapre that as you did with “regular” church members relocating and looking for work openly, you see yet another reason why the professionalization of ministry is unhealthy for the church.

  3. 4-21-2011

    Dale,

    Are you offering me a job? :) Where is “this way”?

    Arthur,

    Yes. Money and employment always change a relationship, especially when that money and employment are required.

    -Alan

  4. 4-21-2011

    I was just thinking about what you said (which is not the point of this post but I am curious):

    “Similarly, everyone who is part of our church knows that I’m looking for a teaching position. They know that if God answers this request, it will probably mean that we move out of the area. (Of course, we’re open to other possibilities also.) The church is actually praying that God would answer my request (one way or the other).”

    Do you think that your “non-traditional” view of the church hurts your opportunities to teach? I can imagine that some schools would not look favorably on your understanding of the church.

  5. 4-21-2011

    Arthur,

    I’m sure that my non-traditional views on ecclesiology would hurt my chances of being employed by some schools. I don’t know (I haven’t heard) that it’s been an issue so far. Instead, the job prospect for teachers is about the same (and perhaps a little worse) for other occupations in the US right now.

    -Alan

  6. 4-21-2011

    I think many of us who are currently pastors would look for another job if we could. But some of us feel stuck. We’ve not done anything else. We’re not even sure how to find a new job and don’t know what we’d do. We have obligations that make making $8.00 an hour impossible and our church pays well. The guilt this brings is overwhelming. I didn’t get into “the ministry” for the money but this is where I find myself. Stuck.

    Additionally, the burdern of all that the church requires is crushing. It is a lonely place to be. I wish my story was unique, but I don’t think so. We wish we could have this kind of a relationship with a church – one of family and not employee/employer, but it just doesn’t seem possible. And if we were to leave our church and find a job, now where do we go for this kind of relationship and church environment?

    I sound like a whiner, but I’m really just…stuck. This sounds a bit like writing to “Dear Alan.” :-) Any suggestions?

  7. 4-21-2011

    Anonymous for good reason,

    You should check out the journey Eric Carpenter has taken, he left a paid ministry and had some struggles finding employment but he has a job now and is engaged in a more “organic” form of church meeting. His blog is http://eric-carpenter.blogspot.com/ and you can read about his journey there.

  8. 4-21-2011

    Alan: I live in Ohio. Not sure what the teaching job market is here. What is your educational background? E-mail me at Back2TheBible@aol.com Send me a resume.

    Anonymous for good reason: There are lots of Pastors out there who would say the same thing. We completely broke free from a one-pastor model and now operate organically with a shared leadership approach. It is quite a transition, but it can be done.

  9. 4-21-2011

    Anonymous.. I know it is hard, but you have to trust God that he will provide. Take the leap, there is no being stuck in Christ.

  10. 4-21-2011

    Alan,

    This blog post is more profound then we can imagine. Thanks for writing it.

    Swanny

  11. 4-21-2011

    Oh BTW, Louisville KY is a nice place to move :)

  12. 4-21-2011

    We’re in the long process of moving our fellowship to a much more organic togetherness. I’ve been looking for a job outside the church for quite awhile now and the church has been praying (hopefully anyway) with me about this process. I’m really looking forward to the time when the employment issue is no longer an issue!

  13. 4-21-2011

    Why does money have to equate to employment? I am not an employee Connections. I do not exchange money for services. The ministry God has called me too is supported by Connections, true enough. Even so, we have no issues of clergy vs layiety. We do not separate gifts such as pastor and elders. Perhaps within the confines of denominations these exist but not at Connections nor at the fellowships we associate with. Alan it seems as if you and I have had this conversation before dear friend :)

    I can many advantages to having a paid staff.

  14. 4-21-2011

    I so agree with your take Alan. While I worked as a programmer/designer I always helped in various church roles – leadership and other. After 30 years in the software industry I was able to retire and pastor pretty much full time for a few years.

    Sadly I saw how pastors did not save for retirement and many had opted out of social security. These guys did not consider the future and seemed to rely on platitudes like “God will take care of us” instead of fiscal planning. It is another dark part of the scenario created when pastors are paid.

  15. 4-21-2011

    Everyone,

    I can’t reply to everyone right now. Thanks for the comments!

    -Alan

  16. 4-21-2011

    I want to push back a little. I don’t think a paid pastor HAS to be in that type of situation. For instance, I’m looking for something else, and there are several people in our church who know this. They understand. They wish we’d stay for a long time, but they get that my financial situation is untenable over the long term. I’ve been told I’m being prayed for. Another pastor I know, was in a small church—the only paid staff member. He was single, and his parents are sick. He looked for a position where he wouldn’t be the only person on staff (loneliness and depression are an issue here), and where he’d be close enough to take care if his parents. At least done in his church knew about his looking for a new position.

    But, if I was just unhappy, or looking to climb the church ladder, then it’s a different story. I can’t imagine you walking into your church on a Sunday morning, telling them all that they’re not sufficient for you any longer. That you want something better, or that you’ve just grown tired of them and want a change. When pastors clinb the ladder, that’s the message they send. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    I think that money obviously is a factor in that, but if pastors were looking for another paid, pastoral position for honorable reasons, there wouldn’t always be a need for secrecy.

    I know I’m the lone dissenter around here, but I thought I’d throw my voice in.

    —Alan

  17. 4-21-2011

    Push back my friend…always enjoy a good conversation.

    For me money doesn’t matter nor do I care to climb. I live by faith. I have been in the pastor’s seat so-to-speak with and without money being involved. If I thought that The Lord was moving me I would begin with the elders and we would seek His will for the timing and blessings of all parties concerned. If money ran short I would find a job. I just don’t thinknwe can set a standard for paying staff when there seems to be nothing mentioned in the new testament that would prevent such.

    Our structure seems to be very different from I am seeing some of the comments speaking too. It appears as if there is a tradition involved inasmuch as staff is concerned that is more of a corporate mindset then we tend to be.

  18. 4-21-2011

    Alan,

    As you know, I’ve been where you have described in this post. Money does indeed change everything.

    What a blessing it has been to be freed of the guilt and pressure that came from being a salaried pastor. Working a regular job (even with its challenges) is a relief. Now that we can seek to be the church God calls us to be we feel blessed beyond measure.

  19. 4-21-2011

    Alan, Doug, and Eric,

    Thanks again for continuing this discussion. I’ll try to reply more when I have internet access (more than my phone).

    -Alan

  20. 10-16-2012

    Another advantage of practicing biblical eldership versus professional-institutional employment. Good post. Thanks!

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