“The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming.” -Frederick Buechner

I spend a good deal of time thinking about the church and faith on various levels.  I love church history, and looking at trends, practices, and the evolution of what we call Christianity.  It’s impossible for me to remove my own personal experience from that equation, as a guy who grew up in a liturgical, United Methodist tradition; who viewed the rise of the religious right in the 1980’s and 1990’s; who was a part of the seeker-friendly, post-modern mega church movement in the early days of my own ministry;  who experienced being a part of church plants and splits (better spoken, I was a part of a church split that called themselves a plant…I didn’t realize this until I had been on staff for quite a while);  who had great moments of triumph and equally emotional moments of defeat as a pastor; who ran from post-modernism to historical Christianity; and who eventually wound up right where I started…In the little United Methodist Church in which I grew up.

All of those things combined together make quite of pot of hash.  If you don’t know what hash is, just imagine taking all the meat you currently have in your freezer, throw in a hogs head, onions, tomatoes, and whole lot of spices, and let the mix simmer in a black cast-iron pot over an open fire until it tastes good.

That being said, I’m going to do the best I can to describe what the hash is going to taste like once you get a spoon in your hand.  The aforementioned faith ingredients are all mixed up, and I wanted to take a few moments over the days to come to make my best attempt to tell you what I believe the flavor of Christianity is going to be over the next few years.

There are some trends and cultural phenomena that must be considered as you take a whiff of what I’m cooking.  Consider these things we’ll be looking at as the spices that I’m throwing in the pot:

1) Ministry as a “career” vs. “calling”.

2) The evangelical response to growth in orthodox denominations.

3)  Return to liturgical practices:  Here to stay?

4) Fundamentalism vs. Mysticism.

5) Church planting: Evangelical fad or built to last?

For now, let’s look at spice #1…..ministry as a career vs. ministry as a calling.  I’ll speak a good deal from personal experience, then provide some concrete stats that hopefully, will support where I’m coming from.  The end result will be some thoughts that are solely my own, my personal opinion on what I think will make this stew more than just palatable, but downright delicious.

I’ve got a great friend who has been a deacon at a small, rural Baptist church with a membership of about 80 people for several years.  He’s in his late twenties, married, college education, and has a good career.  He’s led a home group consisting of twenty-somethings and college-aged folks for some time now.  He’s addicted to sound doctrine.  We don’t always agree on matters of theology, but he’s a great guy, wonderful teacher, and he’s serious about his belief system.

Quite a while back, he was discussing his frustrations with the institutional church, mostly to support his idea that the early church met in homes, not temples or cathedrals.  In the midst of his conversation, he mentioned that his pastor at the time had an annual salary of $72,000.

$72,000.

"Too Many Cooks" by Richard Pillsbury; Carolina women making black-pot hash

To minister to 80 people.

I was shocked.

Later on, I did a little research to see just what the average salary was for pastors in my region.  There are some wild cards in the data.  There’s one mega church in the area, where the pastor has a salary of a little over $100,000 each year.  There’s also a number of very small, rural churches with memberships less than thirty.  I looked at some specific criteria:

1) Churches located in Madison County, Georgia.  Madison County is a bedroom community for Athens, Georgia, where the University of Georgia is located.  There’s a good mix of agricultural, blue-collar, and white-collar folks.

2) Salaries of pastors with a seminary degree only.  A friend of mine pastors a very small church in a rural area of the county, and gives his salary back to the church each month as a gift.  It’s a part-time career, but full-time passion for him and his wife.  There are others like him in our area, who have miniscule salaries, and didn’t attend college with the idea that they would be “full-time” pastors one day.

Using the aforementioned criteria, I plugged into http://www.payscale.com, just to see what pastors were making in the MC.  The average pastor makes a salary of $39,050 each year.  Now, keep in mind, salary doesn’t include mileage, housing allowance, and other tax-free perks that pastors enjoy.  25% of pastors in Madison County make more than $50,969 per calendar year.  10% make over $62,995.

There’s a population of about 28,000 in Madison County, about 38% of whom are involved in some type of active practice of faith.  There are 35 churches in the county.  Over 8000 of about 10,000 folks who report religious affiliation in the county are Baptist.

16.9% of Madison County residents live below the poverty level, above the state and national averages for poverty.  The most common occupation in the county is “construction worker”.  The average household contains 2.6 individuals, 2 of whom are typically adults.  The median household income for Madison County is $40, 764 annually (statistics courtesy of http://www.city-data.com).

What strikes me about the above stats is that the average individual pastor’s salary is virtually equal to the average household income in this region.

Now, I’m not going to argue that your calling can’t be your career.  I’ve worked in the medical field before, and have seen physicians and nurses who were completely devoted to their patients.  I currently work in human services, and admire the devotion of my co-workers to the children to who we strive to provide safety and stability.  I believe that I’m called to this job, and do my best at it.  Lord, you can’t see the things we see and escape insanity without it being a calling.

There just seems to be something crazy going on with pastor’s salaries.  In England, the primary Christian body is, well, the Church of England.  BBC News reported some time back that the average vicar makes 16,400 Pounds annually, or $26,362 each year.  Dailymail.co.uk reports that the average annual salary for any individual in England is 25,543 Pounds, or $41,059 in US dollars.  So, pastors back in the mother country don’t seem to do quite as well as they do over here in the colonies!  They don’t do any less work, or have less responsibility.  They just make less money than the average Joe.

This spice is not smelling so good to me.

I’m not advocating the idea that every pastor should take a vow of poverty.  I suppose the point I’m making is that statistics prove that pastors in our culture tend to make more money than the average working family in the communities they serve.  My fear is that pastors making a lot of money produces the idea that pastors should expect to make a lot of money!  How long will it be before congregations, in these difficult economic times, begin to stand up and take notice that the pastors called to wash their congregation member’s feet are getting their own pedicured on a regular basis, while mama’s toes back at home are startin’ to look a mess?

I’ll admit, that was probably a little mean.  I’ll give the podium to G.K Chesterton for a moment:

“He that serves God for money will serve the devil for a better wage.”

Ouch.

To focus this rant a bit, I would say that the danger in paying pastors a high salary is that they will not only fall in love with money, but become slaves to those who give the most, in terms of dollars.       

Much of this post and posts to follow about the future of the church are little more than my own opinions.   I don’t advocate the elimination of professional clergy.  I do believe that God ordained a three-fold order of bishops, priests, and deacons.  We need pastors to provide order and Biblical leadership.  I don’t believe that a “house church” movement without designated leadership is the direction the church is going.

I believe that we are about to see a shift in the culture of church leadership, however.  I believe that we will begin to see more “home-grown” pastors, serving for years on the parish  level, sent to seminary with the blessing and support of their local church, graduating to serve in a part-time capacity at the church they grew up in, with more delegation of responsibilities to members of the congregation.  This won’t excuse preachers and priests from the responsibilities of pastoral care, visitation, counseling, etc.  In fact, the primary responsibilities of the pastor should be, in no particular order, pastoral care, preaching, discipleship, and ordering Sunday worship.  I believe that you will see less pastors attempting to manage every aspect of the church, though (money, building projects, etc.).  The John Maxwell-inspired CEO model of leading churches is dying a slow and painful death, along with many of the churches that latched onto that format.

In the next twenty years, I anticipate that there will be more pastors who pursue a life in ministry because ministry is what they are passionate about, not because it’s what they wish to do for a living.  Some of the most dedicated pastors I’ve known…Ray Jenkins, Dennis Kesler, and Cecil Eberhart…spent much of their lives doing construction work to support their families, in addition to being church planters, leading significant congregations, and making a lasting impact for the kingdom in their communities.  In a region where the primary vocation is construction work, doesn’t it make sense that a pastor who is willing to work with his hands would have good results in ministry?

It’s not a new concept.  Neither Lifeway nor Ed Stetzer has a patent on the idea.  Jesus started the business.  Remember, “The word became flesh and dwelled among us…”?  Jesus became the target demographic that he wished to reach.

With congregation members suffering economically, there will be less to put in the offering plates.  Paul made tents to feed himself while doing ministry, a hands on, workman’s job.  Is it unrealistic to expect that we would have pastors who are more committed if they have to work for the privilege of the position, rather than working the position for the benefit of its privileges?

Now, that smells a little bit better.

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