Is the era of full-time ministry over?

As a member of a ‘lay’ preaching team in our small church family, I have found that the benefit to me of preaching far outweighs the inconvenience and late nights needed to fulfill this role. We certainly miss some of the benefits of having a paid pastor, but I am increasingly wondering if being paid to ‘do ministry’ as a full-time job like any other nine-to-five job is something we should not aspire to?

In musing along this line, I came across an interesting comment from Jim Elliston who resigned from a full-time position as worship pastor for Cornerstone church in California to start a design company and now leads worship as a weekend ministry, without being paid to do so. Here are his thoughts:

I still lead worship for Cornerstone (now I’m right around 2 weekends a month), but I’ve realized that ministry and vocational ministry are 2 totally different things. I know it’s scary, but I think those in vocational ministry need to examine whether or not they are truly called to take a paycheck to do their ministry. I know that if I would have stayed in vocational ministry, I would have missed out on so much of what God has really called me to. (Interviewed by Justin Taylor.)

I do not think this should cause every pastor to resign, but it warrants consideration. Also weighing in on this topic recently was Justin Wise with a blog post called Bi-Vocationalism and the New Pastor in which he (accurately I think) says that:

the role in the “superhero” pastor is, … not “scalable” for future generations. We’ve forced our pastors to be the Every Man and Every Woman that No One is capable of being.

While New Zealand doesn’t suffer much from the mega church phenomenon of North America, the expectations of some Christians can easily become an ‘entertain me’ mindset when it really should be an attitude of servant humility and fellowship. As church membership declines and people are less inclined to entrust themselves to ‘the clergy’, perhaps the idea of ‘pastor’ as a job title will be replaced by pastoring (shepherding, guarding and guiding a flock) as a role that is shared by several people in a congregation, none of whom is paid as though it were a job.

I realize that Paul considered it appropriate for a church leader to be paid for the work they did. Yet Paul himself refused to draw a salary from the churches he established, the impression given is that as the burden of pastoring a church grew and precluded the pastor from working at paid employment and shepherding God’s people, the churches shouldered the responsibility of providing his material needs (see 1 Corinthians 9:4-18). Now we are in almost an opposite situation in many churches – the church is declining and yet still having to pay a pastor. As an employee, the pastor feels a responsibility to show he is earning his keep so becomes a Jack-of-all-trades and desperately tries to keep the church from declining any further.

Maybe God is wiping the slate clean and destroying the church structures that became a crutch which enabled people to lean upon an institution rather than Christ? Perhaps God is removing the excuse we invoke that certain things are the job of a pastor and so not our responsibility? Could it be that we are being nudged out of the comfort and complacency that the Western church has wallowed in for too long now?


Addendum

It seems that I am not alone in considering that the role of pastor needs to be re-examined. Ed Stetzer has written on this topic in Debunking the Clergification Myth, positing that the economy’s toll actually may liberate church leaders—and members. I did not know about this article until today (14 July).

2 thoughts on “Is the era of full-time ministry over?

  1. Mike … Thanks for the link. I’ve been thinking a lot about this post since I read it this morning. Your title is just dynamite … Would you be interested in continuing this discussion with a guest post on BeDeviant.com? Maybe a look into your experience? Hit me up with an email if you’re interested!

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  2. Hi Justin,
    Your post was the second I encountered within a week that questioned what a pastor’s role should look like and resonated with what I had been thinking for a while. I have since checked out the rest of your 21st Century Church series and found some good thought-provoking stuff.

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