The Flip Side of the Bivocational Coin

The Flip Side of the Bivocational Coin

The treasurer reported that everything looked good. Giving was slightly exceeding our budgeted needs and financial obligations. Immediately, there were smiles all around the room. Everyone relaxed, happy to know that we didn’t have to worry and stress about our church’s budget this time. Everyone, that is, except me. We knew it was going to happen. The grant money that fully funded my position would not last indefinitely. Our small church wasn’t in decline. In fact, we were seeing growth and our participants were generous and sacrificial givers, many of them going well beyond a traditional tithe. Nevertheless, we knew that significant financial changes were inevitable. A few months before, I had volunteered to essentially become “bivocational.” I had a few other projects that I wanted to pursue and I was willing to see if they could generate some income to cover the resulting shortfall. It seemed like a win-win situation. The church was able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. The unintended consequence of that shift was that what began as a challenge for our entire congregation essentially became my problem to solve alone. It was no longer a case of “This is our challenge. We’ll solve it together.” Instead, it was assumed that I had it covered. I was now responsible for making up the difference between our current level of giving and my intended salary. I reduced my work hours accordingly and the church continued with minimal disruption to our regular worship schedule. While it is easy to count the cost of financial adjustments that result in a loss of materials, programs, or staff positions,...
Healthy Beginnings Matter for Pastor Search Process

Healthy Beginnings Matter for Pastor Search Process

In a recent training event for congregational conflict interventionists, one of our CHC team members heard Richard Blackburn, a Lombard Peace Center trainer, say this: “When I look into the history of churches I go into for a conflict intervention, I almost always find they had a bad pastoral transition in the past.” Wow. Double Wow. The call process for free churches is a unique and nuanced blend of divine intervention, spiritual discernment, naivety, blended intelligence from the HR world, wishful thinking, unrealistic expectations, and occasional luck and/or providence. Over the last five years, I have had a ringside seat at the table as process coach with nearly two-dozen Pastor Search Committees. For some, the work has been something akin to spiritual renewal, while others have wondered what they did to make God so angry with them. Working alongside these committees has been entertaining, sad, humbling, inspiring, frustrating, hilarious, and deeply troubling…sometimes all in the same evening! Here at CHC, we have developed, through trial and error, a much healthier and more robust process than most congregations expect or initially appreciate. We are finding that doing the rigorous work of thoughtful spiritual discernment, combined with appropriate congregational self-study, making use of best practices from multiple vocations, and blended with a humble spirit of proactive invitation produces a much higher likelihood of a successful and mutually satisfying call to a new pastor. One truth that is rapidly emerging is the critical importance of two specific windows during the call process. Both have to do with beginnings. The first is the initial formation period for the committee. The second is the...

The High Cost of Self-Preservation

A young pastor was recently recounting the events that led to his dismissal. Throughout the painful ordeal, he had relied upon a small group of spiritually mature trusted advisers to help him navigate the uncertainties he faced. As events unfolded, he was devastated to discover that one of those advisers had actually conspired with others to bring about his eventual dismissal. His trusted adviser was guilty of distorting facts and revealing confidences. The betrayal and abandonment made an already hurtful situation even more so.   What happened? How did someone who seemed to have a deep faith stoop to such inappropriate behavior? There is no simple explanation, but I suspect that part of what happened is that the stress of the situation led this person to act out an agenda of self-preservation.   When stress escalates, congregations and ministers are often surprised to find people reverting to decidedly un-Christian behavior. As a pastor, I marveled, and sometimes grieved, these phenomena. When under duress, people move toward self-preservation and safety at all costs.   It’s actually a valuable part of our human nature. Self-preservation keeps us alive when our instincts kick in and we jump out of the way of a speeding car, or duck to avoid a low-hanging branch. Self-preservation is wired into our brains for good reasons.   One of the glories of being a created in the image of God, of course, is that we are invited to live at a higher level than instincts or feelings. We can move from simple self-preservation to a self-giving care for others. The Biblical story is, at its heart, the...

Why Faith and Health Are Inseparable

Compartmentalization is the bane of authentic faith. When we begin to divide the realms of our life from one another, the end result looks very different than loving God with “all your heart, soul, mind and strength”. We become a house divided, living an increasingly incongruent life. If our Christian faith does not impact our work habits, our marriage relationship, our diet   or our anger management, what does that suggest? Our lack of spiritual integrity is costly. Others see clearly the hypocrisy that we seem blind to. The disconnect between embracing Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” and being profanely rude to our child’s teacher does great harm to the kingdom. On the other hand, when we begin to orient all of our life around the organizing center of Jesus Christ, an amazing transformation takes place. The gospel permeates every part of us, and we begin to experience that promised “peace that passes all understanding”. On those days, we stand as a compelling and positive witness to the person and presence of Jesus Christ. This is a pressing issue for congregations as well. Congregations battle compartmentalization as we are tempted to retreat to our protected sanctuaries and devote our budgets and programs to the spiritual realm, while neglecting the earthly concerns of poverty, hunger, housing, and health.  Instead, a congregation that practices a congruent faith will recognize that such concerns very much belong on the local church agenda. The church has historically exhibited a deep passion for health care, for example. The founding of hospitals, clinics and medical missions are an important part of our story. Jesus certainly showed...

We Can Do Better

I recently spent a memorable and meaningful few days with a group of Music Ministers. Throughout our times of worship, breakouts and social interaction, I had many significant conversations with these men and women about their life in the 21st century church. Many wanted to talk about the challenges of their specific settings. Granted, I was only hearing one side of these stories. Believe me, I know that every story has multiple sides and complexities. Some of the things I’ve seen music leaders do defies belief. Even with that proviso, I am convinced that those who lead in music and worship ministry are the recipients of an obscene amount of vitriol, anger, criticism, and unreasonable expectations from every corner. While my personal experience with congregations and their relationship with music/worship leaders has been overwhelmingly positive, such is not the case for many. Healthy churches can do better. Start with a hard question: How can we bring our expectations back to earth, and turn our focus to the true calling of worship? Here are some general thoughts to guide that conversation. Let’s acknowledge that worship and music leadership is more art than science. There is no formula for worship that will work in all settings. Just because something works at your cousin’s church in Birmingham does not mean it will succeed at yours. Music hooks our emotions. When it comes to our emotions, most of us are irrational. That makes for a toxic brew in a local church. No area of church life seems to invite more overreaction than worship and music. Since overreaction is usually a sign that something...

Cultivating a Culture of Call

Nearly all observers of the 21st century church in America agree that the next generation of leadership is a cause for concern. Many write, blog, tweet and generally lament the state of leadership cultivation and training, or lack thereof. Far too many congregations no longer encourage young people and laity to consider vocational ministry. Many congregations cannot remember the last time someone from their ranks sensed a call to vocational ministry and followed that call to licensing and/or ordination. Those who study such things know that a minority of our congregations produce a majority of our clergy. What is it about the culture of those churches that encourages a call to ministry among their members? How do they create a “culture of call” that invites parishoners to consider deeply the possibiity that God may be leading them into vocational ministry? Melissa Wiginton served for several years at the Fund for Theological Education before moving to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She, as well as anyone I know, has been a prophetic voice in this arena of call. I once heard her describe the major traits of churches that are successful at creating this calling culture. She identified four characteristics of a “calling Church”. A place where something is at stake. Calling Churches are doing more than busywork; they are engaging many people in life-changing ministry. Their members are passionate about their church and it’s mission. They invest in youth and children’s ministry that is more than fun and games. A church that is a seat of resistance. Calling Churches consistently sound a counter-cultural message about what matters most. They hold...