Thursday, April 24, 2008

Church, Money and the Future

This conversation has a lot to unpack, check out these links to continue the conversation.

Mike Bishop

Jason Evans

Here is where this conversation has me today. Going back to 1998 (10 years ago) I saw all of these trends coming and internally felt a great disconnect between my identity as a paid vocational pastor and as a follower of Jesus on mission to release the Kingdom to my community. I found that they were not the same thing. I went to Seminary to leave ministry and try to find some answers.

Here is one of the things I learned:

- My Anthropology class said that if missionaries were to have a voice in thier missional context they would have to take an "acceptable" role in that community. You can't be a vocational missionary or pastor into a tribal group with whom that role doesn't exist. I knew that my context was with those that were well outside the church walls and that for "postmoderns", they had complete disdain for organizational structures and distrust in traditional pastoral roles. So to me, if I cared to be incarnational to this group of people, I had to sacrifice my vocational identity as a pastor and take a different role in culture to support my family. So I fired myself choosing to be something more like a bi-vocational
pastor/missionary and planted a house church network.

- This has been enormously difficult. From a physical standpoint, I have a Bachelors and a Masters degree that in one world (ministry) carries heavy weight and in another world (outside of ministry) had me laughed at in job interviews. It was a transition of total surrender, personal suffering, marital suffering etc. etc. I had to learn to follow Jesus and not have pre-set assumptions of what His provision would look like. I'm not even sure how we have paid the bills on paper looking back at some of those points but I can say most assuredly that we were/are never w/out daily bread. I've done everything from managing in the food industry, teaching and administrating at a Christian High School to teaching and administrating at a Christian University.

- From an emotional/pychological standpoint, it has been brutal. I guess it has some of the same attributes of a mid-life crisis. A loss of identity which is only somewhat healthy, this loss reveals how many false-idols you had in place, places where I should have had only a trust in Christ to begin with. Its a lot of pressure to process this internal identity shift with the realities of daily life, family and work. I had the opportunity to sit on a panel discussion last Fall in Seattle with Brian McLaren and George Barna who see these shifts and are writing about them and asked them how they think people like me can deal with this identity shift as ministry culture is changing. It was a little painful to realize that they had no answers and seemed had never even considered the question previously. I suppose in their vocations of writing and speaking they haven't had the same experience. So there is little help for this area within our culture except for one another.

- From a ministry standpoint it is both a taste of amazing freedom and a challenge of transitioning away from a role of "providing" to "empowering". My experience is that even in house churches, there are still a dose of folk who just want to be fed and have large expectations for leadership to do just that. However, there are a growing number of folk who embrace the community model and bring to the community as much or more than what they are withdrawing. That is the really good stuff. I'm learning as well to not care about other's expectations of me or my performance for them. I'm just a fellow sojourner with them figuring it out and wanting to give the Kindom away.

- What is the future? I have no idea. I encourage students (high school or college) to get degrees in fields that can support them regardless of their ministry aspirations. Get your theological training from the church community and not to see ministry as a professional, but as a missional servant. From there let God lead you and provide for you in the context. I would suspect that within 10 years due to these emerging church trends and economic realities in America that the number of vocational pastors may decrease by as much as 50%. Endowed churches and denominations will be able to hang in there longer and I suspect there will be a movement of consolidating local churches to regional churches to deal with the dwindling cash flow and top heavy debts.

- What is the future? One thing I do know. God and His Kingdom are an unstoppable force and is all pervasive reality. The spread of His Kingdom will not be squelched, it will continue on to the end of all things. It may be a process of purification but that is our calling anyways as the Bride of Christ. Our identities may end, our vocations may end, our buildings may end, our paradigms may end, our assmumptions may end . . . but the Kingdom will never end nor our invitation to participate in it. I'll be around for all of that, hope you can join me ;)

peace to the coming of His Kingdom,

12 comments:

Bill said...

Amen

Paul said...

Amen and amen. The issues aren't esoteric - we've walked this road together bro. It's been hard to say the least. in the very least, let's join hands as fellow missionaries in the field. what brothers & sisters, parishoners, members, whatever u want to call them need to understand is that there is no choice to make in joining the battle. The battle has come to us as God's people. There is a ton of people out there in bondage of all sorts: financial, spiritual, emotional, physical, etc. Will we help set them free?

erickeck said...

blowing it up!

DGH said...

Yes! I agree, and I am finding myself desiring to look for a Job in January so that I can supplement my network of Organic Gatherings and I am a part of a denomination! Now! And granted, i could just jump out, be the pastor of some local congregation, but God has called me to here and now! And i will do what ever it takes to serve Him in this new and different way. Tanks for the words or encouragement, and I know I will need them when I start looking for another job.

daniel so said...

Chris -- I wandered in via Jason Evans' blog. These are some great thoughts. I am disappointed, but not necessarily surprised, to hear that neither McLaren nor Barna had any practical suggestions for those of us in vocational church ministry who are ready to shift with this changing church/ministry paradigm but aren't quite sure how to make ends meet for our families in the meantime.

In their defense, I suppose they are more "big idea people" -- their work is to highlight and encourage this shift in thinking. Now, it's up to the people on the ground to figure out how we're going to make this work. A little help would be nice, though :)

Marsh said...

daniel,
your right on, i can say from McLaren that he was a large influence to me 7-8 years ago when we planted and was one of the few who believed in what we are doing. What we have learned is that there really aren't spiritual fathers to look to for this part of the journey, rather we have one another as we pioneer this path. It would be nice to have a path already carved, but in God's wisdom we don't have to be alone and for that I'm thankful.

Tim and Melissa said...

This is a great conversation - oddly enough on the "regional church" thing, I would guess most of this will happen naturally not intentionally...That is to say, churches/worship centers of larger size that will continue to grow and become more regional in their appeal as the shift happens.

This will be even more dangerous (potentially) to the future of the church because it will allow the highest profile and much influencing leaders to say "see, our methods are working. We are growing. Healthy things grow." In reality they will have simply become the destination of choice for a generation of spiritual consumers.

The good news is, God is good at working through us even despite ourselves...it's His presence and His work, so at least we have that.

evan said...

Chris, I wandered in here via the emergent weekly email. Great thoughts and something I have been wrestling with for some time as well. I spent some time working after undergrad and am currently getting a theology degree at a seminary. My plan the whole time has been not to do any traditional ministry but I have been wondering what that looks like practically.

One issue for my wife and I is simplicity. We have seen too many people burn themselves out completely in (traditional) ministry, bi-vocational or otherwise, and we are seeking to live a life that actually reflects the peace we preach.

As a couple (with no kids) we are wondering about what life would be like with each one of us working a part time job that leaves us more time for intentional service and discipleship. I have loads more thoughts, but how much of the stress in these situations do you think is due to the time vs. finance vs. stress vs. ???? tension?

Marsh said...

Evan,
I just think that in regardless the context, ministry is really hard and by definition is an act of war against a real enemy. so the implications need to be thought through. I take on stress having a lot of role to fill at times, but I take on an enormous amount of freedom serving and leading w/out vocational expectations so its a bit of a trade off and I prefer this set of pros and cons.

Tim and Melissa said...

Henri Nouwen writes about busy-ness in "Making All Things New." He notes that Jesus himself was incredibly busy...and then he writes this: "Jesus does not try to pull us away from the many events, activities, and people that make up our lives. He does not tell us that what we do is unimportant, valueless, or useless. Nor does he suggest that we should withdraw from our involvements and live, quiet, restfull lives removed from the struggles of the world. Jesus response to our worry filled lives is quite different. He asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the "many things" to the "one necessary thing." It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things."

And a few paragraphs later "What is this center? Jesus calls i the kingdom, the kindgom of his Father."

sorry for the length of that.

-Tim

B Faris said...

What a great conversation. I too am feeling the same things. I have some thoughts, I hope they add some value to this discussion.

I'm a bi-vocation pastor. I work part-time for a video production company and part-time for Motion Church on the west side of Cincinnati. I have felt the disconnect between organized church and our culture for some time now. As a twenty something it seems to be in my DNA to move away from this organized structure. I look at the early church and see more of what looks like Wikipedia.

The community is self sustaining, self governing, and self promoting. If an "entry" gets sabatoged, the community steps in to "correct" it. Entries are freely added so long as they add value to the set Ideals of the Wiki.

This idea is resonates with movements in general. The civil rights movement, womens rights movement, and recently the Obama campaign all work on this premises. These movements are led by the Ideals. There is no true Leader. Voices or cheerleaders emerge from season to season, but the Ideals push the movement forward.

It seems like culture could care less about the traditional aspects of church as a place / practice of traditions and rituals. At the same time I see culture more tuned than ever to actually changing their world, i.e. "Going Green" "Red, line to fight aids" etc.

Could it be that the truth of Generosity, Love, Hope, and Healing are finding their way in spite of organized religion?

Is there a way to spark these type of Wiki communities that are driven by the Ideals of Jesus?

Spontaneous Expansion of the Church by Roland Allen seems to have a glimpse of what this looks like.

I see it looking like a Myspace or Facebook that extends into the physical realm. Alex McManus has some interesting ideas on this topic. (www.alexmcmanus.org)

Church no longer acts as a gathering place but it connects and mobilizes people who agree with the ideals.

I don't know if this adds anything, but there it is.

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