The Clergy Question – Movements, Vocation and Institutionalism

Went along to hear Alan Hirsch at Blarney’s last night, and he delivered a pretty standard spiel on his central ideas, particularly around his central “formula” – that our Christology (what we believe about Christ) ought to define our missiology (transposing that into our cultural context) which should then decide the form of our ecclesiology (how we do church). Which I’m certainly comfortable with as a concept and think that while it’s requires severe transformational change in the church at the moment, it’s becoming relatively widely accepted.

But this stuff has got me re-considering what I believe about the concept of paid (full-time or otherwise) clergy. And in many ways this has been mixing in with Tim’s thoughts on “Employment vs Vocation” as well as some thoughts in a two part series from “Out of Ur” – Sayonara Senior Pastor (Part 1 | Part 2). So here’s my take on the whole issue.

On the one hand, there’s the theoretical argument. That if you can spend your time and resources on equipping and missionalising the people you’re leading without the strain of also needing to find an alternative source of income, that you must surely be more effective. That there comes a point where groups get to the size that it’s impossible to continue to lead a group without someone who is able to commit full-time to working for the group.

Paul even talks about those in leadership being deserving of a “double-portion”, and I’m reliably informed by a theologian I respect greatly that the exegesis of that passage indicates that “double-portion” most likely includes financial renumeration. And this talk about having a “vocation”, even (dare I quote him) the way that John Eldridge talks about “doing what makes you come alive” for a job, has to play into the equation. Because the thing I most enjoy doing, and derive the most satisfaction from in my life at the moment is the time every second sunday when I preach and teach with the youth. That’s what I’d love to be able to do full-time.

But on the flip-side there’s a compelling argument that has some good old fashioned anecdotal evidence behind it. The argument that says that employing clergy is the first step towards becoming an institution. That all movements lose their edge as soon as the practical realities of having to pay salaries (and mortgages, etc – but we’ll leave that one alone) that it becomes impossible not to concentrate a little bit more on maintaining what you have rather than reaching out to continue to grow.

And there’s the examples of the early church, the Chinese church, <insert significant move of God in the past 2000 years here> which operate phenomenally without paid clergy/structure/denominations/ordination etc.

One possible pathway to avoid institutionalism (which may or may not be a real word) suggested by the aforementioned theologian is to plant early and to plant often. But I’m really hoping that I can get you people as interested in discussing this as you were with discussing theology in songwriting. Please, let me know what you think. And if you’re a lurker – lurk no more: say something.

9 Replies to “The Clergy Question – Movements, Vocation and Institutionalism”

  1. Geoff,
    This is good stuff. In addition to what you’ve mentioned, another effect of a professional clergy is the gulf it creates between the clergy and the laity. Suddenly, responsibility gets tied to a paycheck and people expect the pastor to do everything. I don’t have time to go into detail, as I have ice cream sitting on the table melting, but I wanted to thank you for posting this.

    I’ll read the comments with interest.

    Charles Churchill

  2. Absolutely Charles. Part of the struggle I have with leading teenagers is that there is an inherent divide on the back of the fact that I’m responsible for looking after them – and I’m there to teach them.

    The other thing I meant to mention in the post was that I’m not wanting to take any pot-shots at anyone in “clergy” or even in “institutional churches”. Most of the people whose leadership I would be modelling myself on would fit into either or both those labels. I just want to explore the ideas in the context of church-planting.

  3. Hi Geoff,
    Thanks for been part of the gathering last night. I suppose for me there are a number of reasons where I think paid positions mean alot of restrictions.
    Paid= Expectations, you are expected to fore fill some consumerist desire in people.
    Paid= heiracrchy, as mentioned by Charles a gulf between laity and the professional.
    Paid=one person has all the gifts. This is the what it is like with one church ministers. Having all the gifts is very unlikely except for Jesus.
    Paid=Obsession with the internal. Absolute frustration that 90% of Church funds are spent on one person whose role, is usually pastoral. Looking after the flock, and no time for callings such as evangelism/mission.
    Both Christina and myself don’t get paid (we do get things like phone, utilities and other church expenses paid for). We have actually said we would rather it this way. Telling people this means that others in the church have to lift in there contribution. I think this is how the use of gifts should be, ‘everyone gets to play’ [really]. It also means that as a church our finances are freed up to spend with mission as focus. This is reflected in our balance sheet.(There is at least one person who the church is putting through the forge internship as well as a few overseas missions that we contribute to).
    Alot of these ideas have come from Neil Cole. He has some very interesting thing to think about. His main quote is ‘lower the bar in what it means to be church, and raise the bar of disipleship’. I think this also means also is that the office of professional clergy should also drop.
    The quesion that I’m still figuring is ‘where the ‘buck stops’, and is a real requirement of leadership. maybe another blog.

  4. Thanks for raising this Geoff – I have been thinking about this a fair bit too. I certainly agree with everything Scott wrote, but have one thing to add. We expect leaders in a church to lead, volunteer their time and resources to input in the lives of others (usually for nothing) – like yourself at the moment Geoff. If leaders are to do so on top of their ordinary jobs, how is it any different for a church leader/pastor? If the church leader hasn’t got time to do it and work a bit on the side, perhaps more delegation is required. Or maybe we need to live more simply to free us from the financial restraints that require a 2.5 job to maintain the mortgage. I don’t think one role of leadership is more important than another, just different in either scope or area. This does become more difficult if a church is huge of course, but then I agree with the suggestion to keep on planting. That naturally helps size, and releases others to do what God has placed on them, without all being invested in just a couple of people.

  5. Doesn’t a lot depend on what you expect your clergy to do or to be, and that in turn depends on your ecclesiology, which depends on your Christology?

    A local congregation can have self-supporting clergy who live within its geographical area, but perhaps those who train, equip, support and encourage them need to be full-time.

  6. christina thinks I should qualify this a bit more. what I mean is that there are a good place for bible college and training such as Tabor, Bible College of Victoria, Forge etc.

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