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.

Men and church
Just in case you didn’t hear me