April 23, 2008

church, money and the future

Today, Chris said,
Recession seems inevitable, will it go way beyond that? A nation already ruled by fear and over-spending with no margins by individuals and the government, what will be the consequences?

How will this impact churches and mortgages and credit lines that can't be fed? As builders pass on who are the committed givers what is left? 1/2 of boomers are there to give and the other 1/2 are driven past their financial margins with consumerism and can't help. Gen X and Millenials have very little value in long term comittments, are all about instant gratification and consumerism is their native language. Commonly this group of up and comers are living on 125-140% of their income taking on exponential debt per year. What will be the result of these decisions having no margins when the shoe drops?

It's true. We've got to start thinking long term about some of this. The trends do not seem to say that we can fend this off by building bigger, regional churches. Though there is limited success there, I don't see it being a long term fix to a growing problem. I've said this before, but I really don't think the experts have many answers for us. They have too much invested in the Christendom machine. So, it's going to be up to the rank and file folks to come up with the solutions.

For example, I've just been checking out a few video clips of the stuff Alan and Allelon are talking about on their site. It's good stuff. But while it seems to be covering the theological shifts necessary we're still in serious need of how to do the practical stuff. All the while, we watch pastors that have seen the necessary shifts, follow those shifts and sink further into debt and depression trying to figure this out all alone... not a good place to be when you're trying to reinvigorate the Body of Christ.

Both planters and pastors have got to do self-image re-alignment, learn other skills/trades, learn how to be entrepreneurs, become community organizers, etc. No longer can we depend upon our previous economic paradigms within the Church...

This isn't easy. Don't I know it.


Chad M. Farrand said...

j, i've been thinking of this topic a lot recently. i am becoming more and more convinced that the typical "professional pastor" needs to become an agent of change in their communities. in that spirit, i believe that the time has come for people who are called to be shepherds learn new skills for drawing income to become more like Paul who didn't "burden the community by asking for money."

i think that the other side of the missional coin is learning how to become community developers. linking up with non-profits, businesses and local political agencies to create long-term and sustainable solutions to local need. i realize that this is a hard skill to develop, and one that not everyone is called to do.

what your post brings to light is in this ever depressing economy, the church must operate in a gorilla, punk, and morpheus operation that sees living out mission in practical means, and directs its funds towards community transformation.

not that we do this "right" but our standard for giving is that 90% of every dollar be returned to the local community and no person called as pastor receives income. this really levels the playing field and in many ways eliminates many obstacles in our communities.

Jason Coker said...

I think this is an incredibly important subject. Every church I know is on the bubble. The whole country is on the bubble, has been for a long, long time.

Profit, consumption, debt, sustainability, and develoment are spiritual dynamics tied directly to political pressure points in America. Christians should have more to say and do about these issues than anyone, but instead we just keep running on the treadmill like everyone else because its hard to see past the "politics" of one's livelihood or way of life.

Personally, I don't think we'll be doing this right until we see bunches of people set free on the one hand, and bunches of people rioting on the other because our efforts are putting local "idol makers" out of business.

I love Chad's comments above - "become community developers." I know that's my dream.

Jason Evans said...

Thank you both for commenting!

What would you propose to people who have seminary training and experience and are now trying to become, say, "community developers" as you've mentioned, Chad? I know of many pastors that are caught "in between". Their education and skills tend to keep them out of the running for jobs that would be more in line with what we're mentioning here. How do they pay the bills?

Jason, explain more of what you mean about setting people free and getting out into the streets. I want to hear more about that.

One of my concerns is that our idealism kills some people trying to do this. This only gives others more reason to say, "Told you it wouldn't work." How do we channel our idealism into some creative ways to come up with solutions economically and otherwise?

daniel so said...

J -- Yes! Thank you for writing about this... if only I had read this ten years ago when I was in seminary. It has been crushing to realize that being part of a church community I genuinely believe in and my "professional" training seem to be growing further and further apart.

I love the idea of being a bi-vocational pastor (although, if I'm totally honest, I think part of it is pride -- not being forced to rely on the church for income), but that ideal comes up against the question of how we can make it work when we have barely been making it so far on one and a half church salaries for the past ten years or so. We've both been considering going back to school (but that's another round of educational debt that we probably can't bear)...

I am eagerly listening in on this conversation!

Jason Evans said...

Yeah, it's because of friends like you, Dan. That I think, "We've got to find another way to do this..." I wish I had answers!

joel said...

This is a terribly important subject, one that seems to be a conversation for the Church. As long as we continue to miss the unifying Spirit of Pentecost, the churches surviving on the bubble will continue to struggle.

Sadly though, wont this always be the case when idealism and capital converge? I think Jason Coker's riotous street image is more right than we'd like to think -- i mean practically speaking, what holds me back from burning Hummer factories and slashing the tires of huge SUV's is this little face that repeatedly, lately, tells me not to worry. Ironically though, it's this same face that invokes some of the idealist threads that run through my brain.

But then again, I'm not as convinced as i once was that pastors should not get paid. Do we really expect someone to put in all the hours of a pastor in addition to work hours and sustain a healthy family? What is more, is a pastor who is funded by various organizations different than our current notion of mainstream pastoral pay?

joel said...

"Both planters and pastors have got to do self-image re-alignment, learn other skills/trades, learn how to be entrepreneurs, become community organizers, etc. No longer can we depend upon our previous economic paradigms within the Church."

Something else here, this movement hasn't exactly been what it sought out to be. The belief that the (for lack of a better term, i mean no harm here) emergent/house church/missional et al. churches were going to be able to sustain themselves relied heavily on individual transformation. The business model church places a strong emphasis on the pastoral role due in large part to the laities spectator role (based on the percentages, at least). Yet, in the aforementioned group, the hope was(correct me if i'm wrong here) to disseminate responsibilities throughout a collective, which would allow many to wear the pastoral hat; thus, freeing everyone to be bi-vocational, or in essence, vocational.

From my experience and from the many stories I've encountered, this just hasn't happened. People still want to be 'fed'.

Jason Evans said...

You're right Joel, that inclination is still there. But that's why so many of us have gone about being the Church the way we have. To help the laity find their vocation in being the Church again... and we still need people to help guide the way... whether or not we call them leaders, pastors, etc.

I resonate deeply with what you said about E.

Jason Coker said...

"Jason, explain more of what you mean about setting people free and getting out into the streets. I want to hear more about that."

Hmm. Most people I know are in genuine bondage to an American material ideal that is illusory and debilitating. I think a faithfully and persistently incarnated christianity would deliver people from this lifestyle. I think it's time that our idea of "spiritual deliverance" ceased being dualistic (but then, that's because I come from a charismatic background).

That's where freedom comes in.

I think people living out this kind of freedom could be powerful influencers in their context...very counter-cultural...lots of available resources to leverage for the deliverance of others through generosity. I think this would be tricky, since the historical drift of counter-cultural groups is to become insular. They would need to be anabaptist/moravians: part protest movement, part missionary movement.

That's where the public part comes in.

But then, here's where it gets really testy. If enough people actually started unplugging from the consumer culture and lived simple, sustainable, and generous public lives they might burst the American economic bubble. I think when the Kingdom of God really breaks in it dismantles the kingdom of darkness and its accompanying systems. Like Acts 19.

That's where the riots come in.

I think this kinds of group may or may not have some paid leaders. I know some leaders refuse compensation out of a demonstration of solidarity. But there will always be the practical need for those with leadership gifts to give significant time to teach and lead. Leadership, by definition, is rare. So, others may choose to pay their leaders. In fact, I wonder if such groups might have more resources for paying their leaders if the community has a higher than normal percentage of committed people and they're not spending on administrative and bureaucratic processes, marketing and branding efforts, facilities, etc.

Paul said...

Great conversation here - one I've been wanting to have for a very long time. Firstly, one of the main problems with the American church is that we have lost our passion around ugly, messy mission. This is mission where you commit the rest of your life to a people and work that. You get to know them with all their beauty and ugliness. You see the image of God and the depravity of man close up. And you have to deal with your own. We want drive by mission. God wants otherwise. That must drive what we do, why we do it, and how we go about it. it's about God's love for a people in bondage. i can speak more on that, but i won't for now.

Now, for what that means for the typical "pastor." It means blow up anything you have known about being a pastor. You once listened to a call from God to enter ministry. Listen to that voice. Be obedient to it. Trust it. If God is calling you to take that seminary experience and retool it, you must be willing to do that. I'm not saying everyone should. That would be egotistical at best. But the Church is at a crossroads in America. And economics is only the tip of the iceberg.

For those who have been called into the desert of this type of ministry. I see two practical things playing out. One, do we help one another to navigate the initial trauma/hardship of retooling our skill set? I have ideas around how to do that. And, you must take responsibility to pray and act around retooling. I understand, this is most difficult.

Marsh said...


I just left a long commentary on my blog in response, too much to put here.


Anonymous said...

This post is very appropriate to my situations right now, as I find myself in the middle of this situation. Being in a new church plant (one year old). I have talked with a few people just last week about finding another job to free up more money to invest in the community and around the world. Both suggested staying while it's still a possibility. I'm still not sure. I also spent the past 10 days in S.America visiting churches there and we spent a good deal of time coming up with ideas for those churches and pastors to become self-sustaining / not depending on US dollars. What is happening here in the churches will soon if it hasn't already trickle down into works we are supporting around the world. I think you are right that we need to look at how we are doing things here, but we also need to try and help ministries around the world that are dependent on US funding as well. We are in interesting times.

Anonymous said...

This is such an important conversation. We (Missio Dei) have only been around for 4 years...but it seems that during that time so many likeminded works have started and died. This is hard work...and we're feeling the brunt of it because we are trying to transition into something new with the tools we've inherited from a broken paradigm.

The temptation for some has been to compromise on their convictions and go back into the old paradigm. At the very least, we all can go above and beyond in our encouragement of one another.

Marsh said...

"At the very least, we all can go above and beyond in our encouragement of one another."

This is precisely the point of this community network of leaders. We don't have the specific answers to the tangible questions, but we do offer hope to one another in the form of relationship and that carries weightier capital than answers many days.

kathyescobar said...

chris passed on this thread to rose and rose passed it on to me. it is the place we are currently living after spending the past two years planting a gloriously beautiful messy community called the refuge in colorado that always struggles with paying the bills. i co-pastor with a team of people deeply dedicated to being together and finding ways to take power and money off the table. there are two of us who get a small salary for the work that we do to nurture and develop our community. my time is not spent in strategic budgeting meetings, trust me, pretty much all i do is try to help people in need of love and care for a variety of reasons enfold into a safe and loving community. umm, yeah, that doesn't really generate a lot of money. because both of us come from a professional ministry model, we are the first to say "man, we miss the paycheck!" but what we are finding is we wouldn't trade it for anything. we just have to find other ways to pay the bills and sometimes that is discouraging. after all that education, time spent in ministry, how in the world did we end up here??

the only part that feels sad sometimes is that it so doesn't have to be this hard. there are empty church buildings & resources all over the places, we could sustain ourselves off the money some churches spend on coffee. but the lack of sharing of resources and partnering is what is causing so many of us to struggle this much. like mark said, networking, partnering, and tangibly helping each other is all of our only hope for the future. i will say, we have tried, like really tried, but the ego-centric evangelical world is a tough nut to crack. the girl pastor thing has been an issue, the lack of enough bible verses on our website has been an issue (no joke), our lack of strong growth model verbage that would make us more valuable to another church's strategic plan has been an issue. most of our really generous friends don't live near us (but their cheerleading has sustained us more than they know).

it has been so comforting to me, though, to hear so many others struggling, wrestling, experimenting, because in the old world i lived in all's i can see is money, money, and more money and if i'm not careful, it can do a number on my head.

Jason Coker said...

"we could sustain ourselves off the money some churches spend on coffee."

That says alot, and not just about the issue of sustainable churches. This conversation is really timely for my family as we're just on the front end of the process that you all have been in for quite some time.

Jason Evans said...

Kathy, thank you for chiming in. Your words hit me hard. We are with you! This is not easy is it? I hope you and Mark are right, that we can find a way together... I think we just might be doing it right now in some small but real ways.

kathyescobar said...

thanks jason and jason, yes, we are all in the same boat in different ways. i have thought a lot about this in the past year and compare it a bit to the dilemma of the single mom trying to pay her bills. she can never get a break, that feeling of "where are you God?" but at the same time staying in and finding hope and being thankful for the small things (the refuge has a lot of single mommies). i so admire their courage and tenacity but the truth is it is hard, hard, hard, to pull off their lives. i think these past two years have given me a greater sense of what that feels like when it comes to our church plant and i think it's actually a good thing. you see, the church shouldn't be so high and above the least of these. when we are actually the least of these, well, i guess we just can have a little bit more compassion & understanding. i don't ever for a minute want to minimize how different the plight of the working poor is, the truth is that i can go get a good job if i wanted to, but i do think it has helped me sort of see it for what it is a little bit better, to grasp a taste of that desperate and scared feeling...just a thought i've been processing a bit...

Sara Jane R. Walker said...

Jason - thanks so much for this conversation! Allelon's Missional Journey has responded with comments and reflections by Alan Roxburgh and others.


Thanks again!

Jason Evans said...

Nice! Thanks, Sara Jane. I responded on your blog... this is really turning into an interesting conversation!

Post a Comment