Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Out of work pastors

I am not sure how I missed the original article since I read the Wall Street Journal everyday but last week there was an interesting story on the increasing number of pastors who are laid off: Joblessness Hits the Pulpit (HT: Dan Edelen). As giving goes down in the midst of the recession, church budgets are hurt and that means that many local churches with large paid staffs are finding themselves in the unenviable position of laying off pastors. Losing your job is jarring for anyone but it is especially emotional when your job is as a pastor. I would imagine there is a great deal of bitterness and emotion on the part of the pastor who loses his job and the congregation that is left behind.

This situation is causing a great deal of consternation among church administrators.

Some church leaders fear donations won't reach prerecession levels as long as unemployment stays elevated. Church surveys report that giving dropped off sharply beginning in November 2008, when the overall unemployment rate was at 6.7%. Since then, contributions have slipped in tandem with rising unemployment.

I think that captures the mindset, tragically so. The recession is bad and joblessness is not getting better but it is seen as a problem because giving at the local church is down. Huh?! The real problem we face is that people are unemployed and hurting, and the church is not able to help because it has its own budget woes to worry about. When times are good and giving is up, churches spend and spend on buildings and staff and then are shocked when giving goes down and they can’t afford their huge expenditures. The cost of supporting a local church is crippling and leaves the local body of believers in a pickle when giving is down.

I wonder how many of these men who have lost their jobs are still ministering in that local body of believers? I would imagine a lot of them are looking for new jobs at new churches. We hear all the time that being a pastor is not a job, it is a calling. When the local church can’t support that pastor financially, it sure starts to look like a job though.

The local church should support the community of believers when times are tough, not ask for even more sacrifice from that community to support itself. All the more reason we should follow Paul’s example:

He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (Acts 28: 30-31)

I am not trying to bash pastors who are on staff and get paid by the local church. I am merely trying to be a voice of warning and caution. The days ahead are not rosy for the church model we are used to. We only need to look across the pond at Europe to see what the future holds. It might not be next year, or the next decade but it is coming. It is high time that the church gets out of the budget and fund collection business and gets ready for a future where the local church is not warmly welcomed in the community. We better start to figure out how to minister to people, how to reach the lost with the Gospel, how to be a community without the benefit of million dollar budgets and plentiful church buildings and we better start to figure it out right now. The days ahead for the church look a lot more like 1st century Rome than 20th century America.

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