Beat The Clock . . . a career choice?

Posted: October 18, 2007 in church, faith, life
Tags: , , ,

beat-the-clock.jpgThose of you have known me for a while now know that I love listening to news talk radio.  When I still lived in Regina I was a regular listener and caller to news talk 980.  One of my most noteworthy calls was into Dave Arnold’s morning show to play the “Beat the Clock” game.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it essentially involves a non-existant “clock” counting up dollar amounts from $0 up to $1000.  You can yell stop at any point and keep whatever the last stated dollar amount was, or you can let the clock keep counting up, but if you get too greedy the buzzer may go off and then you get nothing.  When I played I yelled stop at $380.  Then Dave gave me the uprecedented option of carrying on with a guarantee of half that money ($180) even if the buzzer went off.  I decided to give it a go, and was propmtly greeted by a loud buzzer within two seconds of the clock starting again.  Fortunately Dave felt sorry for my plight as a masters student trying to pay off my tuition and graciously offered me the full $38o when I came to the station to pick it up.

You may be wondering where exactly I’m trying to go with this right now.  I could just leave this story as it is, and have a moderately interesting anecdote to add to my blog, but fortunately this story actually relates to a conversation I had today.  It kind of came up out of the blue during coffee break this morning as myself, the secretary Ruth, the senior pastor Cliff, and the custodian Joyce, chatted shortly after the rep from Mennonite Bretheren Biblical Seminary dropped off some pamphlets at the church and hit the road.  The conversation turned towards the church and leadership development.  It wasn’t the eye-rolling, yawn inducing conversation you might have expected though.  I explained how in reality, there was very little incentive for any right thinking person to get into pastoral ministry.  This came as somewhat of a surprise to Ruth and Joyce, and Cliff grinned slyly in the corner seemingly with some kind of understanding of the skeleton’s I was about to unearth from the church’s closet.

I explained that there are very few reasons that an intelligent, hard working, young person would want to enter into pastoral ministry.  The pay is low.  The tuition is often close to twice as high for a bible college degree as compared to a similar four year BA at a university (tuition has doubled in the last 4-8 yrs to over $800/class in many cases).  As soon as people learn you are a pastor their guard goes up and it becomes difficult to make real relationships with people.  It is quite often a job that involves constant conflict as members of the church claim ownership over the church, and thus its staff as well.  I don’t think you could likely find a Christian that hasn’t been aware of an ugly situation involving a pastor in their church at some point.  All in all there are a lot of deterents to being a pastor and many of the benefits aren’t realized this side of heaven.  There may be the occasional “good message” on Sunday after church or Hallmark thank-you card found in your church mailbox, but all in all there aren’t a lot of earthly perks to the job.  All in all, no right thinking person, apart from divine revelation and intervention, would choose to be a pastor.

This is where the part about “beat the clock” comes in.  I also voiced my opinion that the way the church and our culture is going, the biggest deterrent to becoming a full time pastor is that it may not be a viable career choice in as little as 10-20 years.  As it is, many churches have difficulties keeping the finances balanced and as the older, more afluent, generation passes away the finances will likely only get tigher.  Even in our church, which is fairly well off, we have to have the treasurer give the “money talk” a few times a year when giving slows down.  I know of at least a couple churches in town here that are talking about having to let staff go because they just can not afford to keep them on any longer, and this is at wages that most college/university grads would scoff at.  I think the era of the full time career pastor is drawing to an end.  Not only is it fiscally difficult to keep viable, but even the model of the church itself is moving more towards a lay-led ministry rather than a pastor centered ministry; a move which I applaud.  The church was never meant to be dependant on one or two people to make it run, the church is supposed to be a co-operative endeavour.  That why the author of Hebrews called us a nation of priests.  We are all supposed to be doing the ministry, not just paying a few people to do it all for us.  There will always be a need for leadership in the church, but I’m not so sure that the model of the paid full-time pastor is going to be the long term model.  The church survived for around 1900 years before we adopted this model, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that this model won’t last forever.

All that being said, I do feel a little somedays like I’m playing “beat the clock” with my career.  Now before you get all huffy, yes, I realize that being a pastor isn’t “just a career”.  It’s a ministry.  It’s a full time calling to leadership within the church, but we have to be really delusional not to admit that it is a career for pastors to.  So in my case, being only in my late twenties, I have to look forward to what I’m going to do with the rest of my life to support myself and my family.  Can I really expect to be able to work as a full-time paid pastor for another forty years until I retire?  Will it really even be an option twenty years from now?  The way the church is moving right now, I’m not so sure of it.  As a Christian, that doesn’t bother me, in fact I think that’s exciting that the members of the Church are starting to feel empowered in that way.  As a pastor, it makes me start to think about whether I should be yelling “STOP!” and getting out of the paid pastor scene before I get too old to retrain myself to do something else.  I don’t want to be the one that waits until I’m hearing numbers in the $900 range on the clock but then getting buzzed out and receiving nothing because I held on too long.  I’m not going to yell “STOP!” yet, but I am at the very least trying to stay aware of the world around me so I don’t get buzzed out.

  1. Jared says:

    Amen to a lot of that, but I can’t quite agree with it all.
    i agree that the appeal for younger people to become a pastor is becoming more and more dim. With so many reasonable jobs available, why work a low-paying, thankless job (obviously aside from the call of God!).
    Where I challenge you, though, is the idea of the ‘paid, full-time’ minister. You say that this didn’t happen until 100 yrs ago. Well, what about when in the text it insructs Israel to set-aside some of the harvest for the Levitical priests? And then in Acts where the apostles set-up a system where they can preach and teach and not worry about the management of the early church? They had to get their food and shelter from somewhere.
    I think the role of the full-time, paid priest, minister, pastor has always been around, and will probably always be around.
    But I do agree with you wholeheartedly that the Church has to abandon the idea that the full-time pastors do all the work, because they are paid to.
    I appreciate Bob Biehl’s idea to ditch the title of ‘volunteer’ and rather of ‘paid workers’ and ‘unpaid workers’ in the church.



  2. benyamen says:

    I won’t dispute that there have always been paid “people of God”, but I think we erroneously insert “pastor” into the text whenever we read “priest” or “apostle”. During Old Testament times there were maybe a few hundred priests that the nation had to support. A few hundred dedicated temple workers for millions of people is far different than having to support a few full time staff members for every church of three hundred people in western society. And as we know, just because something happened in the old testament doesn’t necessarily imply that it should carry on in the new testament. I think that the paid workers that existed in the new testament era were the apostles, essentially the traveling evangelists of the day. They needed to be supported by the Church because they had no way to settle down and earn a living from a regular day job. I don’t believe that this ever referred to paid “pastors” for each house church that existed. These house churches and Christian gatherings were led by the members of the church, or occasionally were lead by a visiting apostle. I totally agree there will always be a place for full-time paid positions in ministry, such as missionaries or travelling evangelists because they have little to no means to have a regular paying job, the idea of full-time paid ministers at each church is primarily a modern construction.
    As for your designation of “paid workers” and “unpaid workers” in the church as opposed to staff and volunteers, I think it makes sense. What can come from that though, and I would argue is happening and will progress, is that the church is realizing that if we can have “unpaid workers” do all the same jobs, why would we keep “paid workers” on staff at churches rather than using those funds to do the Kingdom work of God.


  3. Daryl says:

    Great points all around…however, I would like to bring up another part of what you commented on…and that is the issue of losing money. I think right now on of the biggest problems in alot of churches is financial, however, I think it is because for so long churches have spoke one or two sermons a year on giving and then at the end of the year when budgets are tight, we just expect the older people with all the money to bail us out. I think the most churches are going about where they get there money in the wrong way. For instance…most pastors I talk to all have the same idea…old people are giving and the younger ones aren’t as much (hence why its the older ones that bail us out), however, I disagree, I think that we are underestimating the younger people. In our church and in my own support raising as a missionary, that the most consistent people who give are the younger age bracket. This came totally unexpected to me. I think that churches can be around for along time with paid workers if for one, the churches can learn to leverage their young people. And secondly, maybe its not the idea of paid pastors that is wrong, but how efficient the church is with them. For instance, in Waldheim, their are 5 paid pastors in a town of maybe 1000. 2 of them are youth pastors each running separate programs. This to me is where we go wrong. I drive around Saskatoon and I drive by many churches with paid pastors that have less than 60 people. And I am not even going to mention the waste of owning all of these buildings, or having them used 1-2 days a week, and heating them 7 days, etc, etc.
    Personally, in our parachurch ministry, we are gaining funds and hiring more staff, not the other way around, and its not just our organization, other parachurch ministries like ours are growing and hiring more staff. People are still giving to advance the kingdom and I don’t think that is not going to stop.


  4. benyamen says:

    Just as a clarification, I’m not saying that young people don’t give. I think young people give a lot of money to a lot of important causes. However, I don’t think that a lot of people are do much of their giving to the church establishment. As you just pointed out Daryl, a lot of your support comes from young people. Young people are giving, but they are giving to people in full-time ministry outside the church establishment. Young people want to give to people and causes that they see are directly affecting people’s lives, not to the church’s furnace fund per se. You can debate whether this is right or wrong, but it is the case for the most part. The old guard give to the church establishment and expect the church will budget it effectively for ministry, where as young people are giving directly to ministries which they think are effective. Speaking as a young person, only a small portion of my giving actually goes to my church, the vast majority of it goes to missionaries and ministries that we have personal connections with. Young people give a lot, they just aren’t giving a lot to the church establishment.


  5. Jared says:

    I feel as if the real issue is finally coming to the surface – this discussion isn’t about paid pastors or not, it’s about the church being effective. People give to where there is effectiveness. If a church is dying, why water a dying tree?
    I don’t think we need to debate whether a paid pastor is a good or bad thing, or whether young or old people give, we need to debate and discuss how the church is to be effective and missional in its community. No offence Daryl, but I think that’s why parachurch organizations do so well is because the church isn’t doing what it should. To pick up the slack left by the Church, parachurch organization rise up and do the job the Church should be doing. I think it would be great if churches everywhere did what they were supposed to be doing, then all the discussions of paid pastors and young/old givers would be mute.



  6. benyamen says:

    I don’t really think that you can boil it down to just, “is the church effective or not”. I think you boil the issue to down to just that than you are making it purely a question of practicality (does it work or not) instead of theology (what’s right or wrong). If we believe that we are called to do something than we should be giving to it whether we can see it working right now or not. God may be doing something we can’t see or can’t see yet. Our goal needs to be to determine what is right to spend money on, not just what seems to work the most on a utilitarian basis.

    I think this is kind of a sidetrack though. My purpose here wasn’t to ask the question of whether there should be paid pastors or not, so much as it was to say “like it or not, paid pastors may be on their way out” for many reasons, not just money.


  7. Jonster says:

    Personally, I think there’s a lot of incentive to be in ministry (at least that’s what I’m wiritng today). I think that, at least in my situation, it offers something no other job can – I’m in control of 90-95% of my time. I’m in a situation where a group of people have vowed to take care of me financially so that I am free to focus my time and energies on God’s good – whether that be in-church stuff or in-community stuff. II’m not doing a job that someone needs done, so theyre paying me to do it. I’m at a place where I don’t have to worry about staying alive or getting by – they just take care of me. And, honestly, even though I do think that full-time paid pastors are on their way out, I’m still not too worried about having to find another way to stay afloat. Because, if I want to keep living this way, I think that there’s always going to be people willing to financially support me if I’m in need of it. Although, I have briefly looked into professional video gaming and/or foot modeling as a viable second career.
    Also, look into getting baby a PS3.


  8. benyamen says:

    Hey Jonny, thanks for the input. I respect your opinion a lot. I don’t mean to make it sound like there is no incentive to be in ministry. I love my position here at Bridgeway and there’s nothing else I’d rather do right now. However, I do think it’s tough to convince most young people that ministry is a great idea for their lives given the deterrents that I listed in my post.


  9. colinbendell says:

    There are many things that baffle me about protestant church finances. Now looking at it as an outsider its even more baffling.

    1) Why does every church feel the obligation to own and maintain their own building and have it sit virtually unused / vacant for 98% of the week? Why wouldn’t you run these various churches out of the same building and just meet at different times? Now you can save on shared administrative costs and other economies of scale.

    2) You are definitely right that the younger generation is less likely to be giving. Why? Because it makes more sense to save now and give when you are older and have more disposable income. When you are young and starting life you don’t have a lot of stuff, you have extra mouths to feed and you don’t have a career built. This is the order of life in a capitalist society, so why not adapt and adjust to this growing mentality?

    3) To echo a few commenter’s thoughts: people give to causes and organizations where they feel that their money is significant. I will be brutally honest, last year I donated a lot more money toward an organization that provides cheap aids drugs to Africa than I did to my local church.

    4) Why do religious organizations spend money before they have it? The budgeting process is backwards. You should be spending the money that you brought in the last fiscal year. This way you always know what you have the budget for. Instead churches habitually overspend because they are over optimistic on how much will be donated.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents.


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