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In one of my last classes at Bethel Seminary, I stumbled onto a discussion board dialogue that left me thinking. Thinking deeply, in fact.
Two of my friends were discussing burn out in the North American church. More specifically the heavy demands put on pastors. While the conversation initially held my attention because of burnout, it ended up leaving me wondering about the future role of pastors in the church.
My friends went back and forth on a few exchanges in this thread. Then one of them–a man who is characteristically reserved about his personal life–let us in a little bit to where he was at personally. It was telling … and quite refreshing. He said:
I’m getting to a point where I’m wondering exactly what my vocational future will be. I know my limitations, and I’m simply uninterested in assuming the mantle of perfect, superhero to lead a bunch of Christians down some imaginary journey to their own perfection. If I find a church that wants a messed up dude like myself and feels like paying me to be their pastor and offer them what I have to offer, that sounds great to me. I’ll do my best to earn their generosity. But I also want to keep my fingers in the officiating world because I’ve developed some great relationships there that I want to maintain (and I think I’m good at it, and I enjoy it). So, if that means that I’ll be doing the sort of bi-vocational thing that you’re doing, that’s on the table for me.
His thinking was echoed by many in the class. Keep in mind, the people I go to school with are already in ministry, leading churches and ministries on a daily basis. They’re the pastors, deacons, elders and board members that make up your church. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either.
Another wise friend of mine weighed in on the issue. This is a man who’s been around ministry his whole life. He’s a PK (preacher’s kid) and he gets it. When discussing the future of the North American church he stated that “very few” churches will be able to afford full-time pastors in the future. “Just watching the trends,” he said, “most churches won’t have the money to afford full-time staff. Pastors will most likely need to be bi-vocational.” Another eye-opener for me, as he’s someone whose opinion I value greatly.
I’m beginning to wonder if bi-vocationalism is going to be a necessary part of the pastorate for the 21st century? I wonder if we’ve created a role in the “superhero” pastor that is, to borrow a business term, not “scalable” for future generations. We’ve forced our pastors to be the Every Man and Every Woman that No One is capable of being. Bi-vocationalism will provide a healthy distance for pastors and their congregations while alleviating growing economic concerns in many (not all) North American churches.
- Paul seemed to be down with bi-vocationalism.
- Jesus was a carpenter.
- I know of one church that requires (yes requires–as in, “you have to do this”) their pastoral staff to be bi-vocational. Love that. It forces them as a staff to get out into the community.
What are your thoughts? How would you feel about your pastor being bi-vocational? Pastors, do you see this as something you’d be willing to try? What are some potential pitfalls? Benefits?
Every teacher and spiritual leader needs to craft a life message.
Neutral and objective content, or “information,” is way less valuable than it used to be. We need to teach through our hearts if we are going to get anyone’s attention and have any influence leverage.
Truth is, most teachers and preachers don’t have much of an intellectual/spiritual “carbon footprint.” They tend to be less colorful and influential than their marketplace counterparts. They also tend to be less sure of themselves and what they believe.
Many of them end up licensed in complex institutions (school districts, church denominations) after going through extensive formal training which encouraged them to present a secondary or “derivative” message rather than a primary one.
The great teachers, on the other hand, have actualized self-awareness. They know exactly what they believe and why, and are willing to suffer, if need be, for their convictions. They have somehow integrated their own big life lessons (most of them learned the hard way) with a mastered particular linguistic-teaching tradition (Math, Methodism, etc.) and are able to present to students from many different angles with very little “finish” effort necessary.
Like skilled singers, they teach in their “natural voice and range,” and they don’t Milli Vanilli someone else’s findings.
I was taught (9 years of post-high-school education) to minimize my presence in teaching/preaching and to attempt to approximate and pass on a pure form of some abstract “Gospel.” The truth is, Gospel is only mediated through real people with real souls. One can’t learn, memorize and teach the Gospel from a book, even if it is the Bible.
This is why so many Christian sermons say absolutely nothing. They are crafted by foot-noters, not by red-blooded God-wrestlers. When one tries to teach “error free” rather than “Spirit led,” the engagement level drops to unbearable lows.
To be a teacher or a preacher, you have to be living a life that other want to lead, otherwise you have no credibility.
One of my seminary teachers, Carl Braaten, offended many in class when he said: Preach blasphemy, but just don’t bore me.
So what is your life message?
Mine has three parts:
1) I believe in personal empowerment. I am looking for a better word, and I may craft one. Capacitation. Mightying. Destiny Building. De-marginalization. Abilifying. My grandfather, who was a huge influence on my young life, left home in junior high and worked the harvests from Kansas to Canada until he graduated from the University of North Dakota with an MBA. He took me out for breakfast at Denny’s every week all through college and taught me from the empowerment classics of the depression era (Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Russell Conwell, etc.). This take on life is woven into the very fabric of who I am. It’s practically genetic.
I get criticized about it and I really don’t care. Poverty and disease are curses, not blessings. Jesus spent much of his ministry frustrated that people didn’t grasp the power that was theirs.
2) I am passionate about leading people into transformational encounters with the living God.
I don’t believe that salvation is a contract, but rather that it is an encounter between a real person and the living God. Paul on the road to Damascus. Martin Luther caught in a thunderstorm between towns. These were full-bodied encounters, not lists of “truths” to be signed by the agree-er.
What’s more important, the consummation of a marriage or the license? Truth is, lots of folks have an unconsummated relationship with God.
I like to create an expectation, among expectation-deficit Christians, that God is real and that an encounter with him will change everything about the way they live.
Call it Pentecostal. Call it Charismatic. I believe in calling the Spirit of God down on people and letting the living God direct what happens. He doesn’t need my help.
Paul to the Ephesians: Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?
The Ephesians to Paul: We have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.
Then Paul laid hands on them and You-know-who showed up.
I’ve written a book about this part of my life message and my journey. Have a look.
3) I love the Bible and treasure its narrative.
Along with the French lit critics, I believe that when you enter the narrative, you enter on its terms, not yours.
Just like being in a foreign country, you try to fit in, not to impose your worldview.
The Bible is so much richer when we don’t deconstruct it with “higher criticism.” Trust the narrative when you read it; try to think like the writer. The writer is not a “premature” modern person. When you travel, have respect. The Bible is written by people with a deeply supernatural worldview. This enriches us if we enter into the world of the Bible with an open mind.
So, in a nutshell, my teaching is deeply biblical, empowerment-driven, and spiced with Pentecostal spirituality. It’s who I am. It’s how I have to teach.
For an sampling of this mix, listen to my podcast.
I was raised Lutheran and am proud of that. What’s comical is how people question my Lutheranism based on the fact that I teach a primary message. As if Luther ever did much footnoting of anyone… He, like Paul, taught a deeply primary message. Like Paul, he also mastered a tradition, but the tradition didn’t own him.
What’s your life message?
Only you and God get to vote on it….