August 12, 2020

What can you do with a General?


What can you do with a General
When he stops being a General?

• Irving Berlin

The other day, my friend John Armstrong posted the following status on Facebook. This pastor’s story elicited a large number of comments, and rightly so. Though quite different in detail, his experience reminded me of my own journey of leaving parish ministry. I remember thinking quite clearly, “I have been walking a tightrope without a net all this time.”

Evangelical ecclesiology in free, “independent” churches, with its emphasis on pastors as entrepreneurs and leaders building their own institutions with unique brands, owes more to free market capitalism than it does to the organic communities of faith we see in Scripture, history, and tradition. It’s a business that must be ever-changing to satisfy the demands of the market. And everyone knows that the market is about youth, spectacle, excitement, and visible, measurable progress. Ministers and churches alike have swallowed and digested this thinking for the past fifty years to such an extent that any argument against it sounds to most ears like defeatism and a lack of faith.

Perhaps some of you have happier stories to tell in the comments today about other situations where people like this are not being cast off simply because they are too old or no longer “relevant” in the eyes of the church — I surely hope so. Is there nowhere in the evangelical world a man like this could use his gifts to bless a church and community?

Or is there any hope out there that “independent” churches have a clue that something’s wrong with this picture?

pensive-older-man-350From John H. Armstrong

I am having dinner this evening with a dear friend who was a pastor for decades. His local church asked him to step down a few years ago without any moral or pastoral reason. They simply desired to make a change. (You can fill in the blanks here and you get my point.) At the time he stepped down I feared that my friend would find the way ahead very hard. Few, if any churches, will even consider calling him. I have been right so far.

Sadly, a truly great man, with deep skill and preaching/pastoral skill, is sidelined and seeking to make ends meet in his 60s because a local church simply wanted to change pastors. Honestly, this is as much a grief to my spirit as the reverse, a bad pastor lording it over a church! Can a church lord its will over a good shepherd? You bet. If anything this kind of story proves how desperately bad “independent” evangelicalism is in modern America. . . .


  1. Similar issue: I have a very good friend who is an assistant pastor, extremely competent, who is in constant fear that the head pastor will go ‘in a new direction’, and let him go. He turned 65 this year. His reviews are always top shelf, but in a world that is shaped by what’s good for the 20-somethings, he is always lookiing over his shoulder…..

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      As a non-pastor – most people live in this exact situation. My employer decides to go in a different direction and I am likely out of a job. Most people live under this possibility most of their lives, if they are fortunate.

      “in a world that is shaped by what’s good for the 20-somethings,”, of course it is, to some extent, and always has been. Youth are tomorrows citizens, employees, soldiers, tax payers, and parents. This statement is far too often made with exasperation implied; when it is simply a healthy mode for a culture and society to be in – so long as it is not taken to extremes.

      • Adam, I don’t mind that churches keep their eyes on the next generation and keep moving forward. But it seems to me that being a community of faith means we don’t leave other generations behind in the process. One of the commenters on John’s Facebook post said, “That is why I came back to my Catholic roots. Authority. Discipline. Communal life. Consumerism has so diseased the Body of Christ.” A church that understands and practices “communal life” will find a place for ministers like this. I have sometimes seen it happen that older pastors become ministers to the other older members of the congregation, or visitation ministers, or they head up some kind of mentoring program for younger people or young couples, or they are employed to help others in mission settings. The capitalistic system you describe that most people live under may be reality in our culture, but there is no reason we should tolerate it in the church.

        • I think finding places to utilize the valuable resources of the mature, rather than criticizing the whole independent church structure, is more of what should be talked about here. Let’s find solutions to that problem, rather than throwing the whole thing out.

          • Well, that sounds good. But who is going to provide guidance to those “independent” churches, and with the prevailing mindset, why should they listen?

          • I think people would listen to voices like your’s, or Armstrong’s, but not if you are going to start off by trashing the whole independent church concept. As some of these leaders are maturing, it is something they would probably be more interested in discussing since they can better relate to both the younger and older generations.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > I think finding places to utilize the valuable resources of the mature

            And in many independent churches – how are those alternative roles going to be funded? We are talking about someone whose livelihood was via their role in the church.

        • The capitalistic system you describe that most people live under may be reality in our culture, but there is no reason we should tolerate it in the church.

          Precisely this. Not at all sure, Adam, what you mean by “healthy”. As Chap Mike stated, it seems to me that we should be looking for, yea demanding, that we find a ‘both-and’ answer, not one that chokes out those who are older, weaker, on the decline, so to speak. Sure we need to be alert to our ‘future’, and tomorrows leaders/ministers, but we dare not neglect any group or demographic. Even if it doesn’t seemingly ‘get results’.
          To me, this whole thing is an example of our culture , and the culture of the kingdom of GOD, going CLASH….

          • I’ll amend my own comment a bit. I guess any time you attach $$$ to something/someone, there will be ‘effectiveness’ questions and responsibilities. Someone(s) will have to decide if they are getting steak, or only sizzle. But it seems to me that even this endeavor must come under the LORD’s leadership and direction: and in a church, could we not hope for a more complete implementation of HIS will than Acme Widget Co. ?? Shouldn’t there be a litle less angst that this quarter’s bottom line doesn’t look quite as rosey as we had hoped ??

            Aren’t there significant diffferences in methodology (even though there are some admitted similarities) between churches and companies ?? If that is so, won’t this impact who is retained and why ?? Yes, a lazy and indifferent shepherd could ‘hide out’ and be protected by layers of bishops and bureaucracy, but there is legitimate protection to be found there also.

    • Christiane says

      in some better world than this, that Church might have kept him on at least as an ‘honorary’ pastor-emeritus so that his bond with the faith community would not have been so abruptly severed . . . surely the wisdom of this experience pastor would have counted for something of benefit

      I find this sad for the man himself AND for the Church community that was so without empathy for his situation . . .

      is it possible that SOME evangelical people view the Church more like a worldly corporation to which they belong by ‘membership’ and by paying their dues (ie. ‘tithes’) . . . as opposed to an actual community of faith within the Body of Christ ? the reason I ask this is that in the corporate world, often older people are let go so that younger ones can come in for a lower ‘starting’ salary . . . which seems ‘cold’ but is better for the budget of that corporation in the view of the bean-counters-in-charge

      a healthy faith community will embrace all its members according to another wisdom than that displayed by the ‘corp.’ values of capitalism

      • I don’t really think independent evangelical church goers are cold-hearted corporate zombies — nor are most of their leaders. I just think these church bodies have gotten way too geared toward being entertained and having their expectations met, while their shepherds have become equally wired toward providing entertainment and catering to an increasingly demanding set of expectations. I suspect most of them have the love of Christ in them and would respond to such hurts and injustices if they saw them. But I don’t think they see — or are unwilling to see — that all these top notch productions, facilities, programs, resources, and carefully packaged feelgoodisms come at an inevitable price. A church just can’t be a close-knit loving family and an amusement park at the same time. I just can’t happen. And no one wants to own up to the fact that there is a hungry machine concealed behind the big smiling Jesus banner — a machine that is actually eating people.

        • Christiane says

          wow . . . I just saw a Southern Baptist Christmas production on another blog, and it was amazing and, yes, extremely vibrant and entertaining . . . I recall the minister being proud of the production, which he rightly should have been.

          but I can’t compare that show to my own Catholic midnight Mass . . . no comparison . . . ours was beautiful in the way that Christmas Midnight Mass is always beautiful but I couldn’t call it ‘entertainment’, no. We participated. The sanctuary was peaceful with many candles lit, and the old hymns were sung. No band played. I’ve been to many midnight Masses at Christmas and each one different and yet, each one the same.
          I guess if a pastor is trying to entertain, he must constantly be searching for newer, better material and talent, and I can imagine the strain this might be for some who are of a different temperament, not geared towards big productions for the assembled Church.

  2. If the story is as presented, then it is sad. However, I would want to hear “the other side of the story” before commenting on this specific situation.

    In regards to this, “Evangelical ecclesiology in free, “independent” churches, with its emphasis on pastors as entrepreneurs and leaders building their own institutions with unique brands, owes more to free market capitalism than it does to the organic communities of faith we see in Scripture, history, and tradition. It’s a business that must be ever-changing to satisfy the demands of the market.”

    As Michael Douglas said in American President, “When you put it like that….”

    Part of this is the old question of: what comes first, missiology or ecclesiology?

    It also is a question of to what extent does one, or a church, become “greek to the greeks”?

    It also is an issue of what a congregation understands as its primary purpose. Not all free churches are primarily about building themselves.

    Let’s keep in mind that we need to be careful about assigning motives to people, and let’s keep in mind that some of these very same churches are helping bring countless people into the faith, and helping people grow in that faith.

    I think finding a solution to the problem in the post (as described), may be an exciting new development for churches in the future, as they tap into the deep well of wise mature shepherds.

    • With all due respect, I think your post ends up justifying a host of practices that represent, not sensitivity to culture, but capitulation to it, and all in the name of “winning people to Christ.” Good intentions do not justify the wholesale sell-out of the evangelical church that we have seen in my generation.

      • Dan Crawford says

        Your response of RDavid is absolutely perfect, Chaplain Mike. As a pastor for 18 years, I saw and experienced much of what Armstrong describes. Knowing I taught in colleges for nearly 20 years before I entered the ministry, a ministry colleague once remarked, “Boy, I’ll bet you’re glad to be out of academe. I heard it can get pretty vicious.” “Nowhere near as vicious as the church”, I replied. I can say it with even more passion now.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          As a middle-aged person working in the technology field I see much of what Armstrong describes.

          And the corporate world can be plenty vicious; as the world is a vicious place filled with human beings, who are notably vicious creatures.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            DILBERT: “Why are you throwing last year’s Temps in the dumpster?”

            POINTY HAIRED BOSS: “They’re too big to flush.”

      • I appreciate your pushback and value your opinion. However, what I think we need to be careful about here is painting with a broad brush in regards to independent churches.

        An example: just this week, a local independent church, which is known for a heavy emphasis on leadership and church growth, was criticized for its new “marketing campaign” regarding “better lives”. The criticism pointed out the lack the emphasis on Christ, His work, the gospel, and the unfortunate emphasis on “better lives”.

        The person criticizing the church was the pastor of another independent church.

        I am certainly not claiming independent churches do not have negative issues they need to address (as do all church structures and methods!). However, for many of those churches, the priorities of the church help diminish and eliminate some of those problems.

        • The very idea of an “independent” church has become abhorrent to me. And the irony is, most of these churches claim to be the most “biblical.” Where do you see anything like autonomous, independent congregations in the NT or early church? Why do such churches today function without any accountability to the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church? Why do they not have any leadership on an “apostolic” level to guide them and hold them accountable, with appropriate checks and balances? The whole paradigm is off base and I’m amazed that people still fall for it.

          • As I am sure you know, many have written about what they consider was the more organic and independent growth of the early church. You may disagree with their conclusions, but the theory exists.

            So any church that is not connected a formal, institutional, ancient church structure is not a church?

            So the RCC, and maybe some EO’s are the only ones that qualify? Any that broke away from those structures, and went “independent” are then out. That probably takes out Anglicans, most (if not all) Protestant churches, etc….

            And what is “accountability” to the h, c, & a Church? Is it holding to the Scriptures (as Scot McKnight once wrote- the New Testament is “apostolic succession”), the creeds, the Rule of Faith, etc… Or do they have to be part of a formal institution?

            And how has that “accountability” gone in such formal institutions? The history of RCC problems alone brings that into question.

            Finally, where is the role of the Holy Spirit in all this. Cannot He be the driving force in what constitutes what is, and is not, a church?

            • First, see my earlier reply about systems and love. That is my true bottom line.

              But second, I am saying that at the very least, the NT envisions the church having leadership beyond the local congregation — I called it an “apostolic” level of leadership. Paul and the other apostles were very shortly replaced by bishops who oversaw regions of churches. I think that is significant and wise. Not only does it provide guidance and accountability to the local congregation, it is a constant reminder that they are part of something much bigger than themselves. Furthermore, it provides opportunities for leaders like the one John talked about to become mentors to younger pastors and their congregations.

              Third, I think it is important to take the long view. Though the RCC and other historic traditions have certainly had their scandals and disastrous moments, the fact remains that the powers of hell have not prevailed against them and they are still here today, and in some ways stronger and more appealing than ever. I prefer steady flame to wildfire.

              Those institutions have also long recognized the differences between the church and mission organizations and have successfully incorporated both under their umbrella.

              And how do we know when the Holy Spirit is the driving force? When you have a charismatic leader who tells you so, or when you have communal agreement that is coherent with Scripture, history, and tradition?

          • Marcus Johnson says

            Where do you see anything like autonomous, independent congregations in the NT or early church?

            Well, there was that first church…right?

            At least, from my reading of Acts, it seems like there were two “churches”: the Jerusalem church, as headed by James, with Peter as the head of the apostles; and the faith communities that spawned through Paul’s mission throughout Asia Minor. In Paul’s letters (e.g., Galatians), I picked up that Paul, at least in the beginning, felt little to no need to be held accountable to the Jerusalem church, and went head-to-head throughout his ministry with the Jerusalem council and the missionaries they sent to combat his initiatives.

            I’m not dishing out hugs and kisses on the independent church movement. For all the good they might do, I still hold them only a little higher than for-profit colleges that turn out unemployable graduates with massive amounts of loan debt. I just finished reading a book on the Milierite movement of the 19th century, which eventually collapsed under the weight of its own hubris (the SDA church grew out of that, but became an established institution with an accountability system).

            However, at least from what I’m seeing in the NT, “independent” congregations, for better or worse, have always been around. And we’ve never liked them. And they’ve never lasted without evolving into a structured, self-sustaining hierarchy. And then we’ve liked them.

          • I agree on the accountability front, but also know that many leaders of independent churches actually have accountability outside those churches.

            “And how do we know when the Holy Spirit is the driving force? When you have a charismatic leader who tells you so, or when you have communal agreement that is coherent with Scripture, history, and tradition?”

            I think the independent churches would agree with your point on that. And wouldn’t that same argument have been made by both sides of The Great Schism, and the Waldensians, and the Reformers, and Wesley, etc….? One’s person’s “tradition” is another person’s rebellious group.

            Believe me when I say that I think much more should be made of tradition (“standing on the shoulders”) in all churches, but I won’t go as far as to throw out the work and purpose of those that are not officially tied to a certain ancient traditional institution. The back up their work with Scripture, history has shown that those groups can contribute. and most appeal to historic traditions (creeds, confessions, etc…). I think that “long view” needs to be kept in mind as well.

          • Chaplain Mike wrote:

            Why do such churches today function without any accountability to the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church?

            So you’re going to join Jeff Dunn and become a Roman Catholic?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The very idea of an “independent” church has become abhorrent to me. And the irony is, most of these churches claim to be the most “biblical.”

            Every one a Speshul Little Snowflake, who alone of all time Has Gotten The Bible RIGHT. (“Jesus is SO lucky to have US!”) No reality checks outside their Event Horizons.

            Remember the theoretical ultimate end state of Protestantism? MILLIONS of One True Churches, each with only one member, each denouncing all the others as Apostates and Heretics.

          • ++1

          • Richard Hershberger says

            “So you’re going to join Jeff Dunn and become a Roman Catholic?”

            He was quoting the creed, which we Lutherans recite weekly. Note that “catholic” is not capitalized.

          • Chaplain Mike wrote:

            No Eric, I became a Lutheran.

            I’m aware of that.

            But I don’t see how a plea or argument that churches/Christians have “accountability to the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church” can be made while one remains a Protestant, because isn’t that (in Protestant-like fashion) redefining the meaning of the term(s) as held by the church(es) that wrote and affirmed the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed?

            • Many Lutherans, myself included, see themselves as “reformed Catholics” rather than as completely separated from the catholic tradition. Many Lutherans and Catholics around the world are working on renewed relations, which I’ve written about here on IM. Even many decidedly Protestant mainline churches have an ecumenical spirit that enables them to say the Creed sincerely, even though there is institutional diversity.

          • I reject the early 1st century church. Why? Because the Holy Spirit did too. You can easily see growth and oversight occurring throughout the book of Acts, and to deny otherwise is to deny the Holy Spirit led them there. And I don’t know if anyone wants to make the case the Holy Spirit abandoned the church so very quickly.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            “Many Lutherans, myself included, see themselves as “reformed Catholics” rather than as completely separated from the catholic tradition.”

            The way I would put it is that our human ecclesiastical institutions (Rome, Canterbury, Chicago, the independent Baptist church up the road, etc.) are all part of the holy, catholic and apostolic church. The disunity we see is the result of our fallen nature.

            That being said, I am less enthusiastic about ecumenicism than I was in my youth. The end result tends to be reams of pablum or obfuscation, signifying nothing. Even on a more abstract level, it often seems to be a lecture about how I should agree with the person lecturing me on everything important and not worry about unimportant niggling details, with that person deciding which is which. Ecumenical discussions can be useful as a vehicle to cooperation in areas where we agree, such as charitable work, but I expect little more from them.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        It is getting a bit off-topic, but perhaps the “winning” of people is not “good intentions”. Those of us much more sceptical of Evangelicalism believe it went off the rails long before it got to where it is.

        • “…perhaps the “winning” of people is not “good intentions”.”

          Although I don’t like the term “winning”, I understand what you are saying. However, if you are disagreeing with that basic concept that they hold to, then the discussion runs very different (or deeper) than the one in CM’s post. I am not sure there will be agreement on that.

          However, is it possible that some churches can have those intentions, while others choose to focus elsewhere? Can we have a variety of churches?

          • I’ve suggested in other posts that, yes, we can have a variety of churches, but that we should understand that some are not truly “churches.” They are mission centers and should be understood as such.

          • Then perhaps that question of which comes first, missiology or ecclesiology (and how people define them) needs to be revisited.

      • As HUG would so pithily put it, you can alienate anybody as long as SOULS ARE GETTING SAVED™!

        Perhaps in addition to Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, we might want to consider if there are still young and old in the Church.

        • Are they not considering that? Do we know their side of the story?

          And if they are not considering it, let’s help bring this to their attention and find a solution, rather than dump the whole structure

    • I believe Jesus said he would build his church, not his mission board. Eccelesiology precedes missiology. The church was born when the Spirit – not the zeitgeist – fell upon the disciples. The outcome was proclamation, conversions, and growth. That which the Spirit brings never changes – power, yes, but also the heart of God, His will, His love, His wisdom. The church reached out, but it also reached in to care for widows. The church is all of these things, not just outreach to whatever lucrative demographic is out there this week.

    • Let’s keep in mind that we need to be careful about assigning motives to people
      Motives? If the dog poops on your carpet, who cares what his motive was?

      • Wow. That’s deep.

      • Marcus Johnson says

        The dog trainer might care, as might the veterinarian. Lots of reasons for why a dog might poo on the carpet (e.g., age, fear, sickness). Those reasons might not be readily apparent to an owner unskilled in veterinary medicine, so a responsible owner would keep their emotions in check, get some credible perspective by visiting a professional, and determine the change in behavior.

        Or you can just scream at the dog and smack its nose.

        Am I being subtle enough here?

  3. Could it be that the whole “pastor as a profession” paradigm is in question, especially in the, so called, “independent” churches? And by “independent” I mean unaffiliated to any organization or denomination. To be a pastor of such a church a person better have another occupation that he/she is actively involved in so that the pastor gig is a passion rather than a profession.

    And IF a person is a pastor of such a church he/she better well be the one holding the purse strings AND the legal authority so that a “purge” cannot occur. But, then, how it THAT any better?

    I am currently fortunate to attend a church where only the denomination can remove a pastor, and our current one has been here for 20 years.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      How is this different than almost any job, especially at a smaller organization?

      Someone who was an effective pastor has many skills that should make them valuable for many other roles.

      • Adam, THIS mindset IS the issue….how does leading and ministering to God’s people equate with “almost any job”? Are not Christians called to be IN the world, not OF the world???

        When one is serving the world to simply earn one’s daily bread (and rent payment…), it is expected that the whims and follies of the world will impact employment decisions and practices, based on the omnipresent “bottom line”. If these same standards are applied to an earthly shepherd of the Lord’s flock, we are no longer talking about a Christian organization, but a business that is rendering unto Caesar……and only Caesar!

        I have never understood the idea of a congregation voting on who will be their spiritual leader. To me, it is like having a group of seventh graders voting on who will teach them, and GRADE them, in Algebra. The lax teacher who grades on a curve and is cute/young is going to beat out the excellent instructor who makes students learn well and holds them accountable….

        • > Adam, THIS mindset IS the issue….how does leading and ministering to
          > God’s people equate with “almost any job”?

          Yes, I think we agree in disagreeing. This is exactly the issue. The independent church wants to be different – but just isn’t. It is a corporation – both legally and in operation. Being a pastor IS a job. They own houses, marry, raise children, get pensions, … they are just exactly like everyone else… only they are different? But they aren’t. It doesn’t make any sense. This is ideology in its negative form; rather than creation cohesive action it obscures reality.

          > Are not Christians called to be IN the world, not OF the world???

          Yes. I do not see how that relates. The janitor at the pub is all IN but not OF the world.

          > I have never understood the idea of a congregation voting.

          Neither do I. But you cannot support and advocate for an organization model and then be disgusted when it performs in the manner in which is was designed to perform.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I have never understood the idea of a congregation voting on who will be their spiritual leader. To me, it is like having a group of seventh graders voting on who will teach them, and GRADE them, in Algebra.

          I know a pastor who IS in that kind of situation. It’s not “the congregation” who decides, but a couple of the most influential IN that congregation, with the sheeple just following along with “don’t rock the boat”. He calls them “Gatekeepers”. I call it “Rule by the Church Ladies”. Even to the point of monitoring the pastor’s phone calls and the church’s internet connection.

          • “most influential IN that congregation, with the sheeple”

            That is unfair. Following an influential person does not render people as “sheeple”. It means they agree with the influential person. There are always people who operate at a higher wattage than others, at least in their specific environments.

          • I think anyone who has had it “lorded over them” by an unaccountable pastor will have a lot of problems with any pastor who is not voted in (or out).

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            There are always people who operate at a higher wattage than others, at least in their specific environments.

            And there are those who use that higher wattage to manipulate and control. Whether their title is pastor or “just a Humble member of the congregation.” The resulting power struggle can get real ugly.

          • I’ve never understood people who will follow a self-voted spiritual leader.

        • “I have never understood the idea of a congregation voting on who will be their spiritual leader. To me, it is like having a group of seventh graders voting on who will teach them, and GRADE them, in Algebra.”

          This is a Catch-22. On one hand, people don’t always vote for what is best.

          On the other hand, a small inner circle with no accountability and no particular obligations–except those they acknowledge and define themselves–is also likely not to do what is best. What happens when it turns out that half the seventh graders are smarter than the teacher?

          Perhaps a hybrid of local governance and ecclesiastical oversight balances these twin dangers, at least to a point.

          I don’t see any problem with a congregation “calling a pastor” or conducting a good portion of its own business by debate and vote. Whoever is giving the tithes should know how it is being spent and have some say in directing its programs. Of course the congregation should, it goes without saying, then be willing to be teachable by those it has put in charge, by the lay leaders in its midst, and most of all scripture.

    • Final Anonymous says

      Oscar, yes, the “pastor as profession” paradigm should absolutely be in question.

      In my area of the country, way back in my youth, pastors of independent churches had other jobs as well. Often their wives worked. And the family never expected to live more than a barely-middle-class life.

      Yeah, it sucked financially, but it sure seemed to single out those who had a true calling. And they were more likely to follow their calling, and the Holy Spirit, even if it made them unpopular or threatened their pastoral security, because they knew they could make more money working outside the church.

  4. At least in the liturgical churches all you have to do is wait and eventually the minister/priest/vicar retires. So only another 12 years to wait before our local vicar is forced to leave. And then we can have someone else foisted on us by the diocese. Is that a better system? I’m not convinced.
    It protects the good leader but it also protects the bad and has led to spiritual barrenness in many places for years. I’m an ‘independent’ so could be ousted at any moment and that doesn’t sit too comfortably with me either. I dislike the attitude of many ‘independent’ Christians but I don’t think any system is really going to work whilst humans are in charge.
    Really there’s a reason the church is in such a mess and I don’t think it has much to do with our theology or practice – it’s to do with the way we treat each other. It’s often distinctly unpleasant to deal with fellow Christians on a regular basis – I’m really not surprised people don’t want to get involved in church. I am not even posting this under my own name – I don’t want to get another black mark with my denomination for not being ‘positive’ about them. It’s exhausting battling on two fronts at the same time.
    PS Lots of fabulous Christians out there as well – it’s important not to forget this.

    • Good points, and I am not suggesting any system is perfect, only that some are more compatible with what Jesus and the apostles called the church to be. Ecclesiology at its heart is not about “systems” but about being a community of God’s love, and any group which exhibits that is ahead of one with sound organization.

      I keep coming back to that commenter’s phrase — communal life, or as Bonhoeffer put it, “life together.”

      • Your whole comment there could be interpreted by some (not all) in the “independent” camp as their exact position.

        No system is perfect. What the church is called to be. It is not about systems. It is about a community of God’s love.

        • Yes, I agree and welcome it whenever I see communities with loving communal life, no matter their organization.

          But it is also why this story bothers me so much. It seems to me that love is often sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism, especially where a corporate mentality rules the church.

          Now I must go to work.

        • ” It is not about systems.”

          Disagree, 100%. It is exactly about The System.

          Churches insisting that it isn’t about The System, but is a Spiritual Problem, is why this is just rinse-and-repeat without end. Churches are organizations of human beings, all and every principle of Organizational Behavior applies.

          This is not an issue of corporate mentality, it is an issue of a mentality incorporated, a system designed in the reflection of its goals.

          • “it is an issue of a mentality incorporated, a system designed in the reflection of its goals.”

            Agree, and that is why I am citing CM’s comment: “Ecclesiology at its heart is not about “systems” but about being a community of God’s love, and any group which exhibits that is ahead of one with sound organization.”

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “At least in the liturgical churches all you have to do is wait and eventually the minister/priest/vicar retires. So only another 12 years to wait before our local vicar is forced to leave. And then we can have someone else foisted on us by the diocese. Is that a better system? I’m not convinced.”

      You are confusing “liturgical” with a top-down hierarchy. The two concepts are orthogonal. American Lutheran churches are, to a greater or lesser degree, liturgical, but the church structure is congregational. I take it that you are in England. The Episcopal church is on paper as top-down as the Church of England (or Rome). In reality, it is mostly congregational. Any financially viable parish pretty much runs itself, within broad limits. These limits include ample room for ignoring the diocese.

      The Methodists, by contrast, are pretty top-down, while retaining only a vestige of liturgical practice.

      • @Richard – thank you for correcting me. I did mean churches with a top down hierachy and I am in the UK.
        In my fairly extensive experience of the Anglican church, whilst it may look on paper that the parish runs itself in England or Wales, ignoring the diocese is not possible even for those parishes that are financially viable. In reality the parish has apostolic oversight but it is mostly exercised in ensuring we paid our parish share. When there was a problem with the vicar the oversight was completely ineffective. If the vicar/rector refuses to cooperate with the overseers there is very little a Bishop will, or can, do. Parishioners can be genuinely stuck with a poor vicar for years which is what is happening in my area.

  5. On governance structures, there are only a few basic models available:
    1) The senior pastor control the church, and can replace anyone other than themselves
    2) The congregation control(s) the church, and can replace any member of the staff
    3) An institution outside the church controls the church, and can replace anyone.
    Restrictions and twists can be put on those models via contracts or institutional bylaws limiting the freedom of the institution. And the mechanisms of control vary (business meeting, elders) et cetera. But all the models are flawed, in large part because they all involve humans. (Though perhaps at the end of the day, the congregation always controls the church, because in theory they can always vote with their feet and go elsewhere – though that is more of a reality in an urban setting than it is in a rural setting.)

    Regardless of the model chosen, those in control should remember that Christ controls the church and listen for his guidance. But really, would this situation have been any better had the church said “Christ is leading us to make a change”? I doubt it. And that might have created doubts about whether Christ valued this pastor’s work.

    • I think you are missing one:

      4) Shared Leadership – plurality of elders/pastors

      • I have never been in a single “plural elders” church that was in any meaningful way different from number 1 above. In fact, I think the idea that it could be different is silly.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          This pops up all the time at Wartburg Watch & Spiritual Sounding Board — the Pastor/Dictator with his Yes-Men Plural Elders. Mars Hill Seattle is the first (and most blatant) that comes to mind, but the spiritual abuse blogs have covered lots of them.

          • Upon consideration, I do think it would be possible to create a church governed by a plurality of elders where that was meaningfully different from a church governed by the senior pastor. This disagrees with Dr. Fundystan. To do that, the elders would have to have power independently of the senior pastor.

            My particular church doesn’t meet that test. Our executive pastor (mostly the church administrator, but with a fancier title) calls it an elder governed church. But if the bylaws are actually read, elders are appointed by the senior pastor and can be removed from office at any time by the senior pastor. In that situation, the senior pastor has real control, elders are just part of the mechanism by which he exercises it. So my particular church Dr. Fundystan’s and H.U.G.’s understanding.

            To give the elders power independent of the senior pastor they need to hold the office for a long time once appointed, without the ability of the pastor to remove them. I’m not sure how that meaningfully differs from my #2, congregational control.

            So I don’t view eldership as a fourth model, I just view it as a label that can be used in any of the three core models. And I definitely (and I’ll bet we) don’t have the breadth of experience of statistically valid data to opine on which model uses the label most often.

          • grberry, I’m having difficulty understanding how this differs from the standard corporate model. Care to elaborate? Fwiw, local law generally determines how a corporation shall be run, so any 501C3 church is limited on how it can legally operate, so I understand why most congregational churches (such as my own) use this model.

        • Well I can testify first hand that it actually IS a fourth model (whether you think that is silly or not is really just your opinion and not relevant). I am currently attending a church that parted ways with a senior pastor to move to this model of church leadership. While it’s certainly not perfect, I think after a year it’s worked out beautifully. Another example of such a church is Oceanside Christian Fellowship, where the author of the above linked book co-Pastors. Personally, I don’t think there is one right or best model. Church size is certainly a factor. Every church has it’s own dynamic. In the end it all depends on the people.

          For more reading on this topic:

          • All “models” of church leadership have worked well in certain times and places. If you can explain to me how exchanging the whims of one man for the whims of three men is any way substantially different, I am all ears. I’m a little curious about the book you linked to, which was required reading for me in seminary. The biggest disagreement I had with the authors (actually, I think most of the ideas are Strauch’s since he has written all of them elsewhere) is the idea that “plural” elders is “biblical”. But we’ve already covered the difficulty of this concept on IM, so I won’t belabour the point.

      • “Plurality of Elders”/”shared leadership” is exactly the way the Churches of Christ have operated for at least a century and a half. Nothing new. A good dose of “Restorationism” will give you all the good, bad, and ugly you want.

  6. Mixed feelings on this, as usual.

    Here’s what hasn’t been said: a pastor helps create the ethos of a church. Are we putting too much blame on the church for making a decision from values that the pastor likely helped to shape?

    • This is very true. Pastors help shape the culture of their churches. Passive/aggressive pastors tend to breed passive/aggressive congregations and decisions/responses. Humble pastors tend to breed humble congregations and decisions/responses. I’ve seen this at my current church, and have seen our current pastor’s healthy responses to situations begin to CHANGE what used to be unhealthiness within the congregation.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        But at the same time, the congregation can help create the ethos of its pastor. The influence works both ways. Humble pastor plus passive/aggressive congregation means Hell for the pastor.

        • That’s why we beat Mark Driscoll up so much, right, because his leadership is so greatly affected by his congregation’s humility…

        • I have seen that dynamic at play, quite recently. A congregation dead-set in its ways draining the life and enthusiasm out of the pastor(s) assigned to them, not willing to re-examine their ways despite their growing irrelevance. Not a pretty sight.

      • Well said

    • This is a good point, but very often not the case. The subculture of the Evangelical publishing industry has a more powerful impact on the local culture of most congregations than any of their pastors ever do. It’s one nobody versus the entire pantheon of celebrity – he ain’t gonna win. I’ve seen many Pastors fight for different values and loose.

  7. I’ve seen in the larger independent churches in my area a tendency for such a senior pastor to end up being an “emeritus” pastor where they do take a pay cut, but they’re not completely sacked. They continue to serve in the background, in lighter capacities, or in mentorship roles while the next generation steps up. And maybe the write some books or teach classes or something on the side. A good example of this locally is Max Lucado. I have a feeling that for smaller independent churches, this is less of an option.

    In my corner of the Anglican world (ACNA), the expectation is that young ministers will end up planting new churches, and many of the older ministers are serving well into their 60’s and 70’s. At my parish, we’ve got two staff priests (I’m the younger/newer one), a transitional deacon, a postulant, an aspirant, and a couple of military chaplains that help out from time-to-time. There simply isn’t the money for any of us to be fully supported by the parish. I’m bi-vocational, the rector is supplemented by his military retirement pay, and the non-staff clergy and lay ministers are volunteers. The parish does what it can, but it’s pretty poor. I’d expect that should the rector retire, he’d do an emeritus thing as well, and the Vestry would either hire his replacement or advance me to that position. But, I’d still likely have to be at least part-time at my “day job.”

    • One thing is for certain, I’m never letting my state certification to be a real estate appraiser (that’s the day job) lapse. I know plenty of folks that appraise well into retirement age, even if they’re no longer actually seeing homes like they used to (in fact, one of our vestry members is in his 80’s and maintains an active appraisal certification and helps out in a firm from time to time). That safety net is a big deal for me. But I do look forward to eventually moving more of the appraisal business to part time and more of the ministry calling toward full time.

    • A Simple Hillbilly says

      I used to be a part of the Independant CC/COC and that Max Lucado transition is not uncommon, but like you said, not financially viable for a lot of smaller churches. These churches though are in a near constant state of preacher churn. A big part of this is the number of affiliated seminaries that provide a kind of denominational structure to a group of otherwise independent churches. Now, for these schools to keep operating, they need to keep enrolling and graduating new ministers. This worked when they were aggressively planting new churches. This has since slowed and now they have a surplus and the only way to get their recent grads a job is to push older, more established ministers out of the local congregations.

      • “for these schools to keep operating, they need to keep enrolling and graduating new ministers.” Absolutely. I worked at a seminary a few years ago and the number of men enrolled who had mental illness issues, complete lack of any kind of people skills, men who had failed at every other career choice & so figured the Lord’s work was a safe option, etc. was appalling to me. It was obvious that in order to keep the doors open and the professors’ salaries competitive, the administration would enroll just about anyone. I’d shudder to think about the churches that would have some of these men foisted on them and a decent percentage of them didn’t last in the parish more than a few years.

  8. When you say “independent” does that include SBC churches? At some level every Baptist church is autonomous and Southern Baptists have developed a habit in the past 20 or so years of trying to fix all their problems by bringing in a new pastor. It doesn’t have to be a younger pastor, but when a church isn’t growing replacing the pastor somehow seems like a one-size fits all quick fix.

    One thing I did like about the independent fundamentalist church (that I left 15 years ago) was their mentality about training leaders. Every position in the church, besides the pastor, had an assistant that was being trained to do that job. It was a mentoring program perhaps selfishly designed to ensure we never had a lack of someone to fill a role but nevertheless, Sunday School teachers, music leaders etc. all had someone, usually younger, they were responsible for working with and training to do their job.

    I do see the issue described in this post but not in our local association of Baptist churches. Maybe we’re outside the regular demographic but at age 39 I am the youngest pastor in said association. Older men that thought they were “retired” are being called back to fill interim roles or to continue pastoring well into their 70’s or 80’s. From my perspective looking forward this isn’t something one can retire from.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      One thing I did like about the independent fundamentalist church (that I left 15 years ago) was their mentality about training leaders. Every position in the church, besides the pastor, had an assistant that was being trained to do that job. It was a mentoring program perhaps selfishly designed to ensure we never had a lack of someone to fill a role but nevertheless, Sunday School teachers, music leaders etc. all had someone, usually younger, they were responsible for working with and training to do their job.

      i.e. Each one had an apprentice who could also serve as backup.

      As long as the main man didn’t come in one day to find all his stuff out in the corridor and the apprentice sitting at his desk, sounds like a good system.

  9. I’ve heard it said that, as far as church work goes, you’d better be where you want to stay by 50, ’cause you’re not going anywhere after that.

    I’ve known two music guys who are both over 50 and cannot get back into a solid church gig. They were serving well known mega-churches before being sidelined to get grey hairs off the platform. It’s despicable, really, but at the same time, the church that weds itself to pop culture digs its own grave in this way. It seems that few and far between are the “worship leaders” that make a good go at it through retirement. OTOH, organists almost always seem old, so that just might mean I have a bit more job security these days.

    • On the one hand, Miguel, there ain’t many organists to hire these days, so that puts you in a good place! On the other hand, fewer churches are looking for organists, so it might balance things out. I don’t know what we’d do without our very good organist.

      • I keep hearing that fewer churches are looking for organists, but I really do not think that is the case. Sales on organs, both electronic and genuine pipes, are up. I think that many churches who desire an organist can not afford to retain one. Most churches I know would love some professional assistance with their music but have no resources to devote towards it. I blame this on a failure of leadership: Good pastoral leadership (IMNSHO) always invests heavily in worship, music, and the arts. Our Pastor does, and it is an unending source of blessing to myself, my family, and our entire congregation. If you don’t craft your services well in order to make them worth attending, you forfeit the right to complain when nobody wants to. Ok, I’ll stop my off-topic rant now…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      It’s despicable, really, but at the same time, the church that weds itself to pop culture digs its own grave in this way.


      Ever see videos of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In lately? Very Relevant, and have not aged well. (Groovy, Man!) But then, Laugh-In never had pretentions to be any more than a Groovy topical revue.

    • >I’ve heard it said that, as far as church work goes, you’d better be where you
      >want to stay by 50, ’cause you’re not going anywhere after that.

      Unless you are senior level management this is true for just about anyone; I do not see any behavior here specific to church work.

      > that weds itself to pop culture digs its own grave in this way.

      Or not, this may be how they avoid the grave, maintaining a flow of fresh talent. It is simple demographics – we are a society with a huge bulge of grey. Competition for younger talent is fierce, and we have a lot of grey that is lingering long after it was expected it would have moved on.

      • The demographic situation is indeed an issue.

      • “I’ve heard it said that, as far as church work goes, you’d better be where you
        want to stay by 50, ’cause you’re not going anywhere after that.” So true, which, in my mind, is where the whole divinity of the call system kind of falls apart. Most churches will say they don’t believe that the pastorate is a job, but a divine calling and that the pastor of a church is there because he was chosen by God to be there (my background is Lutheran, but I know other church bodies have the same mentality). So, how odd is it that God doesn’t seem to be very inclined to lead congregations toward a middle aged pastor?

        The thing is that most other professions, even if the pay is lousy and the chances of being laid off increase with age, there are social safety nets. Pensions, unemployment insurance, etc. Many churches do not provide these. Some do not even provide health insurance. I know religious institutions do not have to pay unemployment taxes, so when they let a church worker go, he or she has nothing to fall back on except savings or the kindness of strangers.

        That being said, I also feel for a church that has a pastor that is just a poor fit. Do you wait him out and watch your church membership decline and decline and decline? If he’s (or she) middle aged, the chances of anybody else wanting him are slim, but if he’s not really doing anything egregious, do you toss him and his family out on their ears?

        I don’t know what the answer is, but it is sad to see.

      • Unless you are senior level management this is true for just about anyone

        I can think of a number of professions for which this is not true. Just because our culture generally is obsessed with youth doesn’t mean many professions no longer see the value of experience. It is generally a strong trend, but the difference is this: The church ought to be a place where elders are valued, respected, and sought out for their wisdom. When we parrot the culture’s obsession with youth, we devalue a good half of our membership. How does that fight for the vitality of our membership? Do we want these young folks to stay with the faith when they grow up and are no longer valued as much?

        this may be how they avoid the grave, maintaining a flow of fresh talent

        It may be how some are trying, but not only does it work sporadically, it is absolutely unnecessary. Building relationships with young people is how you get them involved in church. No amount of “look how cool we are” will ever compensate for this, but it certainly can get in the way.

        No, mimicking pop culture only “works” for the really large churches. The mom and pop shops down the street who try to copy are not successful at bringing in the young in masses, and their children often leave for the cooler church or no religion at all. So I don’t think pop culture is the trick to netting more young in religion.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          No amount of “look how cool we are” will ever compensate for this, but it certainly can get in the way.

          Image of a Fifty-something Youth Pastor — balding with jowls and a soul patch, dressed like a skatepunk and mangling teenage “kewlspeak”?

          Kind of like the Eighties image of a Sixty-something guy hanging around a disco dressed like Saturday Night Fever, gold chains, coke spoon in silver chest plumage and all.

  10. That is a sad story, CM. I didn’t dig into the facts of your post (that’s me, story first, facts second). But I don’t think “someone” just asked him to leave. I too have experience in small town churches, Methodist and Lutheran. Although not independent, they, too, are subject to the vagaries of their congregations. Constant gossip over nothing, jealousy, imagined slights; this probably had been going on under the radar for quite s while. Christians can be dishonest and unlocking, too.

  11. Mike, while I can empathize with the displacement of a solid mature pastor for the sake of change and youth, my bigger concern is the alternative: that a denomination or other organizational structure functions as a ministry safety net [implied from your comment about walking a tightrope without a net].
    Whatever happened to “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”?

    You reference apostolic leadership – – fair enough. But when Paul pulls the apostle card (as in 2 Corinthians) he first references, then lays aside apostolic credentials and refers instead to the believers themselves as his letters of recommendation.

    It seems to me that both:
    – the congregation who wants a more hip, culture-friendly message, and
    – the denominational organization that is relied upon to codify and provides the safety net for the pastors,
    are utilizing earthly means to achieve spiritual ends.

    • Imentioned this in another sense below, but to more directly answer your comment I think that the situation as referenced in the main post is one of the main circumstances where we are called to financially support those in ministry.

      There are those who have forsaken secular employment, and building the safety net that most of us have the opportunity to over a lifetime, so that if they are not supported by the congregation in their later years there is not much for them to fall back on.

      What that support looks like is up for debate, but I do think that we are called to some sort of support in this circumstance.

      • Dallas,

        There is a major generational difference in perspectives on the safety net you reference. Reading Walter Russell Mead’s article “American Challenges: The Blue Social Model Breaks Down” at will explain this more fully than I can here.

        My grandparents generation believed that employment could be secure for a lifetime with a pension after stopping working. Coming of age in the tail end of the depression and the World War II years, they thought the system and society we built during that period would give them both security and an ever rising standard of living, especially for high school or even better college graduates. For their generation, they were largely right. They taught the same expectation to my parents generation, which is the generation largely in their 60s and now fitting the “older but actively working” description. It is partially true for that generation. It began breaking in the 70s and 80s with the auto industry, but it then looked like it was broken by Japan which arguably had an even more blue social model, so the problem wasn’t realized to be the model and expectations, it was thought to be something else. So they still have the expectations of being employed for life and cared for by their employer, even though they know reality is different. My generation came of age as it was visible that the blue model was breaking in the 70s and 80s, and some of us share the expectations of security and some of us (me included) don’t. The generation coming out of college in the past 10 years doesn’t have that expectation – they know too many peers that have had trouble finding a job at all and even if they have a job are burdened by college debt that often seems hopeless.

        The alternative to a the employer + national society built safety nets are a personally built safety net and a local community built safety net. Older generations are more likely to believe in the employer and national society safety net. Younger generations are more likely to either believe in a personally built safety net or not have faced the issue at all.

        The local church could be the local community safety net. And we should be, as much as we can. (A local church in a rural community where a major employer shuts down will likely have a large fraction of the congregation in trouble all at once.) An extra challenge for pastors, however, is that it is really difficult to remain in the church if they are no longer the pastor, especially if their departure was not voluntary. My wife’s parent’s former pastor was forced into retirement in October/November for health reasons, and even in one visit to that church while visiting them shortly before the retirement I could see the pain he was going through – and with health reasons as the cause he was still fully supported and loved by the congregation. It would have been even worse if the congregation had stopped supporting him. So when a pastor is forced out of his role, he loses both his job and his community. If I were to lose my job, I would still have my church community.

        • “So when a pastor is forced out of his role, he loses both his job and his community.” Excellent point, grberry. The clergy is really the only profession that has no church home, no community. A doctor might live in a small town and know many of his/her patients, but he/she is not denigrated for not socializing, attending family baptisms, confirmations, etc of his/her patients, but pastors often are. Pastors are expected to become an integral part of the church community, and yet, never really can be. They are expected to build a community that they can never truly be a part of because if the position ends, the community ends for them.

        • -> “So when a pastor is forced out of his role, he loses both his job and his community.”

          I saw this happen to a friend of mine, the children’s pastor of my church, several years ago. It was painful to watch. A few of us continued to support and help, but it was tough seeing them have to find another church to plug into while he searched for work elsewhere. And because of some ugliness behind the scenes, many folks just bailed on he and his wife.

    • “my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”?

      People like to eat, and stay in their homes.

      “utilizing earthly means to achieve spiritual ends.”

      Exactly, and I congratulate them, as those are the means inhabitants of earth have.

      • One of the sticky notes near my computer at home:

        “pray as if God will take care of all, work as if he won’t”

        I’m learning more and more, I can’t just pray and expect God to do anything. I have to make it happen. I have to put in the work. I have to work the effort. Blessings don’t just happen unless you make them happen.

        Functional atheist? I guess. Maybe. But I know my life has improved when I’ve quit “letting go and letting God”, and started doing the hard work myself.

        • Functional atheist? Hardly. I prefer to call it “living in The Actual Universe instead of Magical-Thinking Cloudcuckooland.”

          • This!

            Where in the Old or New testament is there a story about lying about doing nothing but waiting? The heroes, particularly of the Old testament, are active, clever, noisy, even sneaky – and occasionally bewilderingly dense. They were like people! But they were not laying about in flower petals, dreamily contemplating the stars, waiting for everything to just-come-right.

      • Actually, I was thinking more of Phil. 4:10-19, which is Paul’s non-thank-thank you way of saying “thanks” for the support. He spends the first verses talking about how he is content in all circumstances, and can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. In other words, no other financial “safety net” is necessary for him.

        Then Paul says the Philippians have done well to share their gift with him, and he reiterates that he doesn’t seek the gift, but seeks the spiritual profit that comes to them for being givers of earthly gifts.

        So, is Paul delusional about how The Actual Universe works? Or is he too proud to acknowledge his dependence on the Philippians’ for their physical/financial help?

        Or does he have a different perspective on how God provides? Maybe echoing something about how to use the mammon of unrighteousness?

        • IF something good happens, post fact it only happened because “of God”. But IF something bad happens…it was never from God, can’t blame him of course.

          Stark thinking. Can’t help it anymore.

          Funny how things get really weird when you start thanking God for all the good things in your life. “Pleasures of sin for a season” and all that, so any good that came from sin came from God? etc…

          • There’s something strangely comforting to me in the idea that neither good nor bad came from God…they just came because of circumstances or work or change or whatever. Removing God from both blessings and cursings makes almost all of life better.

          • “Religion is one of the larger roadblocks that God has had to put up with in the process of getting his message through to the world. The usual religious view is that God has his finger in every pie, and, as the infinite meddler, never let’s anything act for itself. People bolster such ideas by an appeal to Scripture, pointing out things like the parting of the Red Sea or Elijah starting fires with wet wood on Mt. Carmel. That won’t do, however. To be sure, I am not about to make out a case that God can’t do miracles–that he can’t from time to time stick in his thumb and manufacture a plum if he feels like it. Nor am I going to maintain that he can’t answer the prayers of those of his free creatures he has bizarrely said he would take advice from. All I want to insist on here is that most of the time he doesn’t meddle; that his ordinary policy is: Hands off.”

            – Robert Farrar Capon

            (The Romance of the Word: One Man’s Love Affair With Theology)

  12. I probably have a different idea than most about paid ministry, but it seems to me that if we are to be supporting any of our elders monetarily that it would be a man like this. Someone who has likely passed on secular opportunities to support himself and his family in favor of dedicating his life to full time ministry. I frankly don’t see forcing a sixty year old man to start over as being much different from neglecting widows.

    • And I am willing to contribute to the maintenance of lives where the secular was abandoned for the interests of the church: priests, monks, nuns, some missionaries,…. They gave their lives to the church as a complete vocation.

      But I have mixed feelings about pastors. Most lead lives otherwise indistinguishable from those around them, many live comfortable middle-class life styles in detached single-family homes, more and more often these are not parish homes but assets owned by the pastor. All the pastors I have worked with had/have retirement accounts and pay into Social Security…. like everyone else. They look like employees.

      I bothers me that churches cultivate a perception that they are more than employees… until it comes time for them to be just-an-employee. This is the part about the independentish wings of Protestantism that seems foul

      • That is where my different views on paid ministry come about in the first place. I don’t think that a pastor is necessarily a salaried position as much as we are called to make sure that they are provided for. As the congregation we are called to make sure that they have a roof over their head, and they and their family are fed and clothed.

        What you see with priests, nuns, monks, etc as you mention seems to me to be more in line with what scripture describes when providing for those in ministry.

      • Perceptive comment. I would have been content to live in personages my entire life. I had this funny, naïve idea as a young minister that I would serve the church and community, and in turn I wouldn’t have to worry about my provision. Maybe I should have been a Catholic!

        • I am very happy to give money to a church whose budget includes housing, transportation, etc… it is just a good idea.

          The protestants want it both ways, they want to be Clergy and they want to be Professionals. It confuses people about roles – confused roles end it damaged relationships and hurt feelings.

          The protestant model also, I believe, ends up costing more in $$$.

  13. I’ve always been in denominational churches, so I’m not sure how this applies in independents. I think Dallas has a good point though. Here’s what I’ve seen. I know a woman who was a pioneering female pastor back in the 70s, maybe even the 60s. She is now in her 90s, but healthy and well. She does any number of support jobs in her local congregation, from visitation to altar decorations to playing the organ. She also is still available to do pulpit supply for any of the smaller churches nearby, often preaching at my In-laws church when the pastor there needs to be away. Most of the retired pastors in our denomination do something similar. Surely there are independent churches who might need a substitute pastor, when their main one takes vacation? Or am I the only person around who has occasionally been blown away by the powerful preaching of someone who is decades older than I am? In this case, I am thinking of a man who could hardly walk, but brought me to tears with his message. He was 98. I honestly believe that God wants us to value everyone from the very young to the very old. He uses unexpected vessels.

    • This reminds me of a time about a year ago when my wife and I had been checking out a local congregation for a few months, but had been underwhelmed by the preaching, as it tended to be pretty thin and repetitive. We admitted to each other right before we went in one Sunday that we had both been silently praying for a good message on the ride over.

      God delivered… in a somewhat discouraging way overall.

      Rather than inspire an edifying message from one of the preachers within the congregation, God saw fit to have the pastor’s father come in to guest preach that Sunday. It was one of the better messages that I had heard in quite some time.

      We occasionally get a little too fancy in the way that we define words. If I were to use the word elder in any respect other than the Christian one, we would be picturing someone with a few years on them. Not to say that a relatively young person can’t be an elder, but the word carries with it the value for those who have lived and experienced things. Those who can guide us as we walk through life because they have already walked the same path, and know the pitfalls.

      We need to value experience and wisdom within our gatherings, and not just the flashy new thing.

    • Final Anonymous says

      Ann, the best “sermon” my husband and I have heard in 5+ years was at a funeral of a long-retired denominational pastor.

      Three of his (also retired) pastor friends spoke. It moved us to tears, because, somewhat selfishly, we realized what we’d been missing.

  14. The wonderful gentleman who was our pastor in Nashville left after 20-some years there, close to age 70, to move to another city where one of his sons lived. The church there took on this man as a “pastor” to the pastors, to shepherd them as they cared for the rest of the church. He is still there, more than a decade later, and still ministering that way. By the way, the name of that church includes the words “Independent Church.”

  15. Richard Hershberger says

    I am missing something here. Coming from a mainline background, the idea of changing pastors periodically (typically every five to ten years) seems normal and healthy. My expectation is that the church has an institutional identity distinct from its pastor. My church is a quarter of a millennium old. It didn’t get there by tying itself to a single guy, or even one at a time.

    The problem with having the same guy in place decade after decade is that it becomes his church, rather than him being its pastor. This rarely ends well. You can end up with him holding onto the reins long after he has slowed down. You can end up with the church having to resort to a coup to move on, with the inevitable disgruntled faction. Even in the best case, where the guy finally retires or is carried out in a box, the transition to a new guy is traumatic. It is a truism that he is set up to fail, and the congregation will be unhappy with him because he isn’t the old, beloved guy. The pattern here is one year and out, and the guy after him has a chance, with the congregation coming to terms with the situation.

    If you have an expectation that pastors will turn over periodically, the whole process is less traumatic on both sides. The search and call process is nobody’s idea of fun, but there need not be sturm und drang about it.

    The sense I get here, from the excerpt Chaplain Mike posted, is that the pastor in question is regarded as damaged goods and no church would touch him because he was fired. The idea that it simply was time for a change seems not to be within the worldview.

    • I got more of the idea, that in the culture we are in now as the church we are looking for the flashy young guy who is going to put butts in the seats, so that his opportunities could very well be limited.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        The traditional expectation in my tradition (Lutheran) is that the advantage of a young guy, especially one straight out of seminary, is that he comes cheap. The advantage of an older guy (by which I mean someone in his forties or fifties) is that he brings experience and maturity. The young guys tend to go to small rural churches that can’t afford older guys, with a career path of later moving into larger, more affluent churches. What we have here seems to be the reverse situation. Whatever we might think about it for the churches, it makes for a tenuous situation for the clergy.

    • Patrick Kyle says


      This is what you get when the church adopts a ‘worship as entertainment’ model. The old guys with their old ways and same old stories, cease to give us the ‘spiritual boost’ we come to expect. So we need some ‘fresh blood’ to liven things up, and throw the older guys out. It’s absolutely scandalous. In my denomination (LCMS) I know of a couple churches that got a reputation for chewing up pastors. When they sent requests to the seminaries to be assigned a pastor, they were declined for 10 or 15 years, until the individuals and/or groups responsible either died or moved on. There are also protections in place for pastors and they can only be fired for very specific reasons. (This isn’t always enforced if the District president (read that Bishop) is of a liberal bent.) However, there is some protection.

  16. Mike Finnerty says

    We live in an age of instant connectivity where one person’s idea might become irrelevant in a matter of seconds. Because we don’t have to leave our homes to get a taste of spirituality, our religion has become consumer driven. There are vestiges of the true church here and there, but instant knowledge about a spiritual issue is making the church irrelevant. Just a place where Christians ca meet together, judge one another harshly and go home unchanged. God help the church become less consumer driven, but this huge trend is just a reflection of our culture right now, which is still learning to live with mass media.

    • The thing that I don’t get is that if I can have top notch teaching and well crafted worship music in the palm of my hand, why are churches trying to compete with that.

      The biggest advantage that the real world congregation has over the electronic one is flesh and blood interaction. When we come together we are able to develope relationships, and dialogue on scripture and life in general, yet the trend seems to be to become entertainment based, bigger, and more remote and isolated.

      The assembled people of God seem to be squandering one of their biggest advantages.

      • Do we know how to use a Sunday service to accomplish those things? Neither the teaching (sermon) nor singing (worship) nor communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper really deliver flesh and blood interaction. From what little I’ve seen of the Roman Catholic church, the other portions of their worship service don’t either. Small groups/cell groups/life groups/faith groups (whatever your local label is) do offer more flesh and blood interaction. But they have multiple issues also, including limited size.

        Talking with my wife recently, we realized that often we both think of listening to the sermon as part of the price we pay for the worship and the human interactions we get some opportunity for during the service, but even more after and before the service. Not that we never get anything from the sermons – but they often aren’t one of the positive aspects of our attendance.

        • Corporate worship is only one small part of communal life. I don’t go to worship for in depth fellowship and personal sharing, but for Word and Sacrament.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            This. The fellowship comes in the potlucks.

          • In my evangelical megachurch days, I found a sense of community through our worship services, singing praise choruses, listening to 45 minute teaching sermons and then talking about them afterwards in adult Sunday school classes.

            Now, though, five years into my life as an Episcopalian, I experience a deeper sense of community in the gathered Body of Christ when we pray set prayers together and when we gather around the Table for our communion liturgy. Every Sunday, I stand across the Table from newcomers and church members from newborns to frail elderly, and even a service dog or two. We sing together, voice our Thanksgivings, proclaim Christ’s death/resurrection/coming again, and pray the Lord’s prayer together. Then we share communion. There’s order in the liturgy, but there’s also room for the beautiful chaos of difference. Many of these people aren’t ones I’d call my friends. But they are my sisters and brothers. We’re responsible for each other and we belong to each other.

            My evangelical upbringing taught me to expect fellowship and community in deep Bible study conversations and lots of personal sharing. The friendships I developed there have carried me through some very rough times and I wouldn’t want to be without them.

            Indeed, coffee hour, potlucks, and study groups still help me create friendships in my new parish home.
            But I cherish the community that I know through our weekly corporate worship around the Table.

            That’s just my experience, but it’s been a beautiful surprise!

  17. OldProphet says

    This has been one of the most fascinating posts and comments I’ve ever read. So much said here that is totally correct but so much is totally wrong. I don’t say that because I’m smart, I’m not, but because I think I’m probably the only one here on imonk who attends a Evangelical, non-denim, independent, charismatic, church and have been in such churches for over 30 years. Truly fascinating! Hey, Charles, thanks for the invite yesterday. Bottoms up!

    • Our pastor retired 17 years ago with the intent (and our desire!) that he stay and continue to shepherd the congregation he helped to establish. Alas, he needed to move his wife to a different climate and within weeks of our new pastor stepping on board – they were gone. He would preach or “greet the brethren” every time they were in town, he spoke at retreats and events until he became too frail to travel. He is not far from the end of his race. But our congregation knows him and his wife, honor and love them deeply and, perhaps most importantly, are committed to financially supporting them BOTH until the Lord calls them home.

      And we are a non-denominational, independent church. Not all of us are what you perceive.

  18. melissatheragamuffin says

    Wow! All this just makes me glad that we don’t have paid clergy.

  19. Maybe the church will get the pastor they deserve.

  20. This happens in smaller denominational churches, too: as soon as the pastor doesn’t do the bidding of the ruling oligarchy comprised of a handful of individuals or families, he’s outa there! Don’t mess with the families who drop the most coin in the offering. Why aren’t we all atheists by now?

  21. I’m an Anglican priest (ACNA) and I just moved into an intentional bi-vocational ministry model. I’m now full-time at an “outside” job and part-time in my parish. I did this not because I had to (our parish is doing fine financially) but because I have the desire to move my pastoral work out of the realm of “career” and into the realm of “labor of love.” For me, it’s the healthiest way forward (for many of the reasons that Mike and John expressed in the original post). It came down to this, I desire to carry-out my holy orders because I love God and I love my people, not to make a comfortable living. I had to move as much money as possible out of the pastoral equation.

    There are other reasons as well. As I was discerning this move (it was a two year process for me) I sought wisdom from older Anglican priests and pastors from other denominations. Many of them told me, “Curt, I wish I could do something like that, but I’m trapped here. I’m miserable, but I can’t leave the church because my family would starve, and I can’t ‘go get a real job’ because I’m too old.” Scared me to death. “Tightrope with no net” indeed, Chaplain Mike.

    Here’s the model we’re moving toward in our parish – multiple priests and deacons carrying out our holy orders of Word, Sacrament, and caring for people, but we’re all bi-vocational with the vast majority of each minister’s income coming from our “outside” jobs. If the “Coming Evangelical Collapse” is true, and I believe that it is and that we’re in the midst of it today, this is at least a way forward. ‘Cause the money is going to dry-up, my friends. And that might be the best thing that could happen to us.

    And let’s be honest, this “multiple-priests-and-deacons, all-of-whom-are-bi-vocational” thing isn’t exactly a new idea…

  22. Can’t say that I am totally sold on the idea of “professional Christians”.
    I don’t think Jesus was thinking that the New covenant he started meant, jobs jobs, jobs.
    As much as I think pastors deserve a good salary for the hard work they do, we are also called to a life of trials, and perhaps there is the problem, well paid professional Christians may be getting a little soft, and less sympathetic with the great number of people that make far less and are struggling with their faith.