There are some mornings I wake up a little after 4, I shower, and I avoid all the really squeaky steps down the hallway to get myself out the door and off to work for a couple hours before my year-and-a-half old boy gets up for his day. Other mornings, I wake up a little after 4, I shower and avoid all the same squeaky steps to get myself down to the computer for a couple hours for another kind of work.
I’m a bi-vocational pastor who manages a small cleaning company but, at the same time, is privileged to care for the spiritual well-being of a flock of about forty people. It can be tricky splitting your energies between pastoring and running a business, between writing sermons and scrubbing toilets. But after just a handful of years I’ve grown to really appreciate the unique opportunities this sort of situation has afforded me as well as the people with whom I minister.
It seems that over the past few decades, our culture of consumerism has subtly crept into the church and, in some ways, shaped even how we view the pastor and her role in the church. Today the pastor is “the boss,” “the one in charge,” “the CEO.” The pastor is the person we pay to be the “professional” Christian, much like I paid Rob to be my professional fridge repair man just last week. He’s the only one who knows how to do what he does, and so that means all I had to do was let him in and show him where my refrigerator is, have him swipe my card, and then my family and I left him to his work and went on our way for the night. I’m afraid something similar happens, at least subconsciously, when we think of our pastors in this way.
Don’t get me wrong! I and many of my peers who also pastor spent thousands and thousands of hours studying and reading and practicing our “craft,” whether in our undergraduate programs, masters, or even doctorate courses of study; there is a sense in which I am a “professional” Christian. But when our churches then presume, at least subconsciously, that the pastor is really the only one called to minister, then, the Body of Christ as it is expressed in the local church—its effectiveness suffers.
I’ve heard stories about churches who, before the economic downturn in 2008, may have had an extra associate or two, maybe someone in charge of music and someone in charge of evangelism. But since these positions have been terminated for lack of funds, the churches now mourn their ability to make music in worship at all, or they think of themselves as totally incapable of being creative in the ways they spread the Good News of Jesus, which simply isn’t true. I think what has happened in these cases is people were relying so heavily on the “professional” pastor to do the job, that they themselves atrophied as the Body.
My situation is unique in that I, frankly, cannot spend forty-plus hours a week at the church—I’ve got a business to run, school loans to pay, an extra mouth to feed (refrigerators to have repaired). But the truth of the matter is: the church I pastor cannot afford to have me work in their office forty-plus hours a week either. We experienced the same economic downturn as everyone else. In between pastors, we lost more than half of our people to other churches. A majority of us are retired and are on fixed income. The dollars simply are not there to be able to compensate a pastor and family full-time. And so the fact that I am willing and able to be bi-vocational means that my church didn’t have to close. I am less of a financial burden to them and I’m still able to pursue the calling God’s placed on my life to pastor and to help a people become a more faithful witness to our coming Lord.
It’s been interesting to see, though, how my church has really stepped up and shouldered more of the responsibility of ministry for themselves. People who, before, may have never seen an Excel spreadsheet have volunteered, because they know someone’s got to keep track of the money! And others who initially may have been too shy to teach, or to read Scripture in the service, or to do…anything—they’re now coming forward and reading and helping provide the weekly Communion loaf. All these various tasks are being accomplished.
So if the question were posed to me, “If they could pay you more, would you quit your cleanings?” my response is still “No.” If my church could pay me more I wouldn’t stop scrubbing toilets, because I feel like the sort of situation we’re in has afforded us a way of being in the world that is unique. It has forced our Body to be healthier. We’re all trying to discern what it means to be His disciples in this world. We’re all trying to be His people in this culture consumed by consumption and which would much rather pay the “professional” to be Christian for us. We’re all working during the week but also volunteering time to works of mercy afterwards. We’re all walking through the bi-vocation of toil and prayer. I think the transition we were forced to make from being a church with a full-time pastor plus associates to a single, bi-vocational pastor has made it even more explicit: the “job” of ministry is actually for us all.
Jay Wilson is native to Portland, Maine. A graduate of Eastern Nazarene College (’08), he received his Masters of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary (’11). He pastors the New Horizons Church of the Nazarene in Belton, Missouri and is married to Kelly (Moser) Wilson (ENC ’07) with his 19 month old son, Quinn.