Proximity Matters

Some time ago, I attended a Century Leadership roundtable that featured Nancy Ortberg as the speaker. She said something profound that day that has resonated with me as I have thought about the state of the church.  Nancy said, “You can admire someone you have put on a pedestal, but you will never be changed by them.” I think what she was getting at is proximity matters when it comes to vital spiritual relationships.

The law of proximity in science states that objects that are close together tend to group together and  become more like each other.  Applied to the church world, we become that which we are close to.  We are changed not by how good the information the person offers, but by how close we are to the person we are learning from. Information without relationship is not enough to be changed or formed.

Which begs a very pertinent question in today’s church culture. A very large percentage of Christians today are attempting to be pastored by men and women they have never even met. The advent of the large church and technology has created this dynamic that has never existed in ecclesiastical history: we have virtual shepherds pastoring virtual sheep Judging by the overwhelming popularity of this model,  both parties seem to be just fine with the fact that they will never meet.

But what Nancy said begs this question. Can the direction of your spiritual formation come from a person you have no proximity to? We can admire what they say, but can we be transformed by them? Relationships without presence are not relationships at all. We may be inspired by someone (a celebrity, a successful entrepreneur, a famous author or a famous pastor) but will we ever changed by them? Is simply good information enough? Isn’t knowing the person we seek to be shaped by essential to our formation?

I don’t know Nancy Ortberg. What she said certainly made me think. I was inspired. But I would imagine, were I to spend time with her or work for her, she would not just inspire me. I would be changed simply by my proximity to her. I would have to think the same would be true in the local church. People can get information anywhere. Just turn on your TV. Just tune into one of thousands of live streaming churches every week.

The church is not a dispensary for good speeches. It is Jesus’ life giving body. Proximity to one another and to our spiritual leaders is not just something we do as an activity. it is the essence of the church itself. Karl Vaters once said mentoring IS discipleship. It is the most natural form of spiritual formation. The larger a church becomes, the more discipleship becomes a program instead of a relationship.  Its does so out of necessity. It seems like church has been reduced to a good concert and a half hour speech by a virtual stranger, surrounded by a bunch of strangers.

Since I don’t pastor one of those churches, I will ultimately never be able to truly be able to evaluate this model. I am simply an observer. It does however challenge me as a pastor of people I know to make sure those I wish to impact know me. It’s a challenge to be known. Without it, I am simply another voice with good information.

As an Average Pastor, you have the awesome opportunity to sit in proximity to your people. You have the opportunity to be known and to know those you are seeking to shape.  Take advantage of this proximity.  Pour into the lives of your people.  Don’t be just another person in their life with good information.  Because you are an average pastor, you have the opportunity to not only inspire, but to transform people.


Don’t Be A Boss, Be A Pastor

It is not unfair to say corporate culture has infiltrated how Pastors see the church.  In previous blogs I have talked about pastors seeing themselves as CEOs rather than shepherds. Today I want to talk about another symptom of the corporate culture.  Pastor, you are not a boss, you are a Pastor.

Recently I have had the opportunity to interact with and see pastors in their own elements. I have enjoyed watching Average Pastors operate in their own churches. I have also had the opportunity to talk to and visit pastors of larger churches.  But most importantly, I have the opportunity to talk to the staff in both contexts.  My conversations with both have revealed that in larger church contexts, staff pastors are often seen as employees. That is not surprising considering that most staff in larger context are full time and are paid to perform duties.  But this is not the case in the Average Church. Most staff are part time at best.  At my church, I was able to pay a small monthly amount to our staff.  Because I wasn’t paying them, I saw them differently. I saw them as servants, not employees.

Staff pastors are some of the unsung heroes of the Average Church.  They volunteer to serve because they love the church and want to be useful to God’s kingdom. There are little rewards with these jobs.  Since they are not full time they have to give of what is left from working their regular jobs. They don’t have time to sit around and plan ministry like full time staff.  Even if you can pay them some each week, they are still mostly operating as volunteer ministers.

So as an Average Pastor, how you lead your staff is important.  How you see them and what you expect of them matters.  If you have a full time staff, it is natural to see yourself as a boss who has employees.  In this context you have to make judgments about performance, value and production.  You have to make sure your staff justifies their salaries. But even in this context you have to admit that is a hard thing to do when it comes to ministry.  How do you judge value in ministry?  Salvations? Events? Attendance?  Its just not the same as the corporate world.

In the Average Church, that sort of evaluation is simply not appropriate.  These men and women are giving what is extra in their lives to the church. They have limited time, energy and resources to give to that ministry. If you treat them like an employee, you will lose them.  If you treat them as people who are there to do things for you, you will lose them. If you see them as problems to be fixed, you will lose them.  In short, in an Average Church, a Pastor is not a Boss.  He is a partner, a leader and a mentor. But not a boss.

I know that in the early years I fell into this trap with my staff.  I came from a church with a full time staff. I treated my staff as employees who I expected to produce.  I saw myself as a Boss who evaluated their production.  I even gave yearly performance reviews (Are you kidding me? I can’t believe I did that!).  Often saw my staff as employees who were there to do what I want. They ‘worked’ for me and I felt justified in trying to make them do what I wanted.

What a foolish mistake. These people give of themselves, not for me, but for Christ and his church. They are there to serve God, not my agenda.  Once I figured that out, I became their pastor who helped them find their calling rather than a Boss whom they worked for.  I got more joy out of seeing what they wanted to accomplish than seeing them execute what I wanted to accomplish.  That is a Pastor. A Pastor shapes people and helps them become something for God. A Boss only looks over the shoulder of those who work for them to make sure they are doing what they are told.  Don’t be a Boss, be a Pastor.

Your staff are a gift from God. Cherish them. Listen to them. Help them achieve their goals rather than using them to achieve yours.  Build them up by investing in them rather than tearing them down when they don’t measure up.  Be a Pastor, not a Boss.

The Economics of the Average Church

MoneyMatters_categoryGraphicOn this blog we try to focus on the average experience for the average pastor. So much of the church world is focused on the exceptional experience of the most successful churches. Many of the experiences written in leadership books usually reflect the 5-15% of pastors who pastor churches of over 200.

One place where the experience of the average pastor is most profound is in finances.  Nothing is perhaps more of a struggle for the average church than church finances.  My experience over the past 6 years has been a good one.  It has always been a struggle but we have managed our finances well and have had very few crisis moments. For that I thank God and my leadership team that has helped me navigate that.  My church pays me a full time salary and I have several part time staff members we are able to give a small weekly salary to.  But, I know even my experience is the exception.  For many average pastors, they would love to have even my experience.

The economics of the average church are difficult considering a couple of factors:

  • The average church is America is 80 people.
  • The average giving per attendee per month is between $80-$100.
  • The average church in America can only sustain one full time salary (if they can afford it at all) and only at the attendance level of 120 are they able to hire someone to help them. For example, 60% of churches in my state are pastored by bi-vocational pastors. These churches cannot afford to pay a full time salary.
  • Churches that are under 100, if they can pay a pastor full time, usually have to devote between 45%-55% of the income to the salaries, where as larger churches can be 35%-50%.
  • Many average churches are in smaller communities that do not have professional jobs available to people. Smaller communities are only getting smaller. And small churches are only getting poorer.

The economics of the average pastor and average church presents a unique set of challenges that small churches have to face:

  • You are expected to do more with less – People visiting your church expect you to have everything a larger church has, but with only a fraction of the resources.  We simply can’t keep up.
  • The pastor is expected to be just as committed to church life, despite the fact that 60% work jobs outside the church.  There isn’t enough time in the day to be working on developing vision, programs and people like  churches that can support a full time pastor.
  • The pastor usually is dealing with the burden of both the church and their own family money pressures.  Its a double edged sword for most pastors.
  • Many of the burdens of the menial tasks and issues cannot be solved by hiring people or buying a new one of something.  That means more energy is given to keeping something going by doing it yourself or going without.

Average Finances in the Average Church

As frustrating as the above challenges are, some economic realities also come into play for the average church verses the larger church.  If the average church is 80 people and the average per capita giving is $100 per month, then your average monthly income is $8,000.

  • If you pay a pastor, its $3,000 – $4,000 per month (45%-55%).  That is about the average salary for churches that can afford a full time pastor.
  • If you have a mortgage, a good range is 30% of your income; $2,500.
  • That leaves you $1,500-$2,500 for other expenses taxes, insurance, utilities and emergencies.  There is not much room for purchases, additional staff and luxuries like advertisement, hiring people to do lawn care, etc.

However, the example given above of $100 per month per person is the exception.  $80 per month for 50-70 people might be more normal for most of the average pastors I know.

  • Total income would be $4,000-$5,600 per month
  • Pastor’s salary could only be $2,000-$2,800 per month
  • Plus a mortgage, utilities, etc.
  • It is a real challenge to have a great church that offers lots of things and does lots of ministry when you barely can make your financial obligations!

Here is the reality of the average church and economics.

If you lose a family of 4 for whatever reason (move, go to another church, etc), you stand to lose $300-$400 per month for that one family leaving.  If you lose several families in a year, you could lose up to 15-20% of your income.

  • That could mean not buying a new computer for the pastor. So he buys it himself
  • That could mean the church not paying the pastor’s medical insurance (if they are able to at all).
  • That could mean not being able to pay a part time kids pastor or worship leader.
  • That could mean not doing an outreach that would cost $300 or not spending money on an event for the church.
  • That could mean not being able to buy ink cartridges to print bulletins.
  • All of these are realities that average pastors deal with simply by losing one family.

On the flip side, if it is a church of 300 people and the average income is $24,000 per month and they lose one family ($300 pm), you may not even notice it.  It doesn’t change whether or not you pay insurance, whether you can buy printer ink, whether you can by curriculum.  In many ways, a larger church may not even notice an average family giving an average amount in an average month.

The Blessings of Average Church Finances…

Yes, there are some! Its not all bad news and difficulty for us average pastors. There are some benefits I have found for average church economics:

  1. I am forced to be creative.  I used to just buy everything. Now I think of ways to do something without the option of buying it.  For example, most of my stage designs cost less that $25 because I buy things at the dollar store or borrow them from others.  Once you get used to not buying things, you appreciate the value of creativity.
  2. I am forced to use people.  Its easier to hire someone to mow or fix plumbing  or clean the church or build something.  But when you don’t have money, you look to the people in your church to chip in.  I have found that there usually people who enjoy those small tasks that make a big difference.
  3. I appreciate what giving means.  Every dollar has a face in a small church.  I see hard working people giving because they love God.  Therefore I respect each dollar. Its precious and is a gift of worship. The fewer dollars you have, the more you appreciate the people who give them.
  4. One family can change everything.  Because losing one family affects the average church so much, gaining one family can also help so much. For us, there is a huge difference between 70 people and 90 people.  Gaining three or four families can take the stress off and allow us to do so much more. There is a lot of hope that one of two families can bring.

Office Hours And The Average Pastor

office-hoursIf you are an average pastor, you probably work at church by yourself most of the time. Do you keep office hours?  I do.  Most average churches have one full time pastor or less (bi-vocational pastor).  It is rare that a church of 100 people will have more than one full time staff member. I have been a solo pastor for 5 years, but I have been blessed to have at least a part time secretary in the office.  I also have a few others who are around the church a couple times a week for a few hours.  That said, most of my time in the office is by myself.  I come and go as I please without anyone really knowing the difference. I decided to keep office hours every week.  I work Monday – Thursday, 9am – 4pm.  Like clockwork, I am here every day.  I arrive on time and leave on time.  Rarely does someone come by that I haven’t already made an appointment with.  The church phone doesn’t ring often except when it is people selling something. Sometimes I wonder why I bother rushing out the door to come to an empty office.  I could just take my time and come in whenever I want.   Or I could just work from home in my pajamas.  Many pastors do work from home.  But for me, I have found that keeping office hours is good for me, good for others and its good for my family.

It is good for me:

  • I have a job to do:  When I worked on a staff, they expected me to be there because I had a job to do.  That is no less true just because I am the only FT pastor.  I have lots to do.  And I never truly realize how much I have to do until I get here and get to work.  Keeping office hours keeps me on track.
  • I feel good about myself:   In our profession, its isn’t always clear what we are accomplishing all the time.  No one has any idea what we do all day.  But I know what I did today. I showed up and worked hard, just like everyone else that attends this church.  And that makes me feel like I have accomplished alot.  I know that I earned what the church pays me to serve here.

It is good for others:

  • I do work:   It always seems to surprise people that I am “in the office.”  They know my job is not 9-5. Pastoring never is.  So they don’t always expect me to be there.  There are plenty of pastors who have abused that reality.  But knowing I am there helps demonstrate that I am doing what they brought me here to do.  There is accountability and security on both sides.
  • I am available:  It is comforting to my congregation that the understand when they can expect me to be available.  Office hours give people a reasonable time frame that they know I am available to them without feeling like they are imposing on me.  It is a gift to myself and to my congregation.

It is good for my Family:

  • Home is Home, Work is Work: Office hours send a message to my family that I have work time and home time.  Early in my pastoring, if things got busy during the week, I worked on my sermon on Saturday night.  I was not fully present with my family because I was working.  And it caused problems.  I resolved to do my work at work and have my home be my home.  Except on the rare occasions of phone calls and other times I may need to take care of things, my home is reserved for my family. (Read my post “Today I am Not A Pastor” about how I handle my day off.)
  • My kids know I go to “work” every day.  My kids know that their dad goes to work.  We talk and pray before I leave for work. It is a very comforting routine.  But, they know when my day off is.  They know on my day off I am with them.  On work days, I am at work.   It is consistent, week after week. I am showing my sons that responsibility and hard work is part of adult life.  It is a value I hope that they will emulate when they are adults.

There are days I would rather just stay later at home, drink another cup of coffee and play on the floor with my kids. But keeping office hours is vital to my success as a pastor.  It is the frame work of my life.  It keeps me in rhythm and protects my work and family.  Of course, when my time is taken from my family, I do give myself extra time at home as comp time.  I keep that in balance. But it is Monday.  It is 9:00am and I am at my desk ready to take on the challenges of a new week.

Do you keep office hours?  How does it help you?  I’d love to hear from you.

Average Churches = Lots of Ministry, Few Jobs

Average pastors many times are trying to run a church by themselves. We need help. Lots of help.  I have been fortunate to have had people come to my church who have had experience in ministry or have credentials who were not currently in ministry.  They all had one thing in common: They had a regular job, but wanted to be in ministry.  I have been blessed to use many of them in areas of ministry that we needed them for.  But in four years of leading my church, I have not been able to give any of them a ministry job.  I want to, but I can’t.  Our church can only support one salary.  Yet there is so much ministry needed in our church.

This is the great dilemma for the average pastor.   We are overburdened with roles and responsibilities that hinder our effectiveness.  We need the help of lay people and experienced ministers for our churches to be effective.  Some churches have no one to help besides lay people. I have known churches that would love to even just have one experienced person to fill in when the pastor needs a break.  Yet there are experienced pastors sitting in congregations all over you town. They are waiting for ministry jobs.

The average church is great place for people who want to do ministry even if there is no job for them.  Retired pastors, we need your experience.  You can help with the operations and use your skill with the older generation, a vital role in this modern church era.  You have a great role to play as a cheer leader for your church’s future.  In-between ministers, you can serve with your skills in small ways that bring fullness to your church.  Even if it is just doing communion or teaching a class, you bring strength to the leadership team and your unique gifts.  Young ministers can find a place to start out where the stakes are not so high.  Smaller churches give you the opportunity to serve without the pressure to perform.  You can learn and grow with your congregation.

This is the reality of the average church. There is lots of ministry, but very few jobs. We need help. But we haven’t grown to the place to be able to afford help.  Although I have had experienced men and women who have been able to contribute, I have wished for the opportunity to be able to share ministry with them on a day-to-day basis.  But I have no jobs to give them.

If you are in this situation (and I am sure you are) here are some realities I have come to grips with:

  • We are not large enough to provide ministry jobs.  If your church is around 100 people, it is unreasonable to have more than one paid pastor.  Its hard enough to pay the pastor.  That is just the reality.  I can be frustrated about it or change my expectations for my reality.
  • We can give ministry opportunities that big churches can’t.  In churches of multiple staff, the opportunities for non-paid ministers to contribute is minimal.  Usually people with pastoral experience end up just being attenders.  In my church, if they have something to contribute that we need, I can use them.  Even if it isn’t a job.  All of my staff are basically volunteers who serve outside their 40 hour a week jobs.
  • We can give ministers a refreshing break.  When people with ministry experience come to my church, it is always for a season.  We are either helping them heal, giving them space for normalcy, or helping them find new callings.  The average church can be a great place for ministers to contribute in the in-between seasons.
  • We can give young inexperienced leaders a place to start.  With part-time or volunteer ministry, you can give people opportunities lead that larger churches cannot.  I have had two first time worship leaders, one first time youth pastor, and one first time children’s pastor. All this was made possible because we are small enough to use someone without investing a salary in them. We are raising up new leaders.

For those reading this who may be out of ministry for a season, here is some thoughts for you.

  • Don’t be afraid to serve part-time.  You have gifts we need.  We can’t pay you, but it is a win-win. We need your gifts, you need the ministry outlet.
  • Don’t wait for a job to do ministry.  Find something you can do even if it isn’t exactly what you are best at.  I admire ministers who love the church enough to do the things they ask the people they pastor to do.  I need help with little things and big things. And they all matter.  You can help.
  • God has a plan for you.  Don’t be afraid to go to a smaller church to serve. God knows where you are.  There is nothing that says you are more or less likely to get a job based on the size of church you volunteer at.  He will open the door for you for the next assignment.

One final thing I have learned.  It is not my job to make people’s dreams come true.  Pastor, relieve yourself of the responsibility of making things happen for the called people around you.  I would love to give everyone a job or a title that feels called to ministry in my church.  But that is not my job. My job is to lead my church and ask, “God, why have you given me this person for this time.” Match your needs with the people he has given you to the best of your ability. That is all He asks of you.