IS YOUR PLATE TOO FULL

Our churches been going through a time of revitalization. We have changed our name, and moved out of our dated facility. However, we began a study this past week on our roles within the church.

Over the past few years and especially in the months of praying through this revitalization process I have been questioning my role and the role of people in the church.

You are not really a jack-of-all-trades

Somewhere in history the ministers role changed. Many people expect us to be the go to person for nearly everything that comes up. We need to know the best dish soap for the kitchen, how to tweak the sound system, how to fix a copier, and computer programming. Then you should be an expert on marriage, raising kids, and ailments of the elderly when people seek advice.

The truth is we are not called to be everything or everywhere, after all that is God’s role not a ministers role.

OUR ROLE IS EQUIPPING AND PREPARING PEOPLE TO SERVE ONE ANOTHER

In his book”Designed to Lead, Eric Geiger reminds that Ephesians 4:11 tells what the pastor, teacher,and apostle’s main role is.

The main role we serve is in equipping the saints for service.

I wonder how much better and how many more would be served by people simply serving where God intended us.

WE MUST HELP OTHERS FIND AND SERVE THEIR ROLES

We don’t just step away from everything. We must bring others into the process of growing in their own roles. Then the church can be what it is meant to be.

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LIVING THROUGH FINANCIAL REGRET: Use Caution in Pursuit of Ministry Education.

I have thought of writing for sometime. I am part of a denomination that doesn’t require a Masters Degree to pastor, in fact up until about 10 years ago the usual people going on for a Masters degree were teachers and some upper leaders or pastors of very large or Mega-churches.

Then we started pushing a seminary, and encouraging more education. I chose to get a jump on the band wagon, and went for a four-year M-DIV. I was warned of the risks financially, but hoped for opportunity to teach part-time at a college or online. I never had aspirations of a larger church or denominational position, since God placed the call of local church ministry on my heart.

Seven years later I honestly feel much of my extra training has proven of little value. When the financial strain of debt and serving in a small local church is considered then the payoff seems far less than helpful.

Here are the good and bad that I see and have experienced.

THE GOOD OF MY SEMINARY DEGREE

  • A deeper understanding of the technical terms and biblical languages: Yes, I can say I have a better understanding of language and the Bible. However, with the great Bible programs available the knowledge is available to all of us.
  • A bit of growth in my personal devotion life: I did grow in spiritual discipline and growth. I believe there are far less expensive ways to achieve this.
  • Some understanding of how the administration of church works: again I may have grown un this area, but a community college might have helped in managment for a far more reasonable price.
  • Bringing me into contact with people outside my normal daily contacts: we need to learn to move beyond out of our comfort zones and be comfortable with all people. This is a plus to seminary, but could be accomplished with mission trips or serving local mission groups.

THE BAD OR LESS IMPORTANT

  • A huge financial burden: I am no different than others. I’d just paid off my 4 year Bachelors when I returned to pursue a Masters degree. I racked up a burden of $100,000. I pastor, like many in a small rural community, and never should have pursed further education.
  • A degree that serves no purpose outside of church realm: An MDIV, or Masters in the Bible are only recognized by churches and church administrators. No one in the world cares that you know Greek, Hebrew, or planning worship. In fact having a Masters Degree will close some doors, because people will not think you will take a job with a high degree.
  • A flooded system of seminarians means the job market isn’t easy: I had hoped to supplement income as a part-yine college professor. Here’s the rub, like most jobs,if you don’t know the right people you will not get a second look. Furthermore, with so many others now pursuing higher degree you’ll be lost in the pile of others seeking jobs or supplements to their income. Many tell us there is need of pastors, but you must consider that most places in need are smaller churches. This means lower pay and in most cases the need to be bi-vocational to supplement income.

EXTRA THINGS TO CONSIDER IF YOUR WONDERING IF SEMINARY IS FOR YOU

  • Cost: Seminary will cost anywhere from $65,000 – $150,000 depending on where you attend.
  • Find seminars or even mission trips to grow your personal life: I realize today that most of the lasting benefits of my extra higher education only built on my Bachelor’s in Bible and religion. Most of those enhanced training could have come from seminars. I’d say over 25 years of ministry I’ve received far more from pastor and leadership retreats than any degree class I’ve taken.
  • Realize a piece of paper has little or no serious effect on serving, teaching, or preaching: Training is needed, but a degree doesn’t make good preachers or pastors. A heart of faith and service make a person a minister. Many less trained people preach and teach better then higher trained ministers.
  • In a growing bi-vocational ministry world consider what training will truly serve you, your family, and your church outreach in the future: In my experience I would have done better ten years ago pursuing a teaching degree. I am limited to substitute teaching as one of the few jobs in my are to supplement income. I’ve wondered how if I’d have gotten a degree for teaching I might be less financially burdened, and my church freer to put more money toward other ministry. A business degree, counseling degree, or technical training in some cases might actually provide a better place for bi-vicational work and open more doors for witness and ministry in your community.
  • Above all, be sure it’s really God’s Plan and not your human hope or desire that drives you: be in deep prayer. It’s easy to think something is right, while missing what God really desires.

I am not saying not to pursue education or that education is evil. I am saying that we should be more open to God’s leading, and be very cautious about pursuing extra higher educational degrees. I also believe most denominations need to reconsider what the need in ministers, and find ways to offer needed training without the financial burden. Such burdens always effect the minister, family, and church. This is s burden for all in the church and we must find better ways to increase knowledge and depth without the destruction of debt.

I wish I had the miraculous answer, but I don’t. All I can do is share my experience and hope others are more cautious than I was.

May Jesus bless your journey.

Advice for the Small-Town Pastor, From a Small-Town Pastor (Part 1)

By R. Duane Cragun

 

Today I had lunch with a fellow pastor of a larger church. During our conversation he asked me if I had ever been asked advice from another pastor in my type of setting, I responded “yes, I have.” Then he surprised me by telling me he was going on a mission trip and one place he would be stopping was a church of only nine people, then he said, “What do I do?”  This took me back to a friend that called me and asked the same question about six years ago, he was trained like most of us by different pastor’s and profs, that had served in a larger church setting. Nothing he had been told seemed to work, he had no staff, little funds, no space, and the people seemed to resist any changes that he wanted to bring to the church.  I pondered my response to him, and I have decided to write a three-part blog about what I have learned over the years I have served in a small church setting.

Part 1. Learn:

This may sound odd to you, but the greatest thing we can do when serving ether in a larger congregation or a smaller one is to learn from our people.  We learn by listening to what they say, and looking for areas that seem to be of concern to them. Remember, many smaller churches have a history of changing pastors every two to four years, they have not really had a chance to every develop a vision for their church ministry. In my own experience, I went to a church that was 115 years old and I was the 84th Pastor, you do the math.  The fact is that they would often say to me, “We are a good place for starting pastors.” When I asked about their missional vision, they had no idea of what the vision was. So, I spent the first two years learning about them, which also allowed them to learn about me.

I didn’t just look at old glory day records, I talked with people that remembered them.  I also conversed with them about why those days had ended. This does not mean that I am not a progressive pastor, I am, but I also know that people will resist change that seems to exclude their wishes and likes. Many of the prior pastors where young, just out of college.  They were pastors that wanted to make the next mega church. This isn’t a bad thing, but it cannot be done by excluding the current church body. So, I took some time to learn my congregation.

I also learned about the social needs within our community. Here are some of my findings see if they reflect any in your situation. I found a high divorce rate, high unemployment, high drug and alcohol consumption, and a high school level or less for the average education of the people. Learning this helped me to understand how to speak to needs within the community and how to better communicate to the people.

I became involved in the community watch program as this town was so small it did not even have a police officer. I started volunteering in the local school system to learn what the younger members of our community saw as important within the church. In all of these things, I learned about the people of the community in which I served.

I learned very quickly that the members the congregation did not want two things to happen, (1) they did not want any “big church pastor to tell them what to do in their small church.”  It was not that they didn’t like the larger church.  They just did not like be treated, or what they saw a being treated, like dumb people by those in a larger church. (2)  They didn’t want the pastor making big plans and then leave them with the continuation or problems.

When you are called to a smaller church setting, be prepared to commit to seeing it through. I stayed ten years at my last church assignment, and many changes were made.  This included me teaching them to stop saying “we are a good place for starting pastors.” Instead they began saying “we are a good place to pastor.” But it all has to start by being still and listing.