For the past few weeks, I’ve been doing something that I haven’t done since I was in college. I’ve been going to church on Sunday without being paid for being there. I don’t have to go if I don’t want to. But I actually do want to be there. I even want to serve and I don’t want or expect any money for doing it.
I’ve gone amateur.
I’m not saying that the paycheck was the only reason I went to church when I was on staff, but when going to church is also going your job, it’s impossible not to occasionally have mixed motives. For example, when the average church member misses a church service, they are missed and prayed for. When one of the ministers on staff misses a Sunday, the same things happen, but they also use a vacation day or a sick day. They must refer to the employee handbook to see exactly how many absences are allowed without it affecting their pay. For a minister, missing a day at church is not only missing out on worship and fellowship, but it’s also a business decision that could affect their career.
I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that.
I realize that every paid job involves hours, absences, time sheets, and all that other administrative stuff, but this is church. Church should be different, right? But it gets even more complicated that. Not only is a minister’s church involvement affected by the job, but the minister’s own spiritual health can get mixed up in the pursuit of a paycheck.
According to a Barna poll, 70% of pastors admit that the only time they study the Word is when they’re preparing for a lesson. Even more, when a church member is struggling with sin, they can go to their Sunday School class or small group and pour out their hearts to get support and encouragement. However, when you’re on staff in a congregationally governed church, those small group members are not only your friends and companions, they’re also you’re employers. Most people only have one or maybe even two bosses to keep happy, but a minister has hundreds and they hold the power to hire and fire you. A minister who confesses their struggles to the church at large could be putting their job on the line (depending on how invincible a congregation wants their ministers to appear.)
So because they need to keep that job, many ministers hold it all inside, putting on a strong outward appearance to keep anyone from seeing their weakness. Then, because they have no one to turn to, the sin in their life is free to fester. Maybe that’s why 50% of pastors polled say they are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry, but they stay because they don’t have any other way to make a living. Sometimes, they keep their job by forfeiting their soul.
I hate talking about church using terms like “paycheck,” “employer,” and “professional.” The church is not a business, but it’s easy to forget that when church is your job. It’s easy to become a professional Christian. I’m definitely not opposed to paying ministers; they work extremely hard and deserve to be compensated. I admire the godly men who are able to serve on a church staff without letting the job (or the fear of losing it) take over their spiritual lives. I just personally am happy being an amateur for now.
If you’re interested in reading more about those statistics and the pressure that ministers face in their jobs, I strongly encourage you to read Mark Driscoll’s Death by Ministry series, compiled here in a handy PDF file.