Uncategorized

Here’s to Pastors

 

REV-amy-butler

 

“So what do you do for a living?”

“Um… a… I’m a pastor.”

(Then following that awkward moment of silence to which all pastors are accustomed, in a surprised and tentative tone…)

“Oh… g-r-e-a-t. That’s great.”

It’s a snippet of small talk pastors dread. They are aware that some people wonder why on earth a sane human being would ever consider being a pastor. It’s such a “different” line of work that defies 21st century American career categories.

Immediately after folks discover you’re a pastor, they wonder to themselves, “What kind of pastor?” Are you an intelligent, open-minded person or an angry, intolerant extremist? Do you get involved in people’s everyday lives in the real world, or do you pray all day in an ivory tower only to work on Sundays? Are you a more like a wise counselor or a manic “The End is Near” sign-wielding street preacher?

Every pastor I know is a little hesitant to answer the “What do you do for a living” question because they know it’s often awkward for the other person. These pastors are kind, thoughtful, people-pleasing types who want everyone to feel comfortable, and they feel bad when other people don’t know how to act around them.

Pastors also get a bad rap because of a small percentage of attention-seekers who act like the moral police of society, spiritual abusers who hurt their congregations, and slick-haired televangelists who dupe gullible people into sending them money in return for promised blessings. These charlatans do not in any way represent the vast majority of pastors. There are 300,000 pastors in the United States who are honest, compassionate, overworked and underpaid leaders in their communities.

Beyond this, I’ve also found that many pastors don’t know how skilled they really are. After working as a full-time Development Director in a nonprofit charitable organization, I can assure you that pastors are incredibly skilled in several areas.

1. Pastors are skilled fundraisers.

I’m not talking about gimmick-dependent televangelists. I’m talking about the average church that gets involved in their community and meets tangible needs. For example, the typical nonprofit obtains half of their revenue from government grants. Churches certainly do not. Pastors who know how to inspire people and raise funds for a cause, without government funding, are far more skilled fundraisers than many executives in the nonprofit world. And, no, these pastors don’t fly in private jets. Most pastors in America make about as much as school teachers.

2. Pastors are effective advertisers.

On top of that, pastors are often gifted advertisers. While church is not a business, the same principles of communication that work at Apple also work in church. If a pastor effectively builds anticipation and momentum for a new sermon series or a new ministry, she or he has successfully employed the same skills used by the marketing geniuses at Geico or Anheuser-Busch. While they might lack some of the industry jargon, effective pastors could step into a marketing role in corporate America and likely turn heads with their insight.

3. Pastors are moving speakers.

Then, except for the most silver-tongued of political figures, many pastors I know can give a more moving, soul-stirring speech than nationally known politicians. There are U.S. senators who wish they could give a speech half as good as the average pastor’s weekly sermon. Whether the topic is secular or spiritual, effective communication is effective communication, and many pastors are far better at it than they realize.

4. Pastors are among the best leaders.

Finally, when it comes to leadership, and I really mean this, pastors are some of the best leaders on the planet. Why? According to leadership gurus like Peter Drucker, Ken Blanchard, and John Maxwell, it’s because they lead volunteers. When a leader depends on volunteers, she or he can’t threaten workers with a cut in pay. Instead, an effective pastor leads by inspiration and example, and this is the pinnacle of leadership. Even pastors who consider themselves to be average leaders can beat the socks off of a corporate manager who drags along paid employees only because of a title and fear of a bad review. If you can lead volunteers, you’re in the upper echelon of leaders. Period.

So, in spite of awkward introductions at parties, most pastors are giving, selfless leaders who are far more gifted than they realize, and their skills could propel them to success in many fields.

If you’re a church-goer, why not send your pastor a thank you email this week? Let her or him know that you appreciate the long hours, the wise guidance, the time they spend with people in the deepest valleys of life, and the way they inspire you to be a better person.

If you are a caring and thoughtful pastor, please here this…

Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you for working nights and weekends, for your thick skin, for your Mdiv student loans, for your perseverance, for your family’s commitment even when it hurts, and for your personal sacrifice that makes people’s lives better.

Here’s to pastors.

Standard
Uncategorized

Differentiation: Your Church Must Be Different… in More Ways than You Think

light-bulb-idea-discovery-unique-different-ss-1920

Two of the biggest reasons new churches fail:

  1. Not being different enough…
  2. And not clearly communicating that difference to your city.

When people ask you, as a progressive church planter, what your new church is all about, it’s not enough to say:

“Our church welcomes the LGBTQ community.”

I applaud you for making that choice like I have. You give the world hope, and I wish every church would make that same decision. That is not enough of a foundation, however, to guarantee the survival of the new church you’re planting.  There are actually plenty of progressive churches in your town that are mostly invisible and irrelevant to your city and on the verge of closing. Even if your church is the only one in town that is progressive or welcoming to the LGBTQ community, if your city doesn’t know it, they can’t connect with your new church.

It’s also not enough to say:

“Our church is different from Religious Right, closed-minded churches.”

Ultimately, people will not stay in your church based on what you’re against; they will stay based on what you’re for.

First, to help you determine what your church is for, here are 3 questions from an incredibly effective planter and pastor named Adam Hamilton that sum it up nicely. If you’re going to start a new church, you have to be able to answer these 3 questions.

  • Why do people need Jesus?
  • Why do people need the Church (worldwide)?
  • Why do people need this church (the church you’re starting)?

Second, here are some questions to help you begin to differentiate:

  • What makes your church different from the other churches that dominant the landscape?
  • How does your church positively communicate those differences to your city?
  • In what creative ways can you help people you’re trying to reach immediately see your church as different (this is branding and marketing, and they are extremely important)?

If you want to talk more about how to differentiate the church you’re starting, contact me at ryan.gear@onechurch.com.

Standard
Church Planting, Uncategorized

Funding Your Church Plant: The Right People Should Pay for It… And It’s Not the Pastor’s Kids

Financial-Stress

I occasionally coach church planters, and there is a common denominator between all of them.

They are underpaid.

Shocker, eh?

Nondenominational planters especially are underpaid because they often lack the deep pockets of denominational funders. Unfortunately, some denominations underfund plants, as well, not realizing that an investment in effective planters will eventually result in far more denominational growth and funding.

On top of these challenges, it is very difficult for pastors to raise funds from the new church’s launch team, because so many people in our culture parrot cliches about pastors being in it for the money. Contrary to 30-year old cultural memes still justified by the unethical actions of 1980s televangelists, most pastors are not even close to being in it for the money. Similar to schoolteachers, most pastors are grossly overworked and underpaid.

So, an inspired, idealistic, well-intentioned (and naive) pastor goes out into the field to start something that brings hope to lots of people, totally unmotivated by money. She sacrifices, works long hours, spends less time with family than she wants, inspires people, and pulls a new church together. She tends to downplay her own needs, while the growing congregation appreciates her dedication but is unaware of the daily financial pressure she feels.

Then, after a few years of struggling to pay the pills, she is forced into a another line of work to make ends meet. The church can’t even hire a successor because they don’t pay a competitive salary and never have.

Like everything else in life, the truth is that someone will have to pay for the new church. Every pastor has a right to earn a fair, honest living, and any congregation that wants to be viable has the responsibility to fund it.

If, as a planting pastor, you struggle to ask for a raise or to believe that your family deserves for you to be paid fairly, here are a couple of questions for you:

1. Should the financial obligations of a church be spread across the whole congregation, or should they be placed squarely upon your family?

In other words, which is easier, for everyone in a 100 person congregation to give $5 more per week (which adds up to $26,000 per year), or for your kids to have less than they need because you are underpaid by $26,000 per year?

Compensating a pastor fairly is actually a small sacrifice if the expense is shared by the congregation. Either the congregation pays the bills or the pastor’s kids do. It’s one or the other.

What if you don’t have children?

You probably will someday, and they will be affected by the financial decisions you make now.

2. How would the people in your congregation respond if they actually knew the financial toll the plant takes on you, and if you’re married, the toll it takes on your marriage?

They would probably feel embarrassed and immediately take steps to pay you adequately. If not, then it might be time to leave and let them face reality.

If they simply had more information about the average compensation for pastors, they might make it right far more quickly than you think. Perhaps Googling “pastor compensation guide” and sharing it with your elders or church board would be a good first step. Or perhaps you could invite a church planting coach or consultant to talk with your board and speak the truths you find it difficult to say. They are probably more open to reality than you realize.

Whichever you choose, remaining underpaid until you no longer can is not an option. It will simply ruin your financial future, and you will eventually leave the church because you have no choice. Your congregation will then realize that they have to give the pastor who follows you a massive raise just to be competitive, and they will probably wish they would have done more to help you.

It’s better to be humbly honest now and let them know what you need. The right people should pay for your church plant… all of the people in it.

Standard
Uncategorized

Jesus Was A Refugee

syrian-refugees-opener-615

(This article originally appeared at Huffington Post Religion here.)

Just two months ago, the photo of little Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a beach in Turkey shocked the world. Following the discovery of the 3-year-old Syrian refugees’ body lying face down in the position in which toddlers often sleep, the American public compassionately offered a home to a few thousand more children just like Aylan. How quickly things have changed.

Following last week’s terrorist attack in Paris, 31 U.S. governors (at last count) have issued statements that they will not welcome Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Nevermind that governors are powerless to close state borders to anyone living in the country, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.

Why? Perhaps it’s because the Syrian refugee crisis parallels the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely. Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, depicts a Middle Eastern family who were looking for a place to stay, only to be told there was no room for them. Then, Matthew tells us that after his birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby Jesus to Egypt… as refugees fleeing from violence. The irony of Christians rejecting refugees right before we put up the Christmas decorations is hard to miss, even for those who often do miss the irony of their faith and political positions.

Second, Jesus offers a sobering description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the refugee. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

In His depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus, as the King, clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him. Who are “the least of these?” While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for having universalized the love of neighbor.

In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos, which can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant or stranger.” In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. The apprehension some feel is understandable, but there is another view for us to consider.

In addition to Jesus’ warning about the Last Judgment, there are likely earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees will actually create more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States, as turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS.

In their fear of terrorism, most of the governors in Middle America, with their purely political statements, have likely already reinforced an anti-Muslim perception of the United States. One could easily make an argument that these statements of rejection have already handed the terrorists a win.

If these governors are acting according to the wishes of their people, then it only took one terrorist attack in Western Europe to apparently change American opinion against welcoming Syrian refugees, many of whom are small children. The terrorists’ most powerful weapon is, well, terror, and if these governors and their supporters fear an attack so intensely that they are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t already won? Not only have they taken human lives, they have now succeeded in taking away our humanity.

For Christians, including many conservative evangelicals, the fact that Jesus himself was a refugee and that we will be judged partially on our hospitality to the stranger, rejecting refugees should be troubling. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, both the life experience and the teaching of Jesus are simply too relevant to the current refugee crisis for Christians to ignore.

Standard
Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Social Justice, Uncategorized

Here’s What Jesus Says About Welcoming Refugees

syrian-refugees-opener-615

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

At last count, 31 governors have issued statements that they will not allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states. Nevermind that governors probably do not have the power to enforce state borders, their statements have come under fire from many, including evangelicals who usually support conservative political leaders.

Why?

Because this latest example of xenophobia conflicts with the details of Jesus’ life a little too closely.

Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic.
First, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees. The nativity scene, after all, is about a Middle Eastern family looking for a place to stay. Matthew tells us that after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph fled with the baby to Egypt. Turning away refugee families right before we put up Christmas decorations is too ironic even for those who often miss the irony of their political views and professed faith.

Second, Jesus gives an ominous description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 that directly speaks to the issue of welcoming the foreigner. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus declares, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Conversely, “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

While one could argue over the definition of “brothers and sisters,” Jesus is known for universalizing the love of neighbor. It is perhaps one of Jesus’ unique contributions to moral teaching in human history. In his depiction of the Last Judgment, Jesus is the King, and He clearly states that how we treat who He calls “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” is how we treat Him.

Who are “the least of these?”

Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment.
In verse 28, we learn that one category of “the least of these” is the “stranger.” How does Jesus define “stranger?” Matthew was originally written in Greek, and the Greek word that we translate as stranger is xenos. Xenos can be translated into English as “foreigner, immigrant, or stranger.”

In other words, when we don’t welcome the foreigner, Jesus takes it personally.

Let us acknowledge that even though it’s an unpopular thought in twenty-first-century America, Jesus says that those who reject “the least of these” will face eternal punishment. Needless to say, that statement should give pause to all of those who claim to follow Jesus Christ, yet quickly reject the stranger.

We are wise, of course, to ask questions about public safety and the possibility of terrorists embedding themselves within refugee groups. I understand the apprehension that some feel who are sincerely concerned about the safety of U.S. citizens, and I do not dismiss their concerns as trivial. There is another view, however, for us to consider.

Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS.
In addition to Jesus’ warning about the afterlife, conceivably there are earthly consequences to not welcoming the stranger. Perhaps not welcoming refugees would create more terrorists who would seek to harm the United States. Turning away families in their time of need could prove to be a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. If a mother and father seeking a safe land for their children are denied hospitality, they will not feel goodwill towards the country that rejected them. Furthermore, if their children were to die because of hardship, why would be surprised if grieving parents were to act in revenge?

Finally, one could easily make an argument that rejecting the refugees allows the terrorists to win. Their most powerful weapon is, well, terror. If we fear an attack so intensely that we are willing to deny hospitality to refugee children, who could argue that the terrorists haven’t won? Not only have they taken human lives, they will have succeeded in taking away our humanity.

Many Christians, including conservative evangelicals, realize that Jesus speaks clearly on this matter. No matter how many governors claim there is no room in the inn, the teaching of Jesus is simply too relevant to the current situation for Christians to ignore.

(This article originally appeared at OnFaith here.)

Standard
Uncategorized

Arizona Education Cuts Amount to a Tax on Women, Children, and Their Families

arizona_education_cuts

As a pastor in Arizona, I value one particular book very highly, but I have personally felt the power of education to improve lives. I received an outstanding public school education in my hometown in Ohio, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I eventually earned a Master’s Degree. I believe in education, and even a casual reading of the Bible reveals that the nurture of children is deeply embedded in Judeo-Christian values.

Sadly, Arizona children may not have the same educational opportunities I received. Repeated state budget cuts to public education have knocked Arizona to near the bottom of the country in education funding.

As Arizona voters know well, the most recent budget cuts came after a four-day budgeting process ending in a budget passed in the middle of the night. Arizona has cut total education spending by 32% since the recession of 2008, more than any other state in the country.

The cuts have reduced education resources for Arizona’s children, from kindergarten to college. According to the Arizona Education News Service:

In Arizona, 41 mostly small, rural districts were on a four-day school week this school year. Next year, Apache Junction and Coolidge Unified will join them in an effort to cut costs, while Peoria Unified decided against it in early April and approved a plan at their board meeting last week to reduce expenses in other ways.

The effects of these cuts on our children’s education are devastating, and the cuts were not limited to elementary, junior high, and high school. From the Arizona Republic:

According to the report released Tuesday night by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona is spending 47 percent less this year per college student than it did in 2008, adjusted for inflation. That’s a larger percentage cut than any other state, equating to $3,053 less annually per student.

The budget cuts further reduced funding to college students and actually eliminated all funding for Arizona’s three largest community college districts. In response to the cuts, Arizona college and university tuition has risen more than any other state since the Great Recession, placing the financial burden squarely on lower and middle class students and their parents who were already struggling to afford college anyway.

In addition, the repeated budget cuts have led to a teacher shortage in Arizona. The 2013-2014 school year saw a 29% increase in the number of substitute teachers, as 62% of school districts reported open teaching positions in their schools. Last school year, 74% of Arizona schools had between one and five teacher positions open in September. This school year, a member of the church I serve who is a principal in the Southeast Valley of Phoenix lamented that it was very difficult to hire enough teachers. As to the cause of the teacher shortage, 42% of former teachers reported that the primary reason they left teaching was to pursue a career offering higher wages. Already underpaid Arizona teachers simply can’t afford these cuts.

These budget cuts disproportionately affect women. In 2012, over two-thirds of all public school teachers in the U.S. were female. When public teachers pay, women pay. Not only are the budget cuts impacting Arizona students and their families, the cuts are directly affecting the jobs of thousands of Arizona women.

It may come as a surprise to some Arizona voters that the deep cuts to education coincided with tax cuts given to corporations. In 2011, while Arizona was still recovering from the Great Recession, lawmakers passed a bill giving a 30% tax cut to corporations, amounting to $270 million, more than K-12 received in funds. Prior to the 2011 tax cuts, nearly two-thirds of Arizona corporations reportedly paid almost no state tax. While I understand the need to lure new businesses to create jobs, Arizona’s excellent cities, abundant sunshine, and natural beauty can still help to attract corporations and employees, even if corporations foot something at least in the ballpark of their fair share of the tax burden.

Ironically, the education cuts may actually reduce the number of new jobs produced in Arizona. Phoenix Business Journal recently reported that two companies that would have added 3,000 new good-paying jobs in Phoenix chose to expand to other cities instead. What was the reason these companies took their 3,000 new jobs elsewhere? One manager explained:

“My key managers didn’t want to relocate to Arizona despite the golf and the weather,” said one decision-maker. “They were afraid they would not find good schools for their own children. They also felt that the state’s reputation for poor education would affect the ability to recruit talent from outside.”

Along with slower than recent migration to Arizona, the tax cuts actually created the deficit that the education cuts remedied. In 2015, however, the corporate tax cuts remained in place, while the education budget was further reduced. When tax cuts create a deficit, someone has to pay the bill, and the ones paying now are Arizona women and children. So much for “women and children first.” Speaking as a pastor, both the Jewish and Christian scriptures call this an injustice.

While Arizona cut its education budget more than any other state, it is not the only state to drastically cut funding for public education. Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Kansas have instituted deep cuts as well. Voters should be aware that the governors of these states seem to be following a shared pattern of behavior and also share a well-documented connection to the same donors and influencers. The education cuts appear to be part of a multi-state agenda.

Arizona voters are practical enough to know that there is a difference between fiscal conservatism and fiscal irresponsibility. Instead of asking corporations and those with means to pay anything close to their fair share of the cost, the repeated cuts to Arizona public education amount to a tax on Arizona lower and middle class families, and especially on women and children.

Standard