Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Bruce Gerencser begins his 7th post in his My Journey series, What Should We Do About Bruce?, with a lament about earning a living as a pastor.

As a preacher and the son of a pastor, I’ve gained a few insights into what pastors go through. Bruce points out the highlights, beginning with the application process:

“While I had many opportunities to pastor again I was no longer willing to go to go through the dog and pony show required to get a Church…”

Here’s the deal: Most churches want a pastor who fits a certain ideal. They want a self-starter, an enthusiastic revivalist, a preacher who preaches the sermon with a belly full of fire and a tear in his eye. In essence, they want someone who will do the work of the Church… all by himself. Well, all by himself and with his family’s help, of course. They’re looking for someone to feed them their Bible, to offer good counseling and to reach the lost. So they pick someone based on their enthusiasm level, the positive tenor of their messages, and their pleasantness at the after-church buffet. The problem is that a pastor’s job, according to the Bible, is to equip folks for the working of the ministry. He leads you to green pasture, but if your belly’s not full by day’s end it’s because you didn’t do your part. Likewise, sheep begat sheep, so the work of evangelism belongs to everyone. We shouldn’t be expecting someone to do it all. No one can. In fact, even the Apostles felt overwhelmed trying to do it all, which is where we first got deacons.

In case you’re wondering, I don’t really put on a show for anyone, even if they’re considering for pastor… perhaps especially so.

Bruce’s next few objections deal with the dirty little subject of money:

“I came to see that I sold my services too cheap. I allowed Churches to take advantage of my family and I and I came to see that Churches were quite willing to keep me in the poor house for the sake of the kingdom of God.

I came to the conclusion that many Churches deserved to die, and, quite frankly, many of the Churches that contacted me about pastoring their Churches didn’t deserve the dedication and effort I would give them. I was a good pastor. A hard-working pastor. A selfless pastor. I always put the Church first. The Church bills always got paid before I did. I worked seven days a week for poverty wages. No benefits. No insurance. Not ONE Church I pastored in 25 years offered any form of benefit package or insurance.

Granted, I did this willingly. No one forced me to live this way. I CHOSE to do so. (to the degree that anyone who feels they are called by God can choose to do so)”

We’ve already touched upon how Bruce made the all-too-common error of putting Church before his family, so I’ll refer you to that post for a fuller treatment.

Yet I want to note that he does point out two problems that pastor’s face:

  1. They put in a lot of time and sacrifice that is generally unappreciated, if noted at all. It’s sort of taken for granted that a pastor will teach, preach, pray, marry, bury, counsel, help, visit and otherwise serve his flock. What’s not generally considered is where he gets the time to do that AND take care of his family.
  2. Churches expect a well-educated, ordained minister, but do not expect to pay him according to his educational level. Not all churches can. Here in Appalachia, a pastor can pretty much count on being bi-vocational, with few exceptions. I know pastors who receive a percentage of the tithes, a small fixed monthly amount that no one else in the church could expect to live on, their health insurance paid but nothing else, or, inevitably, no pay at all. Oh, they want several services and Bible studies a week, plus weddings, baptisms, funerals, camps, small groups, revivals, visitations [evangelistic, hospital, shut-ins, and prisons, respectively], and all the rest, but they have no problem with breaking the Scriptural commandment not to muzzle the ox that treads the corn [metaphorically speaking].

He’s right to note that churches want a minister with a degree in, say, pastoral studies, yet they do not pay that minister enough to get by on, much less to pay off his educational debts. This is a miserable situation, especially since a college degree is not really necessary for ministry.

Yes, you read that right. When we come down to brass tacks, all that is required for ministry is unction, serious attention to Bible study and prayer, and a willingness to serve. That’s it. Education can be beneficial, of course, but I’ve seen country preachers with an 8th grade education aflame with Holy Ghost unction leading vibrant, missions-minded congregations, and endured the well-prepared, intelligently crafted sermons of dry, unction-less doctors of theology with churches that more resembled social clubs or living museums. Likewise, I’ve heard clever, even entertaining speakers with relevant, engaging topics who yet lacked unction; they were nothing more than good motivational speakers. And of course, I’ve also heard the impressive thunderings of fiery preachers who were nonetheless clearly full of hot air and a double portion of plain ignorance. It should be considered a sin to make the preaching of the Word of God boring, or a spectacle, or a mere moralizing homily. Worse still, these so-called preachers who try to make it a means of worldly gain and spiritualized materialism.

What makes all the difference is a man of God who preaches with unction, serves with love and humility, and studies the Word to show himself approved. Nothing more is required.

I digress.

It should be noted that these articles admit what is pretty much common knowledge: that there is a difference between the Biblical ideal and the reality of what a pastor is paid. While this should not be so, it is the stark reality of the situation and a man called to pastor should expect to be ready for this state of affairs.

Still, the root of bitterness would have had no place to take hold in Bruce Gerencser’s ministry if the churches he served had been more careful to obey the Bible in this area.

If you’d like more information on the sorts of salaries a pastor can expect, the expenses he will incur as a part of the ministry, or suggestions on what to pay a pastor and how even a poor parish can provide benefits, you should check out these two articles:

A Pastor’s Salary

http://www.crown.org/library/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=148

What To Pay The Pastor

http://www.christianitytoday.com/cbg/2000/mayjun/3.22.html

God bless you, and God bless your pastor,

Tony Breeden

 

Bruce Gerencser’s sixth post in his My Journey series on how he came to apostacize covers ground we explored in his first post. Via a clever analogy of the Church as Mistress[OK, I admit that his likening his weekly counselling sessions to getting a weekly VD shot was a bit much], he explains how what we often call church ministry consumed his life, his relationship with his family and ultimately affected his health, both mentally and physically.

Unfortunately, none of this was ever necessary. As I stated in my maiden post:

“God never intended for any minister [or any of the laity for that matter] to sacrifice their families upon the altar of church business or even ministry. Speaking of those who oversee the churches, the Bible plainly states the following necessary qualification:

“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” 1 Timothy 3:4-5

This brings up an interesting insight. If you cannot manage your own household, you cannot be expected to manage the household of God; therefore, a man’s ministry to his family comes before his ministry to the church. It has to, because it is the barometer of his fitness for ministry. If his family is a wreck, he’s not fit for ministry, so how then can he be expeced to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry??

The answer is, of course, that he can’t and that he shouldn’t. Yet so many Christians, clergy and laity alike, fall into this trap, where they suppose they are putting God first by placing their families after ministry. This should not be so. The very fact that the church is called the family of God is because God patterned his church after the family, the very first institution He established.

Bruce strained his marriage, his relationship with his children and his family’s well-being for a noble purpose. But it was wrong. God cares about the family. God is not Molech that He should desire the sacrifice of our children! Ministry together and mutual sacrifice for a greater cause is one thing, but if we put church before God, we’ve got our priorities out of whack.”

It’s very easy to get God and church backwards, but so many people do it.

This brings up the issue we explored in our last post, whether folks who abandon the faith were ever saved. I think that Bruce’s post gives us a bit of insight into the problem. In our last post, I stated that:

“Being a Christian is more than adherance to a lifestyle or a commitment to doing Christian things and saying Christian things. It’s a relationship: You know God and He knows you, intimately.

Here’s the rub: Bruce [and I’m sure countless others] will say that they truly knew Him whom they believed, but if we really knew Him and He knew us, how could we ever think to leave Him? If we truly knew Him and loved Him as we claimed, how could we not endure anything, overcome anything, do whatever we had to to stay in the relationship? The answer is that Bruce and I never knew Him. We knew about Him. We certainly thought we knew Him. But if we had truly known Him [as I know Him now], we could never have left.”

But we were passionate about the ministry, we were totally devoted to ministry for Jesus, right? And here we gain further insight into the problem: While we thought we were in a life-giving relationship with Christ, we were really in a life-sucking affair with Church. It’s very easy to do. We get so busy doing ministry that we miss the fact that the object of our devotion is Church. Instead of the church being the body of believers working toward a common goal of discipling the world and one another, it becomes the end-all and be-all of our faith.

Want further proof? OK, do you invite folks to church or do you invite them to follow Christ? Do you hear about someone’s problems and cluck that they need to be in church, or do you say that they need Jesus? Do you need to be coaxed and guilted into reading your Bible, praying, doing good works, witnessing and doing devotions with your kids? Worse, is Sunday [and/or midweek Bible study] the only time you crack open your Bible, bother to pray a non-meal-related prayer, etc? Do you rely on your pastor to feed you? Or is your relationship with Christ so passionate that you can’t survive on that minimum? Do you read the Bible seekig His will for you and to learn more about your Beloved? Likewise, do you witness out of obligation or guilt, or because you can’t stop talking about one of your chief passions? Do you go to church out of guilt, or a desire to fellowship with folks who love Christ as you do?

Do you see the difference here? What we’re asking, if you’re saved, is have you left your first love for a mistress of duty, guilt and obligation? If you’re not saved, did you substitute Church or Christianity for Chirst?

Because it makes all the difference.

-Rev Tony Breeden

As I finished reading Bruce Gerencser’s first post in the My Journey series, Why I Retired From The Ministry, I was left with two distinct impressions:

1. This guy undeniably had a mid-life crisis:

“I have become progressive in my thinking and I identify with more liberal causes and beliefs. I am not the man I once was but neither am I the man I want to me. As my friend Tammy Schoch told me recently “it is normal in mid-age to revaluate one’s beliefs and to readjust or change your beliefs accordingly.””

2. He somehow got God and Church backwards. It’s a common error. From Billy Graham to the preacher next door, clergy get it in their heads that since God is first in their lives, Church or ministry needs to be first as well. But that just ain’t what the Good Book says.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Bruce’s sobering post lists many reasons for why he left the ministry, but we get the not-so-subtle impression that it was affecting his health, physical and mental…

“I have numbness in my face , hands, and legs. My doctor ruefully told me that he is uncertain as to what my actual neurological problem is. I’ll just have to wait to see what “breaks.” I am a type A, perfectionist work-a-holic. I worked myself into a physical collapse thinking all the while that anyone cared how hard I worked. God didn’t and neither did the people I pastored.”

“I came to the realization that I was was full of fear and regret. I feared God and I regretted wasting my life serving a deity I only served out of fear. No matter how perfect I was, no matter how much I did, I simply couldn’t meet God’s (or men who spoke for God) standard. I despaired for my life.”

…his marriage and family…

“I sacrificed my family and my marriage for a mistress called the Church. I lived for the Church. I was willing to die for the Church. I worked long hours for lousy pay. I allowed my family and my wife to become an appendage to the work I was doing. They were the default clean-up, tear down crew and did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. Our family was so wrapped up in the Church that we lost our self-identity. I want my children to know me for more than just being a pastor. I want my wife to have a husband who doesn’t always put her second to the Church. Whoever said “you must sacrifice your family for the sake of your calling” is not only wrong but also a destroyer of families. If there is one thing I have learned it is that family comes first.”

“I want to know my kids and grandkids. I want to be more than just a religious guru to them. I want to be able to enjoy THIS life with them without everything revolving around the NEXT life”

…and his finances:

“Thousands of Churches are without pastors. Most of them don’t deserve to have another pastor. They have chewed up and spit on the previous 20 pastors and they will do the same to the next one. Quite frankly many Churches just need to die. As I look back at how willing I was to sacrifice so small Churches could have a “full time” pastor I am ashamed of myself. Living on food stamps and my kids wearing hand-me-down clothes all so people could say “we have a pastor and he has kids” The most I ever made in the ministry, counting housing,salary and reimbursements, was 26,000.00. While everyone one else progressed economically my family was supposed to settle for welfare wages and a chicken or two. I never had the Church (any Church) on their own volition offer a raise to me. I had to ask, and most often plead and beg. I saw their cars and houses. I saw their material stores and yet I was just supposed to sing “Oh how I love Jesus, thank you for keeping me poor.”’

He right, of course, when he laments that a great many churches treat their pastors to salaries that they could never live on, but somehow expect them to! My dad was a pastor and I don’t anyone ever considered how hard it was to do full-time ministry and work a full-time job as well, simply to make ends meet for a family of five. A lot of Appalachian churches cannot pay their ministers much, and I suspect that there are poor churches across the US who are in the same boat. So this comes with the turf for most ministers in my neck of the woods. Of course, everyone still expects that preacher to visit the sick and imprisoned, preach on Sunday and officiate weddings, baptisms and funerals regardless of his work schedule. And, yes, this comes with the turf, whether folks appreciate it or not. I’m simply stating that I can empathize with his aggravation at seeing his family do without while church members blithely offered Bless Yous. Ye rich, howl and weep… [James 5:1]

The Bible plainly condemns the apathy that many well-off Christians show to those in their churches [including their pastors] who barely scrape by:

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?” James 2:15-16

“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:17-18

It even speaks specifically against this where clergy are concerned:

“Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his hire.” 1 Timothy 5:17-18

But some of Bruce’s problems were his own fault. God never intended for any minister [or any of the laity for that matter] to sacrifice their families upon the altar of church business or even ministry. Speaking of those who oversee the churches, the Bible plainly states the following necessary qualification:

“One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” 1 Timothy 3:4-5

This brings up an interesting insight. If you cannot manage your own household, you cannot be expected to manage the household of God; therefore, a man’s ministry to his family comes before his ministry to the church. It has to, because it is the barometer of his fitness for ministry. If his family is a wreck, he’s not fit for ministry, so how then can he be expeced to sacrifice his family on the altar of ministry??

The answer is, of course, that he can’t and that he shouldn’t. Yet so many Christians, clergy and laity alike, fall into this trap, where they suppose they are putting God first by placing their families after ministry. This should not be so. The very fact that the church is called the family of God is because God patterned his church after the family, the very first institution He established.

Bruce strained his marriage, his relationship with his children and his family’s well-being for a noble purpose. But it was wrong. God cares about the family. God is not Molech that He should desire the sacrifice of our children! Ministry together and mutual sacrifice for a greater cause is one thing, but if we put church before God, we’ve got our priorities out of whack.

I think a lot of us could learn from Bruce’s all-too-common mistake in this area.

God bless you,

Preacher