I really appreciated Julie Clawson’s honesty in looking at the issues surrounding the choice to pay pastors for their work within a faith community. I have had many conversations with many people about whether the whole “professional clergy” model is worth keeping, and whether using a community’s resources to support a paid pastor is the best stewardship of the church’s money. I talk to a lot of people who hold onto an ideal of the faith community functioning with no pastor, and while I often appreciate what they are reacting against, I am not always comfortable with their conclusions.
As a theologically trained individual who would love to serve the church vocationally, I know I am not coming at this totally objectively. I would not have done what I did in pursuing seminary studies if I did not think service to the church as a paid minister was a valid calling. That said, neither Doug nor I have received paychecks for our ministerial work for years now, nor have many others who serve alongside us at Church of the Redeemer. So I do relate to the other side of this argument as well.
In my experience, there comes a time within a faith community where someone in the body is called to a particular area of service and leadership. That person may serve and lead for some time as a “volunteer” or “lay leader”. And sometimes that is entirely doable. When I was single, for example, I was able to serve as a lay pastor without receiving a paycheck for my ministry. I lived on nothing, my time was my own, and I was energized by the commitment. At this stage of life, that would not work for me and for my family to the degree that it did back then. Something about having to make sure there is actually food in the refrigerator…
Often it is also the case that the ministry of an individual serving as a layperson grows to the extent that it is the desire of the community to see them released from other obligations (the kind attached to paychecks, for example) so that they may more fully invest in the service to which they have been called. In the history of our church, for example, when it became clear that one member was especially gifted reaching out to youth in our community, it was the will of the group to pool their resources to cover some of her expenses so that she might be freed up to love and serve the kids of our neighborhood in some more formalized capacities.
I had a similar experience the summer after my freshman year in college. I came out to Pomona to participate in an InterVarsity summer urban project. Eighteen of us lived communally in an old Presbyterian church in downtown Pomona. Some of us worked full-time. Others of us worked part-time at the local YMCA, and taught ESL classes and ran youth groups with the rest of our time. Still others did not work at all and were released financially to pastor and lead our community for that summer. That was the first time I had ever lived out that kind of an expression of shared resources, and I was fascinated.
I think the questions being asked by those wishing to re-image church with new models of leadership and a lack of hierarchy are the right ones. I am eager to see the ways different communities explore the answers to them, and it is obviously a conversation that carries great weight for me in my own sense of calling. Ten and twenty years down the road, I wonder how the landscape of pastoral ministry will be changed.