An Alternate Model

Now to an alternate model, one with no professional (that is, salaried) pastoral staff.

First, it should be noted that not employing salaried pastoral staff does not necessarily mean unprofessional preaching or pastoral leadership. Within the ranks of those filling roles within this model are numerous individuals with equal or greater academic and experience qualification to those in paid pastoral positions. The results can be demonstrated to be equal or superior to those achieved with salaried staff. The availability of these levels of expertise in this model does, however, tend to be somewhat the exception. We will assume for our discussion that those fulfilling pastoral roles in this model have, on average, a more limited formal academic background in theology and in associated academic designations.

Next, even without full time pastoral staff, there often remains a requirement for a secretary/receptionist/administrator or some similar support position, functioning as facility and ministry ‘point man’, so to speak. In fact, this would likely be of more importance with no other staff on site. With that in mind, that cost might be approximated at $20-30K yearly, judging from anecdotal evidence.

Now to the real issue – what of the pastoral functions in this model? Most assemblies following this model attempt to adopt something of a first century church framework, with lay preaching and church authority.

In most biblically modeled, post-reformation churches (of either model), the function of Elder has the mandate of local leadership and responsibility. This is often defined to include preaching, teaching, spiritual shepherd, and some form of assembly accountability (though it could be argued that in the Postmodern church this is fading). Other duties and responsibilities may also be included.

In the denominational model previously considered, the pastoral staff frequently fall into a defacto CEO role, as much due to availability as any other reason. This places the Elders at a lesser authority level in terms of governance, irrespective of the situation on paper or what may be presented to the congregation. In the alternate model, with no defacto CEO, the Elders naturally assume a more traditional, and likely more biblical, role which includes all assembly leadership requirements. Any functions that are not performed by the Elders must be delegated under their authority.

If not all Elders are gifted to preach (though this is clearly mandated biblically as a requirement of the calling) , then that pivotal role in particular can be delegated to others who are capable and available. As in the early church, those so delegated come from the congregation, as the Lord leads. Does this mean that they are not professional? Normally, yes (with occasional exceptions as noted at the beginning of this article). Does this mean that they are less competent or deliver a lower standard of preaching? Absolutely not. In all likelihood their experience, at least at the beginning, might be a tad rough around the edges as they are allowed the privilege to develop under the Lord’s leadership and local mentoring. However, experience would indicate that when properly shepherded the results can be consistently equal to those obtained with professional staff. Moreover, it can be argued that any weakness is outweighed by the opportunity that is provided for assembly members to follow the Lord’s leading into some form of preaching (without spending 4-10 years in Seminary to qualify), as well as for the assembly to participate in and support this development. The local development of future leaders and of assembly members providing substantial local mentoring is also likely much greater in this situation, out of shear necessity if no other reason. This also means that preaching can be, and normally is, shared among a larger number of individuals,allowing more preparation time for all and possibly alleviating excess burden.

Another consideration is that lay preaching increases the accountability role of the Elders, particularly in shepherding and developing those taking on preaching roles. This must include great discernment and sensitivity in guiding not only those who are gifted, but in handling the movement of those who are not gifted into other more suitable areas of ministry without injury.

We must bear in mind that this paradigm is being delivered at an 80-90% reduction in financial resources when compared to the traditional denominational model. This can not conceivably do other than reduce congregational pressures.

This may seem to paint a very rosy picture. Is this rosy scenario and outcome guaranteed? Certainly not. Without the focused leadership that should (notice that is should and not necessarily does) come with full time staff there is certainly ample opportunity for a situation to develop in which individuals or the assembly can run amuck. Considerably more responsibility and power, and the concomitant problems accompanying it, are vested in the local Elders and any designated representatives. Without a central figure, the possibility of disorganization could be much greater. Since I have very limited experience in observing this model in action over time, I can not draw any conclusion concerning the probability of problems developing. But it does strike me that our central figure is always to be the Lord. Could this scenario bring that more sharply into focus? Possibly.

Does the possibility of problems mean that this model is more prone to failure or excess? Frankly, I don’t think so. I see no indication of that, and more importantly no indication that it is any more likely with this leadership model than with the other one. I would proposed that the likelihood of problems is just as great with professional staff, just different.

In discussing this train of thought with a friend who has experience in the alternate model, we agreed that the success of either model depends directly on the degree to which the Assembly is focus on the Word. Without that, in either case, human issues related to the model become central and divisive. Only through actively seeking the Lord in the Word on a consistent, persistent, day-in day-out basis, as a congregational focus can the Lord’s leading be sought in either case. In this way, neither model was either correct or superior. Sadly, the slide into giving process priority over foundational issues is very seductive.

Again however, we must continue to bear in mind that with such a huge financial resource differential, the effectiveness of the traditional denominational model must be seriously scrutinized. It would seem that for it to work effectively and be justified there must be very strong leadership from the lay level, and transparent congregational accountability. Both of these are often largely non-existent today. In addition, to benefit from the central leadership, that leadership must have very strong, demonstrable skills, and these must be objectively evaluated on a regular basis. Failure in these regards is likely to have quite negative consequences over time.

One last note must be considered in relation to congregation size. While the professional leadership model can potentially be scaled up by the acquisition of more personnel, the lay leadership model is mostly inappropriate for a large venue. However, those who advocate that model often argue (quite successfully in my view) that the large scale venue is not a biblical model and is inappropriate. Better to spin off additional small assemblies.

Next, are there other tangible or tangible benefits for the professional model that are not provided in the alternate?


4 thoughts on “An Alternate Model

  1. Andrew

    Certainly not having a full time pastoral staff is possible, but is it better?

    I don’t know the objective answer to that question, but I know I personally like having someone there to do that job full time. I like having someone there who’s job it is to study the Word. I couldn’t imagine doing a full time job, then doing the required studying.

    I think comparisons to the early church should be done with caution. It’s generally a good thing to ask ourselves “What did the early church believe about this or that?” is good. But asking “What did the early church practice” is an entirely different question. What makes the first question a good one is also what makes the second question almost irrelevant.

    The people who ran the early church were there. Many of them were direct disciples of Jesus. Many of those things that couldn’t have been written down because they’d fill every book on earth were witnessed by those people.

    They also didn’t have to look through a cultural lens, or try to interpret writings from a 2000 year old dead language. Most of the New Testament writings were in Greek because it was the common language in the Mediterranean world, but Jesus and his disciples would have spoken Aramaic.

    Back in the day churches were house churches and led by lay persons. To that I say “So what?” I’m not sure how you’d define a lay person from a non-lay person. They didn’t have Christian seminaries back then. Furthermore, today they do everything they can to keep God out of schools. In that culture, the scriptures were the basis for most education. Science, literature, etc. was done through a scriptural lens. Jews started out being a lot more familiar with scripture than modern day Christians. However, today we have the luxury of seminaries.

    (In fact, if you want to look at how they did church in those days, the Catholic church’s hierarchical structure is closer to the original church model than our is, or even Bretheren’s structure.)

    Nowadays, in Canada, we’re so far removed from that culture. The languages are completely different. The nuances are different. That was a culture with a large shame component. In 21st century western civilization we ask “Shame? What’s that mean? Oh, that’s like when Sean Connery tries to say the word ‘Same,’ right?”

    So today, we need someone who can study these sorts of things so they can have a better chance of proper interpretation of scripture. Having a full time pastor or elder allows for someone to do this, and more. Frankly, I feel much much much better about learning about the word from someone who, not only has the credentials, but the time to look at passages in the original Greek, and to read other books to get an understanding of what others are saying about certain issues, etc. than I feel about someone who does those things in his spare time.

    Living with a full time pastor for a couple of years I can see how busy they are. Frankly, I’d hate to imagine him working a full time job and trying to, even just do a sermon only half as often.

    But some places do it. I have not regularly attended one of these churches, so I can’t really accurately judge.

  2. kwilson

    I would agree for the most part. I do not have an answer either, but I do think that (as we are now doing) the issue bears discussion and scrutiny. It was also surprising the degree to general knowledge and attitudes on the financial area was based upon completely dated information. There has to be a message there.

    As I said in the posts, I don’t think that either model is superior overall. I would have been incredulous in the past at the suggestion that a non-professional situation could work as well as the mainline one. However, from what I have seen, it frequently can and does.

    I also agree about having a position that acts as central ministry focus. Correctly implemented, that has many benefits. However, for that to have legitimacy transparent accountability is very important.

  3. Sven

    A couple things strike me on this and the previous posts.

    First, we live in a time of specialization. While I could repair my car, I don’t, because there are those who can find & repair problems faster & cheaper than can I. Given this culture, it is not a shock that our churchs tend to aligh to that model.

    Second, Biblical leadership styles tend not to translate well to 21st century North America – we no longer treat patriarchs as being the final authority for everything, and we don’t expect or even really want that in our church leadership. For what it is worthy, much of the participatory nature of our democratic political systems (such as it is) goes back to training “lay” people used to receive by going church and see how things were done there.

    Third, we tend to expect our pastors / priests to do more than “just” preach – they are often the lead councilors / mediators for the flock, plus anyone walking in off the street. This is more than most people are really keen on either doing on the side or having it done as a side line.

    Forth, and perhaps the weakest point here, my personal experiance has been that when the churchs I’ve been a part of lacked vocational staff persons beyond the office admin (a very vital function!), things tended to decay and sometimes completely fall apart. Re-introduce someone whose job description includes thinking & guiding those decaying things, and suddenly stuff works / happens again.

    But then again, I have barely attended Brethern assemblies, much less tried to see how they work.

  4. kwilson

    All good points and more grist for the mill indeed. This is all stimulating thought, which is of course what was intended.

    As stated in the initial post, my personal background would definitely have me on the full-time staff side of the fence, but I have seen just as positive things happen in the alternate model as well. The real question, then, is whether there are generalizations possible or whether it is strictly situational.

    A lot of issues around the professional option seem to center on what the local mandate explicitly is and how it is carried out. In that case I think that the issue of transparent and obvious accountability becomes paramount. That has never been well addressed in most church frameworks, likely at least partially due to the historical patriarchal nature of the hierarchy that you mention.

    Lastly is the issue you raise about service provided to non-church people. Although I did not mention this, it is definitely a contentious issue for some congregants, particularly in light of the limited pastoral time and resources that can be expected from employed staff. An interesting side issue.

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