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?