The late Donald McGavran, respected missiologist and founding dean of the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary, identified five kinds of leaders the church must have to thrive locally and have impact globally:
1. Volunteer leaders who focus inward: unpaid leaders who focus their gifts for service on the internal health and growth of the local church body. (Biblical examples: Priscilla and Aquila, Dorcas)
2. Volunteer leaders who focus outward: unpaid leaders who focus their evangelistic passion on the lost and unchurched in the larger unreached community. (Stephen, Philip)
3. Bivocational: leaders who are mostly or entirely self-supporting in order to launch or supplement the outreach of the church in the world. (Barnabas, Apollos)
4. Vocational: leaders solely supported by the church in order to devote full time and attention to the health and growth of the church. (James, Timothy)
5. International: leaders solely supported by the church to cross geographical boundaries, sometimes learning new languages and adapting to foreign cultures to advance the gospel. (Paul and his coworkers)
I’m anticipating that in the near future, those final two categories of vocational leaders and international leaders, along with their supporting church communities, may have to confront some new realities.
As I write this, we are about six weeks into the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing regulations are starting to be relaxed, but there is sharp division in our nation over the continued imposition of a quarantine. Opinions are strong among those who advocate for continuing to isolate at home and those who are eager and ready to get back to work. Both camps are concerned about this mysterious and deadly virus and our suddenly floundering economy.
In less than six weeks, the unemployment needle has moved from the lowest level in our nation’s history (3 percent) to the highest level since 1940 (15 percent)! Economic losses related to COVID-19 are estimated at more than $2 trillion in the United States and $10 trillion worldwide. The economic outlook is uncertain, at best. Someone said, in hindsight, the most useless purchase of 2019 was a 2020 planner!
I won’t guess at where these recent developments will take us in the short-term or the long-term, but I will hazard one prediction in light of the turmoil and uncertainties: I anticipate a new “economic normal” will need to be embraced by our churches and their full-time servant leaders with regard to financial compensation.
I will focus most of this article on the effect the pandemic has had on younger leaders just graduating from our Christian colleges and seminaries who are just now entering full-time local church ministry. For every one of them, their first ministry leadership experience will be formative . . . a permanent deposit in their memory bank. In some cases, it will determine whether they endure in church leadership. During more than three decades at Ozark Christian College, I counseled emerging leaders and local churches in the establishment of their partnerships. Here are seven practical guidelines for church leaders.
1. Choose Leaders on the Basis of Character First
By the time a young adult reaches age 22 to 25, they have an observable character. And the best indicator of future performance is past performance. Paul charged Timothy, as a younger church leader, to “Set an example for other followers by what you say and do, as well as by your love, faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, Contemporary English Version). Spiritual maturity, morality, temperament, manners, speech, and work ethic can and should be vetted, even in younger leaders. When churches set aside character in favor of appearance, performance, ability, or likability, they ultimately regret it.
A church in Kansas employed a young preacher because he was a “really great platform presence” and “an entertaining speaker.” In a matter of months, they learned he was consistently plagiarizing the copyrighted material of others and accessing pornography on his computer. This exposure brought reproach on the name of Christ and the church in the community.
2. Forge a Strong Partnership from the Beginning
Advancing a ministry partnership is always preferable to “hiring a minister.” Elders are to shepherd one another, and that shepherding must include an early “band of brothers” connection with the vocational pastor. Mutual transparency and accountability are vital to healthy relationships among church leaders. And how you welcome and graft a new leader into his position positively influences the chemistry and longevity of the relationship.
I saw this done very well a year ago by a thousand-member Kentucky church that called their new, young lead pastor and his family with a literal 100 percent congregational vote of confidence. The new preacher and his family have quickly established great friendships, and the church has already increased by a third. The apostle Paul wrote concerning Epaphroditus, “Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him” (Philippians 2:29).
3. Communicate Openly about Finances
Before formally extending a call to a ministry candidate, ask about any special financial needs of the candidate and his family and also share information about the financial capacity of the church. If there is a college loan to repay or ongoing medical expenses or some other debt burden, it should be disclosed to the church. If the church is struggling in any way financially, the candidate should be told early on. Either way, there will be no surprises if you “speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).
4. Review and Finalize the Compensation Package
Thoughtful and prayerful consideration should be given to the appropriateness of the compensation package in light of the previous open conversations. Does it accurately address the cost of living in the geographical area? Comparative geographical charts and data are available online to accurately assess the real cost of housing, taxes, food, transportation, utilities, etc. Is there provision for health insurance? (This should be a priority benefit for full-time employees and their families.) Affordable sources for Christian healthcare sharing are available.
In addition, some kind of retirement program, even if modest, is important to Christian leaders. A minimal $600 per year investment can result in substantial retirement income over time. Setting aside $600 yearly for the minister for 40 years—a $24,000 total investment—can produce about $7,000 per year in retirement income . . . a helpful supplement to Social Security.
5. Be as Generous as Possible
We are the children of a bighearted, openhanded heavenly Father. We should reflect that in the way we take care of people, especially those who serve and lead the church full-time. The question should not be “how little can we pay?” but rather, “how generous can we be?” This is one of the best ways to practice the Golden Rule. Or, better yet, treat the young pastor couple/family the way you would want your own young adult child/family to be treated.
Of course, consideration must be given to the church’s size and financial capability. Generosity must be tempered by practical limitations and responsible stewardship. But, in the church, our priority should always be people over property or programs. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17, 18, author’s emphasis).
6. Don’t Unnecessarily Withhold Information about Compensation
I have never understood the delay in communicating the salary and benefits until the very end of the interview and hiring process. While it should not be the first item on the agenda, neither should it be the last. If a candidate’s first concern is compensation, it may be a red flag. But if the church waits until the eleventh hour to inform the prospective pastor about compensation, it is unnecessarily secretive. It is an important piece of the relationship, but not the most important piece. So, while the candidate should not mention it first, the church should not ignore it until last.
7. Keep These Circumstances in Mind
A reasonable salary and benefits guideline for a younger, less-experienced pastor just beginning in full-time ministry is that of a public school teacher in the area. Some pastors in smaller or newer churches may be able to get health insurance through the spouse’s employer, so that can be a consideration. Churches that are not large enough, or not resourced adequately, to provide for a full-time minister at this level may need to consider a semiretired or bivocational preacher. Sometimes there are men in the church with a preaching or teaching gift who could serve the church part-time. Four years ago, the teacher of a large Bible school class at a church in Tennessee left his job as an accountant to plant a new church. It has grown from a Sunday school class of 200 into a thriving church of 900.
Paul wrote, “I am not complaining about having too little. I have learned to be satisfied with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11, Contemporary English Version). If Paul wasn’t financially supported, he would work part-time as a tentmaker to be able to plant churches. If he was imprisoned, he would write most of the New Testament Epistles. If he was stoned, he would get up, dust himself off, and go back into the city.
Lord, give us world changers with the value system of Paul!
(Be sure to read Ken Idleman’s sidebar article, “My Counsel for Young Preachers.”)