The financial transition from full-time ministry to simple/organic church

Stethescope
About twice a month, I receive an email that goes something like this:

"I am currently in full-time ministry as a pastor/youth minister/worship leader,  but sense the Lord is calling me to get involved in organic/simple/house church. The problem is that ministry is the only thing I have been trained for, and I have a family to support. Do you have any ideas as to what I can do?"

I often begin my response with our story. 

Tony (my husband) and I both trained as physicians in the UK, but when the Lord called us to move here to the States, our medical licenses didn't transfer and it would have taken four to five years to relicense. That didn't bother us, because for the previous few years Tony's  had headed up a ministry that worked with people in the caring professions, teaching them how to bring their Christian faith into their professional lives. This had spread to several other countries, and we assumed, (naively, as it turned out), that the Lord wanted us to start it here too.

The ministry failed spectacularly here in the States. Doctors just weren't interested in what we had to share. Only the Holy Spirit could have shut the doors so firmly.

What were we to do?

We soon ran through our savings. No one wanted to employ two unlicensed physicians, and so we found ourselves doing all kinds of menial work in order to put food on the table. We sold door-to-door during the hot Texas summers. We worked in flea markets. I learned how to feed a family with four kids on 4 ounces of hamburger meat per meal (the answer lies in oatmeal). Our kids were clothed from thrift stores. We struggled to make a living. It was hard, humiliating, and financially unrewarding.

However, it was very good for us. It was character forming. We quickly lost our "entitlement mentality" (I'm working for the Kingdom and therefore other Christians should support me.) We easily related to others who have to work hard for a living. Rather than live in a Christian bubble, we had lots of not-yet-believing friends who we met in our various business endeavors.

After nine years of this, the Lord gave us the idea that now provides for us. For a long time we had been praying fervently from Deuteronomy 8: 18:

But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

We asked the Lord to give us an idea that would create wealth, and one day He dropped an idea into our minds. Within three or four days, we had started a business, and within a week it was obvious that it would be profitable. Over the years, it has grown to the point where we are now free to do whatever the Lord calls us to do.

Why nine years? I believe it was God's training school on the backside of the desert, preparing us for the things we now involve in and for the influence we carry.  Who knows, maybe it took that long for Him to deal with our character issues.

Would I choose to go through it again? No way! But I'm very glad we did live through it for the incredible lessons it gave us. We proved from our own experience that God always provides; He is always faithful.  We learned to be ordinary rather than on the pedestal of  being a physician or full-time minister. We relate to the struggles of those who are challenged financially. These kinds of life-lessons are invaluable and cannot be gained any other way. 

In the next post I plan to explore this subject further, but would be very interested to hear from others about the financial transition from legacy church to simple church.

 

21 thoughts on “The financial transition from full-time ministry to simple/organic church”

  1. Thanks for the post. I am currently in this situation. I resigned from full-time paid ministry and the elders gave me 45 days pay, but I still have not found employment other than delivering pizzas in the evenngs. I know that God will provide. He promises to provide if we seek first His kingdom and righteousness. I appreciate the encouragment.

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  2. I hear this a lot. It is tragic and ironic that so many Christians spend tons of money and several years of their life in seminary getting a degree that only (theoretically) prepares them for one thing: vocational ministry.

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  3. Great topic to post on Felicity. I’ve made the transition from legacy church to simple church, and the financial transition has been frustrating and growing for me. Lots of hard, labor oriented jobs in there, and along the way, falling into advertising and marketing. I have zero previous training in this field, but being willing to stick with it, find the things inside of the field that I’m naturally good at, and accepting substantially less than premium pay for a few years has now paid off for us. I’m now blessed to be in a position in a company that I’m not professionally qualified for, other than proving myself in my work, and my wife and I are moving towards beginning our own self sustaining business built on the skills I’ve learned and developed. It’s been completely worth it. When pre-college people who feel a call to ministry ask me about my experience and their schooling options, I encourage them to develop a marketable skill through their college experience, and seek theological training through some various other options, rather than full time Bible college or seminary, or at least get the marketable skill first, and Bible college second.

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  4. Nathan, I’m praying with you that God gives you direction and wisdom. He is faithful!
    Arthur, I totally agree. The old Jewish system, if I understand it right, was much better. People were taught a practical skill as well as being given a theological education.

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  5. I find myself in a related but similar situation. I went in to seminary to prepare for vocational ministry. But as the Spirit has shifted my desires to organic ministry, I will retain my present employment to provide material needs while I pursue ministry service.
    That said, for those who are seminary trained, you DO have valuable skills that can be put to use in the workplace. As much as we like to say that church isn’t business, anyone who has served in church leadership long enough has developed management skills. If you craft your resume the right way, you can seek out management work in service fields.
    Be blessed, pastoral brothers and sisters. God will use your skill and creativity in ways you never expect!

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  6. I am in a season of change having left a full time ministry of 13 years. The Lord has promised he would look after my family and I, so its a painful narrow path adventure he is taking me on. I am doing Spiritual Direction with some people which provides a little money but not a lot, but it is where my heart is. I now also have a job doing door to door surveying. It,s not what I have been ‘trained’ for, but it is training me. I have lost a lot of weight, sleep better and also I am meeting a wide cross section of people. The rich, the poor, the widow, the refugee, all sorts of people have invited me into their home. I also get paid for everything I do! and when I finish work it is finished.
    The contrast in my two work options provides a freshness from which I can write. Life is full, but also vibrant with creativity. I am washing ministerial tiredness and constraints right out of my hair and sending them on their way.
    I suppose what I am saying, I could look for the negative in the situation – walking in the rain, rejections, low pay etc or I could ask Daddy, Jesus and Spirit to help me transition. This is only for a season.

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  7. Thank you so much for this article. This is exactly where I am right now. 50 years old, 20 years of ministry, and trying to figure out how to fulfill the Lord’s mission through simple church planting. Working thankfully with my District, but having to work an extra job to make ends meet. Your experience gave me just what I needed today — hope. Thank you.

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  8. The fear of losing position and all that goes with it — salary, lifestyle, prestige — is what drove those who opposed Jesus and the apostles. I recently wrote a story on my blog, based on the Rich Young Ruler. It’s titled “The Rich Old Church” and the pastor in the story realizes that if he is to be obedient, he will face this same decision being discussed here. You can read it at http://snortinghorses.blogspot.com/2011/06/rich-old-church-parable.html. I’m not in professional ministry, but I’ve made decisions to serve the Kingdom in the past that have been costly to me careerwise. And God has always taken care of me, even if it’s meant working four jobs at a time to support us and our four children. And I confess to having feelings of resentment at times over professional clergy and their sense of entitlement who don’t know what it’s like to slug it out in real life being a kingdom worker while struggling to pay the bills. I agree that seminaries, if they must exist, should do a better job of preparing their graduates for serving in real life. Hopefully this comes across OK. I think I said too much and not enough.

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  9. Let me add one more thing. Because seminary graduates don’t know what it’s like to serve the kingdom while slugging it out in real life financially, they are less equipped to train their flock to manage their time and priorities and be disciple makers on the job, in their neighborhoods and in their families.

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  10. Felicity, perfect timing on the article. You caught me on Day 1 of making the jump out of full-time church ministry to pursue organic church planting! Part of my conviction to make the change is that God has blessed me with an educational background as a lawyer that should (please Lord soon!) allow me to find a decent job. Unexpected in this jump was the fact that my wife, who was an exec assistant for a global missions organization, was going to find out three weeks ago her job was getting cut on June 30th due to budget shortfalls. Thus, we both woke up this morning freshly jobless, but on a new adventure together, resting in God’s able hands. Blessings to all of you who have taken this courageous step of faith! It is a wonderful testimony to all who know your story!

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  11. Thank you all for sharing your experiences. It is a huge blessing to hear of how the Lord is leading you all. What you have written is so good, I plan to make a blog post out of your comments so others can read and be encouraged. There are so many people considering this journey or in its early stages that to hear of others on a similar path will be an inspiration and challenge.

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  12. As so many have already said, thank you for this! My husband and I have left vocational ministry this past year and have been going through this transition. We spent 11 years in professional ministry and now find ourselves with useless degrees and “starting over”. It has been tough in many ways, but we wouldn’t trade it! There is peace in knowing that we are walking out Father God’s plan for us!

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  13. Having left “church ministry” years ago, I for one would NEVER chose to go back. I am now in the company daily of people, lots of people, who need hope and encouragement. I teach GED classes and work in adult literacy. The bond created opens doors to be Christ to people who need it! Most organizations require a bachelor’s degree and experience teaching adults. I used my church ministry experience, designing it to reflect the teaching & modeling all ministers use (should use?) in everyday living. It pays enough to keep food on the table…and I feel I have found my place in life. LOVE IT! My life has become so rich in experiences.

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  14. Elaine, I have met many like you who find there is more opportunity to “be Jesus with skin on” in the secular world. It’s part of “being thought well of by the world” (one of the qualifications for eldership (1 Tim 3:7).

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  15. Jesus denounced professionalism. His disciples were all day laborers—what we call “lay people” today. He trained His followers to engage in mutual ministry, as evidenced by some fifty “one another” admonitions throughout the New Testament and by His exhortation to treat each other as brothers and sisters rather than “teacher” or “father” (Mt 23:9–11).
    All of the Apostles supported themselves through secular employment although the churches did supplement their income from time to time. Paul monitored the teaching to make sure it was Biblically sound and provided discipline when the churches strayed. He also taught theology in his many letters to the churches, encouraging them to remain true to their beliefs.
    Today’s churches have abandoned this Biblical model to follow the secular culture. Ministry has become almost entirely academic. Churches look more like educational establishments with their classrooms and lecture halls. The ministry has become professionalized requiring a seminary or Bible School degree. Organizational structure follows the dictates of corporate management gurus like Peter Drucker. Pastors have become CEOs who preside over layers of management. The goal of ministry is to build bigger congregations and more elegant sanctuaries, not to produce Christ like character and spread the gospel.
    The result has been a changing of focus from an eternal perspective to earthly goals and objectives. Anticipation of Christ’s return is on the wane. As pastors become farther and farther removed from their congregants, they become less accountable and more prone to misbehavior. Check the website stopbaptistpredators.org to see story after story of top officials in the Southern Baptist Convention covering up sexual abuse by their peers. They get away with it because they are accountable to no one.
    All these trends have led to the dramatic decline of the institutional church. Up until 1990 about eighty-seven percent of adults identified themselves as Christians. Since then the number has dropped to seventy-six percent. Defectors haven’t joined other religions, either. They have simply dropped out. The fastest growing church, on the other hand, is Wicca. Although small, their numbers are doubling every thirty months.*
    The Casual Christian, Cross Books, Bloomington, IN due out this fall.

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  16. Craig, what you say is sadly true. We apply the world’s standards to the church–our definition of success is numbers, finances or real estate, when it should be obedience and character. We train leaders intellectually rather than looking for those who have been through God’s training school which is often on the backside of the desert. And you are right. Jesus did denounce professionalism; he called them hirelings.

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    1. Richard, an interesting question, and it could be taken a couple of ways. Do you mean, should a person transition to full-time ministry if they have debt? Or do you mean, is it okay to go into debt for, for example, a seminary training so they can go into full time ministry?

      I guess I come from a different perspective. With some obvious exceptions, I see little need for people to be “full time” in ministry. I’ve seen many examples of God giving people who have no obvious secular means of supporting themselves, the idea for a business or making money unrelated to ministry. I think of pastors I know where either their church can no longer support them, or when they leave legacy church to involve in simple/organic church, and God has given them creative ways of supporting themselves and their families.

      If I’ve not answered the question, feel free to comment again.

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    1. We only see two sets of people supported by the early church–widows and those in full-time traveling ministry. However, Paul was in full-time traveling ministry and he supported himself and his team through his tent-making (Acts 20:34). So… we have to listen to the Lord and do what he says. My bias, perhaps because of our own experience, and because so many people are trapped in full-time ministry who would leave if they could find another way to support their families, is that it’s often better to work. It sets a great example for others too. I know of those who’ve done it both ways, and I trust that they heard God for their lives.

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