Friday, April 23, 2010

An Odd Progression

Because we model things in the Church so much upon the things of the world (and business in particular).  For example we pay Pastors based on the size of the congregation and his "performance."  If you have a big church and its growing, you get a bigger salary than someone in a smaller congregation.  I have long advocated that all the clergy in the church should receive the same salary with only housing differences applicable to the region of the country.  It is radical and my salary might go down but I think it is more in keeping with the values of the Church and more consistent with our role and place in the world.  For all the talk against the world where success is measured with a dollar sign, we do it in the Church as well.  But this is for another post.

I am speaking today to the ordinary practice of placing a new Pastor in a small congregation and how each succeeding call goes to a larger and larger congregation until when he retires the Pastor has reached the zenith of accomplishment in a large congregation.  Now I know this is not true in every case but it is still the ordinary pattern in the minds of most of us.  When a Pastor takes a call to a smaller parish, and it does happen, it is often seen as a "step down" or demotion. It is counter to the way we have learned to think.

As the Pastor of a larger parish (with a staff of 30 including the Preschool), I have some experience with the bigger picture and as a Pastor of a small parish (attendance of less than 75 in the beginning), I have some experience with the smaller setting as well.  I have a radical proposal.  The Pastors of larger congregations have additional staff to support them and assist them.  They can afford to be specialists and often specialize in leadership, preaching, and Sunday morning worship -- with assisting clergy to visit the sick, do the funerals and weddings, and the other stuff that Pastors do.  Again, I am generalizing.  A Pastor in a smaller parish is almost always the only full-time person there and is a general practitioner who wears many hats and does everything -- including those things that are never in the call (a Pastor's job description among Lutherans).  He must do many things well.  So why do we put inexperienced Pastors where they must learn to do many things instead of placing them in larger congregations where they can afford to specialize?  Why do Pastors move from small congregations to larger ones when it would seem logical that the more experience and skills they develop along the way would prepare them for the generalist role of a smaller congregation?

And, the truth is, I am thinking this way... there is a part of me that longs to be in a smaller parish (granted this small ideal parish is in my mind only and I do not know where it actually might be).  I find that in the last 10-15 years of my full-time vocation, I would like to be in a setting where I know each family in the parish very well, where I am involved more in their daily lives, and where I can capitalize on the full range of experiences, wisdom, and skills developed over more than 30 years of church work.  I think that we might have it wrong and should continue to move down in size until we reach that very small congregation which is in most need of someone with many generalized skills and abilities for the many hats a Pastor in a small parish must wear.  And if salary were not a part of this whole equation, it might take the incentive to move up away and free up some of us to move down without cost to our reputation or pocketbook...

So there you have it.... a few radical ideas.... not well thought out, mind you, but the germ of an idea which has been ruminating in the back of my mind for a long time.... what do you think?


Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I have said the same thing for a LONG time on my own blog (

My frustration grew out of the idea that you had to have X number of years of experience before you were "qualified" to serve in a larger parish with a school. It's true that experience helps, but why do we always assume that larger parishes are harder and need more experienced pastors? If anything, I think it is the opposite.

It has always irked me the way we regard the size of a parish. We were all called to one Office, and we are called to preach the Word. This should be the same regardless of the size of the parish and the number of years of experience the pastor has.

Carl Vehse said...

"I have long advocated that all the clergy in the church should receive the same salary with only housing differences applicable to the region of the country."

1. If there is to be the same salary for all pastors of churches in the Synod, then that one salary should also apply to all ordained officers, administrators, and employees in all synodical, district, auxiliary and related service organizations, and CPH, as well the presidents, faculty, and adminstrators of Missouri Synod seminaries and universities.

2. Housing allowances should also be adjusted so that all ordained synodical members, regardless of their positions, live in the same type and quality of housing, and their children attend schools of comparable academic standards. They should also have access to the same medical and dental facilities, transportation and utilities, as well as recreational activities. Paid vacations as well as education benefits should also be fixed and the same for all ordained members. Sabbaticals for tenured faculty at universities and seminaries would have to be eliminated unless all ordained members received the same benefit.

3. The system will require a Synod-wide episcopal polity to keep independent congregations in our current polity from simply offering a higher salary to a person the congregation wants to accept a call as pastor or to their pastor who has a call to somewhere else. Episcopal control will have to be maintained not only over salaries, but other non-salary compensation and benefits that a congregation might use to provide for their pastor. Any gifts given by congregational members to their pastor, would be subject to re-distribution over the entire synodical membership, so that this could not be a way to increase the benefits to a congregation's pastor.

4. If an epsicopacy is established then all ordained synodical members, in whatever episcopist rankings should also be paid the same salary with no extra perks, e.g., chauffeured limousine, vestment, mitre, crozier, or gestatorial chair allowances, etc. for the head poobah archbishop.

Anonymous said...

Last year I took a call from a large parish with two pastors and a school to a small parish where I am the "generalist." I took a cut in pay of over 30% because I longed to put my 23 years of experience to work in Gospel ministry rather than in the political wrangling of endless meetings. That large parish didn't even have midweek Bible Study because it would have conflicted with the meeting schedule.
While I worry about money a little, which I didn't before, I am feel so much happier and more fulfilled. My only regret is that I preach to so many fewer people each week. And as you said, in weaker moments I worry what some people may think this says about me--namely that I did something wrong or got "demoted." Then I remember that God called me here and it's only his assessment of my ministry that matters.
I must also give kudos to my new congregation which was clueless about these perceived notions about "demotion" or about how the salary offered might not attract a more experienced man. They simply placed their call based on what they felt they needed and shot for the stars. And God rewarded their attitude with an accepted call and 23 years of experience.
Both I and the congregation are blessed. Thanks for bringing up the topic! A year ago I was wishing and wondering as you indicated. Now here I am, and I can tell you from the other side that I say "Thank you, dear Father in heaven!"

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One of the few times I have ever publicly chided one of my members was when he spoke of a beloved pastor of the congregation from the 80s who took a call and moved on to "bigger and better things." I said that our parish has the Word of God preached, the Sacraments administered, and people who long to receive these. What is bigger in the Church than this?

As a pastor of a smaller congregation, I worry about what this sort of attitude does to congregations. Our focus shift to ourselves - our numbers, their numbers. Congregations fear that if their pastor is too "good" he'll get scooped up by others. It brings such fear and wearied resignation. . . it's not healthy.

Anonymous said...

After a rough year and a half with a doctrinal peace just beginning to grow within the congregation, several parishioners have now come to me and said similar things. I shared with them that each call a pastor receives is his final and only call unless God has others plans. Then I said no one will “scoop” me up and that the size of a congregation matters little to me, and so a call from a larger congregation won’t tempt me to be more “successful.”

Besides, I haven’t filled out all the necessary paperwork for my district president to submit my name elsewhere for a call. So be it.

On the Last Day, Jesus welcomes us into His kingdom, saying, “Welcome good and faithful servant,” not “good and successful servant.” It’s time to be Lutheran once again.

Pr Rich Futrell

Unknown said...

It should work the other way also. That is, some theologically trained ministers might not have the gifts to be a generalist pastor in a small congregation (temperment, interests, deficiencies), which could overwhelm them. But such people could serve well in a larger congregation along with a number of called pastors and staff by doing work they have the gifts for. Too often, the large church wants a "successful" pastor, or a "dynamic" youth leader, and pass over someone would could help with Bible classes, shut-in visitations, etc.

Joshua said...

I'm a seminarian from the Lutheran Church of Australia. In our church pastors all receive the same salary throughout their ministry.

This certainly frees us from many problems such as pastors competing for bigger parishes or comparing salaries, etc. Although it can sometimes create other issues, for example where living standards vary across the country.

I've also has some interesting conversations about this issue with people outside the church. They were quite intrigued by the fact that I, and others like me, would set out on a 'career path' where their was no chance of financial increase. It was something outside their paradigm and so it made them think. Possibly it even made them consider that we do this because we actually believe all this stuff about death, resurrection and the forgiveness of sins!

Carl Vehse said...

Pastors are always free to turn down part of their salary if they believe it is too much compared to what pastors should be paid.

Rev Dr. Chris Hinkle said...

Gentlemen, i urge you to give attention to the flock to which you have been called by the Holy Spirit. He has his own reasons for entrusting us with congregations large or small. Progressions or regressions are up to him.