Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Alright, where the heck have I been the last week or so? Well, I’ve been doing the work of a missionary. Like my hero, the Apostle Paul, I’m entering into a season of tent making missions. I’ve been asked several times, “why don’t you just look for another church?” and each time the answer is the same. Basically, I’m sure God doesn’t want me to and to be real honest with you, I don’t want to do that either.

I’ve been preaching for 10 years now and have been a pastor for 6. I’ve been what they call “bi-vocational” for 7 of those 10 years. And to be real honest with you, assuming the right set of circumstances, I prefer it this way. Let me explain.

Naomi and I have been living on my salary and hers. Not rich, not poor. We never had outrageous expenses until we bought our home, I guess we bit off just a bit more than we should have. But, even at that, we’ve been making it this year…and I could justify (at least in my head) keeping this pace cause I know with every fiber in me that Southside is going to take off…it is taking off as we speak. The thing is that we’ve lost about three families who either tithed or came darn near a tithe since about December. Now, we’ve added more families than we’ve lost during this time so our attendance numbers are up, but, most of these new families are new believers and they have not spiritually matured enough to be tithing, to be frank. So attendance is up and finances are down a bit. This is nothing unusual, this is the nature of the church planting beast. God has been prompting me to get back out into the real world since we had to leave Southside Café behind. I now understand why God led me to start transitioning the church from a single CEO “pastor” model to a multiple elder model. I knew back then that this day was coming and basically told my two fellow elders that eventually I want us all to be making the same salary and all have equal authority. (I won’t take the time right now to explain this concept). So now Southside is in a position where the church will not be hindered by me taking this job.

This pinch was what God used to move me and thank God He did. I was so bored being a CEO pastor. I was growing so weary of all the church growth books, church growth conferences, gimmicks, programs and conjecture.

I had forgotten how much I love being out there in the real world, working with real people who have no problem asking me “what the hell is this?” as fast as they would the next guy. I LOVE people not acting all funny around me cause I’m a pastor. This one guy kept referring to me as the “F.N.G.”. He’d say, “um, go ahead and have the F.N.G. print out the spreadsheet…” or whatever. I just found out what an F.N.G. is. I’m not going freak you out by typing out each word. All I’ll say is the NG stands for “new guy” and the F has an “ing” at the end of it. Lovely. When they told me I just shook my head and sorta tried not to smile. To religious people that F word is a curse. But he wasn’t cursing me, he was playing a joke on me, that’s all. That’s how people “out there” talk, shocking, I know. I like talking with people about Christ at lunch, during breaks, while working on a project…whatever. Instead of talking about sports or whatever, people seem to want to talk about God.

There’s nothing better than turning the shock tables on people by telling them that I’m against religion, that hell is real and God condemns real people there daily or that I’m their friend regardless if they are gay or not. It’s so cool not being pushy with people cause when they come around and see my Bible on my desk, hear RC Sproul or KLOVE softly on the radio and they approach me with questions. I’ve already had some awesome lunch breaks this week. This is gimmick free evangelism and man is it refreshing. In case you don’t know it, there is a vast difference between personal evangelism and gimmick evangelism.

This is who I am. I don’t know what that means exactly for years and years to come. I’m still way young and I have every reason to assume that opportunities to preach and speak in churches and conferences will only multiply. I’m as sure as I can be that Southside is going to keep growing and at some point there won’t be a company in the world who could or would accommodate my schedule…I’m actually not looking forward to that at all. If that happens I’ll be sure to take a sabbatical and work in the real world for a few months. Temp agencies always need people willing to work short term job positions.

If you are a pastor let me make a suggestion, ask your church for a three month sabbatical. Then go to a temp agency and get yourself the type of job that would most fit your people and what they do, or better yet, find a job that fits the type of work the culture surrounding your church does. Just tell the temp agency that you only want a job that will last 2-3 months, and yes, they have tons of those types of short term positions available. Instead of retreating during your sabbatical, go out into the real world and build some tents. It’ll be good for you. You need to be around people who never use phrases like “burn out”. You really need someone to cuss at you and NOT be mad at you when they do it. You need to experience what your people experience every day. You need to know the difference between working in an environment where people literally think you are all knowing, totally wise and almost perfect and an environment where people think you have nothing of value to suggest and your opinions are not important. You need to experience working with pagans, becoming friends with pagans, witnessing to pagans and heathens for forty hours a week, for week after week. You honestly need it. It will change your outlook and your ministry.

After that three month period, you won’t need the hottest new book on how to reach your community. After you’ve been out there in it every day, believe me, you could be the one to write the book. Some of you have experienced this back when you were working your way through seminary. For most of you, it’s been a long time since seminary and things have changed in our culture. Besides gaining a better perspective on culture and a better perspective on the type of stress your people experience daily (which is totally different than that of a pastor. Not more or less, just different) you’ll probably personally led more people to Christ (outside of alter calls and such) in those three months than in the last 36. I’m sure of it.

After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. Acts 18:1-4 niv


Tim said...

Amen brother. As I've told you before, God would have to tell me to accept payment for ministry before I'd take a salary for it. Like Paul says in 1Corinthians 9:11-15 "If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. But I have not used this right. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast." I enjoy my status as a working minister. I'm storing up treasures in heaven, not wanting to receive my reward in full here on earth. Enjoy your tentmaking.

Naomi said...

Gary, you truly have the heart of a missionary; may God bless all that you do in the working world and in the church walls.

Mark said...

Gary, Gary, Gary... I've been in the tentmaking business a long time. I couldn't agree more on many of your points. It keeps you humble and off the pedestal. I personally don't understand why someone with a congregation of less than 100 couldn't work at least part time in the world. This will give a supplement to the salary.

When a pastor makes $40000 and has a congregation of 50 people... I don't understand. I would venture to say the salary to the pastor is most of what the church receives in offering. I pastored a church that gave their pastor 80% of what came in. If this were a poverty stricken area with a large congregation I could understand, but the average attendance was 30 people, the salary... $30000. That's just my opinion, but many times money makes the difference in a pastor's decision. When you aren't concerned about your salary and offending the "givers", you remain focussed on God's call and not your career concerns (i.e. money).

irrevrend fox said...


the way the SBC has things set up, they WANT church planters to be totally focused on getting the plant up and running. I guess I can see the thinking in that. Those guys, like I did, have to raise outside support from other churches, groups and individuals to make it so they don't have to work in the world.

If I had it to do over again, I woulnd't have done it this way. I would have, like you said, at least worked part time in the world simply in order to make connections and relationship with the very type of people I'm trying to reach (the unchurched).

For me, this is all about missions and not money.

In a way, I feel like I am doing it all over again cause Southside is transitioning in so many good ways that we are basically gearing up for a re-launch in the fall.

irrevrend fox said...


let me clarify a bit more. I do not look down on planters with less than 50 in attendance who are doing nothing more than working on the plant...IF...the majority of their time is spent PLANTING (as opposed to pastoring).

You can easily pastor upwards of 50-60 people and work out in the real world at the same time. I did it for 3 1/2 years. It's when you add the twist of PLANTING i.e. being out of your office witnessing (however that looks in your culture/context) that extra time is needed and I have no problem with anyone doing that vocationally.

So if God has called you to not work in the world while you are planting, more power to you! For real. I did it for about 3 1/2 years and I worked my tail off, even back when we had 14 people cause the majority of my day was out PLANTING and not being a CEO behind a desk.

Anyway, my whole point is that every pastor should SERIOUSLY concider that type of sabbatical...that's all.