Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A New Pastoral Challenge!

In 30 years of pastoral life, it’s never been as weird and stressful as this. I am clearly not an accountant or economist, just ask any of the Treasurers who have had to deal with my “floating decimal points” and inability to add simple columns of numbers. I am a preacher, teacher and leader. I enjoy prayerfully discovering the unique vision God gives his gathered people called churches.

But what was consistently present all these years was a growing economy, a rising stock market, growing house values, increasing salaries and benefits. Cost of living adjustments were part of everyone’s conversations. I assumed things would grow themselves healthy and strong again. And, by and large they did. Church giving grew, church budgets grew, church attendance grew, church staffs grew.

Then it all began to unravel, as Wall Street collapsed, the housing market imploded and good friends who faithfully paid their mortgages turned upside down, owing more than their houses would ever be worth. And the ripple effect has touched absolutely everyone.

Now, once untouchable churches and centers of spiritual vitality have to lay off staff and curtail ministries because their donor base has been decimated by the economy. If you are a pastor you know what leadership meetings are like these days; finances and how we can cut back. And what makes it even tougher is that lean budgets formed in good faith between staff and leadership are returned to each quarter, with a scalpel in hand. Where can we cut and economize in order to stay fiscally sound? No one looks forward to conversations with the pastoral staff on what positions should be cut back, furloughed, or eliminated.

The on-the-ground challenge for pastors today is to retool their leadership skills to be more appropriate to the new and lean economy. This is not unlike what Joseph did for the Pharaoh facing the upcoming “lean years in Egypt.” One mandate is to remain the leader and not retreat to a victim position, blaming others or pitying ourselves. We worship and serve a great God. God is not surprised or shocked by what is going on. We have the full compliment of spiritual gifts to be his church in plenty and in want. How bold is our faith when it affects our salary and benefits package? We need to be the realistic voice of hope in solidarity with our struggling congregants.

But we do need to review our assumptions and entitlements. This is hard to do after several generations of steady growth. What is it we need to be the church today? What needs paying for and what needs to be done by members with their spiritual gifts? This needs to be a long and deep conversation with no protected positions and persons. This process will require senior/lead pastors to make some hard decisions among those we love and consider as colleagues and friends.

Where are the resources for this process? What are some of the best practices out there to guide the church during these uncertain times? How can we model light in the darkness and hope to the hopeless? “For I am sure that the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6


At 9:20 AM , Blogger Isaac Johnson said...

Staff reductions are always a painful discussion. The few times I've been part of it, it made me physically ill. I don't think i have the stomach for it. Best of luck with those; if you can, see who can take pay cuts, or less hours; or one time when 3M hit the dog house and really didn't want to lay people off, they insisted everyone take a few weeks unpaid vacation. Sure it stunk not to have a paycheck on period, but in doing so, they avoided a lot of layoffs (and people did get some nice vacation).

Heres the article from Fox Propeganda Network; http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,474389,00.html


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