innovation

Financial Support "Ain't What It Used To Be."

By Rev. Mindi

The second congregation I was called to as a pastor, an old New England church with white columns and red carpet down the aisles of the white pews and white walls, had a chart in the back of its sanctuary, built in 1825. The chart was for the old box pews, long pulled out of the main floor, but still standing up in the balcony. Because, as you may know, back in the day families paid for their pew for the year. Back then, when someone got mad at you for sitting in their pew, it was because they had paid good money for it. That was how church buildings were funded, Sunday School literature purchased, and how pastors were paid.

At some point, the box pews were pulled out. The idea of being able to buy your seat in church and pay more for better seats became appalling. You can’t claim it’s your pew anymore, and all are encouraged to give what they are able. And this model worked for some time, where those who had more could give their share, and churches began creating endowments and building bigger buildings. Families still had a lot of children that filled up those Sunday School classes.

But here we are, in the twenty-first century. Two adults with full-time incomes also may have student loans, childcare expenses, healthcare expenses, rent or mortgage, and other costs that leave little wiggle room. Fewer and fewer have disposable income. People are not able to give as much to the church, and churches are shrinking their budgets, cutting staff, and in some cases, closing altogether.

We know this. And we know the church is changing and the new worshiping communities don’t look like what we have known on Sunday mornings. For some of those communities, income isn’t a problem. They meet in coffee shops or at bars or other public places, and don’t pay rent, or pay little for reserved space. Many do not have a full-time pastor, but someone who leads their community and works a different full-time job. Some of them are not seminary trained and don’t have the same debt. The operating costs may be significantly less.

But there are still many who value seminary trained pastors, who need to pay their pastor something to help with their debt, who have expenses for worship space. And they have a lot in common with the traditional church coming in to today’s world: both need to figure out how to raise financial support.

Being a PTA mom, sometimes I turn my nose up at the word “fundraising.” All I can think about is wrapping paper and cookie dough sales. But we need to look at ways to raise financial support beyond what we are used to, whether we are in a new, innovative ministry that meets outside of the box, or if we are continuing within the traditional church—the old ways are not going to work any longer.

Here are some ideas I have seen traditional and non-traditional worshiping communities use:

--Dinner and Silent Auction

--Kids Carnival

--Community Festival and Appreciation

--Concerts

--Inviting people to partner with the community through financial giving, whether they attend worship or not, by inviting people to give to help fund meaningful work in the community.

--Online giving campaigns

For the next two weeks, the “out-of-the-box-in-the-box” worshiping community I am part of, Open Gathering, which is a ministry of Bellevue Christian Church in Bellevue, Washington, is partnering in an online fundraising effort with other innovative ministries in what we are calling the “Island of Misfit Toys” Fundraiser. We are inviting folks from our communities and those who support them to offer up an item for an online auction—something they received for Christmas they didn’t want, or new (and like-new) items they have, or handmade items (there are some delicious baked goods being offered by a former Manhattan pastry chef). You can check it out on Facebook, and even bid on items to support some of these innovative ministries happening around the country. To see what other ministries are being supported by this online auction, visit this website.

Feel free to steal these ideas. Better yet, reply to this post and share your own ideas for thinking outside of the box, partnering in the community, and helping to support new and innovative ministries, whether it happen within the traditional four-walled church, or outside of the box!

Church, Go Back to School!

By Rev. Mindi

We checked in over coffee, talking about the start of the year, about what hadn’t been done over the summer. We shared our frustrations about things that were still the same, and celebrated the changes that have been made and places where we saw hope and opportunity.

We weren’t talking about church; we were talking about school.

Over the course of the conversation, as we talked about our admiration for the younger teachers who seemed to be able to adapt and adjust better, who could multitask and understand the differing needs of today’s children, of all abilities, I couldn’t help but think about church and how so many of the conversations we are having in the public education sphere are almost the same conversations we are having in the church world. While a younger age does not guarantee someone is open to change and adaptation, these observations came from parents at this gathering about younger teachers and administrators:

-Technology is seen as a necessity, not a luxury, especially for students with disabilities, and all students benefit from access to technology.

-They use social media as a teaching tool in the classroom, to share the accomplishments of the school with the public, and to connect with parents and families.

-They are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom, even when there are disruptions and distractions.

-They want to know about students’ lives outside of the classroom—culture, family, interests, progress they are making academically and socially.

 

In contrast, teachers and administrators that are “old school” tend to be:

-Unfamiliar with technology or supports for students with different and unique needs.

-Unfamiliar with social media—even afraid to use it for fear of privacy concerns.

-Using one-size-fits-all models of classroom instruction and behavior expectation.

-Unable to adapt to major changes—want to use same curriculum or method of teaching.

-Struggle with cultures that are different or new to them.

Of course, these are generalizations. Of course, every school is different, every administrator and teacher is different. However, public education in the United States is changing, and these conversations are eerily similar to the conversations I have with my colleagues in ministry.

There are plenty of factors that make a comparison between the church and public school a different one. However, in this conversation with parents, I heard many familiar themes:

-Struggle of an institution stuck in patterns of the past.

-Administrators unable to think outside of the box and try new ideas, or even see the reason for doing something in a different way.

-Teachers not being paid enough to live even near the communities they teach in.

-Not enough resources to go around.

-Access to technology lacking.

-Buildings in dire need of updating, but can’t due to lack of funds.

-Struggle of educating students in a rapidly changing multi-cultural community.

-The number of students on free and reduced lunch rapidly on the rise.

Change “Administrators” to “Administration Board” or whatever your governing body is, change “teachers” to pastors, etc. You get the idea. Our communities are changing with new immigrants and cultures and the number of families at or near the poverty level is on the rise.

What I see that is helpful in this comparison is that change is possible. As part of this group of parents, I am seeing significant change in our school district towards inclusion of students with disabilities. Younger teachers are being hired who are able to multitask and maintain their presence of authority in the classroom. More resources are being invested in technology, including an app for parents to keep up with what is going on at their child’s school and in the district.

At the same time, teacher salaries are low. Teacher turnover is high in the state of Washington, where I live, and more and more teachers are leaving public education altogether. Bonds are not passing at the local level and so buildings are falling into disrepair, and resources are stretched thin. Every year, there are teacher positions that are unfilled by a permanent teacher and instead filled by a substitute, sometimes for the entire year.

The conversation is all too familiar. All too close to home. What can we learn, and what can we do differently?

The Myth of the Ten-Year-Full-Time Pastorate

By Rev. Mindi

I don’t know where I learned the myth—somewhere along the way in attending church in my youth to my college days and even into seminary and my first call—somehow, I believed that the average call to pastoral ministry in congregations was about ten years. After consulting with a few other seminary friends, they tell me that they also heard this myth in seminary. I believed that churches provided full benefits and adequate salary and housing that would help cover my student loans from college. I believed I would be able to have my own one-bedroom apartment and take my day off and work a 40 hour workweek.

That all changed very quickly. My first call was full-time and did offer me retirement and health insurance for me—but when I got married, not for my spouse unless I paid for it. My first call did not pay an adequate salary nor was the housing allowance enough to cover my rent—I found a house with three other roommates to split the rent four ways (I did have my own bedroom), and I was able to pay a car payment on a used car—but without consolidating my student loans I had $45 after every paycheck. After consolidation, I had $145 to pay for groceries and gas. Needless to say, I opened a credit card in order to survive that first year and a half until I received a raise. Then my roommates moved, and I had to move into an apartment with a roommate with higher rent. The debt caught up quickly.  This was all while working at one of the most prominent churches of my denomination in that state, connected to a seminary and regarded as a pillar church, a church that did not pay its staff a livable wage.  In addition, I was often working 50-60 hours per week. I was in charge of starting and building the youth group, running the church school, participating in worship and other duties in the life of the congregation. However, most of the time I did manage to take Friday off. I stuck with that, though I worked several 12 hour days during the week.

It wasn’t until my second call, just less than four years later, when I moved into a parsonage and I received a salary in which I could meet my expenses. Here, I was paid a livable wage, my family was covered under health insurance, and I worked reasonable hours during the week (40-50). In my first call I was an associate minister; in this call, I was the senior pastor of a smaller congregation.  It seemed perfect. I imagined myself there for seven, eight—even ten years. We wrote a family leave policy into my contract and I had a child. I began to work on writing in sabbatical leave, as the congregation wasn’t used to sabbatical leave before.

But even there, I ended up moving before four years. My husband received a call to a church in another state, and it seemed an opportunity he could not pass up.  It was bittersweet—a great opportunity not only for my husband, but for us as a family as I could be home more with our son—but leaving a wonderful church community and call.

To be honest, I really wrestled with leaving in this time. I felt that somehow I had failed to live up to the standard of a ten-year pastoral call. But then I began having conversations with other, older pastors and I suddenly learned that the ten-year pastoral call is a myth. And then it hit me: my grandfather, a pastor I had looked up to as the model of the perfect pastor, never had a ten-year call, either. Most of his were 4-5 year calls, several were shorter than that.  Many times it was because of unhealthy aspects of the congregations he was serving. Sometimes, though, it was because of family dynamics and choices made for the entire family.  Sometimes he served part-time congregations and did other work on the side. My grandfather had a slew of odd jobs over the years to help make ends meet at times.

I was so worried in leaving that church that I was leaving behind any chance of having a full-time, long-term call again. That somehow I would be marked by this. Thankfully, this has not been the case—in talking with search committees, most have been very understanding of the decision to leave full-time ministry to care for my child and to move for my spouse’s call.

At this time, I am serving at two part-time calls. I do not have full benefits—I rely on my spouse’s insurance to cover the family.  It is working, though it is hard to be in two places—as my husband, who also serves two congregations, can attest as well. Neither of us can envision a ten-year pastorate any more.

At a recent gathering of younger clergy, none of us saw ourselves in a ten year pastorate. Most of us were averaging a vision of about five years. Times have changed. And congregations, for various reasons, are no longer preparing for long-term pastors. It’s not only that fewer congregations are not providing full time salary, housing and benefits, it’s not only that there are unhealthy congregations that run through pastors every few years--it’s that our understanding of vocation, call, purpose—it is all changing. This is not to say pastors are still not called to congregations, but that perhaps the Spirit is moving in new ways.

It seems to me that one of the shifts that has happened is that the leadership within churches has become more long-term, fixed (even bylaws have been changed in churches I have served to allow for continuous terms), the pastor’s tenure has become shorter.  In congregations with history of long pastorates, often the leadership within the church went through periods of transformation and change. New people were brought into the lead, new styles brought on, new models tried out. Now, in my experience with congregations with shorter term pastorates, the leadership has stayed the same, but the pastor is the one who changes. Sometimes this is good; sometimes this is stagnant and the problems are associated only with the pastor.

A short term pastorate is not necessarily a sign of an unhealthy congregation or pastor—sometimes, the Spirit is doing something new, and the work that was done between the congregation and pastor needs to shift or move on. And often, in places where there perhaps was an unhealthy element within the congregation that didn’t get addressed by an interim (and intentional interim ministry is a key point that I am not addressing at this time) a new pastor is able to help the congregation move forward and become healthier, and once that new health is achieved, it may be time for a new transition, a new shift.  

Pastors are all unique and have different gifts and abilities. As the kinds of pastoral ministry change along with the settings (there is no one-size-fits-all pastor for an “average” church, as may have been perceived in the past) perhaps certain skills and gifts are needed in certain times of the church’s life, and the pastor find themselves wanting to continue to use those gifts and skills in new settings.

Pastoral ministry is changing, as much as the church continues to change, as much as pastoral ministry has changed. I’ve reflected on this before: in my twelve years of pastoral ministry, I have gone from having a cell phone as an emergency phone for my car only, to using my cell phone as a way of providing pastoral care through text message, tweeting prayers, and connecting with others in leadership. I have moved from being in the office 8-5 to being at the coffee shop in the mornings and a bar in the evenings. As the world of pastoral ministry has shifted in the past ten to fifteen years, so has the focus of gifts and skills in pastoral ministry, and so has the vision of the pastor’s role within the congregation. And while there are still full-time pastors serving in congregations 10+ years, the ones I know I can count on one hand. The myth is not holding up as it once did--if it ever really did.

Creative Pastors, Energized Ministries

By Rev. Mindi

Some might think I’ve taken a few steps down in my career: I started off as an associate minister of a well-to-do congregation in an urban area. The type of church that pastors like to retire from.  The type of church that is often called a flagship church.  But I felt called to something else, so I moved to a smaller urban church in another town, where I had no administrator, and after my first two years, I became a solo pastor.  Then I took time off and became a volunteer chaplain and stay-at-home mom while my husband pursued a full-time call into ministry.  And now I am the part-time pastor of a very small church, which was referred to as “Oh, isn’t that church a dying church?” during a clergy conversation recently.

It’s not a dying church.  I don’t believe it is.  And while I have enjoyed each calling differently, I am loving this call because this is exactly where I am supposed to be, now.  This is how I have felt at every position I have been called to so far, and I hope it will continue.  Right now is where I am called to be.

One of the great skills that all pastors need is the skill of drawing out people’s gifts.  In my view, many of those gifts lie in great ideas—creative energy—that often lies dormant in the minds and hearts of people.  They are afraid to share their great idea because it will be turned down. Because no one will hear them. Because someone will say there isn’t enough money or enough people to do it, or it’s not the right time.  And the idea, the dream, the energy—will fizzle out, fade and even die at times.

There are different ways to draw out the gifts of others. Some will go to a meeting and say, “Anyone have any bright ideas?” It’s not exactly the best way to start, especially if you’ve had a history of people turning down ideas for the reasons mentioned above.  People may be afraid to share their ideas.  There’s also the risk that people who don’t have such great ideas, but instead say, “Church A is doing this down the street, we need to do what they are doing,” will come forth.  Just taking other people’s ideas and programs doesn’t really work and is trying to be a band-aid to the real problem, which is not using the gifts of the people you have.

What I have found in my ministry is that when I share my ideas, my energy and enthusiasm, others catch on to the spirit, but are fueled for their own ideas.  In a church where we had few children and no ideas for a Children’s ministry other than “we want them to feel welcome in the worship service,” we are now coming up with creative ideas for children’s space within the worship service as well as for those who would prefer to go to their own space downstairs (cleaning out the nursery that has been used as a storage facility for the past few years).  We are moving from a Wednesday night Bible study series into a Pub theology forum.  And while I may have begun with these ideas, others in my congregation are now sharing their ideas for Children’s ministry, outreach to seniors, and other ways to be involved in the community.

In order to give space for people to use their gifts, to share their creative energy through their ideas and dreams, a leader also has to be willing to share their creative energy, their ideas and dreams. And it all takes a little work. There are still the same trip-ups that happen, where someone shares the idea but doesn’t want to do the work. Some ideas sound really great but are awful once you start implementing them, or just don’t fit your community.  Time and again I have found myself starting off with a great idea, then find myself doing the work, then realizing that if I stopped no one would really notice (except with a “Why aren’t we doing that anymore?” question at the next board meeting).

But don’t stop. Try and try again. I have found in all of my ministry locations that when I come to the table with ideas, not only do others get on board, but they get inspired. They remember the idea they once had a few years ago and find the courage to bring it up again.  They see your energy and enthusiasm and are encouraged to tap into their God-given gifts and creativity.

There is life in the small churches, and perhaps there is still time to re-create the vision (Habakkuk 2:2), to be inspired again, to see the possibilities for new life in ideas that had been dormant for so long.  So don’t give up. Be creative. Let your ideas flow. Go for it.

Emerging from, as, and into Church

I think every church, especially every Disciples church, should host one or more services featuring the kind of music "we don't like." Those that no longer match the demographics of their neighborhood should conduct a service that does. Encourage your youth to conduct their own service. Then, encourage cross-service attendance and talent sharing, so everyone can discover what we have in common.

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