Over at Reformation 21, Carl Trueman has a post on the coming night of full-time ministers in America. His contention is that, as the bigger-is-better mentality continues to affect the Church, pastors of smaller congregations will eventually get squeezed out of their full-time salaries. Their churches and their positions will still exist, but in a much smaller form. Enter center stage: the liberals. According to Mr. Trueman’s liberal counterparts at liberal seminaries, this reality has already set in among liberal churches and liberal clergy. “Liberal friends at mainline seminaries tell me that bivocational ministry has become an established pattern…” According to Trueman, such a pattern might very well be the “key to survival” among conservatives as well.
At first, I thought Trueman’s post was brilliant. After all, I and my peers are currently living its truth. I am a rural pastor. I serve in a poor presbytery where the ministers are generally not well-paid. Many have other sources of income besides their pastoral salary, or they have simply learned to live on very little. I myself work two jobs in order to provide adequately for my family. In fact, I have often contemplated writing the very post that Dr. Trueman wrote. But let’s be honest: he has the credentials to be heard. I do not.
With that said, drinking Trueman’s insightful post to the dregs left me with much more sediment that I expected. More specifically, this postscript left my mental palette all scrunched up:
Postscript: A week or two before Christmas, the congregation where I have worshipped for over eight years and where I now sit on session voted to call me as its pastor from August 1 next year. If the presbytery decide to place the call into my hands at its February meeting, I will most certainly accept it. The call is part time and is, I suspect, the shape of things to come for many of the more modestly sized (i.e., the majority of) churches in the USA, given the current condition of the economy. In this instance, at least, I am hoping to practice what I preach – and indeed to do so while I preach.
With all due respect to the good docent theologiae (did I decline that correctly?), this is not what he preached. How is a full-time professor (with an adequate salary and benefits) moonlighting in the pastorate analogous to a full-time pastor struggling to fulfill the demands of his ministry while eking out a living at Wal-Mart or Lowe’s or some sort of part-time government work? It is not. Furthermore, while Trueman says his work will be part time, it is unclear whether the church he will be serving is capable of hiring someone full time. If it is, Trueman is not practicing his preaching, but rather blatantly violating it. He would be filling a position that another minister or ministerial candidate (the OPC is full of them right now) might otherwise fill. So then it would appear that the lesson of the liberals is that underpaid pastors should get another job. But the lesson of the conservatives is that they should have gotten their Ph.Ds and published something in order to double dip in both academia and the church.
Think I’m being too hard on Dr. Trueman? Think again. The Aquila Report reported today that the Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan has been elected as a regular faculty member at Reformed Theological Seminary while remaining in his pastoral position (Senior Minister) at First Presbyterian Church. “But it ain’t the same!” you say. Well, yes, that’s formally true. Trueman is adding the church to his W-2; Duncan is adding the seminary. But aren’t they both adding lots more work to already adequately paying work? Of course they are. How could the Senior Minister of an almost dozen-member ministry staff possibly be in want or bored, especially when formerly occupied with regular “national speaking engagements”? Are we to believe that an academic dean and professor of church history at one of the top Reformed seminaries in America needs a part-time call to minister at his local church in order to pay the mortgage? Of course not. Yes, Messrs. Trueman and Duncan are bivocational; but their bivocational ministry resembles very little of the bivocational pattern that I and my peers know and live.
In fact, if we are going to be truth tellers, their pattern, like mine, also has a counterpart in liberalism. It’s an open secret that while many liberal congregations are poor and weak, their denominational headquarters are well-funded and vigorous. I know, I know: neither Duncan nor Trueman work at their denomination’s headquarters. But like their liberal counterparts, they do form an elite by virtue of their respective educations and positions. And like any elite–liberal or conservative–they have more well paying work than they can probably handle.
So I guess the lesson then is neither from the liberals nor the conservatives. The lesson is from life in a world governed by God’s providence: there are have’s, and there are have-not’s. Patronizing the latter certainly isn’t going to change anything.