Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Worker-Priest Responds

Chaplain Dean Kavouras
By Dean Kavouras

[Note: Fr. Kavouras has responded to my call for discussion about the controversial - and yet increasingly common - situation of bi-vocational pastors.  My original article "Diary of a Worker-Priest" is in the current print edition of Gottesdienst.  I am meeting more and more pastors who work secular jobs either part-time or full-time, and so we need not only theological discussion about this trend, but also practical insights from men who live this pastoral life.  Pastor Kavouras is well-known in the LCMS for his chaplaincy work with police, the fire service, and the FBI, as well as his magnificent little book on his chaplaincy work following September 11.  He is a true mentor to men serving in such chaplaincy capacities.  I really appreciate his insights, and hope you do too!  Published with permission. + Larry Beane]

Fr. Beane seeks responses from others who are worker priests.  For 28 of my 34 years in the ministry I have provided my own support.  After 6 years of nothing but trouble, getting kicked around, run around and ruined financially, I decided that I don't mind this happening to me, but I will not let it happen to my wife and children.   That was back in 1984. At the time I stumbled upon a job selling debt collection services to businesses.  Within 3 years we decided to strike out on our own and have been at it for 25 years on our own.  In addition, about five years ago, I learned how to buy and sell coins for a profit.  Both of these businesses are immensely enjoyable because I like the world of finance, I like business in general and I love sales, which besides managing the business took up most of my time.

Time management is no problem for two reasons.  When you are self employed, especially when engaged in sales, your schedule is flexible.  We had the good fortune of making a liveable wage in less than half of a normal work week.  Besides this many pastors don't use their time wisely.  As far as I can tell a pastor's duties are as limited as they are important: prepare for and celebrate the Mass, catechize, hear confessions (not very time consuming these days), visit sick and shut in members.  These last two duties, however, are not the exclusive domain of the pastor.  A well trained, qualified deacon (not just a warm and willing body) who is locally ordained for that purpose can do it.  While there may have been a need for a professional clergy when parishes were large, and prosperity was flowing, today we must 
recognize that confessional churches are small and getting smaller.  Why would they have a full time pastor for the limited duties needed?  We need to break free from our mental mold and deal with reality.  I recognize it is hard.  But try if you will.

Further, I suspect that if we survey all of Christendom over the last 2,000 years, we might find that part time clergy are the rule, rather than the exception.  We would probably find pastors who spent a good part of their day growing their own plot of food, farming, tending animals, and going to market in order to live.  And, think of the pastors today who are full time clergy, but only by the grace of their wives who take on the double burden of bearing children and providing for the household.  If a wife is willing and able I see no problem with it, but if she is not willing or able, or only haltingly so, then the pastor needs to man up.  There is no theological requirement for a full time, professional clergy.  Indeed I believe that I have accomplished as much, if not more, than others on a part time basis because I never got involved in the busy work.  Almost everything I do is pure ministry.  We have eliminated, of necessity perhaps, all busy work in our parish.  We have one meeting every two months with the Board of Admin.  We celebrate Mass every Sunday and hold a bible class and SS preceding the Mass.  I do my preparation, personal studies, visit the sick and shut ins, and provide some pastoral counseling, as well as carry out my chaplain functions.  We also sold our building two years ago, it was drowning us, and now we rent from a sister congregation, but maintain two very separate congregations in the same building.

As for ups and downs?  In my case it is mostly ups.  The money is good, the independence is better, the wide range of people I meet and things I get to see as I consult with business owners, learn about their businesses, and counsel them on their collection needs is vast and stimulating beyond what one would imagine.  The switching back and forth from one reality to another took a little getting used to, but I find it happily satisfying.  When one mistress gets trying, I fly to the other.  But I love them both and serve them both.  I consider them both gifts from God, both as fields of service.  If there is a down side it is that some people don't consider you legitimate if you are less than full time (especially if you own a collection agency, and are a coin dealer).  I don't like to create confusion in people's minds but that is their problem, now isn't it?  I have never had that problem personally because I kept my two worlds separate, purposely so.  I never talk about my business ventures to the church, not ever.  It's none of their business.

Cleveland, being a large city, means that I don't run into members in my business dealings very often.  As for types of employment that could muddy the waters.  If you live in a small town, and end up dealing with your members as customers, especially if it is what some wrongly call "menial" employment, it could cause some confusion in people's minds.  But if dealt with properly that goes away and there is no such thing as menial labor if done with honor.

But I have a suggestion for pastors needing extra income, viz., that you consider self employment, and especially sales.  Sales is an art and a science that can be learned and acquired just like any other skill.  It pays very well.  With that ability a person can make an above average income, in less than average time, and work in whatever field he enjoys. If you like men's clothes, welding supplies, corporate jets or silk flowers you can turn selling those things into you own business.  There are also other professions and skills which people might possess: construction trades, accounting, law, medical professions, computer programmer etc.  Use them.  What's wrong with being a part time plumber and part time pastor?  Or practicing law or accounting on a limited basis to supplement your low pastoral income?  Again, this takes a re-think on our part, and on the part of our people.

Also as Fr. Beane mentioned, being out there leads to some interesting discussions.  I have lost track of the number of people I have counseled and prayed for in my business dealings because of my dual vocation. People open up to us.  Also, people can read you in the business world, they can perceive if you are a man of integrity, and pastors excel in that area.

Lastly, I would suggest that since confessional churches are magnet churches, and not neighborhood phenomena, that two confessional churches would do well to share buildings, two separate parishes
housed under one roof.  Find someone you can live with, and do it. Why do we maintain buildings that are bleeding us to death?  Sell one, make the other sound, if you can find reasonable people of like mind.


  1. Gerhard spends a lot of time on this in volume 2 of On the Ministry (now available from CPH).

    I'm sad that Fr. Kavouras got kicked around and I'm glad that his part time work is paying the bills, but individual exceptions cannot make the rule.

    And we have a Dominical command for what is the rule: "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." I Cor 9:14.

    The Church has done Fr. Kavouras and others like him wrong. There is no way we should let the seminaries, COP, etc., off the hook for encouraging worker-priests arrangements. See the Bible passage above: that's what the Church as a whole should be working to uphold.


  2. I don't agree with this above interpretation. But I must say that I've rarely been marginalized in such a sweet manner.

  3. I don't understand the above advice. If there are two confessional congregations in the same geographic area (close enough to share the same building), why not just combine the churches in order to be able to support a full time pastor? It is a shame in the first place that the laity refuse to sacrifice the fruit of their labor in order to provide for the man God has appointed to shepherd their souls. Wouldn't it be preferable for one ordained man to be dedicated full time to that task? I guess I am assuming they are the same denomination, which may not be the case, unfortunately.

  4. It all depends on the situation, Nick. We are with a sister congregation but we would not want to combine with them. They have a full time pastor, but they don't have the same understanding of things that we do. They don't celebrate Mass every Sunday. They offer grape juice as an option. Those are deal-breakers for us.

    I must say, too, there is a lot to be said for a small congregation. I prefer it over even a medium sized one. We have typically 40 to 60 people at Mass per week. The people focus on what is essential. The church for them is the church, the place where the Gospel is preached to them and where the means of salvation are administered to them. That is what they come for, and then they descend from the mountain and go back to their vocations as new people in Christ.

    We have one meeting every other month, that's it. We surpass our weekly budget needs by 22%. The people are cheerful and respectful of their pastor. The only thing we are missing, is the people would like to socialize once a month after Mass but the situation makes it difficult.

    There is something to be said for professional, full time clergy. But if you take a poll among the confessional pastors of the LCMS, the ones who don't just talk about it on the internet, but who do it, I would venture to guess that you will find that they are paid poorly, rank high on the misery index and waste large swathes of time doing things that they don't want to do.

    Again, this takes a rethinking of things, and I know how hard that is.

  5. I have been W-P'ing for a year now. I can't say I am enthusiastic about it at all.

    I do the barest minimum to keep the congregation going. It is pretty much Sunday only for us now. I have very little contact with anyone.

    Financially, much of our angst has been relieved. My vocational "angst" has ramped. Days off are a real rarity. This has added a lot of tension/anxiety to my mind and heart. Lord, have mercy.

    I don't recommend this model at all (ESPECIALLY since the District execs like it). I do recommend that our churches look at a "cathedral" model of church life. Zagore and I have a nice plan to have the larger "town" church be the central point for pastoral work in the area. The "village" churches would receive pastoral care when they need it without the need of supporting a FT pastor. Cooperation, brotherly love and sharing, the mutual conversation of the brethren, etc. What's not to like? Can't get anybody to give it a shot. Too many American rugged individualists . . .

    We keep dreamin' . . . ;)

    + RW

  6. Men are required to "sacrifice" to become pastors--sacrifice by taking on huge financial debt. Why are congregations not required to "sacrifice" to receive a pastor--sacrifice by supporting the man?

    I'd be more okay with the concept of worker-priests if their seminary tuition was reduced or refunded based upon the salary that they would receive.

  7. Rob, perhaps I should be clear. When I speak highly of being bi vocational I don't have a full time secular job in mind, but rather a part time one in which a person can control his own time. I, for one, could never work a full time job and be a pastor. I also am assuming that the church pays some reasonable amount for its pastor's support. I don't recommend taking on the pastoral office for free, even if a person can afford it. Too many unintended consequences when people defy economic law.

    Pastor Osbun's point about student debt is one that interests me. There is an intentional attempt by govts and banks to turn everyone into debt slaves. College aged students are the latest target now that nearly every adult's credit rating has been ruined. College education is a cultural idol. I suggest a person think long and hard about accumulating debt for education. Rare is the person who will be better off because of it. A person with self discipline, creativity, motivation and an internet connection can get his own education.

    Q: What do you say to college graduate at noon? A: I'd like fries with that.

    My suggestion to one and all pastors is this: cease the self pity and self recriminations, don't ignore reality and move on. Deal with things as best you can. Use your reason. God is in control, Romans 8:31.

  8. Hey Dean, I knew where you were speaking from. In my case, this is all there is. The congregation does pay a stipend, too. When you live in the woods, you take what you can get ;)

    If and when He moves me out of this foxhole then perhaps I'll have different options.

  9. I have an interest in this discussion but I must confess that once ordained, I have not worked outside the parish and, I am almost embarrassed to admit this, have been more than generously paid for nearly all my 33 years of service and counting). I have known several worker priests and they have had vocational skills and personal aptitudes for this ministerial arrangement. Once we said that no Pastor should be forced to choose between a wife and ordination and then it became the rule that you must be married (I am old enough to recall when 95% of seminarians, however, were single). We may have begun with a majority of tent making ministers and then it became the norm of full-time compensation. I think that the point in this is the person. Some have the gifts and abilities to do well in a worker priest setting. It has been so long since we considered this that it has begun to sound like a new idea. I think it should be explored -- not as an end all solution but knowing that some candidates are suited to handle it and some parishes will not be able to support the cost of full time compensation. Actually, most can afford the salary or the benefits but the struggle comes when you add them both together. My health insurance alone is twice my first salary and benefits cost in my first year as a Pastor.

    Honestly, it would be a whole lot easier not to have a family either since you cannot help to have situations in which you are forced to pick and choose between them and the parish. We need to be less suspicious of the single whose gift and choice is to be chaste. We need to hold up worker priest possibilities to those who, like Dean, have its gift and have chosen to embrace it.

  10. I think we all recognize that there may be instances where pastors need extra money from elsewhere, but I agree with Rev Curtis that this is contrary to the norm set up in the Scriptures. Paul voluntarily worked on the side, yet he had the right to not only be supported, but to support his family too. I pray for the cases where this is not upheld.

    I think there is something else at work here too -- as a friend notes, "this is the de-professionalization of the clergy". Whereas people used to think of ministry as a respectable profession, a full-time job worthy of full-time pay, that is becoming less and less so, to our detriment. Now it can be a part-time job, or even hobby in the case of some. I think this idea comes not from our own history, but from the other denominations where the office of the ministry is not recognized to be a special call for trained people.

    We get this from the other side too (also supported by the districts, Synod, and even Seminaries): since the ministry is not really that big of deal, there really isn't a need to train them with a full four-year program. Instead, let's do it through the internets, let's tell them to have another job on the side, and we'll call it good. When this is the official policy of our hierarchy, why would the laity feel any different? Why wouldn't they think, "Isn't a full-time guy a waste of money (and probably laziness to boot)?"

  11. I appreciate reading all the thoughts on this subject. I think we must deal with the situation at hand. A man has the duty to support his family. If he doesn't he is worse than an infidel according to St. Paul. If his parish has gone astray and decides to assault the pastor by its penury, or if it is genuinely too poor to do the right thing, then some decisions must be made. Does the parish continue to exist? Does the pastor fail to do his duty to his family?

    As parishes that will tolerate the true ministry decrease in size there are other decisions to be made. Do they share a pastor? Do they close their doors and forget true religion? Can the pastor engage in additional, outside work?

    The scenario that Scott describes of a degraded clergy is to be avoided at all costs. Rather than a man who has a secular vocation working in the Office - in cases of necessity it must be the other way around: a man who is a pastor doing what he needs to do to make a living. At least this is how I view it.

    I don't believe one can make a unified argument from Scripture for a clergy that is paid enough to live on. Yes, he must be paid. But how much is the question. There are too many disparate threads: freely you have given, freely give; it is more blessed to give than to receive; Paul's tent-making; apparantly Peter did not "leave everything and follow Him" because soon after the Lord's death he is back to his fishing business. Yes, it is preferable that people appreciate the Gospel as per Gal. 6 and many other admonitions, pay for those who labor in it. Yes, a full time dedicated clergy is the ideal, but not a theological/moral necessity.

  12. I've read some of these comments from pastors and now I'm going to give you a parishioner's perspective. Cry me a river. I sure hope none of your parishioners read this stuff. Coming from a church that is very poor and is lucky they can pay their monthly utility bills, I find it very offensive when you blame the congregations for not "sacrificing" enough. I have gone from having a well paying full time job to having to depend on disability benefits because of 20 years of back problems and now hip and feet problems. I will now be making half of what I was making. Many of your congregations are full of elderly people who are also living off of social security benefits. Many families have both parents working and some people even having to work 2 or even 3 jobs to make it just to survive and not to live a middle class lifestyle. You act like you are the only people struggling out there. Let your wives get a job. I can't believe that this many pastors are breaking the commandments by coveting what other people have. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't hear the pastors in Siberia or Africa doing the complaining you are doing right now. It was your decision to go a seminary and rack up all those bills. Everyone who goes to college is in the same situation as you and then can't find a job. Many people may not be giving what you want, but they are giving all they can afford given their particular life circumstances. If you are that unhappy, leave. Maybe we should close down all of the struggling churches and then you will have absolutely no pay at all. I've always said don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.

  13. Thanks for the parishioner's perspective, Sherry! (Full disclosure: she is one of my faithful parishioners!).

    Sherry makes a good point: we have to deal in reality. The paradigm has shifted for everyone. Costs have spiraled while our salaries are stagnant (at best) or falling. This is not only happening to us, but to everyone. With this shift in paradigm, we need to make sure young men enter the ministry fully appraised. When they are young, with no children, they may live comfortably on a pastor's salary. But with the passing of time, young men need to come to grips with the reality that their income will likely decrease rather than increase. And as their children (and their families) grow, they will need to earn more money to properly care for them. This is the reality among married clergy. If we were to return to a celibate clergy, we might be able to hold this trend at bay for a longer period of time, but I do believe our churches are better served by married men.

    Many pastors' wives volunteer countless hours in their congregations - teaching, serving informally in a "deaconess" role, playing organ, being a secretary, etc. Some are able to work. One pastor in our area told me that his wife works two jobs, and he works a fulltime secular job in addition to a fulltime pastoral ministry. In our area, the deplorable condition of our schools means public school is not an option. Thus pastors and laypeople must earn extra money in order to either send their children to increasingly expensive private schools, or one parent must stay home to home school. Other pastors' wives are not able to work, as they may have several children, or are disabled or ill. In most cases, clergy families cannot depend on their own parents for childcare, as pastors are usually called to congregations a long way from home. Our culture in general is rather unsupportive of families. This is one reason why Muslims are overtaking Christians in size in Europe. Their culture seems better equipped to deal with large families. The rise of Islam and the increasing irrelevance of the church in most people's lives is another reality we're going to have to deal with - maybe not now so much, but certainly our children and grandchildren.

    I honestly believe the worker-priest model is not only here to stay, but is going to become the norm. I pray that other pastors will find the love and patience and support that I have from my parish in working an outside job.

    The school loan issue is another situation where we need to face reality. Lutheran pastors have long been trained theologically to the level of a masters degree. Most Christians do not have this luxury. We are trained in biblical languages and extensive exegesis over the course of at least four years. Many denominations don't even require pastors to have a college degree. Our way of doing things is expensive, and the cost of such education continues to skyrocket. We must look for ways to cut costs and hopefully not cut corners. Maybe we can use distance learning for things like biblical languages. Maybe we can shrink the size of our seminary faculties and staffs. As much as I hate to admit it, maybe we will see a new generation of Lutheran lay people who will not have pastors trained to the level of our own generation.

    I agree with Sherry that we should repent of our complaining. I think everyone in our country - as bad as things are - enjoy a level of freedom and wealth that our brethren around the world cannot even dream of. Pastors and laypeople need to keep things in perspective and refrain from complaining about every detail in their lives. God is gracious. Jesus has died for us! We have the promise of eternal life. I think we need to recognize the paradigm shift and live in the real world. (continued...

  14. ... continued

    If we could play center for the Chicago Bulls, or play drums for Katy Perry, or get the lead role in the latest Bond movie - we would be wealthy. If we were called to be corporate executives or master craftsmen, we would live without money struggles. But we have been called to serve the Lord. We live in a free market, and society pays for that which is valuable to them. Athletes, rock stars, and actors are seen as valuable by our society. People's time and money flow in those venues. Like Sherry said, many of our churches are poor, and populated by small numbers of people who already give sacrificially - like the widow with her mites.

    We live in quite a contrast to the culture of our parents and grandparents. In their day, large numbers of people saw the benefit of attending services, teaching their children the faith, and pitching in to keep the church's bills (and the pastor) paid. This is on the decline. There are younger people in particular who think nothing of going into debt to go on vacation or buy luxury items while never putting more than a few singles in the plate - if they bother to come to church at all. This is a generational stewardship issue that many parishes struggle with.

    Of course, not every congregation is like that. There are cases (I've known many) in which the congregants are well-to-do while their pastors are getting government cheese and food stamps. While that is not the case in my parish, that does exist elsewhere - and many pastors feel caught in a trap - wanting to be faithful servants of the Lord serving where they have a divine call, and yet also understanding the responsibility to provide for their families.

    The Table of Duties in our Catechism is a two-way street. There is a section on what the hearers owe their pastors, and vice versa. We pastors need to sacrifice for our parishioners, and vice versa. And every congregation is going to be different. But there is a real trend out there, and young men entering the ministry need to be aware of it. They need to learn plumbing or carpentry, or start a landscaping company, or teach religion or piano at a local community college, or some such.

    We need to stop complaining, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, and deal with reality. My wife and I just finished a book this morning that we've been reading together as part of our morning office. I highly recommend it for pastors and lay people who are struggling with these kinds of issues. It's called: "Prisoners of our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl's Principles at Work" by Alex Pattakos. It is an outstanding application of the theology of the cross and vocation - though those terms are never explicitly used in the book.

    Thanks again for the reality check, Sherry!

  15. I think the first thing we must establish is that the notion of a bi-vocational pastor is legitimate. I know of no scriptural proof to the contrary, nor of any in the church's long history. I know the arguments, some have been made here, but they fail to convince me.

    Sherry Johnston makes an interesting point when she speaks of pastors in Siberia or Kenya. I doubt that many congregations there have the luxury of a full time pastors. Do we call them less than Christian? Does Gerhard condemn them as faithless?

    What I don't want to see is a degraded clergy, one that is hastily and poorly trained. But all of this depends on God's blessing. If He sees fit to provide the resources needed we will embrace them heartily and thank Him with joy. If He doesn't, we will go forward as we are able and recognize that He disciplines His church in this way. He did it to His o.t. church. They suffered from a famine, not of bread, but of the Lord's Word in Amos's day.

    I remind all readers here once again: this is a new notion for most American Christians, it will take some getting used to. Try to think it through with patience and honesty. Don't jump to addled conclusions.

    I counsel all would be pastors: don't drown yourself in debt that you will not be able to pay back, or that will make you a debt slave. THAT is wrong. Granted, there are many who are in that position, they have been led into temptation. Fear not, we have absolution. Accept it and move on. No room for self pity or self recrimination here.

    Also I counsel them, have a fall back position.

    And to all Christians and to all reasonable people the best counsel of the day is: consume less than you produce. "Proverbs 15:16 Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it."

    Lastly, if any man lacks wisdom, or anything, let him ask God who gives liberally.

  16. The discussion of the Worker/Pastor bi-vocation is especially pertinent to the Missouri Synod since President Matthew Harrison currently serves as a noncompensated, limited-duty called assistant pastor at Village Lutheran Church in Ladue, MO, at the same time he is a term-elected, full-time, compensated executive officer of the Missouri Synod corporation. At the time this occurred the bi-vocation appeared to cause great enthusiasm among many pastors in the Missouri Synod.

  17. Dear Carl:

    This is not an analogous situation in the least. Church bureaucrats should be pastors. Our confessions complained about church bureaucrats who had no altar and pulpit - no call. In the early days of the LCMS, the bureaucratic responsibilities were carried out by pastors. Over time, we pulled men away from their altars and pulpits to carry out bureaucratic responsibilities. Pres. Harrison is carrying out the bureaucratic responsibilities that go with the presidency, but I think he is doing the right thing to be attached to an altar and pulpit. Ordained men belong there.

    That is not bi-vocation.

    This is a very different scenario than a pastor not being able to meet his responsibilities on his pastoral compensation and seeking outside paid employment in the secular world.

    That is bi-vocation.

  18. I would like to once more stress, though I cannot see the way forward, that we must continue the high level of training we now require (if not higher). But we must demand this of men who are willing and apt to find outside work. That is asking a lot.

    To go the other way, take men in other vocations and hastily train them for the ministry, would not be as desirable.

    Although under one circumstance it could. If a careful vetting process were put into practice, it is entirely possible and desirable in my opinion to pay men who have a means of support with flexible hours, to study for the ministry as apprentices. The schedule of a fireman, salesman, accountant, computer guy or tradesman might permit this. The other thing we should know is that there is a lot of money out there, a lot of money. By "out there" I mean in the hands of some of our elderly members who have worked and saved all their lives. They could be identified and approached to fund such an effort. I have plans more detailed plans in mind, but there is not enough room here to write of them.

  19. Two cents from Latvia, Europe (guess that makes them eurocents :)

    As you may know Baltic States are not among the the wealthiest countries in the world, and our pastors are likewise not among the well paid vocations here. An average lutheran pastor here serves two or three congregations and receives an average paycheck of 400 USD a month.

    I myself serve two small rural parishes and in total receive 250 USD per month. Transportation costs are on me and, of course, there is no talk about health insurance. But I love my family (wife, two children) and would like them to live. So please don’t judge me harshly for seeking to make something from other vocation – currently I am a software tester in local financial institution.

    And thank you, chaplain7904, for your empathetic, warm and at the same time realistic approach and advice concerning bi-vocational pastors


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