Saturday, November 10, 2012

The end of a professional clergy?

I like to go hunting, but for me it is a hobby, not a profession. Something I like to do, but which I certainly don't get paid for. Bill Winke has made a profession of hunting. A profession is something you dedicate your life to and which people value enough to pay you to do. In a profession, you spend a lifetime honing your craft, learning new skills, seeking to get better.

In addition, I do a little moonlighting as a freelance writer and translator/editor of Latin texts. Sometimes moonlighting is just for a little extra spending money - and sometimes it's the difference between having too much month left at the end of the money or not. Moonlighting is especially nice if you can find something that supports your profession - the cop who moonlights as a security guard, the school teacher who moonlights as a tutor at Sylvan. Such things serve the profession. But sometimes, you just need the cash and whether cop, teacher, professional hunter, or clergyman a moonlighting job at 7-11 or MickeyDs will have to do.

So these three things remain: hobbies, moonlighting, and professions. But the greatest of these is professions.

The Bible argues for a professional clergy - "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." The ministry is important work - worthy of the dedication of a lifetime, 50+ hours a week, and the sacrificial giving of God's people.

Now, it's true: St. Paul did not make use of these rights. It made sense in the course of his apostolic ministry to be a tent-maker, a moonlighter. But he clearly argued for himself as being the exception to the rule. I mean, he also performed miracles. And he also famously argued that he had the right to have a wife like Pope Peter I did - and he didn't make use of that right either. Kind of a theme for Paul, I guess: exception, not rule. But the Dominical rule remains: The Lord commanded. . . 

My heart goes out to my many friends and colleagues in the ministry who are not supported by the parishes they serve. They are not able to get their livings by the gospel, though this is what the Lord has declared for His Church to do for His ministers. Some are priest-workers - squeezing by with very limited moonlighting. But some are forced to live as worker-priests: where the ministry has really become the moonlighting. They simply must work in a full-time position outside the ministry. Through no fault of their own they have been forced out of a professional level of time dedicated to the ministry.

In my humble opinion, the fault for this lies squarely in the laps of our church hierarchy. District Presidents are called upon to see to it that the church runs according to Dominical command. The DP actually has a lot of institutional, by-law, and moral power in this regard. I've seen it done: DPs refusing, for example, to sign off on seminary placements for congregations who can't/won't pay a living wage; or reading a congregation the riot act for not giving a pastor a raise for years. But there are a hundred other things that could be done, and even these two basic actions are rare enough.

And now our church government has introduced the sin of lay ministers and the unwise expedient of "specific ministry pastors," both of which exert downward pressure on pastoral pay, the number of positions available, and the very idea of the desirability of a professional clergy.

So is a professional clergy desirable? There's no question that God thinks so - see above for chapter and verse. And this is so at least in two ways: it provides the time needed to do the job right and it ties the minister's hand to the plow. But the times they are a-changin', right? I think not. The only thing that has changed is the willingness of the church government to stand up for a professional clergy. The desire to get something for nothing has always been with us. But it used to be that seminary professors wrote books upholding the need for a professional clergy instead of sabotaging the professional clergy by playing up worker-priests and rolling over for the Synod's SMP plan. For example:

Since the duties of the ministers of the church are so varied and so serious that they do not allow them to earn a living for themselves and their households by the work of their hands or other business, that they might be able to perform their office more conveniently, they are given salaries by which they can take care of themselves and their households honorably, and can be free for the Word, having abandoned the serving of tables (Acts 6:3).
That's Gerhard. You can read his whole discussion in On the Ministry Part II, pages 181-189. It would be nice to see a similar article come out in CJ or CTQ.

Of course, you can go down another road. You can allow the ministry to be de-professionalized. Garrison Keillor sent along the following poem on this topic a couple of weeks ago in The Writer's Almanac (HT: Fr. S. Adle).

The Preacher
by Louis Jenkins
When times were hard, no work on the railroad, no work down on the farm, some
of my ancestors took to preaching. It was not so much of what was said as the way
in which it was said. "The horn shall sound and the dog will bark and though you
be on the highest mountain or down in the deepest valley when the darkness comes
then you will lie down, and as the day follows the night you will surely rise again.
The Lord our God hath made both heaven and earth. Oh, my dear brothers and
sisters we know so well the ways of this world, think then what heaven must be
like." It required a certain presence, a certain authority. The preacher was treated
with respect and kept at a bit of a distance, like a rattler. There wasn't much money
in it but it was good for maybe a dozen eggs or a chicken dinner now and then.
"The Preacher" by Louis Jenkins, from Before You Know It. © Will O' the Wisp Books, 2009. 

Is that where we want to end up? It really is a choice. This is not inevitable. Will someone lead us?



  1. Father Curtis, where did you get the 50+ hours in paragraph 4? Statistics? Arbitrary? Experience?

  2. Fr. Wurst,

    A few years ago I asked a bunch of friends to keep a diary of what they did through the week. 40-60 hours was average for these pastors. So I figure 50 hours is a rough average, while weeks north of 50 are common. Of course, shorter weeks happen too, that's the nature of averages. And I'm counting things like the time it takes pastors to drive back and forth to shut in visits and hospital calls, etc.

    This is pretty normal for professional salaried workers across the professions in the US today. The 40 hour work week was always an arbitrary creation of the Labor Movement and has never applied to salaried folks. Here's a link:


  3. The average work week for all employees in the US today, by the way, is 48.3 hours.


  4. Of course, the ministry also has a 24-7 component to it - not only the sense of being "on call" all the time, but also how even time not directly "working" as a pastor finds its way into theological thought, into sermons, into evangelism, etc. This can be tough for lay people to understand - especially if the congregation wants an accounting of how the pastor's time is spent.

    I doubt that I'm alone here, but it still surprises me how often I wake up in the morning realizing that I have been studying my text in my sleep! I'm often praying or pondering pastoral care matters while commuting to my secular job. Even reading fluff about rock stars or deep economic topics often sparks thoughts concerning pastoral care situations. The life of the pastor is not compartmentalized to where we can easily give an accounting of our time.

    I'm sure there are many vocations like this, but of all the jobs and stations in life I have held, this one is unique. I guess that's why pastor is properly a noun, and can only be stretched unnaturally into a verb.

  5. Father Curtis,

    Thank you. I figured that's how you arrived at the number.

    Side note. When I was on vicarage, my supervisor made me keep a log of everything I did and then make a report out of it to the Church Council every month.

    Result: 95 hours a week. Do you know how much of that was in keeping the stupid log and writing the stupid report? More than I want to remember.

    Father Beane hit it on the head. My wife tellss me I pray for people in my sleep. I formulate sermons and preach them in my sleep. I hold meetings in my sleep. I guess I do minister to the flock 24/7.

    Anyway, I digress. Great article brother. Keep them coming.

  6. "It was not so much of what was said as the way
    in which it was said."
    -- after G. Keillor, after L. Jenkins

    Therein lies the problem. The problem with the "deprofessionalized" preaching, as Fr. Curtis notes, is that it is a de-Dominicalized" preaching. It lacks the Authority's Voice. Then it must come down to the treble of the vocal cords, or the gleaming of the teeth, or the quality of the juggling. And for the Hound of Heaven, as Flannery O'Connor would have mused, that dog simply won't hunt.

    Your (unworthy) servant,
    Herr Doktor

  7. I concur with your comments, Fr. Curtis. I would simply add this, in regards to the problem, and this is not from the standpoint of the DP hierarchy, but from the congregational level (I have no hard numbers to back up this claim by the way). I would venture to say that for the vast majority of the congregations, the issue is not, "not being able to support a full-time pastor," but instead, "refusing to support a full-time pastor." A large part of the problem then, is the refusal of DPs to "put their foot down" in such situations, which is what you have pointed out. In short, it is a failure of the DPs to hold the congregations accountable. When a congregation knows it can peacefully exist with a hireling at the helm, without fear of rebuke and correction, it will gladly do that.

    I simply do not buy the "economic downturn" argument when it comes to these matters, not when the majority of the members of congregations do not even come close to the tithe, let alone go beyond the tithe, which they are free to do. The reality is, this is a spiritual problem, not a financial one.


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