October 28, 2011 Leave a comment
Tony Jones, a person who I am familiar with yet don’t know a lot about, has been part of a discussion about the future of seminary. His post can be found here.
The tentmaking idea is not new. It is as old as Paul and probably even older than that. The idea is that pastors serve a church but they also get a ‘real’ job. In theory this keeps them from being a burden on their congregation and a part of the greater society, not cloistered within their church office. Sounds great.
I have often thought about what I would do if I needed to become a tentmaker. The two ‘dream jobs’ are open a pub or open a game store. Not a video game store, but one that sells board games, card games and miniatures. The Game store would be called ‘God Games’ and the pub would be named Proverbs.
I know absolutely nothing about running a business though. Seminary did not teach me anything about it. If I had known that tent making was what I would be getting into maybe I would have majored in business in college. As it is now at the church I have to rely on business people within the congregation to walk me through a budget and a stewardship campaign.
But, even aside from my own failings as a businessman (I get bored during Monopoly, even the McDonald’s version) the church I serve is not keen on a part time anything. They see it as a downgrade, that they are not faithful enough to support a full time pastor. Even though currently there is a deadline on my call (it keeps moving farther out, but it is there) they feel like they need to contribute half of their budget to paying for me. I don’t like it, but that is what they feel called to have.
I have to say that I can see where they are coming from. At Presbytery meetings people look to leadership from the pastors who have been there a while. Big churches with lots of staff are seen as being better in some way, at least they are looked to for guidance by many of the smaller churches. Congregations without a pastor are seen as dwindling or non-vital. They do not seem to get a lot of respect at any level in the denomination.
Really, the church does need to change. Churches at the small end of the spectrum do need to begin looking into other ways of staffing. Whether that means we put more of an effort into yoking congregations and bring back some sort of circuit riding or whether it means making part of seminary a trade school for tentmakers, I am not entirely sure. What I do know is this: we will have to educate not just clergy but all members of the church as to why things are changing. Many will embrace the new opportunities, some will kick and scream and claw so that they can stay right where they are. This is not a seminary or a professional clergy issue, it is a church issue.