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When did ministry become an office job?

Photo by t. magnum via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Somewhere along the way ministry became a desk jockey job.

When I read the book of Acts and even the pastoral epistles I get the idea that being a pastor was action packed.

  • John didn’t kick it in staff meeting for 2-3 hours per week.
  • Peter didn’t make edits to the bulletin.
  • Matthew didn’t work late to attend the facilities team meeting.
  • Phillip didn’t put on a collared shirt and sit in a swivel chair from 8-4.

Even if you go back 50 years the pastoral staff wasn’t all about programs and project managing. They were out in the commnity visiting elderly, the sick, and doing house calls. If the staff had an office it was for study. If the staff met it was for prayer. There was an administrative staff that did admin work and project management. Not pastors. Pastors were out doing, not sitting behind a desk.

But somewhere between there and here all ministry jobs became something else. If we’re honest the ministry job became 75% administrative and 25% ministry on a good day. New people in a church always say the same thing... this isn’t what I thought it would be.

At least once per week someone will ask me if I miss working in the local church. The truth of the matter is that I have the same level of contact with high school students today as I had in nearly a decade of full-time church ministry as a youth pastor. I’m not in a rush to go from actually doing ministry to riding a desk in the office and talking about ministry. If I ever accepted a call to a church again, the role would be radically different… or else I’d go insane.

Life in ministry isn’t meant to be boring

But for many people the jobs that pay are boring.

Too many meetings and not enough ministry. Office hours and office gossip and office meetings and trying to look busy.

The goal is all jacked up. Where does the desk jockey model lead too? More desk jockeys running more complicated programs. We need to rebel against it because we know where this leads. With less than 10% of the population actively engaged in a local church… seriously, we know the current way of doing things doesn’t work!

Stop it.

Radical change is required in the way church staff operates to reverse the trend.

We don’t need a revival. We need full-time ministers to do full-time ministry.

Exceptions: No doubt, there are objectors to my generalization. That’s the nature of hyperbole, isn’t it? But at the same time compare the hours per week that your own church spends in the office vs. the amount of time the New Testament church did. They didn’t even have an office! So it was 0%. The biblical model is 0%. God’s Word is true, right? God is unchanging and unchangeable? Did I miss the memo in my Bible? How can we justify 50%, 75%, or 90% of our hours doing office work?

Church, we have an office problem. (Misappropriation of funds if you ask me.) And if we want to reach more than the 10% we currently reach, we need to change or watch that 10% shrink to 5%. We know where this leads.

Stop what you are doing and think about a new way.

What’s the solution?

Follow the church planters. That’s where the growth happens, right?

Close the church office. Morph your ministry staff into field agents. Tell your team to go out and visit the sick, serve the poor, feed the hungry, teach the Bible “out there,” and minister to the widows and orphans. The pastoral epistles give us a pretty good vision for what to do. The reality is that we don’t want to do the job laid out there.

Remove the office temptation and lease the office space. Pastors who are lazy will just set up offices in coffee shops or their homes. Fire them. If the church is to change, we will need agents of change and not desk jockeys.

Church planters do it every day. It’s funny that they come up with all sorts of fancy statistics as to why they think their new plants stop growing after 12-18 months. Maybe it’s not the movement that slows, missiologically. Maybe it’s the staff that stops trying and starts with office hours?

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27 Responses to When did ministry become an office job?

  1. Sam Halverson August 29, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Ok – I agree. But I need help. As a youth minister, what can I do during the weekday when I’m not able to get into most of the schools where the youth are (public schools)?

    • Chris August 30, 2010 at 11:46 am #

      A group of us recently made a whole lot of homemade muffins and breads, and brought them up to a local public elementary school to put in the teacher’s break room for their first day of school. They had no problem letting us go into the break room and set things up. The teachers were blown away. Some of them even tracked us down to thank us.

      So – this isn’t to brag about what these people did, but to show that you really can develop a repoire with the schools. It may take a while, but it’ll happen.

  2. Adam McLane August 29, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Sam- I guarantee you that you can serve your way into any school in America. I have never heard of a school saying no to a resident wanting to volunteer to do service they can’t afford to do themselves.

    There are no closed schools. It is a myth.

    • Katie August 29, 2010 at 10:34 am #

      Preach it! This was a word I needed to hear today! Thanks

  3. Sam Halverson August 29, 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    You make a great point, but as a staff youth minister there is more to it than what you describe (or there should be). As the staff person in charge of ym, my job is not to “do” youth ministry but more to train, enable, motivate, and encourage others to reach out to youth. That does involve planning and connecting so that the whole congregation does what you are talking about.

    Of course, it still means that I can take your lead and get out there, visiting people and showing/encouraging THEM to reach out to youth.

  4. Adam McLane August 29, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    Right on, Sam. The danger is that the whole church leadership has to be in on a change like this or you’d basically be firing yourself.

    I do think that there are examples of churches where the staff work in the community, mostly on community stuff, and the staffs main role is to empower and equip volunteers to do ministry in the community.

    The planning part can look entirely different if we redefine who we are ministering to. That’s my point. We think too much about my church and too little about being called to serve a community.

  5. Lars August 29, 2010 at 7:33 pm #

    I was thinking today that in my denomination we need to radically transform how we do confirmation. Currently it very much about what you “know” not about how you live or who you are. I’d love to think through a paradigm shift in my role at church where I could somehow just lead a life and do my job in such a way that most of what I do had a direct impact on transforming students. Or at least take a look at my week and say that I’ll only be a desk jockey 2 days and the rest of the time it’s go be in the community encouraging people to “follow me as I follow Jesus” Come to Texas and let’s talk about this.

  6. Adam Walker Cleaveland August 29, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    Shit.

    What does this post say to my having “Office Hours” at a coffee shop so that kids can come and hang w/me.

    Hmmm…

    This is a great post – I needed to hear this.

    But the reality is (and I’ll say it) it’s EASY to feel like we’re DOING ministry and doing our jobs when we’re sitting around in the office, making newsletters, editing and adding cool apps to our Facebook pages, sending emails, etc., etc.

    I’d even say that when I first started my job, and felt a bit lost in what I was supposed to be doing, I (gasp) *****LIKED***** going to meetings because it was then that I knew I was “DOING” something that was part of my job, and not being lazy.

    Anyway – hmmm – you’ve got me thinking now McLane — great post man. Thanks.

  7. Adam Walker Cleaveland August 29, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Can I also just say that this was the kick in the a$$ that I needed to get on campus this year.

    Before seminary when I was in a tiny town in Idaho doing youth ministry, I had lunch at the high school every Wednesday. Connected with kids, saw them in their element, etc. For some reason, in the past two years I’ve been here in my first call (after seminary), I haven’t gotten up the nerve to do it.

    I have no idea why.

    No more…this week I go setup a meeting with the principal. And get on the frickin’ campus. Thanks man.

  8. Adam Walker Cleaveland August 29, 2010 at 8:23 pm #

    Last comment ;)

    I will play devil’s advocate a little bit and just say…….it’s possible that this ***MIGHT*** be an easier post to write while not working in a church setting…..

    Maybe…??? ;)

    • adam mclane August 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

      Fair enough. It is indeed to say that since I’m not on a churches payroll. (can’t imagine the “fun” meeting I’d have as a result of writing that with my pastor, if I was on staff.)

      It would be major progress if folks just decreased the percentage. You have to get on campus… Somehow and anyhow.

  9. Chris August 30, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    This message is coming at me from ALL over the place, and you are the most recent in a series of voices fueling a fire for me to get out of “professional church ministry.” I have been a “worship director” (which means “MUSICIAN,” primarily) for 10 years now, and the more time I spend in this job, the less time I spend with people who don’t know Christ.

    Francis Chan quit “professional church ministry” for the same reasons, from what I can gather. I just read The Tangible Kingdom twice in a row, and it’s saying the same kind of thing. Some other blog I read this morning was saying exactly this same thing.

    I think it’s a step we need to take, but it’s definitely scary step, especially when you’ve been relying on The Church for your bread and butter. I mean…taking a step like that might require faith or something. Faith is lots more fun to talk about than to actually exercise.

  10. Sam Halverson August 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

    Chris,
    I’m not so sure the step needs to be to get out of professional ministry, but, rather, change it. It needs people like you to become radical and step out of the office and into reaching out. As a musician: take your praise team to hear some local musicians to see what kinds of “sound” or “tweak” they can glean from the “secular” bands, invite people who love music to come hear yours; talk to the unchurched and find out what kinds of songs would draw them into a church setting. In writing music: spend time really connecting pastorally with people and their needs in order to determine what kinds of songs/lyrics would connect with people OUTSIDE the church. We do a good job of singing songs that connect with people who already know God, but what about Christian music that draws people in from outside. And how about working with radio stations that aren’t Christian? I’ve often wondered why they run ads for churches and worship services on Christian radio stations. I’d think (don’t know this for sure) that most people who listen to Christian radio would already be involved in a church. Are the advertisements meant to take them away from where the are already worshiping? I’d hope not. However, if ads like that were played on secular radio (of which I’ve hardly ever heard one) then perhaps that would be a way of bringing people to try worship.

    Don’t quit yet. You’ve got an insight, and maybe that’s what God’s been trying to get across to you and others.

    • adam mclane August 30, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

      I’m with Sam. Don’t give up.

    • Chris August 30, 2010 at 2:05 pm #

      I definitely hope to do that – to change the organization from within…but it will be a long haul. We’re very set in our ways, and at least at my church, there’s definitely an “if you’re not in the office, you’re probably not actually working” attitude.

      Also, I wonder if doing things out of an attempt to attract unchurched people to the church would be fruitful. Here in Houston, a church-saturated city, if people aren’t part of a church, it’s likely not because they haven’t heard (some version of) the gospel or don’t have the stylistic option they’d prefer available to them. More likely, it’s because they they think they’ve seen and heard what Christianity has to offer and are actively saying “no thanks.” They’ve seen too much of the religion, too many people claiming to follow Christ but not living like Him, too many people who say that they follow a God who has the power to give eternal life but then who demonstrate through their lives that He apparently has no power to change human hearts here and now.

      I realize that I’m painting with broad strokes, but that’s what the “unchurched” think of when they think of “A Christian.”

      I think we need to focus more on being “out there” rather than trying to get them to come “in here.” As we live out our faith, love sacrificially, give with no strings attached, and really demonstrate the very real presence of the Kingdom of God, people will be drawn to that. That is, after all, what people are looking for: a God who loves them where they are and who impacts their life where they are.

      But coming back to what you’re saying, perhaps I should stay where I am, focus on being out there, and encourage the staff and other members of my church to do the same. In some ways, it seems easier to cut and run, and the rebellious side of me wants to do that, but God may have other plans for me. The Church definitely needs change.

      Maybe we should hire Obama ;)

      Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  11. Stephen August 30, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    Wow.

    “The danger is that the whole church leadership has to be in on a change like this or you’d basically be firing yourself. ” I just did that last month, when I realized we had a group of leaders whose idea of leadership was a weekly (or should I say weakly) basis – no “follow through” or “go and and do”.

    Either they fail to see, or they refuse to see the fact that “if we build (design, plan, coordinate, etc.) it, they will come” doesn’t work – that is “the new school” of evangelism…we need to go “old school” – back to the Bible – and get out and do what Christ called us to do – make disciples, who in turn make disciples, etc… so I walked away.

    I’ve never felt closer to God, yet further away from some of the people at the church.

    • Stephen August 31, 2010 at 6:52 am #

      Ok, so let me clarify, too…it’s a weekly (or more appropo “weakly”) MEETING basis for “leadership”.

      And, those that I feel farther away from at church, are the very same leaders. But that’s just it – we were selected by the congregation to lead, and we didn’t. At all. We sit. We talk. But nothing gets done. No problems get fixed. In fact they are getting worse, but they are unable to see it. There is no objectivity to see that things are getting progressively worse.

      Sigh…

    • T.C. August 31, 2010 at 7:13 am #

      stephen:: cudos to you. that’s an impossible thing to do, walking away. but a seed must die. and then it grows a tree. the church must die. if some of the folks in that congregation die with you, stop worshiping the church programs, you’ll see amazing things happen in your town. be encouraged…

      • Stephen August 31, 2010 at 8:59 am #

        Stephen,
        The church’s focus fell off of God and onto themselves (more specifically onto the conflict between members, ongoing, gossiping, politicking (that would make GOP/Dem strategists blush with envy!), fiefdom-mindsets – I just couldn’t deal with it anymore, and yes, I was to blame for some of the turmoil.

        Since I left, though, I REALLY feel GREAT – a weight was lifted off my shoulders – I’ve been able to relax at church and focus on God – gasp! What a concept!

        I will, however, be looking closely for hidden cameras at church – Adam you HAD to have planted them somewhere, you were so accurate…

  12. T.C. August 31, 2010 at 6:10 am #

    I LOVE THIS CONVERSATION.

    If any of you want to chat contact me through the website above. I’ve been out of a church for 2 1/2 years and now am part of a non-profit that worships outside. I would love to trade notes with anyone. I am far from having it figured out but blessed in the uncertainty … I encourage all of you with yearnings to get out, to get out …

  13. jared August 31, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    Adam,
    i love how you always make me think and i also think i love how you love to stir the pot a little. Just a thought though when you say that the bible says 0% meetings in the church i think your arguement loses something. The Bible also doesn’t say anything abotu non-profits doing youth ministry, or youth ministry in general. Overall geat post.

    Jared

  14. Paul August 31, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    Adam,

    Your comment about schools being closed is a myth, sorry dude you are WRONG-O on that front. A LOT of schools are closed especially when they find out you are a youth pastor. I’ve been turned down by a good handful in my area when I went to volunteer for whatever was needed, and of course they all asked me what I did. Soon as I said those two little words it was ALWAYS the same, we’ll call you, don’t call us. It simply is just not that easy to get on some school grounds no matter how you come across, wanting to volunteer or not.

    • Chris August 31, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

      I think the point is that we can’t make broad generalities about schools. My experience, with a handful of schools in two separate towns (Austin and Houston areas) has shown that schools are open to *certain* kinds of help and activities, even from church people. Yes, as you’ve seen, some aren’t, but not all of them.

      • adam mclane August 31, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

        Agreed, it takes time and serving a school and their agenda before you can earn the right to speak into a campus. Most schools need volunteer coaches/assistant coaches on the JV level. When I was a volunteer coach for the JV golf team in Romeo, not only could I be on campus at any time, I had a passed their background check, and the principal and athletic director gave me an open invite to come whenever I wanted. IMO, you can serve your way to all the access you’d ever want.

    • adam mclane August 31, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

      Paul, I’ll reiterate. I’ve never been turned down to volunteer at a school. I have a feeling its how you are asking or what you are asking or whom you are asking. There isn’t a public school in this country that has the budget to say no right now. Here in San Diego, the Urban Coalition just had over 1500 volunteers complete hundreds of projects in one day. (T.C. who commented above was a part of it, ask him!)

      It’s all about partnering, agenda, and approach. True, if you present yourself as a religious worker with an agenda on a campus you are probably going to get shot down, unless you have a pre-existing relationship with the administration. (I’ve been asked, as a youth pastor, to be on campus by principals) But if you approach it as a group of community members who would like to volunteer as coaches, mentors, etc in a way that fulfills the schools agenda… it’s slam dunk after slam dunk.

      If you are really into it, I can point you in some directions. I know tons of people doing tons of various types of ministry in public school settings. Even the simple thing like a group of parents bringing in snacks for a teacher staff meeting, ANYTHING to love on the community.

      It’s fun to be a part of a ministry here in SD that doesn’t consider the churches kids our youth ministry. Instead, we take a page from YoungLife and do ministry to our two high schools. That simple change in target is crazy effective!

      • Paul August 31, 2010 at 1:13 pm #

        Adam,

        My agenda was never disclosed at any of the schools I’ve been turned down for. The only thing that I have ever said was I’d like to help out in the school wherever you need help. That’s it. While I’m sure you have a lot more opportunity to get in a school in SD, or for Chris in Austin or Houston area where I live the schools have 300 total in the entire school system. You are known by name around my parts, and if they don’t want you, you’re just not getting in. Now, I’m not trying to be a pessimistic person here, there are schools where I can get into where I can have the kitchen sink if I want it, we are talking about a different area and definitely different dynamic then what you are working with. Chris you are right with the statement we can’t make generalizations that will work for everything. I just didn’t want Sam to think that he was a poor youth minister for not being able to get into a school. In my experience, I have been turned down and refused access to schools, it can happen, but don’t let it stop you from trying to get into as many as possible.

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