During my first year at seminary, I shared an apartment with two other guys and worked at Starbucks to help pay living expenses. One of my fellow baristas was finishing up his last year at seminary. Over the course of the final semester, it seems that he was given a tour of at least three job offers across several metropolitan areas. Two years later, I was a new dad and I (along with many other senior seminarian students) was hoping that my friend’s experience was the norm. Or at least achievable.
Far from it. As I look back on my seminary graduating class, we easily fulfill the statistic of 85% of us not completing five years in ministry before leaving the field altogether (based on a study by Duke). I’m not using this as an example of the potentially low logistical and spiritual viability of ministry employment (though that is an issue to be addressed). What I’m saying is that I am one of many passionate and servant-hearted Christians who went into seminary, sometimes with great risk and sacrifice, with the selfless end goal of better helping people in the name of God. Any one of us would consider it a blessing to serve in ministry with financial stability, much less with enough influence and privilege to travel and speak regularly.
So, to those who are currently in such a position, please stop slipping up.
I don’t care how hard you’ve worked, where you went to school, the level of your giftedness and/or how many books you’ve sold. Your salary and power should never exempt you from simple accountability. And it should never look like you’re trying to avoid accountability. You are servant leaders, so buck up and think only about the well-being of your precious congregants and the image of the Gospel, not yours or that of your institution. I don’t care what you’ve gleaned otherwise from American corporate culture. Stop slipping up.
No more sweeping things under the rug.
No more affairs with secretaries.
No more partisan allegiances of any sort.
No more moral failures.
No more sexual, racist or otherwise offensive jokes. Not even borderline. No matter the context.
It grieves me to see the good work of so many respectable churches and institutions put into question because of the scandal of its leadership. As I’ve written before, the Church doesn’t survive because of any type of method we invent. Our role is faithfulness, humility and suffering servanthood. This means setting aside various inclinations, habits, and practices, anything that would cause a brother to stumble or hurt the cause. I know many Christians who have sacrificed and served faithfully in the Church and still lead playful lives (I’m not being a killjoy here). The early Church had to give up a lot more.
And to those who have the important task of hiring ministry leaders, please remember that personal character is more important than talent. A church staff is not like a professional sports team where, if a coach can keep rowdy player from crime or scandal, you can reap his/her talents at face value. There is much more at stake. But take heart, because I believe there are many qualified candidates out there who may not have glitz and glamour in their work and resume, but they will be faithful servants.
The Church needs humble and faithful servant leaders of integrity to do its work. Not CEO’s, TED Talkers or rock stars, but shepherds who are in it for the long haul. Are you up to the task?
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