Free Range Priest
It's time to create the future of church
Fr. Cathie Caimano
Yes, I go by 'Father' - but you can call me Cathie or just your Free Range Priest.I've been an Episcopal priest for over two decades, and since 2016 I've been reimagining ministry with more Gospel and fewer meetings!Seriously, it's time to stop doing the same things over and over and believing we'll stop the decline of the institutional church.I know there are ways to serve God and our neighbor and not get bogged down in all the stuff of church that is not working the way it once did (in the mid-20th century).I know there are ways to thrive in ministry - financially, spiritually, and organizationally - and build the future of church today.I know there are ways to get more ministry JOY.I know because I live them and serve them.Come serve with me.
You don't have to be a 'tech person'
...just be a 'church person'!
The digital revolution changed everything -
including ministry.But many of us feel unequipped to face the rapid changes in technology, and how to best use today's tools and platforms for sharing Good News.There are SO many new tools and platforms that can make our ministry easier and more efficient......like making the bulletin easier to produce and distribute... like being able to communicate more efficiently and affordably with our members.... like knowing if someone has a crisis in the middle of the night, they will know how to connect with a caring voice .
If you want to expand your digital skills and make ministry easier and more effective...
Subscribe to 'Notes from the Future of Church' - it's a monthly coaching session, delivered right to your inbox.
and it's just $5/month
Full-time work for part-time pay?
...not with Sustainable Part-time!
There has to be a better way to serve - and be compensated for - part-time ministry service.There has to be a better way for congregations to get the ministry they need and can afford, and clergy to be able to serve in multiple places and ways without being overwhelmed.There is a better way!Sustainable part-time makes lay and ordained leaders partners in ministry. Instead of the clergy being 'in charge', they serve in a consultant role to support the ministry of the congregation.Clergy serve task-based contracts rather than doing 'everything' and 'always' being at the church (and making all the decisions).It takes reaimagination. It takes boundaries. But Sustainable part-time supports small (and larger) congregations and clergy ministry in the digital age.
If you want to learn how to thrive in part-time ministry ...
Subscribe to 'Notes from the Future of Church' - it's a monthly coaching session, delivered right to your inbox.
and it's just $5/month
The Institution outside the box
Institutions don't change. People do.
For people who work for institutions, it can be hard to serve in a rapidly changing landscape.Trying new ways of supporting congregations and clergy may feel impossible on top of everything else that needs to be done.The Good News: maybe everything doesn't have to get done!The priorities of the digital age and the rapid decline of the church offer opportunities to put lots of things down for the moment (maybe longer).Do we have to do everything exactly the same just because it's how we've already done it?Sometimes big changes come from just doing LESS. And making more space for where and how God is calling us.
If you're ready for small but impactful (and restful!) changes ...
Subscribe to 'Notes from the Future of Church' - it's a monthly coaching session, delivered right to your inbox.
and it's just $5/month
Let's call it 'Creative Ministry'
We live in the era of startups, small businesses, and side gigs.We're called to ministry in a world where we can meet with therapists on our phones and order a self-driving taxi.What does this mean for ministry?It means that evangelism might look like joining the creative explosion of service-based businesses, often as solopreneurs.It's not just about money (although we definitely need to talk about sustainability). It's about harnessing the tools and concepts of the time we live in now to reach more people with the love of God.It's about serving alongside the institutional model - sometimes literally, serving part-time in a congregation and part-time in a creative ministry.It's about how God is calling us into the future of church.
If you're ready for a hand figuring out this new path to ministry ...
and it's just $5/month
We're all small churches now
The average Sunday attendance in mainline Christian churches is around 50.75% of people attend 15% of congregations. That means that most people attend big churches, but most churches are small.And even if, numerically, we have twice or three times 50 people in our pews on Sunday, we're still dealing with the effects of institutional decline and the rapidly changing religious landscape.The great thing about being small church is being cutting edge. Most people laugh when I say this!But it's true.Small churches have been learning creative ways to share the Gospel and support religious community for decades!They're resilient, adaptable, and open to change (yes, really!). They're bastions of mature lay leadership and ministry. They're serving God and their neighbors in inspiring ways.The future of church means taking what we've learned from small churches and applying it in new ways:... how we reimagine clergy and congregations serving together
... how we reimagine sustainability
... how we reimagine digital ministry in a very traditional contextand more!
If you're ready to learn the secrets of thriving small church ministry...
and it's just $5/month
We need to talk about money
The church is struggling financially.Most clergy serve part-time because most congregations cannot afford a full-time salary with benefits.Lots of congregations worry about their budget and stewardship.Lots of ministers work in the secular world in order to support their ministry (and their families).Many ministers have brilliant plans and ideas for creative ministry, but can't figure out how they will pay their bills and grow their communities at the same time.Plenty of people think ministers shouldn't be paid at all!And many of us struggle with the whole concept of spirituality and money.No wonder Jesus talked about money so much!But we can't get to a thriving future of church without the courage to look clearly at new ways of making ministry sustainable.P.S. Sustainability is also talking about clergy burnout and healthy boundaries (working all the time is not getting us ahead, in any way)!
If you're ready to learn how to thrive spiritually and financially...
and it's just $5/month
5 Church Words I'm no longer using
Stewardship. Outreach. Committee. Volunteer. Livestream.At the beginning of 2022, I made a resolution for my ministry.I was thinking about reimagining ministry - how so many things about church are not working like they used to. So I decided to reexamine some of the programs and systems that almost every church has, and wonder if it's time to look beyond them. Or at least beyond the way we've always done them.I decided to stop using words that lock me into a way of thinking that is no longer working as it once did.Letting go of these common words and thinking more about the future of church is helping me reimagine ministry that is thriving. I've even started an online speaking/retreat about how to reimagine ministry without these words - and what to use instead.These are the top 5 words I'm striking from my ministry vocabulary:1. StewardshipIt's been years since it was financially feasible for one (declining) group of people to pay for all the programs, buildings, and salaries of an organization out of their pockets. I wonder if it was ever a model that truly worked, without a few big gifts or an endowment.And while tithing is biblical, I'm no longer comfortable equating giving out of our abundance with keeping up the church budget. Stewardship conflates our Christian practice of giving with the need for ministry to be sustainable. I think it's a good time to re-examine both.Now is the time to embrace new ways of sustainable ministry: subscriptions, digital membership, paid offerings, and online fundraising.2. OutreachServing God and our neighbor is the very essence of Christian life, as is caring for those in need.Yet considering service to one another as a spiritual discipline is very different from running outreach programs, which often struggle to find leadership and fulfill their mission in an era of dwindling church attendance and budgets.I wonder how ministry could look different by eliminating the administrative aspect of 'outreach', and engaging instead with equipping service-oriented disciples, ready to serve others daily in any number of ways, through many organizations - or none.3. CommitteeJesus called a community, not a committee. He didn't hand out roles and set an agenda and a time table for making decisions that needed to be voted on.Jesus said, 'follow me', and a ragtag group of visionaries stumbled around joyfully and sometimes fearfully to pray, heal, gather, serve, and worship. There was conflict, and it was messy, yet great things happened through faith.Personally, I have a vision of the church going back to our organic roots.4. VolunteerOne of the biggest issues clergy bring to me is the struggle to find volunteers for programs, especially leadership volunteers.I think that's because there are no volunteers in church - only disciples - and the question we might ask is how are we drawing members deeper into their own life with God.Volunteering for a committee, event, or program is not usually about deepening our faith practice. This may be an invitation to think about how many committees, events and programs we really need!It also makes me wonder if we should reduce the 'work' of church to the number of paid contracts a congregation can afford, and let the rest of it go. We may find that reducing our programmatic overhead helps us all grow spiritually.5. LivestreamThis one may shock you!But I believe three important things have happened in digital ministry since 2020:some communities have leapt into technology and found new, sustainable ways to reach people online with things like online courses and private social media community spaces.some communities feel they must livestream or do 'Zoom church', but they're exhausted and uninspired by it.some communities are never going to meet online in any capacity.It seems to me that the first group has moved beyond livestreaming worship, or it's well-integrated into a diverse digital ministry; the second group needs permission to give up the livestream and discover other ways to be church online; and the third needs to be supported as is.Regardless of which group we fall in, it's time to think beyond livestreaming worship.Re-thinking some of our most common church terms can be the catalyst for remembering the important concepts at their core.From here we can reimagine how we share ministry in new and thriving ways.Personally, I'm using a new set of words:Subscription. Service. Conversation. Disciple. Digital Presence.
How 'quiet quitting' changes the church
'Quiet quitting' is having a moment.The idea started on Tiktok, but now plenty of people are talking about how they're doing less while on the job. And about how that's not such a bad thing.With all due respect to whoever actually coined the term, the concept of 'quiet quitting' has been around at least since the time of Rabbi Edwin Friedman, the great teacher of leadership and organizational consultant. He called it 'defecting in place'.It's less about slacking and more about boundaries.There are three books (actual books) I always have close by: the Bible, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and Rabbi Edwin Friedman's 'A Failure of Nerve'.The first two should be obvious for someone like me, but I keep Friedman nearby because he reminds me that change is hard, change is personal, and the only way to change the system is to change myself.Honestly, with all due respect to him, it's not that far from what Jesus says.'Defecting in place' is the way Friedman describes focusing on your own work, on doing the things you want and need done, and not doing things because others expect you to if it's not your job.It's not meant to be passive-agressive, it's not meant to try and force others to change their behavior, it's about changing our own behavior and living with the pushback that will inevitably come (or at least we think it will...)It's tricky when it involves our job. Aren't we supposed to do what others (like our supervisors) want? Yes, we're definitely hired to do certain work, and we should do that. But there's often a whole boatload of extra things we do - or think we should - that are not really our job.This is what 'defecting in place' or 'quiet quitting' is getting at. There's another word for it, too: over-functioning. And it's not really good for us, or for those we serve with. Friedman says:'Burnout doesn't come from working too hard. It comes from doing the work that others should be doing'.Burnout is something a lot of clergy feel. I think the over-functioning a lot of us are doing is trying to uphold a dying organizational system. This is a burden that feels overwhelming. It's a losing battle. And it keeps us from focusing on what our work really is: bearing God's love in this world.'Quiet quitting' is a way to rebel against a culture that says work should take up most of our lives. 'Defecting in place' is the same concept, but particularly in the church, it's about a call to let go of what is no longer life-giving, and give our precious time and energy to what is.How?Seek joyAll work is hard sometimes. We do things that have to get done. Ministry brings us into places of deep pain sometimes, yet even here there is the holy privilege of witnessing to God's presence and the hope we carry.But when we're stuck in endless meetings - or petty conflicts - this sucks the joy right out of us. Once we pay attention, we can tell by how we're feeling if the work we're doing - even the hard work - has meaning.If it doesn't, we have to ask, 'does this really need to be done?' If not, we can let it go.Don't worry about what 'they' thinkI'm always amazed by how much ministry is done because of the pressure we feel that 'they' want us to do it.Clergy especially are often harried by this constant refrain of 'my congregation expects this'. From visiting parishioners every time they go to the hospital to spending hours on the phone to preaching in a certain style (or a certain number of services), the burden of expectation is there.But is it real?I've worked with many congregations where the clergy feel like they aren't living up to the congregation's expectations, but the congregation doesn't expect what the clergy thinks they do!Clarifying our role goes a long way.Just saying, 'this is how I plan to spend my time' out loud with those we share ministry with helps everyone know what to expect. Then there can be a conversation about it, and agreement on it.Then the 'expectation' voices can go away, freeing up a lot of our time.Don't do others' workThis is a hard one, since so many congregations are struggling. There's a lot of things that need to be done that are not technically our job as ministers (lay and ordained). Members are typically aging, and they, too, are putting down the burden of a lot of work they've carried.Who will do this work? Typically, clergy and lay staff pick it up, adding to their already full plates.We don't have to do this. I don't think we should. Letting go of others' jobs - even if it means they won't get done - is crucial. Both to our own well-being and to the growth of the church.Why? Because when we're able to let things go, we're also able to see how things aren't working. Instead of trying to prop up what there's no energy or ability to do anymore, we can look clear-eyed at the truth of it.From here we can truly find new ways to be in ministry.This is frightening - we really do have to say goodbye to some of the ways we organize ourselves, some of the ways we engage in ministry.And we're making room for what is to come: possibilities for new ways of sharing the love of God in community.'Defecting in place'. 'Quiet quitting'. 'Giving up over-functioning'. There's lots of names for it. The one I like especially: reimagining ministry.
Clergy burnout: the truth our souls are telling us
There's no doubt about it, the past few years have been very hard for the church.They've been especially hard on clergy.The organizational church is in steep decline, with many congregants not coming back after the return to in-person worship.Church budgets are tight, and many clergy fear for their jobs. In the meantime, we're struggling with new technology, and doing more work with fewer resources and people.Clergy burnout is real - many of us are exhausted, overworked, and anxious.There is lots of advice about how to take care of ourselves in this state, but I also think it's important to pay attention to the underlying cause:We're not burnt out because we're working too hard (though that may be true…). We're burnt out because the system is failing and we can't hold it together all by ourselves.We may feel like walking away from ministry (understandable!), but we can also take this opportunity to really pay attention to what this pain is telling us we need to walk toward.Here's a few ways to really listen to what our souls are telling us - where God is calling us - into the future of church.1. DO LESS'If I don't do it, who will?'I like to call this the 'overfunctioner's theme song'. Institutional church service has trained us well to do a lot of things that are actually other people's jobs and a lot of things that really don't need to get done.Let go of what is not essential - and get really honest about what is essential. Give yourself the space and time to hear God's voice - for yourself and for the people you lead.Things will fall apart. Let them. Witness to what is most important.2. RestSabbath is a commandment (either the 3rd or 4th, depending on how you count).It's almost a badge of honor among clergy that we're 'too busy' to take sabbath, or our days off, or vacations (leaving your number 'just in case' is not a vacation).As my favorite seminary professor was fond of saying, the overall theme of the Bible is: 'I am God - and you are not.'We need to believe this with all our heart as the church changes drastically around us. We need to rest and know that SO much - everything, really - is in God's hands.3. ReturnThe word 'repent' is sometimes hard to hear, but we know it simply means 'turn around', or literally 'return to your higher mind.'Our higher mind will help us remember why it is that we are called to serving God and our neighbor. It will reconnect us with the joy of our ministry.Returning to our own calling story, our own spiritual practice, our own deepest relationship with God will help us hear that voice that lets us know it is ok - and we are on a journey where we do not know exactly where we are going.4. ReimagineHere's an age-old truth bomb: we can't keep doing the same things and expect different results. And we can't hold up a dying institution by the force of our wills.Maybe it's time to consider what we CAN do. We can do the deepest, most meaningful work - bearing the Scripture, sacraments, and traditions of the faith, sharing the Good News of God's love in the world - and we can do it in new places and ways.We are in the resurrection business. Now is the time to know that we cannot save what is dying, but we can let ourselves be saved, and in this, witness to what is being born.
Your Word is Truth
photo credit: Bruce Parker
the General Theological Seminary
It's the bells I always remember.Technically, the carillon: bells played by hand in the chapel tower by a guild of students and other musicians. They called us to pray every evening at the General Theological Seminary.Coming home through New York City streets, I could hear them blocks away, above the usual symphony of city sounds. I wondered if other New Yorkers noticed them, wondered what they were, took them for granted. To me, they felt personal - a gentle summons to put down my work and my errands and come worship.For three years I lived in this community - 'the close' it's called, and for good reason. Not just because it literally means the grounds around a cathedral or chapel. It also meant that we lived, worked, studied, ate, socialized and prayed together on one city block: students, faculty, staff, and for the most part, all our families and pets.My own dog, the amazing Larry Bob (she was a Southern girl, so she had two boys' names), would lean out the open window of my third floor dorm and yelp her greeting as I raced by to make it to Evensong in time. I'm sure not all of my neighbors were fond of this routine, as I know that living with the needs, rhythms, and quirks of a couple hundred other people was challenging for me.Sometimes I didn't make it into Evensong, the most beautiful worship service in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, chanted expertly by all. Music was one of our core subjects, studied and practiced by each student, regardless of talent or even interest. To be a priest is to know what music means to worship.And though I mostly got to the chapel in time to slip into my pew, sometimes I stopped and sat outside instead, just listening to the hymns drift through the high windows, slanted open, highlighted by golden candlelight. It filled me with joy.
'Formation' is the term we use for preparation for priestly ministry.
That's what most of us were doing there at General.There were other types of students studying there, too, but the ethos was the making of priests. We came in as 'postulants', requesting that the church admit us to this order, and we left as 'candidates', deemed fit for the role.In between were a lot of tears, joys, late nights, coffee, and quite frankly, much more drinking than is considered healthy.The Chinese restaurant across the street from the close that offered both a cheap buffet and free (but awful) wine on the table kept me going more often than I want to remember. It's gone now. Lots of things are gone now.The whole way of formation at General - living together in a community both cloistered from and in the very midst of the world around us - has been gone for years. Challenging finances and other issues made it necessary to sell off more and more of the property.As of this year, General is gone, too - merging with another seminary. It still exists in name, but the formation experience that I had there - and thousands before and after me - is no longer available anywhere in the Episcopal Church. I don't think it's available anywhere at all.
Church written in stone.
These Latin words are written in gold lettering, carved into the walls of the chapel:
Accipe Spiritum Sanctum in officium et opus Sacerdotis in Ecclesia Dei, per impositionem manuum nostrarum jam tibi commissum. Quorum remiseris peccata, remittuntur eis: et quorum retinueris, retenta sunt. Esto etiam fidelis verbi Dei, et sanctorum ejus Sacramentorum Dispensator: In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
They are said by the bishop when consecrating a priest. Translation (from the English 1662 Book of Common Prayer):
Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Everyone had their own seat at chapel. Not that they are assigned - except the faculty sat on the uppermost rows - but that, like in churches everywhere, we each tended to gravitate towards a particular spot during worship.My seat was in the third row, on the pulpit side, on the end, closer to the door than the altar. It was directly across from the word 'ecclesia' - church. From this seat I meditated frequently on the solidity of this particular word and its concept. Unmovable, unshakable, written in stone.
photo credit: Benjamin Waldman
Untapped New York
As I spent my years being formed for the priesthood, one thing I never remotely questioned was the certainty of the institution.
Even though I served a church in New York City for three years after I was ordained, I've only been back to my alma mater a handful of times since I graduated in 1999.The last time I was there, much of the property had been sold, and students and faculty no longer lived a cloistered life in the middle of the city. There wasn't even a cloister anymore: one row of buildings had been turned into luxury condos, and another was replaced with a fancy hotel, where I was staying for a conference.I checked in, paid $6 for a cup of coffee, and remarked to the young man at the counter that I used to live here. 'Things change,' he shrugged, clearly unimpressed. The whole exchange nearly brought me to tears.
Sermo tuus veritas est.
'Your word is truth.'
It's the General Seminary motto.I know that what I learned and how I lived while I was there has seeped into my bones and my soul, helping me to bear the truth of God's Word and God's love into the world through sacrament and Scripture and tradition. Some things will never change.But it's hard not to grieve for what has.
The Road to church change goes by the parish administrator's desk
The role of the parish administrator is changing - maybe not in the ways we think.
There's one person who is always in the middle of church change: the parish administrator.She used to be called the 'church secretary'. She's definitely not always a 'she' today. She may not always be paid (though she should be). If she is, it's probably quarter or half-time in today's church.Whatever the situation, the parish administrator is the heart of the congregation. They know where everything is, have been there longer than the pastor (and maybe longer than the pastor has been alive), and are generally trusted and beloved by all.And when it comes to church change - especially change that involves technology - this may be very hard on the parish administrator. It may cause fear, stress, and pushback.What often holds congregations back from upgrading their systems and being more present online is 'who is going to do this work?'.
Clergy often don't want to take on digital ministry, and parish administrators often feel unprepared.
There's a lot of fear around this topic. Will the congregation be held back from making necessary administrative, organizational, and communications changes? Will the parish administrator lose their job because they cannot or will not take on systematic changes to how ministry is done? Will this kind of change cause conflict or hurt feelings?Mostly, this keeps us stuck with 'the way we've always done it'. This may mean we're not using tools and platforms that make ministry easier and more affordable. It definitely means we're not maximizing online tools that help us connect with members, and with those who have not met us yet.This issue is not just about technology. It's about how we understand church itself, and how we've organized ourselves and gotten the business of church done for decades.And it's about people - beloved people who serve in ministry in a changing context.What to do?
Consider the parish administrator's role
Just like clergy are reimagining ministry, it may be time to think about what church staff are really called to do - including the parish administrator.In today's world, do we need someone who's job it is to answer the phone, set schedules, or mail the newsletter? Using new tools and platforms - especially those designed for small businesses - a lot of administrative tasks can either be automated or done by each staff person as needed (making/answering calls and emails, scheduling meetings, etc.).This doesn't mean the parish administrator's job is unnecessary!Quite the contrary. The administrator - along with the head priest/pastor - is often the central person around which the community forms. They may get news of births, deaths, emergencies, and big events before anyone else, so they have a pastoral role, as well as communication. They keep information flowing to the right places, and keep confidences. All of these things can (do!) happen outside of tech tools.
Make tech changes with and for the administrator
Even if the main church computer is 20 years old and you're still using a dot matrix printer, once upon a time that technology was new, and required a learning curve. Email is thirty years old, and somehow most members of the staff and congregation learned to master it. So the tools may be new, but the idea that it's time to upgrade definitely isn't. The question is - what and how?Figuring out what systems need to be upgraded is one issue - one that the parish administrator surely knows! They're probably struggling with at least one system that doesn't work like it used to (formatting and printing the bulletin?), and would probably love to wave a magic wand and make it easier.The harder part is making the change without the wand!Here's where the onus doesn't need to be put on the administrator. Often it seems like they are the natural person to implement these changes - even help others with them. But that may not be their role, and that may be the source of tension.How can changes be made in collaboration with the admin but also in support? How will this make their job easier in the long run, while minimizing the difficulty of the change in the short run?
Consider contract help
One great thing about the rise of new platforms for small businesses - they work for small churches, too! Another great thing about them - they often come with excellent customer service and onboarding.Beyond this, there are people who can help. Often it is someone in the congregation with more tech or business skills, who can help implement change and work with staff until everyone is comfortable with it.And - part of the reimagination of ministry is there are those in the church world who will do this work with you! Free Range Priest offers 'Digital Ministry Rehab', to help you decide what tools you need to make your congregation's - and your parish administrator's - life easier, and sit beside you as you figure out how to implement them. Other ministers offer church website and social media help, or freelancers for specific short-term jobs. It's never been easier to get contract help for organizational change instead of hiring someone for a new position (which may not be affordable).The parish administrator is key to making this change happen, and it can (should!) support their role rather than challenging it.
‘Tentmaker’, ‘Non-Stipendiary’, and ‘Bi-vocational’
Paul had a day job. Or did he?
Paul is often used as an example of bi-vocational ministry:"Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together-by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks." (Acts 18:2-4).Today, 'tentmaker' is shorthand for ordained ministers who get paid to do secular work, and do not get paid for their church work. This is often out of necessity - close to half of mainline congregations can't afford full-time ministry. But to take this Scriptural quote out of context is to suggest that this is how it should be, which is not entirely fair to clergy, or to the concept of 'bi-vocational' ministry.Or to Paul.Just because he spent some time working with tentmakers - likely to evangelize them - does not mean that Paul chose secular work over paid ministry. Nor does it suggest that he had to get paid as a tentmaker to make ends meet. In other parts of Scripture, in fact, Paul makes quite clear that ministers should be compensated for their work - with very strong words:"If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? ... In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." (1 Corinthians 9: 11, 14) [Paul refers here to Jesus saying 'the laborers deserve to be paid' in Luke 10].
'I don't do this for the money'
Of course, those of us who bear the sacraments, Scripture, and traditions of the Christian faith are often not motivated by great wealth to do so! Our calling is definitely from a higher place. But that is not the same thing as saying that we should not, or do not, need to be compensated for it.Which brings up harder questions: what do we do when congregations and other institutions can't afford a clergy salary? How do we serve small communities, and those composed of the under-resourced? If we have the means to support ourselves in other ways, why shouldn't we give our ministry for free?These are questions we all wrestle with on some level, and I don't think the answer is deciding that we should not be paid for our work. Instead, the answers themselves are about re-thinking the framework of ordained ministry in some big ways...
Sustainable ministry sustains clergy
I meet lots of clergy who don't take compensation for the work because they don't 'need' it - they have a secular job, they have a spouse who supports their household, they are retired and they receive a pension.On the surface, this is noble. Beyond this, though, it is troubling. Because when congregations have the choice to pay or not to pay for ministry, it is only logical they will choose the latter.If this trend continues, eventually there won't be jobs for clergy who do need compensation.Becoming ordained - being educated, formed, and set aside by a community of faith, and sealed by the Holy Spirit - takes time and resources to accomplish. If we can't expect to be compensated for our work, there will be fewer who will take the journey to ordination. There is a risk that ordained ministry could disappear, and with it the faith that we bear to the church and the world.Clergy should insist on payment for our ministry as a form of support for the vocation, if for no other reason.
Sustainable ministry sustains congregations
But what about congregations that can't afford it? It's one thing to want to be paid, and it is another to face the reality of dwindling numbers, or to feel the call to serve populations without many resources.To me, this is a question of reimagination.Even the smallest communities can afford something. Is it possible to serve in ways that are equal to the ability of those with whom we work? For instance serving more than one community, or in more than one way? As a Free Range Priest, I am paid hourly for my congregational service, and I also teach, consult, coach, and assist with digital ministry. Everything I do is ministry - but it is not paid for from the same place.In this way, the small congregation I work with is able to have ordained ministry they can afford. This assures that they can continue in their own ministry without the stress of feeling they will either lose their clergy or they will have to close.
Sustainable ministry sustains Good News in the world
'Tentmaker', 'non-stipendiary' and 'bi-vocational' are all terms used to describe clergy who are paid for secular work, but not paid - or paid very little - for sacred work.Even in today's church, this does not have to be the case. Not only can we be paid something for our ordained ministry - even if it is not a full or part-time salary - we can also be compensated in multiple ways.Of course we can still do secular work if we are called there.But the advantage to multiple sacred jobs is that we are bringing our ministry beyond church doors.Digital ministry, faith formation and practice, spiritual counseling and support and the like are ways we share Christianity with an increasingly unchurched world. It is evangelism.More and more clergy are bringing their ministry to those outside of congregations, through social media, videos, books, podcasts, etc. This is having an impact on the secular world, and is often the only way that young adults interact with religion at all. Finding new ways to make this kind of ministry sustainable is obviously helpful to clergy, and even more important, it opens up so many new ways of sharing God's love.Clergy have been compensated for our work since the vocation began, although it has looked different over time. Old Testament priests kept the meat offered for sacrifice on the altar. Jesus exhorted his followers to go out two-by-two without money or supplies, because the community was expected to provide for them. Centuries later, congregations often provided housing and other support for their ministers. Then came the expectation of professional salaries and benefits.Today it is changing again - as the church and the world are changing. The start-up and freelance economies offer new ways of exploring and experiencing clergy service, and compensation.Reading the words - and experience - of Paul shows us the issue of sustainable ministry is as old as the church. This is part of our challenge as we live into new ways of understanding clergy ministry.