One of the fundamental qualities of Ecclesia is the importance of being relational. Trainings, conferences, and other events are infused with times of getting to know one another. Intentional periods of discussion around meals supplemented by impromptu introductions between newly made friends are definitely highlights found within the Network.
While I was at the National Gathering I met people from Los Angeles, Hollywood, Denver, Brooklyn, Chicago, along with people from Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and New Jersey. Basically, nearly every area of the US was present. This not only enables everyone to get a little synopsis of the life and culture of these areas, but also what God is doing in these areas. The differences in context are certainly there, but the commonalities are rather surprising too. Churches are experimenting with different methods and thoughts; no one is copying each other in an effort to expand the kingdom. Yet, most people are very aware of our common mission: to make disciples.
I truly did enjoy all the random conversations I had with people. I have always been a relational person and feel that everyone has a story to tell. However, there was one conversation I had with my new friend Dave Kludt that sticks out.
I met Dave on Wednesday night as he sitting with my roommates from Denver for dinner. (My new friends Stephen and Jason are pastors at New Denver Church. Check it out.) Dave is an equipper with Kairos Hollywood out in California. (He blogs at Can’t. Catch. My. Breath.) We talked briefly that first evening, but it led to a deeper conversation Thursday during lunch with Dave and his fellow equipper, Audrey.
We discussed a variety of things, but stayed focused on the ideas surrounding what is typically called being bi-vocational. This is, typically within church circles, designated for pastors who get paid by their churches and also have an outside-the-church job. Usually, the nonchurch job takes up the majority of the week’s time. For myself, I work in a Special Education classroom, interim pastor at St. Andrew’s, and lead/partake in a smaller faith community. Dave works at Fuller Seminary while working with a team at Kairos.
The main thing that stuck out during our conversation was the reality of bi-vocationalism. More and more pastors, especially young pastors, come out of seminary, which is typically required by churches, under the load of school loans and looking for pastor jobs. Most churches require an MDiv (Master of Divinity) also known as 3 years of grad school in which you end up with 90-92 credits under your belt. Now since it is 3 years of grad school, most people come out with nearly $30-40,000 in debt. Now don’t forget, this is on top of the debt typically accumulated after 4 years of undergrad work. I have friends who have done both their undergrad and grad work ALL through school loans. For those who don’t know, this means they now owe well over $100,000. That means every month they pay between $1500 and $2000 in school loans. Furthermore, from what I have seen, most churches don’t start young guys with educations and little experience anywhere near enough to balance out their budgets. Needless to say, something has to give.
This isn’t what stuck out, however. Dave told me about his conversations with non-white pastors in California and how being bi-vocational affects them. I had never really thought about it, mainly because I’m a young white dude who grew up in the middle class suburbs, but for many, many non-white pastors being employed by different places has been a reality for quite some time.
We didn’t talk about this much, but Dave’s passing comments really stuck with me. Why is it that most non-white pastors practice a trade that pays the bills while pastoring their church? Why is that our non-white brothers and sisters have been out of their studies and offices meeting people and being influences in their communities while most white pastors have been isolated inside the church walls? Perhaps it is because so many predominantly white churches, especially suburban middle class churches, have had plenty of financial wealth. So much so that they employ multiple pastors with larger paychecks and benefits. (Please don’t hear me saying anything negative about this reality. I’m merely pointing out the bi-vocational situation among white and non-white pastors based on a simple conversation.)
I recently read The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. It addresses the fact that the Western, especially the American, white church is declining in population while the non-white population is rising. Basically, the underlying premise of the book is the lessons in faith and practice we white Americans can learn from our non-white church family. Such is the case with being bi-vocational. What can we learn from those who have had to be bi-vocational? How can we humbly discuss our struggles and anxieties in ways that can result in them turning into strengths and possibilities? What strategies could we take away from those who have been expanding the kingdom year in and year out in both the pastorate and in public?
There are many other questions that come from this. Hopefully, we can all learn for the benefit of others.
Thanks for the conversation Dave. It was appreciated.