Seibert Clarifies The Ups and Downs of Part-Time Ministry

Warren Seibert, The Calling of the Part-Time Pastor

Warren Seibert. 2016. The Calling of a Part-Time Pastor: A Guidebook for Small Church Leaders.  Bloomington: Westbow Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is interesting how the watering down of religious commitment has affected our notions of a healthy church. In the rabbinic tradition, a rabbi could hold worship with no less than a minyan (10 adult males) which meant that, if the congregants kept the tithe (a tenth of their income), the rabbi could maintain a living standard consistent with his minyan.[1] In the U.S. today, where average giving is more like 1 percent of income, a church needs about 100 members to support a pastor. Because already about 2/3 of the Protestants churches in North America have less than 100 members (xiii) and about 30 percent of the pastors already part-time (xvi), the loss of millennial and builder generation members can only increase the financial pressure to call part-time pastors (11).

Introduction

In his book, The Call of a Part-Time Pastor, Warren Seibert writes:

“The only thing that is really ‘part-time’ or partial about my ministry position is that amount of financial compensation that my church is able to provide at this time. This is why I prefer the term ‘bivocational’ to describe my life and service…Simply defined, a bivocational pastor is someone serving in a ministry setting who must rely upon an additional source of income outside their ministry in order to support themselves or their family” (xviii).

“the truth is that part-time pastors are not a new phenomenon at all…a careful study of church history demonstrates that what is actually ‘new’ in the church is full-time clergy.” (5)

What is a Tentmaker?

The Apostle Paul, for example, worked as a tentmaker; Chrysostom was a farmer; Dionysius was a physician (4-5). Seibert offers many examples in support of his thesis, which is that part-time pastors are the norm, not the exception, even today.

Warren Seibert is himself a bivocational pastor ordained by the Reformed Church in America,[2] who also works as a registered nurse. He divides his book into three parts:

  • The World of Part-Time Ministry,
  • The World of the Part-Time Church, and
  • A Partnership in Full-Time Ministry (xi).

Let me address each in turn.

The World of Part-Time Ministry.

Many Christians and many pastors have negative attitudes about small churches and part-time pastors. Why? (12) Denomination groups, for example, often perpetuate these attitudes both by setting minimum salary requirements above what small churches can pay and refusing to ordain candidates for ministry who do not have paid ministry positions, forcing them, in effect, to take volunteer positions that many cannot afford.

Contemporary Mission

Seibert sees the small church as the contemporary mission field (13) where the pastor is called to full-time ministry, just like every other Christian (23).

He divides this call into three parts: a call to salvation, a call to sanctification, and a call to service (26). This last call, the call to service, distinguishes the pastor from other Christians. Each of us has a call to service, but not all of us have a call to pastoral leadership (35). In the reformed tradition, the call to service is referred to as the “priesthood of all believers” (30) and it is not simply a task delegated to the pastor.  Ministry can never be delegated to the pastor because there is “simply too much work to do” (38).

The World of the Part-Time Church.

What is a church? In the New Testament Greek, the church (ekklesian; ἐκκλησίαν Matt 16:18) translatesfrom the Greek as the called out ones (43).  The ones called out are called out by Jesus himself. Therefore, Seibert clarifies, saying: “The church is a gathering of people who profess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior.” (44) The many voices that we hear today that compete for the time, energy, and resources of the church, he suggests, need to be subordinated to the authority of Christ (45) who calls his church to make disciples by means of going, baptizing, and teaching (49).  The four fundamental tasks in making disciples, he suggests, are: worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism (51).

A Partnership in Full-Time Ministry.

Unrealistic expectations by churches and by pastors, especially unspoken and assumed expectations, hamper many part-time pastors (71). One colleague close to me, for example, received a call after the retirement of beloved pastor. He responded to an expressed desire to recruit new members only to find that the church desired new members to look like the old ones. Not meeting the unexpected desire, he found himself seeking a new position about three years later.

Expectations of the Church

Seibert offers lists of expectations that the church should have of a part-time pastor and what the part-time pastor should expect of the church. The church should expect:

A person of strong character, a call to bivocational ministry who believes and preaches the Word of God, is a person of prayer, loves the people, provides pastoral care, leadership, and training, and agrees with the duties and expectations of the ministry (73-76).

Expectations of the Pastor

The pastor should expect:

A church that prays for their pastor. It accepts their pastor’s leadership, cares for the pastor and family, holds realistic expectations, ministers alongside the pastor. It furthermore understands the limits of part-time work, and supports the ministry with attendance, giving, and salary (76-79).

Seibert observes that Gospel ministry remains hard, but not complicated (81).

Warren Seibert’s The Calling of a Part-Time Pastor is a helpful guide for small church leadership. It is short, understandable, and readable.

[1] The definition of a minyan is only hinted at in the Old Testament. Moses and Jethro, for example, talk about leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. “Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” (Exod 18:25 ESV; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minyan ).  In Numbers 14, Moses refers to the 10 spies who grumbled about entering the Promised Land, as a: “wicked congregation”. The tithe is more concretely defined (e.g. Lev 27:30-32).

[2] http://West-Copake.RCAchurches.org.

 

Seibert Clarifies The Ups and Downs of Part-Time Ministry

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1 Corinthians 9: Strategic Tentmaking

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:1-4 ESV).

Tentmaking refers to evangelists and pastors who work outside the church to support their ministry.  The term arises from the ministry of the Apostle Paul who worked presumably making tents to support his evangelism—especially while he was in Corinth.  Tentmaking is common among missionaries and in areas of the world where full-time Christian ministry is either impractical or unaccepted.

The Greek term translated as tentmaker, σκηνοποιός also translates as leather worker or stage hand (BDAG 6700).  The root word, σκηνὴ, translate as:  transcendent celestial tent, tent, dwelling metaphorically…earthly Tabernacle (BDAG 6698).  The strong biblical association of God’s dwelling place with the tabernacle in the Old Testament begs the question as to whether Paul actually uses the term metaphorically to refer to himself as an evangelist.  Elsewhere, for example, he refers to our bodies as the temple of God (1 Corinthians 9:16).  However, in this context tentmaking is described as a trade and the idea that Paul (or his friends) worked in the theater is rejected by commentators because the theater was an overtly gentile profession not accepted by Jews [1].

Paul’s long diatribe on his right to earn a living from his evangelistic ministry (vv 1-14) ends rather oddly.  He says he possess this right to earn a living, but then says:  But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting (v 15).  Why does Paul boast that he is a volunteer?

Blomberg [2] observes that Greek and Roman philosophers and religious teachers earned their living in 4 ways:  fees, living with a patron, begging, and working a trade.  The fact that Paul worked as tentmaker left the impression that maybe he really was not an apostle—the implication was if he was any good he would charge for his services!  Today this might be said about a lay pastor who was not ordained. So why does Paul boast that he is a volunteer?

Paul’s tentmaking diatribe underscores his lesson in the previous chapter.  There he advises his readers not to eat meat if eating meat would cause other believers to question their faith.  He concludes that lesson saying:  Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble (1 Corinthians 8:13 ESV).  The strong have a right to eat meat, but for the sake of the weak they should give it up.  In like manner, Paul has a right to earn his living as an evangelist, but for the sake of the Gospel he works as a tentmaker.

Paul’s lesson on tentmaking speaks truth into our times.  If Paul refused to accept patronage because he could not speak the Gospel to the rich in the Corinthian church, what does that say to ministers supported primarily by rich church members today?  Is class privilege quietly accepted in spite of its tension with the Gospel?  What about causes and members not enjoying such privileges?  What about other rights people assert?

Working as a tentmaker allowed Paul  to address the abuse of class privileges in Corinth.  Are we equally willing to address the abuse of class privileges in the church today?

Footnotes

[1] Jesus’ unique association with the word, hypocrite, makes this analysis a bit ironic.  The word, hypocrite, is Greek and translates as actor.  Jesus’ redefinition of a hypocrite as someone who is two-faced was a new use of the word.  Why would Jesus pick this word if he spoke no Greek and, as a Jewish Rabbi, had no association with theater?

[2] Craig L. Blomberg. 1994. The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Page 173.

1 Corinthians 9: Strategic Tentmaking

First Corinthians 8

First Corinthians 10

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First Corinthians 1: Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4 ESV).

Do you give thanks in all circumstances?

Thanks for Feas

In her accounts of imprisonment during World War II, Corrie Ten Boom tells of holding secret prayer meetings in her dormitory using a bible that she had smuggled into the camp.  In prayer, she asked the women with her to pray for all things, even the fleas that made their lives miserable.  Later, she learned that the guards refused to enter her building on account of those very same fleas. In effect, those fleas protected her prayer group from discovery and allowed the group to be an ongoing source of hope in a camp where many perished. Give thanks in all circumstances!

Background on Corinth

At the time of the Apostle Paul, Corinth was the third largest city in the Roman empire after Rome and Alexandria.  The Romans had destroyed Greek Corinth in 146 BC, but it was rebuilt as Roman colony by Julius Caesar in 44 BC.  The official language was Latin, but Greek was still employed. Corinth was located strategically on an Isthmus where cargo could easily be transported overland between the Aegean and Ionian seas (Hays 2011, 2-5).

Backstory of Church

The story of the founding of the church at Corinth is found in Acts 18. The church formed around a group of tent-making friends, Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3; Thiselton 2000, 23). The Corinthian church became largely gentile in composition, in part, because of Paul’s frustration in trying to evangelize the Jews (Acts 18:6).  Paul’s frustration must have been substantial because Acts records God offering him comfort:  And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people (Acts 18:9-10).

Background of Letter

The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth was written about three years later (53-53 AD) from Ephesus (Bloomberg 1994, 21). The letter focuses on two primary issues:  Christian unity and Paul’s response to a number of questions that were posed to him (Hays 2011, 5).  The problem of dissention among the Corinthians stemmed from their “addiction to the power, prestige, and pride represented in the Hellenistic rhetorical tradition” (Hafermann 1993, 165).  If you substituted Washingtonian for Corinthian in Paul’s letter, it might read much the same!

Structure of Letter

The English Standard Version Bible lays divides chapter 1 of Corinthians into 4 sections:  Greeting (vv 1-3), Thanksgiving (vv 4-9), Divisions in the Church (vv 10-17), and Christ the Wisdom and Power of God (vv 18-31).

Paul’s greeting is unusual is that he refers to the Corinthians (v 2) as “sanctified in Jesus Christ” (ἡγιασμένοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ) and “called to be saints” (κλητοῖς ἁγίοις).  The root word in the Greek in both expression is ἁγίοις which means:  dedicated to God, holy, sacred, i.e. reserved for God and God’s service (BDAG 61).  This is indeed a strange way to refer to a church racked by division (σχίσματα; v 10)!  Being both sanctified and called to be saints, Paul is pointing to salvation as a reality that has arrived now, but is also not yet complete.  Christians are not saved (past tense) but being saving (σῳζομένοις; v 18; progressive tense).  Our boasting cannot be in our wisdom, power, or noble birth, but in Christ alone (vv 26, 31).  Our salvation is both: now and not yet.

So Paul gives thanks for this unruly congregation.  Babes in Christ; created in the image of God; blessed by their maker; saved by the blood of the Lamb; and entrusted into Paul’s care.

Do you give thanks in all circumstances?

References

Bloomberg, Craig L. 1994.  The NIV Application Commentary:  1 Corinthians.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Hafermann, S.J. 1993. “Letters to the Corinthians” pages164-79 of Dictionary of Paul and His Letters.  Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship.  Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Raph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid.  Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press.

Hays, Richard B.  2011.  Interpretation:  A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching—First Corinthians (Orig pub 1997).  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press.

Ten Boom, Corrie, John and Elizabeth Sherrill. 2006. The Hiding Place (Orig pub 1971). Chosen Books.

Thiselton, Anthony C.  2000.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians:  A Commentary on the Greek Text.  NIGTC. Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Questions

  1. How was your week?Did anything special happen?
  2. What are your impressions and memories of Corinthians?
  3. Who is called by God for what purpose? (vv 1-2, 9, 17, 24)
  4. What is an apostle; what is a saint? What does it mean to be sanctified? (vv 1-2)
  5. What is grace? Who gives it? Why grace and peace? (vv 3, 10)
  6. What is Paul thankful for? Why is his thanks odd? (vv 4-9)
  7. How is grace manifested among the Corinthians? (vv 4-7)
  8. What are the promises of grace? (vv 8-9)
  9. What is Paul’s purpose in writing? (vv 10-11)
  10. What is the source of division among the Corinthians? (v 12)
  11. What is Paul’s response to these divisions? (vv 13-17)
  12. What is Paul’s point about baptism? What difference does it make who baptizes? (vv 13-17)
  13. How is Christ a source of unity? (v 13)
  14. What is Paul’s calling (v 17)
  15. What is the power of the cross? (vv 17-25)
  16. What prevents Jews and Gentiles from believing? (vv 22-23)
  17. What is the foolishness of God? (vv 25-29)
  18. What is our source of boasting? What is it not? (vv 28-31)

First Corinthians 1: Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

First Corinthians 2

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