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

Also see:

Karr Voices Memoir Clearly 

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Jesus: Be Humble, Be Salt and Light

Life_in_Tension_web“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt 5:13 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The importance of Jesus’ teaching on the poor in spirit comes in his expanding on it and living it out.  What comes immediately after the Beatitudes? What were some of Jesus’ last acts during his time on earth?

The Beatitudes introduce the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew interprets the Beatitudes in the context of discipleship with special reference to Isaiah 61:1 which reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Isa 61:1 ESV)

The Hebrew for “to bring good news to the poor” is rendered in two words [1]. The word for poor (ana) can mean “poor, afflicted, humble, meek” (BDB 7238) [2]. The other word means bring good news. Matthew with his focus on discipleship turns after the Beatitudes to the task of bringing good news. The task of disciples is evangelism which itself expands on the first Beatitude [3].

Matthews uses Jesus teaching about salt, found also in Mark 9:50 and Luke 14:34, to point to the centrality of evangelism. Salt is a gregarios; its usefulness comes only in combination with food. No one puts salt on their table to ingest alone. Salt is used to enhance the flavor of foods and to preserve them. Matthew’s point is that: “The disciple is to the earth what salt is to food.” The disciple who refuses to be salt, is useless and stands under judgment—”good only to be thrown out and trampled” (Guelich 1982, 126-127). Matthew goes on to reinforce his discipleship theme with a second metaphor about light (Matt 5:14-16). Clearly for Matthew the tension between the disciple and the world is real, ongoing, and at the core of the mission. Luke’s discussion of enemy-love, which immediately follows the Beatitudes (Luke 6:27-25), also embodies this tension [4].

Jesus himself exhibits “poor in spirit” through at least two significant acts of humility on the night of his arrest: the foot-washing ceremony at the Last Supper (John 13:4-5) and the prayer in the garden at Gethsemane (Matt 26:39).

The Gospel of John records the Last Supper in great detail. Details begin John observing that Jesus’ was aware that he would be betrayed and would die (John 13:1-3). Under such circumstances, we might expect him to be withdrawn, paralyzed with fear, or bitter. Instead, Jesus begins an object lesson about humility:

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him…If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:3,4,14 ESV)

Foot-washing was the ultimate act of humility in the first century. Animals commonly shared the same roads as people and most people either wore sandals or walked barefoot. Dirty, stinky feet were the norm and slaves did the foot-washing. This is why Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet (John 13:8). He was also probably not anxious to get a lesson in humility because he was Jesus’ right hand man and leader among the disciples.

Luke overlooks the foot-washing, but records the lesson in humility. He writes:

“And He said to them, The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called Benefactors. But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Both passages focus on the importance of humility in Christian leadership.

While Jesus’ object-lesson in foot-washing demonstrated humility among Christian leaders, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane demonstrated humility before God. Jesus prays: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Matthew records Jesus repeating this prayer three times (Matt 26:39,42,44 ESV) [5].  While this prayer can be taken as piety or courage [6], it demonstrates the ultimate humility to be willing to die for others, including God, for purposes that are not fully understood [7].

The early church clearly got the message about being poor in spirit.  For example, humility is a character trait instrumental in the Apostle Paul’s ministry. He writes:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13 ESV)

What Paul is saying here is that humility is a core principle in his ministry practice.  His evangelism depended on his humility.  This point was made over and over in his work with the church in Corinth where he refused to accept a salary, in part, so that the Gospel could be freely and rightly preached [8].

“Blessed are the poor in spirit…” (Matt 5:3 ESV)

 

[1] לְבַשֵּׂר עֲנָוִים (Isa 61:1 WTT)

[2] This word is familiar because it appears also in Numbers 12:3 cited in a previous post (Jesus’ Mission Statement Gives Us Hope; http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Uq).

[3] “The first Christian missionary was not Paul, but Peter and Peter would not have preached a ‘missionary’ sermon at Pentecost if he had not been a student of Jesus for three years.” (Schnabel 2004, 3)

[4] Luke’s focus on enemy love right after the Beatitudes may lead some to jump immediately to the double love command in Matthew 22:36-40.  But enemy love is qualitatively different—evangelism hangs on loving one’s enemies—people you have no attachment to.  The real question for the modern church is:  why is the double love command not the centerpiece of the Beatitudes?  The fact that it is not suggests that the priorities of the modern church have been misplaced.

[5] Also see Mark 14:36 and Luke 22:42 which place the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.

[6] Neyrey (1998, 110,152) sees both courage and piety.

[7] The Apostle Peter and Jesus’ brother, James, both echo Jesus’ humility citing Proverbs 3:34: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” (1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6).

[8] Act 18:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 11:6-9.

REFERENCES

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Schnabel, Eckhard J. 2004. Early Christian Mission. Vol 1: Jesus and the Twelve. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

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