Shortly before I was terminated, we were in a regional staff meeting and were told that the denomination was bleeding $200k a month. This would mean there would most likely need to be 10-12 FTEs cut from the budget. A couple months later, my politically-motivated termination occurred. One of my friends, who is skilled in the ways of the Church, explained it to me this way: “You gave them a freebie,” he said.
In other words, because I’m a challenger of the status quo, they felt no emotional attachment to me, saw me as a threat to the organization, and had no qualms about pulling the plug. The irony, of course, is that when things get tough, that is exactly when you want people who can see things differently and are passionate enough about the organization that they are willing to stand up to the establishment.
It isn’t hateful terrorism that motivates me. It is passion to do the right thing – as opposed to doing (the wrong) things right.
Well, since last Spring, things have continued to get worse. At a recent town hall meeting, the constituents were told that there would be approximately 25 additional FTEs cut. Also, a $1,000,000 grant would not be paid to a local university – and some other budget cutting options, which include a 5% employee pay cut for.
(NOTE: Because pastors have not seen a cost-of-living pay raise in a couple of years, and now have had their pay cut by 5%, in effect they are making about 15% less than they were a few years ago. However, the cost of living continued to increase during that same time. This means that someone making $50k a few years ago, is essentially only making $43k now.)
During the course of this town hall meeting, it was made clear that the $1million grant obligation would be honored when the economy turned around. This was probably due to the pressure put on the denomination by the president of the university, who upon receiving the news, immediately drove four hours to meet with the leadership and plead for that money.
One employee at the town hall meeting asked if the same salary obligations would be honored for employees? In other words, would employees be reimbursed for the pay cuts they’ve endured over the past few years – including the recent 5% cut? Though the president acknowledged the question, and though he didn’t actually answer the question, most were left with the impression that the answer was “no.”
Asked where the 25 FTEs would be cut, constituents were told that three or four would come from the approximately 50 administrative and support positions. Five or six would be teachers. The remaining 15 positions would be front-line pastoral positions.
If it’s true that “the resources are in the harvest (Matthew 17:27),” then one would wonder, “why cut front line personnel?”
Aren’t these pastors the very ones who will continue to grow the church?
Currently, 50-60% of operating budgets go to maintaining a parochial school system. Teacher staffing levels are state-mandated – at least if the schools want to keep their accreditation. Research has shown that there should be at least one FTE pastor for every 150 in attendance – and in order to grow the church, pastoral staff needs to be front-loaded and in place before the next 150 start attending. Without excess pastoral capacity, the church is unlikely to grow. Yet, in the past few years, most churches are not only not staffed for growth, they are understaffed for their current attendance levels.
I’m beginning to believe what George Barna, Frank Viola, Brian McLaren, and others have been saying for awhile. We are witnessing the dismantling of the church.
I don’t believe this is an overt action on anyone’s part. I don’t believe anyone has anything but the best of intentions. It is merely a lack of courageous leadership and a willingness to do whatever it takes to push forward and not retreat into a state of irrelevance, impotence, and ineptitude.
What do you think? Can the Church survive if we keep treating pastors like second-class employees (not only cutting their salaries and resources, but not taking their input when things get tough)? What would you do if someone asked?
So many thoughts flood my fragile soul. Just when I think I have what it takes to step forward and conquer the challenges that lie before us, a light breeze blows across the landscape and smacks me to the ground. Like a grocery bag in the wind, it doesn’t take much to toss me about. Forget the storms of life, I can’t even get out of the harbor.
Too many tell me to move one, let it go, lay it down. All of which are great suggestions – and I’m trying. But it feels as if my soul is empty of any source, sauce, or sanity.
Tonight, I was awoken by my son crying in the other room. My short two-hour nap left me now wide awake. In the dark, as I contemplated my options, I wondered what I could do to stifle the voices tonight? Often I’ll find release in some mindless Internet-fueled entertainment. Other times I’ll peruse the news, finding solace in the plight of others and the reminder that I am not alone, yet even quite blessed. Often, sleep is elusive and only in the dawn do I begin to succumb to the fatigue of another sleepless night.
Formal, verbalized prayers are uncommon from my lips during times of trouble. These past few months have been no different. I rely on the promise that the Spirit interprets my groanings and cries. Sometimes, during our walk down the beach-heads of life, we have to be carried into battle. The alternative is to lie wounded in the surf and wait for the waves of the incoming tide to engulf our soon-to-be, lifeless bodies. I don’t mind being carried.
Tonight, I lifted my family in prayer. Tears fill my eyes as I realize I haven’t had the energy, means, or cognition to extend my thoughts outside of my own embryonic isolation. As I prayed for my wife, my daughter, and my son – I felt the assurance and strength of my God. I know He has been carrying them too.
In many ways, we will all carry scars from these events – and I don’t mind the wounds. I’ve been wounded before. Ultimately, these scars will blend with the others I carry; but my family? This is a different story entirely. The innocence lost – as I watch it ebb from their hearts, I begin to feel some of the pain Jesus must have felt as He stood on that lonely hill overlooking Jerusalem, surrounded by the crowd, He wept. He wept for the souls lost and the pain of the process.
I would have stopped attending church awhile ago – had it not been for the needs of my family. The Church is broken and has lost it’s focus, mission, and vision. People perishing within the walls of a superficial community, but there seems to be no recognition of the blood pooling in the Foyer. My faith in God has not wavered, but I continue to seek a community who are equally faithful and passionate. A community that can lead and carry a broken family forward.
A couple of weeks ago, as I sat here writing, I received a text message on my phone: “I’m done with that church. Let’s take the kids to SS and then go to the beach – or hiking or something?“
I finished what I was working on, and retired to our bedroom. After crawling into bed, I asked her if she meant that? My heart barely containing my glee. We talked at length, and that following weekend after the kids spent time in their classes, we drove to the beach and had a great afternoon!
It felt as if the pressure had been lifted from my shoulders – it’s the best gift I’ve received in ages. And yet, I’m not sure this is a survivable plan for us. When she speaks of church, which is never far from our conversational topics, I’ve noticed an increasing cynicism in my wife’s words and tone. While this, in and of itself isn’t bad – it does pain me to see the innocence lost. I’m one who has always thought that a healthy dose of cynicism will protect us from untoward abuse – but we were created to live innocent lives.
It is the love of God that sustains us. I need Him to fill me to overflowing. I need the overflow, not for myself – mind you, but for the care and thirsts of my family. They need me to be back in the game. Pray for us.
Lyrics to Washed By The Water (Needtobreathe):
Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water
Daddy was a preacher
She was his wife
Just tryin to make the world a little better
You know, shine a light
People started talking
Trying to hear their own voice
Those people tried to accuse my father
Said he made the wrong choice
Though it might be painful
You know that time will always tell
Those people have long since gone
My father never failed
Even if the Earth crumbles under my feet
Even if the ones I love turn around and crucify me
I won’t never ever let you down
I won’t fall
I won’t fall
I won’t fall as long as you’re around me