The Cost of Business

February 19, 2010 at 7:12 am (Leadership) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

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?

I’m asking…


  1. danceswithklingons said,

    I suggest getting Brain’s latest book “A New Kind of Christianity” that @kmcdade reviewed and I’m reading. Also take the ideas in “Reimagining Church” by Frank Viola and put them in play too.
    I’m up for it.

    Also, it seems that we are still following a Roman version of church, that is what New Kind shows we need to move from.

  2. Kathleen McDade said,

    Not surprised that my husband got here first!

    We will totally lend you the McLaren book. 🙂 It might also be a good group study for open-sourcing types.

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Thanks! I’m already dialoging with others on Facebook regarding McClaren’s new book – when I get caught up – I will definitely read it.

      I also recommend my friend Samir’s book – ‘It’s Really All About God“…

      • danceswithklingons said,

        Brian mentions in his end notes about “I’ts REally All About God…” I’ll put that on my to read list!

      • danceswithklingons said,

        Perhaps you have copy you could loan of It’s really about God…? Not finding through the library system yet.

  3. Anon said,

    You make some good points. I don’t think the average member has any idea how much of their tithe goes to support our schools. In many other countries our church schools are self-supporting and/or even generate revenue for the church. I don’t believe that education is the primary mission of the church and so should be allowed to die out it it cannot support itself. The mormons don’t have a private school system but instead have additional religious instruction classes at their churches for children. So much less costly than the SDA church operates, but achieves the same result. In any case, isn’t it the parent’s responsibility to impart their ethics, morals and spiritual beliefs to their children, not the school systems?

    Unfortunately the church has never been proactive in addressing change and typically only reacts when forced into it. That is unfortunate, because inevitably change is better when you are in charge of when and how it takes place, rather than simply to balance the budget.

    I’m in two minds regarding you comment on Pastors. While I feel that they should be the primary focus of the church, at the same time I think it fosters the attitude that ‘the Pastor should do it’. I don’t know that we can necessarily draw an analogy with the church in North America and the rapid growth in the developing world, but lack of pastors their has forced the lay members to take ownership and responsibility for their church and it doesn’t seem to have a negative effect on church growth. Having said that, Pastors should certainly be the foundation of the church system and administration ‘s primary purpose should be to enable and facilitate ministry.

    However the church has developed over many years into a bureaucratic and hierarchical institution and the administrative levels are very insulated from the membership at large and controlled by those who have a vested interest in its continued existence. It would take a very pervasive grass-root movement to dismantly that system

    • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,

      Thanks Anon for jumping into the conversation!

      In Oregon and Washington, it costs about $10k per year to educate a public school student. Yet, the system mentioned above isn’t charging families that kind of money – yet, studies continue to show that students are getting a better education in this parochial system. Shouldn’t we then charge what it costs, and not expect the Church (at-large) to be shackled with the subsidies?

      I agree, it is much better to make choices proactively – before the pressure to act is so great, that there is no time to plan.

      I also agree that focus on the pastors can create (or further foster) the consumerism that asks pastors to do it all. However, this may be occurring for a variety of reasons:

      • First, we have lost focus on the spiritual disciplines and the part service plays in our own personal spiritual growth. Somehow we have passed on the message that we need volunteers to keep the church running. This should never have been the approach. People need to serve, the church doesn’t need the people to serve.
      • Second, we have self-selected really nice people to be our pastors. Many are so eager to please, and unwilling to see people stress, that they step in and “do it all.” Not only are they enabling the consumerism of increasingly busy families, but they are working themselves to death, losing their own families, and creating a system of co-dependence that will be hard to reverse.
      • Also, we tend not to hire men and women who exercise a strong leadership gift. We hire pastors based on their theological prowess, their niceness, and their social skills.

      My style of leadership was to allow leadership and task vacuums to form. I refused to do things, not because I am lazy, but for the ultimate health of the church – and the people there. I also was unwilling to enable people in their boorish behaviors. Unfortunately this was perceived to be that I wasn’t doing enough (aka; lazy) and that I was an unloving person.

      However, in response to your second-mindedness, biblical history shows us that it is strong, godly people who have been used to lead God’s people out of the chaos and mediocrity they often find themselves within.

      The books I’ve read, on church growth and spiritual leadership seem to emphasize two common themes:

          The speed of the leader equals the speed of the church.
          The strength of the work is in the local church.

      Given that these two premises are true, and I strongly believe they are, we need to do a better job of selecting and hiring local church leaders – whether they are paid or not. Selecting the right people to lead our churches is imperative. Empowering them to lead and creating functional systems is something we sorely lack.

      I strongly agree that it “would take a very pervasive grass-root movement to dismantle that system.” Unfortunately, our codependence is steeped in the mediocrity of democracy. We only elect leaders who tell us what we want to hear, and our leadership will only tell us what we want to hear – in order to keep their jobs.

      Given this, I’m not confident that a “pervasive grass-root movement” will emerge before it gets really stressful.

      • danceswithklingons said,

        The way the church system is set up now looks nothing like HOW Jesus set it up. Our systems are based on the Romans and Greeks. The system breeds passivity! That is why our government, churches and even families are just sitting around and not really living.

        I think that in the Western Christianity, we have forgotten that we are to learn a new way of life. We can then choose to either live it or not.

        It’s hard for me to write out words, I’m much better looking at people face to face. When I do take time an edit myself, sometimes I miss something that might really make a light go off in your eye.

        Anyways, I make more sense face to face, IMHO

      • Mt. Tabor Vistas said,


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