Multisite and Bivocational Ministry

One of the topics we discussed when I met with some local pastors yesterday was the megachurch-and-branch-campus model used by churches like Saddleback and North Point. (This model is also important to Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, as discerned by Christianity Today but — curiously — not the PC(USA) in its own reporting.)

None of the pastors I met with were very enthusiastic about this model. We can look at a John Ortberg or an Andy Stanley and recognize what great preachers they are, but it’s hard to be enthusiastic about being a “campus pastor” with modest or minimal opportunities to preach. (This emphasis on sermonizing is reflected in the polity of the PC(USA), where pastors are “teaching elders” — and before that, “ministers of Word and sacrament.”)

But the pastors I met with were all full time ministers. There are reasons to believe we are not the wave of the future. Rather, the church seems to be moving toward a model of bivocational pastors, where pastors have a day job to pay the bills, in addition to their vocation as a pastor, as described last year in the Presbyterian Outlook. This week, the Atlantic wondered about this trend:

Working multiple jobs is nothing new to pastors of small, rural congregations. But many of those pastors never went to seminary and never expected to have a full-time ministerial job in the first place. What’s new is the across-the-board increase in bi-vocational ministry in Protestant denominations both large and small, which has effectively shut down one pathway to a stable—if humble—middle-class career.

What happens when you combine this trend with the multi-campus, multi-venue model with the trend toward part-time ministry?

(This article is cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog.)

Make Someone Happy: Invite Them to Church

Want to improve someone’s mood? A Gallup survey showed a strong correlation between church attendance and positive emotions, even when controlling for variables like age, education, and income. People who come to church regularly are, on average, happier than people who don’t.

That could mean trouble for Alaska. In a Pew Center survey of the importance of religion in people’s lives, Alaska ranked in the bottom five states in nearly every category, and was last the category of “Worship Attendance.” If you run into someone who’s unhappy, it might not just be the lack of sunlight in our short winter days that’s got them down.

Why not invite them to church? Maybe it will perk them up!

Sometimes, Christians get confused about evangelism. They think it’s their responsibility to make converts or even to make sure their friends get into heaven. That’s not true. Only Jesus can do those things. Evangelism is just sharing good news. (Look it up, that’s what the word means.) Evangelism is just telling people what you’ve found and inviting them to check it out for themselves. (See John 1:39–51 for an example.)

People won’t think you’re weird for inviting them to church. (Unless you’re weird some other way.) Researcher Thom Rainer writes, “82 percent of the unchurched are at least ‘somewhat likely’ to attend church if they are invited. …to restate it: More than eight out of ten of the unchurched said they would come to church if they were invited.” (The Unchurched Next Door)

On top of that, Easter is the #1 most likely time for unchurched people to come to church. So invite a friend or neighbor to church next week. You might make them happy!

Here’s some things to avoid:

Fancy Church Buildings

I’m preaching a message on Haggai 2:1-9 inspired by the phrase “Desire of Nations” found in the advent song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The point of the passage is that the Second Temple that Ezra was building didn’t look very impressive to anybody who could remember the first one built by Solomon four centuries earlier.

Haggai was writing about 520 BC, so there’s nobody today who remember’s Solomon’s Temple. Apart from what the Bible says, we do know a little bit about the Second Temple from the Arch of Titus in Rome that celebrates its destruction in AD 70. Clearly, they used menorahs:

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus



(Click on a picture to see it enlarged).

What might Solomon’s Temple have looked like? From the text of Haggai, it seems to have had a lot of silver and gold decoration. How much? We can look at some churches built in the past for a clue.

Here’s the altar of the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Worms, Germany:

Cathedral of St. Peter

Cathedral of St. Peter


Apart from its altar, St. Peter’s really a pretty austere place, as Gothic Cathedrals go. But it’s decorated with some seriously weird art. For example, what’s with this guy?

Death? or Resurrection?


Of course, Germany’s no patch on Italy. Here’s the church of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs in Rome, across the street from the train station:

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs

Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs


(For some scale, the guy tying his shoe in the second picture is leaning on the wall located about 4 o’clock across the floor from those two people in the foreground of the first picture.)

But that’s just a church in Rome. What about the Vatican itself? Here are some pictures from the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica:

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Basilica


There’s a statue on your right when you enter the building:

Michelangelo's Pieta


But even the Vatican isn’t fancy, compared to the Co-Cathedral of St. John in Valetta, Malta.

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John


The only problem is it needs more gold leaf, don’t you think?

More gold leaf? Coming up:

Co-Cathedral of St. John

Co-Cathedral of St. John



“I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more gold leaf.”

Beside gold leaf, they also used a lot of Maltese Crosses in their decorating.

Maltese Cross

Maltese Cross


But it’s not just gold leaf and Maltese Crosses. There’s also a lot of marble. The only problem? They use it to make skulls and skeletons:

Skeleton in Marble

Skull-Themed Art


(Cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s Mess of Pottage blog.)

What’s the Most Urgent Problem Facing the Church?

What’s the most urgent problem facing the church? How would you answer that question?

Pope Francis, in a remarkable interview in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, said this:

The most serious of the evils that afflict the world these days are youth unemployment and the loneliness of the old. The old need care and companionship; the young need work and hope but have neither one nor the other, and the problem is they don’t even look for them any more. They have been crushed by the present. You tell me: can you live crushed under the weight of the present? Without a memory of the past and without the desire to look ahead to the future by building something, a future, a family? Can you go on like this? This, to me, is the most urgent problem that the Church is facing.

That’s not a bad answer. It’s direct enough for people to relate to it, but objective enough to see how this is not just a problem for a few isolated individuals.

What’s the most urgent problem facing the church? What’s the most urgent problem in Anchorage? In the Sand Lake region? Among our congregation? What’s the most urgent problem facing you?

(This quote is from the second in-depth interview given by the Pope in less than a month. Earlier in September, he spoke to the Jesuit publication America. Both of them are fascinating insights into a person who has great potential to change the Catholic Church for the better.)

Pope Francis Interview

I’m working my way through the interview with Pope Francis appearing today in the Jesuit publication America, but I liked this bit. Important word to people in leadership positions, especially in the church.

John XXIII adopted this attitude with regard to the government of the church, when he repeated the motto, ‘See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.’ John XXIII saw all things, the maximum dimension, but he chose to correct a few, the minimum dimension. You can have large projects and implement them by means of a few of the smallest things. Or you can use weak means that are more effective than strong ones, as Paul also said in his First Letter to the Corinthians.

Francis is talking about the corrections John XXIII oversaw with the Second Vatican Council. So some people might say that’s a pretty big “little” that John XXIII tackled. And if that’s the minimum dimension, it gives you a sense of how big the maximum dimension must be.

(Cross-posted from Pastor Luke’s blog.)

Bringing Your Kids to Church

Scot McKnight directs some gracious words to people who bring their kids to church:

When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in 10 years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.

The New Pope

As you might have heard, Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February, and a conclave of cardinals meeting in Rome just elected a new pope, Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, who will rule as Pope Francis I (it’s cool how there’s already a pretty detailed page about him on Wikipedia). He was previously the head of the Jesuits, and is the first Pope from that order. He’s also the first pope from outside Europe in a millennium and the first-ever pope from the southern hemisphere or the Americas.

I liked this:

He accused fellow church leaders of hypocrisy and forgetting that Jesus Christ bathed lepers and ate with prostitutes.

“Jesus teaches us another way: Go out. Go out and share your testimony. Go out and interact with your brothers. Go out and share. Go out and ask. Become the Word in body as well as spirit,” Bergoglio told Argentina’s priests last year.

… Bergoglio has been tough on hard-line conservative views among his own clerics, including those who refused to baptize the children of unmarried women.

“These are today’s hypocrites; those who clericalize the church,” he told his priests. “Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”

Good for him.

Vital Churches

Being Presbyterian myself, I don’t always keep up with Methodist initiatives as well as I ought. I was interested to learn about the UMC Vital Churches initiative, which appears to align well with the work our Council has been doing lately.

Vital congregations are:

  • Spirit-filled, forward-leaning communities of believers that welcome all people (Galatians 3: 28)
  • Places where Disciples of Jesus Christ are made through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28: 18-20)
  • Communities that serve like Christ through justice and mercy ministries. (Micah 6:8, Luke 4:17-21)

A Vital Congregation has:

  • Inviting & Inspiring Worship
  • Engaged Disciples in mission & outreach
  • Gifted, Empowered & Equipped Lay Leadership
  • Effective, Equipped & Inspired Clergy Leadership
  • Small Group Ministries
  • Strong Children’s & Youth Ministry

(See this list of 16 drivers of vitality.)

The congregations include disciples (Matthew 22:36-40) who:

  • worship regularly
  • help make new disciples
  • are engaged in growing in their faith
  • are engaged in mission
  • share by giving in mission