In less than three months we will mark the fourth anniversary of Echo Church. This is exciting as new churches that survive through the fourth year tend to have emerged from the "newness" stage, tending to survive for the long haul. When we first moved to Walnut Hills in September 2005, we weren't sure of this. In fact, we [intentionally] stacked the deck against ourselves. Among other things:
1. We didn't give ourselves a proper incubation time. Within one month of moving here, we started having services. Most church planters [insider term for someone who starts a church] are on-site for well over a year before beginning their church.
2. We didn't raise any support for the endeavor. Yes, some family and friends contributed to give us our start-up funding, but it was totally unsolicited. Our belief was that we would do whatever it took to get this church started without fighting for funding with other works that desperately need missions funding in order to survive.
3. We meet on Sunday nights. This is still perhaps something that keeps our attendance lower than what it could be. I am aware of a few people who have loved Echo but no longer attend because it cannot fulfill their desire to worship on Sunday morning.
But all of these things were done deliberately so that we could be the best stewards possible. As a result of these decisions, we kept our overhead low and were faithful with our funds. If the people at our church stopped giving today [I would cry], we have enough in savings that we could function for an additional year.
As the minister, I am the biggest financial liability the church has. In order to offset this, I've fought to keep my income low and have hustled to make up the deficit. I've probably spent half the Sunday mornings in the past few years preaching at other churches to make some extra money. I've performed more weddings than I'd like to because it's an easy gig.* I've also been teaching in order to bring in some more funds. And when we started the church, I worked at Panera to make ends meet. The only way we made it through is because Kelly maintained her job with Standard Publishing. This brought us enough income to make ends meet and provided us with the all-important health insurance we needed.
The importance of having health insurance was demonstrated when Kaelyn was born prematurely. At the end of that experience, our medical bills totalled almost $200,000. Because of insurance, we payed only a small fraction of this figure. If we had not been insured, we would've been forced to declare bankruptcy and Echo would've probably ceased to exist.**
Over the past couple of years, the church has been able to pay me a little more, but Kelly has still had to maintain her job; since Kaelyn's birth, she's been able to work at home, but she's still had to work. Even though it has been an immense blessing— including the fact that we worked together and were able to have professional flexibility, it was not the arrangement I desired for her. I've desperately wanted Kelly's only job to be "Mommy." I sought to make this happen, having occasionally interviewed for jobs during the past couple of years but nothing emerged. As a result, we just went on with life.
So last Monday I got a potential job offer; basically, the position was mine for the taking. It caught us off-guard, because I hadn't been looking. But the more we thought about things, the more we decided that it was the right move at just the right time. After some back and forth, everything is finally settled. Starting in August, I will once again be employed by the Cincinnati Christian University working in their College of Adult Learning [where I have been an adjunct professor] recruiting potential students. It's a similar job to what I was doing the last time at CCU almost ten years ago.
It has been interesting to digest this move in such a short amount of time. Within three days we went from totally contentment to me taking a job while Kelly quits hers. Still, we see the many blessings that will accompany this change. Among others:
I can continue to develop Echo. I would never do anything that would detract from our ultimate mission in the city: to build a church that will be a blessing to our community. And I truly think that the church is in better shape than it's ever been. I'll be working for an organization that values ministry, so if there's some issue that demands my pastoral attention, I'll be granted some leeway. Campus is only eight minutes away from our house, so I won't be too far away, nor will I have to fight the commute. And it's close enough so I can occasionally catch the girls for lunch.
I'll be forced to play to my ministerial strengths. Since I was the only staff member at the church, there were many aspects of my job that were secretarial in nature. Additionally, if there was something that needed to be done, I rushed to do it because I felt obligated. This robbed others of the opportunity to contribute. I'm going to have to let some things go in order for the church to become what it needs to be— and I know people will step up. Kelly will take over those day-to-day administrative tasks for the church [our new church secretary?] and I'll focus on preaching, vision, and leading.
We can reclaim some semblance of normalcy in our family hours. Since Kelly had to assign hours that she worked to specific job tasks, there was little flexibility in time. Often, she/we had to work while Kaelyn slept, which made for late hours— working well past midnight. Now, we'll be able to get to bed earlier. We won't miss Conan, Letterman, or Kimmel [and if we do, we have DVR].
I'll be doing something I'm good at for something I believe in. I love my alma mater. It's changed a lot since I worked there last [this program didn't even exist when I was there], but it's all for the better. Some of my best friends work on staff at CCU so, in effect, I'm coming home.
And, finally, Kelly can devote herself fully to Kaelyn. This will make me incredibly happy.
I cannot stress how important Kelly has been to Echo; without her, the church doesn't exist. I'm so proud of her. She's sacrificed as much [if not more] as I have in this endeavor and it's time for her to take a breather. No doubt, the transition will take a little getting used to, but it will be great for our family, my new employer, and for our church.
In this instance, change is very good.
*It's not the point of this post, but I know some ministers who are incredibly selective about whom they will marry. I, on the other hand, feel as if I am a better equipped justice of the peace. If I do a couple's wedding, they are forced to engage with their spirituality [or lack thereof]. So while I do get paid for the task, I figure that it's more benefical that I do the ceremony than some public official who has no spiritual dimension in their lives.
**It is absolutely shocking how cheap some churches are. I understand that there are pastors who take advantage of their position and make much more money than they ought. But I know more ministers who live near the poverty line than I'd ever like to admit. I have ministerial friends working two jobs, whose children are on medicaid, and the churches have money in the bank. No, ministers shouldn't make a fortune, but if a church thinks it deserves a full-time minister, it should pay enough so that their families don't have to suffer.