Taking a stand can be fun. In the midst of this crazy global news cycle, people have used the interwebs to broadcast bold statements about a variety of political issues. Tonight I take a stand of my own. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not very controversial. But it’s kinda a big deal to me.
I changed my Linkedin profile. I officially ended my employment at Echo Church.
My church won’t be shocked, even though I handed in no official resignation letter; I didn’t announce it from the pulpit last week because I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t taken a paycheck in over a year now. Even when I was “paid staff,” I was bi-vocational (working another job in addition to my pastoral gig to make a living). It’s basically been like that since I started the church. I still continue to serve just as passionately and preach nearly every week at our church. I’ll continue in my role as an elder at the church.
The only thing really changing is my view of my relationship with my community. It’s been heading this way for years now. I just finally recognized it.
When we started Echo ten years ago, I was bi-vocational out of necessity. We wanted to start a church our way and raising funds would have meant having to live up to a donor’s expectations. Also, we knew of too many awesome works around the kingdom of God with which we had no desire to compete. So I did what I had to do to manage our costs and kept some side jobs: I started out working at a Panera, performed weddings and funerals, led worship, filled pulpits, and taught college classes all to make ends meet. Even when I originally took a job at Cincinnati Christian University years ago, I secretly desired to grow the church to the size necessary for me to be a full-time minister.
Like most things in my life, I found a way to mess up that plan.
Along the way, while aiming for that next level, I discovered something about my bi-vocationality: my role gave me a more prophetic voice. This wasn’t a “filled-with-the-spirit” kind of prophesying, rather an opportunity to speak the truth plainly. This is difficult to find in American pulpits. Many full-time ministers are forced to temper their messages so as not to blatantly offend others. But my position permitted me a blank check to be bold. When the fear of termination isn’t there, you say what needs to be said. The past decade has changed the way I view the pulpit. It might not be a great template for building a large congregation, but I believe it’s helped us build genuine community at Echo.
And our church has been the key to this. They’ve accepted this model and made it their own. They don’t treat me like some random employee but as a close friend. My leadership in the church is just as strong (if not stronger) because I can lead with total confidence. And the smaller staffing budget has allowed us to be generous with our missions support. In short, we’re a healthier church because of our pastoral relationship.
Honestly, the only thing it hasn’t been good for is my psyche. I always self-identified as a minister. I was fearful that if I strayed too far away from this goal, it would change who I was destined to be. Yet this journey brought me to new levels of acceptance. I’ve now come to the realization that I’ll likely never be a full-time minister again. And I’m totally OK with that. And I don’t feel any different about my role in leading our church. God still uses me, regardless of whatever title I put on my email signature.
When we started Echo, my desire was for us to create new models for ministry. I know of many amazing works sprouting up around American cities, but the money necessary to fund all these endeavors continues to decrease. I believe the future American church will be comprised of two kinds of congregations: megachurches with multiple staff people, each holding their own specializations, and smaller churches with bi-vocational (or volunteer ministers) that have modest budgets. My hope is that people facing this conundrum will see our path and realize it’s possible to go this way while doing some amazing ministry. The digital era has made the world smaller and has expanded the opportunities for effectiveness.
I feel more effective than I’ve ever been.
Not quitting. Just throwing away my business cards.