There are roughly 600,000 clergy in the United States — one clergyperson for every 550 Americans. In many rural areas, there are more preachers than doctors. I live in rural northwest Ohio. There are 300+ churches in a four-county area. We have plenty of clerics to go around — full-time, part-time, and retired.
As a five-year-old child in the early 1960s, I told my Fundamentalist Baptist mother that I wanted to be a preacher when I grew up. From that moment forward, I never wavered on what I wanted to be. Not a baseball player. Not a truck driver, like my dad. Not a policeman. A preacher. I have no idea why I want to be a preacher. What was it that drew me to the ministry? Regardless, at the age of fifteen, I stood before fellow members at Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio, and professed that God was calling me to be a preacher. Two weeks later, I preached my first sermon. I would go on to preach 4,000+ sermons, preaching my last sermon in 2005 (at a Southern Baptist church in Hedgesville, West Virginia).
I spent twenty-five years pastoring churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Every church I pastored was given full-time attention from me, even when they paid me part-time wages with no benefits. To supplement my income I worked secular jobs. I sold insurance, repaired cars, pumped gas, managed restaurants, delivered newspapers, started a computer business, worked in factories, and worked as a grant administrator and manager for a local village. Working these secular jobs kept me in the world, so to speak. In a moment, I will explain why EVERY pastor should get a “real” job, one that exposes him to people and experiences outside of the church.
Many pastors are honorable men (and women). They work hard, serving their congregations to the best of their ability. Some pastors, however — let me be blunt — are lazy-ass grifters who wouldn’t know an honest day’s work if it bit them in the face. Pastors have very little oversight. They don’t have a supervisor, except God, but he never seems to be on the job. Pastors don’t punch time clocks. Their churches expect them to manage their time. The problem, of course, is that some pastors are lazy. Oh, the stories I could tell about preachers who gave part-time effort for full-time pay; men of God who spent more time playing golf or going to preacher’s meetings than they did ministering to their flocks.
The pastorate allows men to insulate themselves from the “world.” They get paid to study the Bible, read books, and pray. Their lives revolve around the work of the ministry, which is expected, but far too often pastors have no connection to the outside world. The people they pastor have to go out into the “world” every day for work. Far too many pastors have no real connection to how their congregants live. Even though I worked secular jobs, it took me years to appreciate the work lives and challenges church members faced. In my early days, I would harangue people for not showing up to every church event. All hands on deck, right? I had little patience for people who were too tired or too busy to attend every service, clean the church, help with work projects, and “serve” in one, three, or five ministries. It wasn’t until I understood that they had lives too; that I was being paid to do the things I expected them to do for free or without adequate rest, that I stopped berating people for being human; for not working as hard as Pastor Bruce.
The best way I know for pastors to reconnect with the “world” is for them to get a real job. Doing so will allow them to see and understand how everyday people live. I am not talking about treating the job as a “ministry,” or an opportunity to evangelize people. In fact, I encourage pastors to not tell secular employers and co-workers that they are preachers. Just be one of the guys. Don’t be the Holy Spirit or someone people are afraid to be themselves around. You know what I mean. People who apologize to you when they swear or tell a racy joke. As one Christian Union missionary told me years ago, pastors need to get “dirty,” and not be afraid of being tainted by the “world.” Leave your Bible at home, put your tracts in the glovebox, and don’t wear Jesus/church-themed hats and shirts. Just be a normal Joe. When asked by your co-workers to go out with them after work on Friday, do it. Enjoy a beer with them. Enjoy their company, with no ulterior motives. Years ago, a dear pastor friend of mine was the chaplain at a local sheriff’s department. One day he came to work and there was a picture of him (photoshopped) with his pants partially down and a gas grill connected to his ass. Funny stuff. Guy stuff. He was alarmed by the photo, but I told him that it was just the deputies saying to you, “hey, we accept you as one of us.” In my mind, the photo was a compliment, a statement that said they were comfortable around him. If my friend had gone all preacher-man on these officers, he never would have been able to befriend (and help) them. Frankly, a lot of pastors go through life with a stick up their ass, tolerated, but not respected.
Some pastors have to work outside of their churches, but many pastors are well-paid. It is these pastors, in particular, who are most often disconnected from the day-to-day lives of not only their congregations but the lives of the people who live outside the doors of their churches. The best way to remedy this is for pastors to get a real job, employment that allows them the privilege and opportunity to wallow in the dirt of the world. You will be a better pastor in every way if you do this.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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I appreciate the article. Far too many preachers are way too comfortable in the ministry. I love my bi-vocational preacher friends. I also understand why they tend to burn out because they see other preachers getting “rich” – or at least really comfortable. Someone posted something about one way to deal with some of the economic issues is to start taxing the churches. While I am not quite there, I certainly can understand why some would feel that way. I see the Kenneth Copelands, Joyce Meyers, Benny Hinns and their ilk raking it in while the “real” preachers are out there doing the work of the ministry. When Kenneth Copeland’s PROPERTY TAXES were 150K a year (which of course he doesn’t pay because its a parsonage owned by his ministry) I have to take a second look. I heard a man preach (who is galaxies away from your theological position) who owns several businesses. Love him or hate him you have to respect that he does not live off the backs of his congregation. I still believe the workman is worthy of his hire. Sadly too many preachers aren’t.
preachers/pastors/priests are paid to lie to people. no one should be paid for that.
I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. I have long believed that the second biggest problem with priests—after their vow to fight one of the most basic characteristics of human biology and psychology—is that most don’t work regular jobs. While it’s true that many spend time working with the poor, sick and other afflicted people, the purpose of their work is ultimately is to bring people into the church. Also, if they fail at such jobs, they are simply transferred to something else. That is in contrast to failing at a “real job,” which can result in firing and the worker having to find a new job on his or her own.
That brings me to another point: When clergy members work regular jobs, it should not be for the purpose of financing their churches or ministries.The money should be used in the ways anyone else would use their pay: rent, food and such.
By the way, the pastor of the Evangelical church I later attended had, as far as I know, no outside job. And he and his wife lived pretty stylishly, to say the least.
Whatever the situations that birthed these church phenomena, I really hope the church adapts again and have more people working inside AND OUTSIDE of the church, if merely for the sake of coming into more contact with people of other opinions. This should mellow out church positions.
And, nowadays, if you look at the staff page of many mega-church websites, there’s a “pastor” for EVERTHING. All making quite the living from church member tithes, I venture to guess: Executive Pastor. Associate Pastor. Youth Pastor. Over-60s Pastor. Singles Pastor. Couples Pastor. Worship Pastor. Media Pastor. Parking Lot Traffic Control Pastor. “I-Only-Pastor-On-Wednesday-Nights” Pastor, Assistant Pastor Who Kisses the Butt of the Executive Pastor.
Having outside jobs while being a minister certainly helped you to understand people in the end. We were briefly in the ministry, and my husband worked outside of the church. If that job had paid better we would have considered staying in the area where we were when he decided to leave the ministry. Funny, over 30 years later he is an atheist and I’m non-religious. (I’d go to a UU church if one was nearby, I think.)
My father-in-law went to seminary to become a Catholic priest, and he was appalled by the excesses of the priests. While the regular Catholics were eating fish on Fridays as symbolism if privation, he saw the priests eating lobster and drinking the best alcohol, using fine China and crystal and silver. He was put off by that.
I don’t know the back story behind this pastor and his family but somehow part of his package was a parsonage that was way nicer than what most of our church families could afford. Our church was located in a modest working class community on the outskirts of Nashville, and most members were middle class. This pastor’s family came from Mississippi and were extremely well dressed and good-looking. I am not sure if somehow they were independently well off and demanded a better parsonage than most of our pastors had. It was beautiful and well furnished, and to my 12 year old eues, it was something out of a Southern Living magazine. I do know that after that pastor left (it took him a couple of years to find a wealthier church in Nashville), the next parsonage was a more modest house typical of our community.
But none of the head pastors our church had worked outside jobs. Some of the youth, assistant, and music ministers did. It seemed like many had the goal if full time minister tbough.
My Baptist preacher dad helped build his first church and did not have an outsode job until later, after a fracture in the congregation sent him on his way to other small churches that could not afford to give him a full-time wage. Dad worked humbly at his extra jobs and got sucked into selling vacuums door to door at one point. Eventually he snagged another preacher position that paid just enough to squeak through, after most of his kids were on their own.
I think that any exposure a preacher can have outside the sick bubble of religious institutions is a healthy addition. I equate it with the college-level study that uses modules of book-learning and then real-world placements to use that theory on-the-ground in workaday life. When people isolate and immerse themselves in the black book theory, they lose touch and their influences tend toward others who have tumbled down the rabbit hole as well. Dad picked up the rigid black and white IFB flag and pretty much became a parrot preacher. But he was basically good-hearted as a human being and that made it difficult for him to be reptilian in his preaching. He resisted fire and brimstone because of his humanity. Not even the Baptist practices could take that out of him. Perhaps something similar happened to you, Bruce. The sick structure of the ‘faithful’ life makes people ill. It turns them against their own humanity with ideas of harm and calls those ideas love. Jesus made me sick with his Baptist cure for my human condition. Jesus allowed my father to justify being a victim in life, being bound up in dogma and cheap suits and ties. What a friend we have in Jesus.
I once went to a small Assemblies of God church that had two co-pastors, they both had full-time day jobs they worked during the week. They would alternate who preached on a Sunday, I thought that was pretty admirable. It was the first and only time I ever encountered such a set up, so pretty rare.