Create a New ‘Order’ of Clergy: A Recommendation to Denominations

10-03So I am sure I’m not the first to come up with this notion (look here for instance), but it seems to me denominations in the West need to create a new category for commissioning leadership. We need an new order of pastors for mission.

For hundreds of years, and still within my lifetime, churches in the West have been confined to the traditional structures of clergy. This order of professional clergy was defined by a time when there was huge demand for the full time pastor to order the entire ministry of a congregation.  Seminaries were structured to educate persons for this role. They learned Biblical exegesis, preaching, administration, pastoral care, leadership, etc. all in one package. The process to ministry included getting a MDiv at a seminary, passing ordination exams and interviews, and then candidating for a post at one of thousands of local churches.

This made sense in U.S.A. , Canada and even Europe in the last 50-75 years.  But the world has changed and we need less and less full time professional clergy. The churches that flourish with full time paid professional staff are large mega churches who need specialists – worship pastor, C.E.O. senior pastor world class communicator, children’s ministry pastor, justice ministry manager, director of outreach, executive pastor, etc.etc. The other kind of churches looking for a full time clergy are the old-fashioned single pastor congregation of Western Christendom. More and more of these churches are floundering smaller congregations looking for a ‘savior.’ It is true that there are more mega churches but they grow on the backs of the shrinking of the old-fashioned single pastor congregation of Western Christendom. As we consolidate existing ‘successful Christians’ into larger and larger churches, the old-fashioned single pastor-small staff churches shrivel unable to even pay one pastor let alone a church secretary.  The net-net result is we need fewer and fewer full time clergy to ‘service’ the remaining Christians left in our society.

I suggest there is a need for a new order of clergy (if I may call it that): a missional leader who can understand the relationship between work and ministry so that it is seamless. He or she dedicates 10-15 hours a week to organizing the Kingdom community in their local context.  He or she knows her gifting and can lead out of that gifting. He or she has a job that he/she can support her/himself and her family with. He/she can develop a job skill that can adapt to changing circumstances. Often, he or she adjust their work hours so that she can work a tad less than the average 40 hour week. He or she can then give time to the leadership of their community without disrupting a daily/weekly rhythm of being present with family and neighborhood as well. The small church community can offer a small stipend to make up the difference. He or she does all this with 3 to 4 other leaders who do the same. Each is recognized for one of the five-fold giftings out of which they minister and lead in relation to the other leaders. They are apostle, prophet, pastor-organizer, teacher-organizer, evangelist working together, 15 hours plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours, plus 15 hours plus 15 hours. They are doing more out of multiple giftings than one single pastor ever could. They are bearing each other’s burdens. They are a “band of brothers and sisters.” This becomes a sustainable missionary kind of ministry that changes the whole dynamics of ministry because they are present in jobs, families and neighborhoods and makes possible long term ministry in context. It is, in essence, a new version of the old monastic orders of mission adapted to the capitalistic societies in the West while providing the means to resist (and provide witness) to its more oppressive sinful patterns.

Denominations need to define a new order of clergy because anyone seeking to operate in ministry this way will easily get defeated. Some of the more obvious ways they will get defeated are:

  • They will get caught up in bi-vocational ministry where they will be expected to get a full time job, and do the work of a full time minister (because no one changed the expectations). This is chaos and recipe for personal disaster. It simply will never work. We need a new order of clergy then to redefine bi-vocational ministry and fund a new imagination for what this kind of order of mission might look like.
  • They will get ordained into ministry and become bi-vocational and missional but the denominations will still expect them to fulfill all the old requirements of the traditional form of full time pastorate.  They will have to go to local ministerial associations, represent the church at local events, make sure the furnace is working at the church, take care of funerals and attend civic events, fill out data sheets for the denomination. But reality is, they have other jobs! They need to be given credentials that recognize the new rhythms of life they have committed themselves to. (This stuff nearly killed me when I was a bi-vocational pastor).
  • They will get a job, take up local contextual ministry and they will not understand the relationship between their work and ministerial leadership calling. They will not know how to look at their jobs once they get successful. They will not be able to be comfortable with 15 hours a week working for the organization of the church (because no one provided these expectations). They will not know what it means when their churches start to grow and some leaders ask them to quit their jobs because they will have allowed the identity of their jobs and its monetary success to overwhelm them. An imagination for the way work and ministry and family (when there is one) go together needs to be cultivated and this can best be done through defining a new order of clergy and then bringing those practicing together to discuss and offer visions for what this looks like.

For all these reasons we need to fund a new imagination for a new emerging clergy class that are in essence self sustaining contextual N. American missionaries. But the denominations for the most part have not navigated this. My guess is, if the denominations formed a new order of clergy, helped developed imagination and supporting structures for it, there would be untold numbers flocking to this group. There are literally thousands of second career people, and thousands of younger seminary graduates  dissatisfied with current options (dying small church senior pastor or mega church staff person) who would gravitate towards this kind of commissioning.  But we have no larger imagination for it. A new order of clergy could help and support these kind of missionaries and stir up such an imagination. Such an order of clergy could seed a whole new mission for a renewal of the Kingdom in N America.

What do you think? Denominational leaders, do you have such an order of clergy in your structures? Of course, it goes without saying that we need to fund the education of this new order of clergy differently, not taking people out of their context, but providing training along the way over longer (more affordable) periods of time.  There are many seminaries preparing to do this. We know we have to do it. I can’t wait til Northern unveils its new program for doing just that.

Posted in Missional Leadership, Neo-Anabaptist, Pastoring in Mission, Post-Christendom
25 comments on “Create a New ‘Order’ of Clergy: A Recommendation to Denominations
  1. Zach Hoag says:

    Dave, cosign on everything here. Yes. And please keep me posted on the program at Northern!

    • Mark Demers says:

      Zach – you good to go on this? I almost brought this up at our meeting Monday afternoon – that the church needs to re-think professional ministry. As David notes – it has great potential for success and failure. How would Rachel react to this?
      Jan and I talked about this often over the course of my ministry. I grew weary of being the “professional Christian” and thought I could better serve the church if weren’t on call 24 hours a day. What I had to learn was the laborer is worth his/her hire – and that doesn’t mean the pastor has to work him or herself to death.

      David seems to be coming at it more from the perspective of what churches can afford than what is good practice for ministry. I have wondered if, in reality, too many “small churches” need to increase their budget for pastoral ministry. I have also thought that more clergy should take a lower salary and add people to their staff. Just think how rich I would be if I were collecting Rachel’s salary on top of my own! And just imagine how foul my mood would be. Fitch is spot on – we need colleagues in ministry – and I don’t mean clergy gathering with clergy from other churches … I mean people who are in the same trench, planning the same worship, prayerfully discerning the same mission, hammering out the same vision. But I think the major problem with denominations has to do more with pastors of local churches than officials sitting behind denominational desks.
      This is a conversation we want to have … What does First UMC Burlington need for leadership as we pray and think together about the next five, ten, fifteen years? Let’s not depend on an official from the denomination to figure that out; let’s start working on it now!
      Good article.

      • Mark Demers says:

        One other thought – Isn’t this exactly what some of our volunteer leaders are already doing? Just looked at an email from our Treasurer – she has been working on church financial stuff – and then wrote – “Have to stop now and go to Job #2. More on this tomorrow.”

        I think if David’s idea is going to work at all, it has to be all or nothing. That is, pastoral ministry has to be “volunteer” just like many of the other ministries in the church are. Geez …. lots to talk about here.

        • Zach Hoag says:

          Mark! I wondered if you would trace my breadcrumbs over here – definitely a relevant piece to our ongoing convo. From reading Dave elsewhere, I actually don’t think he’s suggesting “volunteer” here as a mandate, but rather bi-vocational and seamless – meaning, you work a job in the community as part of ministry identity & you work part-time serving in church-specific tasks (and get paid part-time). It’s not bi-vo in the bad sense of “we pay you part-time but you work full-time for the church and another job too!” (been there) but in the good sense of actual part-time hours in each venue with all of it seen as ministry.

          In any established denom. church I think the transition will be gradual, but there’s an opportunity to invest in part-time ministers who may set a tone for the future, even if they work alongside full-time ministers on staff at present. So, IOW, no one needs to get fired :) , and probably someone needs to get hired! But the post-christendom task is to transition to sustainable ministry/mission for the next generation, etc.

          We’ll talk, for sure!!

      • David Fitch says:

        It’s always interesting how what you thot you said gets interpreted into something else. This statement “David seems to be coming at it more from the perspective of what churches can afford than what is good practice for ministry” blows my mind dude, because I thought I was doing exactly the opposite.

        To me we need a way of training,of making a way for a ‘clergy’ (notice I’m using scare quotes) that gets recognized, ordered for a certain leadership gift and thereby faciliated for ministry … but it is distinctly not structured within the traditional orders of professional clergy. Notice, no more than 15 hours a week dedicated to the organizing/nurturing of the community.

        I’ve seen so many missional communities awash with no leaders taking up their roles, and/or leaders who are so unprepared for the basic questions of leadership, or a leadership that defaults to heirarchy … that we need to start funding a different kind of leadership … where people can own it, live into it, yet not feel confused … every time someone expects them to be a traditional professional pastor.
        peace bro …

  2. Robert Clark says:

    Last year, I co-lead a ten month training for lay church planters. This course grew out of a three module training for lay missioners. I have also been involved with training lay ministers, some of whom are now serving local churches. It has become increasingly clear that many churches can no longer afford a full time seminary trained pastor. Consequently, the United Methodist Church has been actively exploring other options.

  3. will clegg says:

    YES! Exactly what is needed. But please learn when to use less and fewer.

  4. Dan Jr. says:

    This is absolutely confirming to read. This is the story of our church. We did much of this because we were broke and didn’t want everything riding on the back a super-hero-magnetic leader. As we multiply communities we supplement someone’s income to help lessen the burden and free them up to lead a growing missional community. We’ve fooled around with idea of supplementing with health insurance, instead of income. It is a culture challenge when people look for the “it” pastor. People seem to find safety in the senior pastor/ceo model. It’s always a little awkward in our church planting movement/denomination when they talk about me as the planter. It’s not the reality of how we’re framed but they have no other metric. I’m really 1/6th of the planting team. I went through a church planter assessment a few years ago and actually asked if our whole team could go through it… they were not ready for that yet.

    I’m not sure we would have survived in a poor urban area if we were not financially lean and nimble in leadership.

    Side note since you’ve talked about racial issues in your last post. The shared, decentralized leadership approach has raised the most eyebrows with my Hispanic and Black friends and pastors in our city (just an observation). They totally get the bi-vo thing (since they’ve been doing it for years) but it’s the shared, mutual, decentralized pastoral structure that has gotten quite a few sour reactions. Thoughts?

  5. /dave says:

    We’re stumbling through some of this in Los Angeles and find ourselves facing some of the issues raised above (specifically, like Dan Jr. mentioned – most trainings are set up to train individual leaders and not teams, and these less-than-full-time structures can be confusing and destabilizing for people).

    That said, especially in our transient urban environment, I’d much rather serve alongside 5-6 families as part of a team committed to a neighborhood (which, on a good day, we’re living out in LA) than have one “clergy person” leading a spinning nebula of disconnected individuals.

    Thanks for the post and helping define this new “order of clergy.”

  6. Dave,

    For once I have to say you are behind the times. In the Church of the Brethren we identified much of what you are saying here as the new realities for credentialed ministry nearly 7 years ago.

    Since then, the hurdle has not been getting church polity to adapt to these new realities but interpreting the realities and communication why a change is needed to the local congregations. In other words, what you are outlining here isn’t a matter of structure (getting a new category) but making clear what has changed and why the new vision is 1) needed and 2) in the best interest of both pastors and congregations.

    So many communities- just as they look at “that church” and see the facility as part and parcel of being a real church- look around them and see a full-time, MDiv trained pastor as the sign they are a real church. Trying to say that locally called and formed ministers are a vibrant and effective form of leadership just doesn’t fly. It seems like it is a “fall back” to a real pastor.

    In traditions more hierarchy-phobic, it smacks of a pecking order. The real pastors are MDiv’s while the locally called and formed, missional leader is some how less able, capable, or appropriate. At the same time, MDiv’s look down their nose at such leaders as sell-outs who didn’t make the same financial, familial, and personal sacrifice “as I did.”

    What you are talking about is a culture change that involves changing the whole imaginary of doing church. Changing the ideas of congregations, current leaders, and emerging leaders, as well as making the polity shift is hard and long work.


    • David Fitch says:

      Dude … it should never be a surprise to see me behind the times .. and the Church of the Brethren leading the way!!! It figures you all were leading on this because you have less historical hurdles to do it … LEAD US ON MY BRO!! :) (and FYI I’m not being the least bit cynical here)

      • Some day i will recount just how much land clearing is involved. It did not take long for the “mainline-ization” of the Brethren to take root. Some point to the shift from shared leadership to professional ministry as a grand turning point in the tradition.


  7. Peggy says:

    Dave, this is very much like the vision I received seven years ago. I called it CovenantClusters and am still watching and waiting for God’s move. I sense that the time is coming. If the MT Instigators lived in the same town, it would be rolling already — or something like it!

    I have learned much in these seven years…perhaps it is time to pull it out and update it. I spoke with former professors and church planting leaders back then. They saw it as good but not what was being practiced. Didn’t fit in. Maybe that is changing? Exciting times….

  8. Nate Hope says:

    YES! We’re experimenting with clergy apprenticing in a missional context. But I think the way we interact with professional work outside ministry will also have to change with the new clergy. Or at least we’ll have to carefully choose our bi-profession. Even part-time Ministry along with full trade work is a tiring life. I’m not saying its impossible but it’s very difficult.

  9. Brian says:

    As much as I like the idea, it is not as easy as it seems. I am currently a bi-vocational pastor of a Baptist church in VA. I graduated seminary last year and have been a GM of a local business for the past 5 years. I am currently transitioning into full-time at the church. The model worked good for the first 8 months, but it started to put way to much stress on my family. Perhaps some can only spend 15 hours on “organizing the Kingdom community” I find this almost laughable. Perhaps preaching is not included but I am a teacher first and foremost and I cannot even do a sermon in 15 hours. I believe it takes a minimum 15 hours a week of merely organizational leadership to try to move a church from Christendom into a missional church. I think if you have a group of people who understand the missional mindset and move forward it would be easy, but when you have people who only know the Christendom mindset you are up for a massive challenge. My wife and I have two kids, a 20 month old, and a 2 month old. The past nine months have been great, however, the people that have suffered are the ones closest. My family is too important so for me and I had to make the transition. Perhaps if I was a seminary teacher and a bi-vocational pastor it would be easier, perhaps the jobs overlap. The business I run and the teaching responsibilities never coincided. They were two completely different things with different mindsets. And the ones that suffered where my family. I handled the responsibilities great, just neglected the most important ones. Perhaps some will be able to do this; perhaps it is my season of life. I never intended to be a fulltime pastor, however, it is what my family needed. I imagine this brings the whole education thing into consideration, not to sure about your experience but I have not had any of business recruiters say “WOW YOU HAVE AN MDIV!”(Usually it is what is that?) Truthfully, when seminaries stop charging so much for degrees perhaps pastors could be educated in both. Perhaps more seminary professors and administrators need to be bi-vocational and lead by example. Then it would bring down the cost of tuition and trickle down to the pastors. If they stopped telling us we do not need massive buildings and they stopped teaching us in massive buildings then they could teach us what that looked like! I loved my education, but it is not marketable for anything other than being a pastor! Do we say well pastors do not need education? I think they do, as I imagine most. But it all starts with our training and what we see, not what we hear!

    • Dan Jr. says:

      I completely get what your laying down. I do think it is an ideal situation to have a leadership team that mutually splits the pastoral work. It’s really hard to assemble that type of leadership trust, culture and giftedness. If you’re doing most of the leadership/pastoral work, it makes complete sense that you’d have to go full-time.

      I also think the work thing is real serious challenge. I’ve had to get crazy creative to make money for my family. I was a pastor for 15 years before planting. Most employers didn’t think my previous work was transferable. So I had to venture out on my own more entrepreneurially and that’s not for everyone.

    • David Fitch says:

      Brian …
      my questions/comments would be,
      1.) “are you doing this alone” if you are it’s a non starter (said that in the post.
      2.) you have to be selective in choosing a job skill and it takes for most of us 5 years to find and hone a skill in which this works (where flexibilty and confidence work together to make it very manageable/enjoyable). This is a long term missionary strategy which most often takes 5 years just to get firmly established. Anyone who thinks they can go apply for a job and fund the perfect fit in three weeks or even three years will be sorely dissappointed (most likely).
      3.) your comment about MDiv is the wrong way to look at it. IMO M.Div;s (most often) offer ability to write, think, present in public, appropiate reading critically and applyit, and see understand people well. These skills translate into mega job skills. You just need an opening.
      and ONCE AGAIN, when I was bi-vocational I WORKED IN FINANCIAL SERVICES. I don’t consider being a theology professor bi-vocational. I have done this.

      Anyways, I’m just trying to help others see that what you describe most likely is quite different than what I’m describing and promoting as bi-vocational.
      Thanks bro ..and blessings on this coming leg of the journey.

  10. Bill Wagner says:

    NAMB- That’s the North American Mission Board – That is the Southern Baptist’s answer for the small church pastor. They do equip, train, and make resources available to pastors planting new churches. And they support them in the context of the cultural morays for whatever city or region the pastor is developing. They even support ministries that do not follow the typical Southern Baptist model and often if you visited those churches, you might not even recognize them as part of a conservative traditional denomination!

    I am a church planter in the North West–the State of Washington. I am not a member of NAMB, but I do utilize much of their training and resources. Bi-Vocational, yes. Ministry comes before job. I took on a job under the condition that if I am needed for ministry, then I can take that time off and apply myself to the mission.

    I train my leaders to develop with the philosophy of “as you go,” make disciples of all nations…teaching them all the commands that they have been taught. Instruction on leading in the church also mean teaching the church what to expect from their bi-vocational pastor as well as teaching the pastor how to balance work and, well, work. NAMB is way ahead as far as a denomination backing is concerned. My hope is other denominations will make similar ideas a priority as well.

  11. Tim Dukes says:

    A return to the first appointed office of the church after the apostles. DEACONS. Ministers of faith at the crossroads where the church and the world meet.

  12. Edward Frost says:

    Thanks for a thought provoking article and many insightful comments too. I agree that our post-Christendom context makes team ministry leadership an effective model for leading churches of 50 to 200 people. We need a new way to educate ‘mid-career’ ministers well without visiting all the demands of a traditional M.Div. on them. It took me 12 years to grind my way through that while working full time and pastoring. It may take me as long to recover!
    Denominations are not likely to respond rapidly, and truly embrace the depth of change you propose…but they must or they will decline ever more rapidly.
    I see the tough part as finding employers who will honor a reduced working role as a long term option. There’s a short supply viable of 30-hours-a-week work out there. Inpractice I see bi-vocational families…the minister surviving off, or at best supplementing the spouse’s full time income.
    Thanks again. Great conversation.

    • Peggy says:

      Edward, this is exactly the model in CovenantClusters — one spouse works/serves in the community and the other works/serves at the ministry compound.

  13. len says:

    My wife and I were invited to copastor an aging “First Baptist” church in Ontario this summer. We arrived a week ago. I am 70% and she is 30%. (My other time will be seminary teaching and writing). I can imagine reducing to 50% over the next two years. But this is possible only because the church “crashed” and those who remain have organized around the mission, and have called us to shepherd an inward and outward rhythm among a team of leaders. It’s early days, but there are many signs of readiness to reimagine ministry and consign the professional model to history.

  14. Pam Morse says:

    great conversation. Keep it going. Lots of us are listening.

  15. Nick says:


    I would be interested to hear you expand on this point you made: “Each is recognized for one of the five-fold giftings out of which they minister and lead in relation to the other leaders. They are apostle, prophet, pastor-organizer, teacher-organizer, evangelist working together”

    What are the details and responsibilities of each of those roles as you see them?

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3 Pings/Trackbacks for "Create a New ‘Order’ of Clergy: A Recommendation to Denominations"
  1. [...] Create a New ‘Order’ of Clergy: A Recommendation to Denominations | Reclaiming the Mission/ Davi…: [...]

  2. [...] been reading and contemplating a blog post from the same friend who happen to post the quote.  This call for a new order of clergy by David Fitch speaks to me. It’s so very close to what our team at the Branch has been living out for [...]

  3. […] In assessing the bivocational vs. professional dilemma, the real question is, How can a rooted, missional, redemptive kingdom presence emerge in this cultural space that is also connected, ordered, accountable, and sustainable? How can a shalom-filled ministry take root in a parish that is also experiencing unity within a larger body in a healthy way? Truly missional ministry will certainly mean a departure from corrupt, self-obsessed, and bloated economies. And it may mean bivocational ministry in part-time and volunteer capacities. For institutions in need of reform, David Fitch makes a grand suggestion: […]

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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