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“The Fifteen Hour Rule”: A Challenge to All Church-Planters – Quit Working More Than 15 Hours!! (on your churches)

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The idea of the singular professional pastor running a church doing all 18 spiritual gifts (depending on how many you read in the NT etc.) has fallen out of favor. No one believes this is possible any more. This is a relic of the hierarchies of Christendom where such consolidation made organizational sense (if not ecclesiological sense).  Any pastor trying to do this will expire from burnout. It is a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in the body (I Cor 12). (Should we then get rid of the M Div degree as well?)
Of course mega churches are able to keep the hierarchy going by building massive staffs which employ full time specialists in each gifting, and then they employ huge cadres of volunteers for massive programs which they then call “gifts.” (which is a complete misnomer – but that is a subject for another day. On this kind of false volunteerism read Bill Kinnon here and Jamie Arpin Ricci here). But this is another story of the prolongation of Christendom past its time.

Why then, WHY WOULD WE think about planting a new missional church with a singular leader/pastor at the head of the ship?  The only reason is if we are comfortable with the notion that we can recruit enough already existing Christians to be subservient to said singular leader and form a Christendom organization for managing and distributing Christians goods and services to them. But is this church planting or church reconfiguring? Is this Mission or Marketing?

This is why, when planting a missional church/community I prefer the leaders implement “the 15 hour rule.” The “15 hour rule” says that NO PASTOR/LEADER CULTIVATING A NEW MISSIONAL COMMUNITY SHOULD WORK MORE THAN 15 HOURS A WEEK ON MISSIONAL COMMUNITY ORGANZIATIONAL FUNCTIONS (including preaching, organizing, leadership, etc.).

Of course, this is heresy in the traditional world of evangelical church plants. Most assume the new pastor works 15 hours per week just on the sermon.  Over against this traditional model I believe “the 15 hour rule” works to do the following:

 1.) It says no one pastor/leader can nurture a Christian community. It requires a minimum of 3 pastor/leaders who know the inter-relationship of their giftings according to the Eph 4 APEPT schema – Apostles/Prophets/Evangelists/Pastors/ Teachers. These pastors must work together in mutual submission to one another modeling the life of submission one to another in Christ. I’m of the mind, you put three mature leaders who know their giftings in one place for ten years who can lead out of mutual submission to Christ and His Mission, and you will have a fresh expression of the gospel (not dependent upon already existing Christians) in that place 10 years later.

2.) It promotes bi-vocationalism. This is obviously a bi-vocational model where each pastor has a job sufficient to provide a level of support which can sustain these three pastors together in the work for 10 or more years to come. Yet this also reinforces the idea that to do bi-vocational ministry as a singular pastor is VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE!! To do bi-vocational ministry – 15 hours a week max – requires at least three leaders together on the ground, praying, discerning, leading.

3.) It prevents any pastor from thinking the work of the Kingdom is dependent upon how hard he/she work. Instead, I have 15 hours to give and that’s it.  It is God who will do this work not me. I do not have to worry about results, people in the pews, offerings because by and large I am being supported in and through a job and a community. I can exercise the patience necessary to see God work among new and unreached peoples.

4.) It promotes an active body dependent upon the Spirit discerning what God is doing. Because every one in the community sees “the body” modeled by the pastorate, this kind of leadership automatically fosters a “body mentality” in the rest of the church that regularly depends upon the Spirit. We become participants in the rhythms of God’s grace in His Spirit, no meglamaniacal leadership that has predetermined goals (financial and otherwise). The community therefore becomes the arena in which and around which the Spirit can work. Leadership does not control the organization. It fosters an organization of a different kind, an organization that post facto the Spirit facilitates what God is doing.

5.) It says that there should be more than one preacher, teacher. If it is true that it takes 15 hours of prep for a good sermon, then we need to rotate it among the three pastors (and others gifted as well) so that theoretically the fifteen hours are spread out over a longer period of time than one week. This keeps the mission from being centered around one personality.  It keeps the preaching grounded in the mission and life of the community (not a single person studying 20-30 hours a week for the most brilliant exegesis).

NOW LET US BE SURE TO RECOGNIZE that there will be times when “the fifteen hour rule” must go by the wayside. As the church grows, as one’s gifts become more fully recognized, as the fruit of one’s ministry dictates more devotion to the work on the ground in fostering the Kingdom, more hours will be appropriate. This happened all the time in the NT. But, I’m of the mind that every pastor, no matter how much he/she is working within the structures of the church, must always have the ability (i.e another job skill) to go back to “the fifteen hour rule.” Because it simply re-disciplines the church to be the arena of the Spirit from which it can participate in God’s Mission in the world.

Your thoughts on “the 15 hour rule”? Outrageous? Impractical? This Can’t Be Done?

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45 responses to ““The Fifteen Hour Rule”: A Challenge to All Church-Planters – Quit Working More Than 15 Hours!! (on your churches)

  1. Oh Boy David….you make me smile.
    This is basically the formula that we are falling into on accident and I must say, I much prefer it. People that move to Sarnia aren’t moving to get a job at a church, they are moving to be part of a community that they love and the church might help sustain them through a small salary and then they find work as well. We are realizing that people are motivated just as much by community and we tend to attract some of the greatest people to us because of how it’s setup. If we were just looking to hire the best leaders to run our church, we would be empty and the motivations would be all wrong.

    Joe and I were talking this morning that we feel like you are reading our mail. Every post over the last few months has directly been relating to our struggles and successes. Thanks for walking through this with us. See you Saturday.

    1. Morgan,my bi-vocation until I was 43, was financial services. I learned it from the ground up, starting at a job where I apprenticed for 800 dollars a month. I got very good at what I did. My PhD was never viewed in my life as the source of a means to make a living … although that is what by God’s grace it has become … I know many many who have learned all kinds of vocatiosn in any number of areas who started at the basic level, learned a skill, and carry it as a badge of bi vocational ministry to thsi day, even if they’re full time in ministry for the time being.
      DF

    2. Morgan, I echo DF’s thoughts here that a PhD isn’t required to do bi-vo ministry (and for most people might actually be a detriment). With a BA in humanities (i.e. no direct vocational application) and an MDiv, and when I decided to go bi-vo, I applied for all kinds of jobs (student services, social work organizations, non-profits, etc.). The job market is tough, but there ARE jobs out there that don’t require a degree or vocational training that can sustain someone doing bivocational ministry. I would guess that most people doing this do not have PhDs.

  2. TOTALLY agree with this model, WITH the addition of NOT nailing it down to “hard core” 15 hour rule either, rather, the “BE CHRIST RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW” rule, recognizing that planting a church, doing a bi-vocational gig, resting/working at home with friends/family, jogging in your hood, grocery shopping, throwing a celebration and even SLEEPING 8 hours a night IS BUILDING into and “doing” the church plant BECAUSE, all our time IS THE LORD’S, to do as He directs. And He is always directing us to welcome, love and honor “the other”.We can only truly know God’s direction fully for our lives within the context of godly community. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, invites us IN, and we respond, joining them in truest LIFE expressions of love, work, rest and celebration, welcoming others into the beauty, mercy, comfort, grace, joy and truth of the Lord. GREAT post Dave! Let’s plant a church! LOL!

  3. david-you are reading our mail. stop it. 🙂

    for a variety of reasons, our church has naturally moved in this direction. at 5+ years of age we feel like we’re in a transition phase. i think we needed(?) a certain type of time commitment from a primary leader to get us to the point where we can now move to the decentralized leadership model you are describing…and we’re doing it. and its working. each of your 5 points are currently at play in our church.

    that said, the greatest transition seems to be my own. the movement from professional clergy, to planter, to co-pastoring, to team-mate has often felt like a series of demotions. maybe a ‘detox’ is a better way to spin it. the side effects were probably the same.

    at 36, picking up ‘tentmaking’ has been both exciting and confusing. sometimes i feel like i’m betraying my calling. other times i feel like i’m finding it.

    what would you say to pastors who are making similar transitions?

    are there resources/readings that could help leadership teams and churches move in this direction?

    thx!

    1. David, this is a wonderful ideal but can this translate into an Episcopal Hierarchical context where a threefold ministry model is employed: Bishop, Priest, Deacon? When I took my vows as a deacon my primary role was to care for the church scattered, bringing the good news to the world, and in turn bringing the needs of the world to the church. When priested, my role, and my vows were directed to the church gathered through word and sacrament (sacrament being the duty of the priest and can’t be shared), which kind of ruins the possibility co-pastor.
      I was a bi-vocational pastor for 10years before getting married, and my experience has been that those who entertain bi-vocational ministry often have spouses who have a secure income, which allows for the “adventure” of bi-vocational ministry to take place, be it with a saftey net. Do you find this to be true?

    2. David, this is a wonderful ideal but can this translate into an Episcopal Hierarchical context where a threefold ministry model is employed: Bishop, Priest, Deacon? When I took my vows as a deacon my primary role was to care for the church scattered, bringing the good news to the world, and in turn bringing the needs of the world to the church. When priested, my role, and my vows were directed to the church gathered through word and sacrament (sacrament being the duty of the priest and can’t be shared), which kind of ruins the possibility of co-pastor.
      I was a bi-vocational pastor for 10years before getting married, and my experience has been that those who entertain bi-vocational ministry often have spouses who have a secure income, which allows for the “adventure” of bi-vocational ministry to take place, be it with a safety net. Do you find this to be true?

  4. The problem I see is that most of the church planting recruiting focuses on the pulpit – finding people who have nothing but “church” on the resume. Getting a decent job can be difficult in those circumstances.
    When I realized I was in this boat, I vowed to be the last of my kind. The missional church requires us to share the load with the body, and, in doing so, raise up leaders who can be bi-vocational.

    Since making that commitment three years ago, we have found families who are committed to living missionally wherever they go – even if that means starting new expressions when life takes them to a new community.

    I have placed limits on myself from doing the typical “pastor” roles and instead focus on being a member of the community and creating paths for others to engage. This forces me to share the responsibilities with others.

  5. Dave,
    Some random thoughts…

    Exactly what I am thinking/living…. The days of a FULL time 40+ hour a week job are coming to a close… especially in a “missional” planting model.

    Many of us have been talking about the reality of community planters NEEDING to be bi-vo for a number of reasons…
    1. pragmatic- $$$. There is less and less $ support for new projects. Missional communities seem to not, generally, see a “critical mass” of $ supporters from within the new community.
    2.Biblically/theologically- Dave you and others have written all about this. It just doesn’t seem that Jesus’ intention for his community was a one (or two) CEO show…
    3. It really creates space for the real practice of “a priesthood of all believers”!
    Implications for religious pros: ARE HUGE
    – It is time to develop other skills, talents etc.
    – It stinks that many of us bought into an incomplete/distorted view of being a religious pro… we are in a real shift that is messy and hard… (see A. Roxburough’s “The Sky is Falling”).

  6. What about a Pastor/leader who has a big heart for evangelism? I can absolutely see a leader spending no more than 15hours on planning, preaching and so forth and i can certainly see the need for a leader to take a job where he/she has the chance to share his/her faith (i live b these 2 guidelines myself). But what if he/she wants to put more time into evangelism and outreach outside his own work place, surly this should be encouraged which would negate the 15 hour guideline?

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        1. Good question? God often wretis Ichabod over a church for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because of the pastor but I believe more often than not it’s because of the tares in a church that destroys it from within.

  8. OK, someone has to be the killjoy. I’m amazed that no one here has even referenced the model of Paul’s work, especially since he was clearly bi-vocational! Since he declared his work to be a night and day, 24/7, ministry, and since he encouraged his proteges to emulate him, I have no doubt that he would find this idea ludicrous and reprehensible (the time factor, not the bi-vocational aspect).
    Part of the problem is your opening premise, which sets up a straw man easy to knock down. I’m sure there are folks out there who think they can be supermen to their congregations, to the detriment of all concerned. But to use them as the whole reason to jettison the biblical model of shepherding and church planting is, to use your term, “outrageous.”

    Stick to the Scriptural model, in all its aspects (including personal devotion, meditation, etc.), and burnout will not be a problem. If you don’t, you can have a huge staff, and you’ll still crash and burn.

  9. I doubt anyone could preach a sermon worth hearing or facilitate a community discussion worth anyone’s participation with less than 15 hours preparation. Bivocational or not, ministry requires relationships and relationships require time. 15 hours seems arbitrary and impractical for any sort of ministry.

    1. Andrew, I actually limit myself to 6-7 hours of sermon prep (study, writing, etc.). I have found more value in developing relationships and walking with people. That investment, in turn, has made me a much more effective communicator and pastor. While more time on the sermon would make it more “polished”, I would have little credibility because I had hidden myself away from others.
      I hope I don’t misunderstand you, but I believe that investing time with people (during the week) makes for meaningful Sunday experiences.

  10. I agreee fully this is the direction in which we need to go. I have begun to discover it by coming the other way. I have been telling the people in the church plant I started that I want to build through their faith, not on their backs. Cultivating faith, and what Alan Roxburg calls the missional imagination, takes a lot less program time.

  11. What about when you are the bi-vocational youth pastor, and everyone else around you is full time at the church? The requirements are the same. The job looks identical. But I have to do it in half the time and get compensated the same way.
    Does this work the same way?

    Thanks.

    1. Mark,sorry man … IMO … not only does this not work, it’s a recipe for burn out … because those full time .. will unconsciously expect more from you … because they will lack awareness … and the whole system runs on different paradym .. DF

  12. I’m a both/and-er – like the 15hr model, still think there is plenty of room in the missional world for full time pastors too (btw are the both/and-ers dying off or just finding new blogs to follow? Seems like there are fewer comments from us these days).
    To that end, I would challenge the implied notion that your (excellent) points 1, 3, 4, and 5 cannot be carried out effectively in contexts with a full time pastor. If you have an hour I can regale you with examples of healthy missional churches living into each of those values. And I spend a lot of time around seminary students and young church planters, and find that a desire to be the church in this way is not the exception – these values are fast becoming the new normal.

    I would assert that whether a church lives out pts 1, 3, 4, and 5 is not a function of whether or not a pastor has a different day job, but whether they (and the church they lead) value team leadership, incarnational presence, empowering people in their gifting, team teaching, etc. To me the question is not how many hours a week they give to the church, but how they see their role, and therefore how they use the hours they have, be they few or many.

    And Dave I have to confess I’m a bit bummed by what feels like a straw man being presented here. Perhaps this isn’t what is intended, but one could be forgiven for reading this post and concluding that the only options are to be either a 15hr missional pastor, or an egomaniacal, hierarchical, program-driven authoritarian looking for subservient followers to consume their religious goods and services. I wonder if it wouldn’t be more fruitful to compare healthy missional bi-voc strategies with healthy missional strategies for churches with full time pastors.

    1. Tim, does your read of the post change if you recognize I am talking about planting/seeding new communities? I think I’ve left plenty of room for full time … or at least pretty full time pastors as a church body grows matures etc… My experience tells me that church plantings changes dramatically by the dynamics of having to pay a full time pastor (or pastors)….

      1. A little bit . . . I do hear you saying that as a church grows a full(er) time pastor may be what is needed. And the organic nature of that approach appeals to me. Why start with a full timer if there is not yet a church community that would require a full timer?
        For me, the other side of the coin would be: if you select planters who want to start missional initiatives (vs churches supported by transfer growth), might they better positioned to do well if we are able start them full time?

        We plant bi-vo churches in some contexts as that seems to make the most sense, but when we can we plant with a full time pastor. Given the enormous amount of energy and time it takes to start a new church, wear and tear on the planter’s family, knowing that building a healthy church is a marathon vs a sprint, etc, our experience has been that when you have a leader who can give their full attention to the project the church has a much better opportunity to take root. I’m not saying it’s the only way to go about this, but I would say that the approach is not at odds to starting a church that embodies the values you list above.

        And my push back aside, appreciate your heart and your work brother. Keep leading the charge!

  13. utterly ridiculous. ministry is a full time calling regardless of how you earn your living. also, not all pastors are gifted with all the various gifts described in the NT. some are good preachers and others aren’t, some are good pastoral care providers and others aren’t. in my 50 hour or so week, much of my time is spent calling out the gifts of the disciples who are meant to be sharing the bulk of the load. if that’s not what full time pastors are doing, they don’t understand their call. but any pastor who can shut off their calling when they punch a clock – whether 15 hours a week or 50 – should think about retiring their calling.

    1. I totally agree. It is nonsense and foolish to think a pastor can work 15 hours a week and hang it up. It is a full time around the clock calling.If you are not called by God then it is just a job or position.
      Quit asap and get your food stamps if you only want to work
      15 hr a week.

  14. I like the concept, but how does a bi-vo pastor find insurance when the necessity of their church job requires that some weeks they have to spend more hours on church stuff, thereby making it pretty difficult to have a full time job providing insurance, benefits, etc.? In other words, what benefit-bearing job would b available for someone who can’t be there full time on a regular basis?

  15. […] meditation 10.31.11 » bivoc or fullvoc? Enjoying some good dialogue with David Fitch at Reclaiming the Mission over the virtues of bivocational vs full time church planting pastors . . . Technorati Tags: church […]

  16. 15 is not a very spiritual number. 10 or 12 would have a better ring 🙂
    More seriously. Why restrict this to pastors? If every member of the church was bi-vo and gave 15 hours to the Lord’s work, it might really hum.

  17. […] The Power of Elders by Terry Rush is “required reading” by all, elders or otherwise. * “The Fifteen Hour Rule”: A Challenge to All Church-Planters – Quit Working More Than 15 Hours!… by David […]

  18. And then Jesus said, “Blood sacrifice for your sins!!? What kind of Neanderthal bullshit is that!!? What are we, living in the fucking Stone Age!!? Blood sacrifice!!!!!? Are you insane!!? Have you lost your goddamned minds!!!? You can take your human sacrifice bullshit and shove it straight up your Stone Age asses!!!!!Amen.”

  19. […] saying, “Well, I have a full-time job and family, so they’ll need to do it.” Or, as wise church leader David Fitch put it, “The idea of the singular professional pastor running a church doing all 18 spiritual gifts […]

  20. […] to clarify some of these issues I offer the following post from last year. feel free to go back to the original post for the comments, and of course, we can start a whole new set of comments here. Blessings as we sort […]

  21. […] to clarify some of these issues I offer the following post from last year. feel free to go back to the original post for the comments, and of course, we can start a whole new set of comments here. Blessings as we sort […]

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