November 1, 2011 / David Fitch

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

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?