September 5, 2012 / David Fitch

To what do I aspire? Be a megachurch pastor or a missionary?

I believe seminarians entering ministry in N. America today must answer the question: To what do I aspire? Be a megachurch pastor or a missionary? I believe it is essential for a new pastor’s spiritual formation and long term spiritual health. The church landscape has changed so drastically in the United States and Canada that the pastoral candidate is forced to face these two choices. Let me explain. See if you agree?
1.) The healthy small parish of 100 to 300 people is getting more and more rare. More and more, in N America, it’s either mega church or small local communities. Most churches of the 100-300 size are elderly and shrinking. Soon they will not be able to afford to pay a pastor. And if they can, this pastor will end up caretaking the death of the church. Unless that is, the pastor becomes a missionary. It is my opinion that the skills needed to do these turnarounds requires patience, relationality and a slow cultivation of imagination for what God is doing in the world and how to join in. This kind of patience is essential! It comes from a commitment of 15 to twenty years to this place and the slow cultivation of the Kingdom. Not many seminarians have this kind of sense of presence. It comes from deciding to be a missionary versus a “mega church pastor.” No?

2.) If you want to sustain yourself financially in ministry, more and more the choice you have to make is whether to a.) take a position at a mega church, b.) go on staff with a small dying church and deal with the expectations of this dying church becoming a mega church, or c.) once again, becoming a missionary. Again, this forces the decision whether to be a mega church pastor or a missionary. The missionary has a totally different approach to longevity and sustainability. You are not looking to make (all) your money from the church. You are going to learn another vocation/skill that shall become the flexible means for you to be in the context earning a living alongside other missionaries. There will be times when ministry flourishes and demands full time of you. You must put this skill aside or give less hours to it. But you always start a.) bi-vocationally or b.) raise your support. For many reasons I choose a.) over b.) (Come to this conference to flesh out this strategy for N American mission). The choice you make to take a full time paycheck, or become a missionary/flex bi-vocational person, changes everything. It’s hard to turn back from this decision by the time you’re in your forties and have a family.

3.) The worst ministry position to be in is in a small dying church that wants to be the local megachurch in town. In my opinion, this small church is doomed, unless the pastor can convince the people to become a missional community. The pastor can best do this by changing his/her own position in the community from paid hierarchical head of church, to bi-vocational skilled missionary working alongside everyone to live in God’s life and mission. The dynamic of the small church to look with envy over at the “successful” mega church in town must be overturned. The pastor can either decide to turn this church into a mega church or become a missionary.

I am sure there are exceptions to this rule. I can think of a few names right now. Many will say (and they did on facebook yesterday) that this is not an either/or choice? For many reasons, I suggest that, though not impossible, combining these two is fraught with mind numbing contradictions. And of course, friends like Alan Hirsch and Mike Breen have often proven me wrong. Nonetheless, I firmly believe it’s important for the spiritual formation of pastors to at the very outset to prayerfully decide “To what do I aspire? Be a megachurch pastor or a missionary?”

What say you? What is your experience? Tell us about it eh?