First on my hit list is paying people.
When we think about beginning a new project, we set out from the foundational belief – almost credal – that you have to have paid staff from day one. I’ve been told by a leading C of E thinker on fresh expressions that, to pioneer a new project successfully, you need two full-time paid staff. I frequently meet with people who tell me about their vision for a fresh expression of church, only for it to transpire that the reason they are sharing their passion is because they want me to pay for it!
But does this need to be the case?
Well, the independent churches don’t seem to think so. In the main, they start with leaders who are not paid and, as the church and its income grows, the leaders reduce the self-supporting work they do. Although they haven’t really been into the emerging church thing and their ecclesiology is congregational, their track record of creating Christian communities makes me sit up and take notice.
And the apostle Paul didn’t seem to set out with this assumption either. Although he could argue coherently for paying those who minister, he seemed to be very cautious about accepting payment himself (1 Cor 9), particularly in the pioneering stages of ministry (1 Thess 3:6-16). His reasons are worthy of further reflection (not now), particularly for pioneers, for whom he is surely a primary role model.
My concern is this: that by paying pioneers (generally with the condition that they pay us back within a limited time period), we hold them back in their mission rather than enable them to fulfil it.
Think about it. If the institution is holding a pioneer’s purse strings with the axe hovering on the whole project if they can’t fulfil an ambitious financial objective, how will the pioneer respond? Will they take risks? Will they gravitate towards the poor or the unpredictable? Will they feel free to go against institutional norms and do something new? Will they be more concerned with serving the Church hierarchy or serving the unchurched?
And if they are being paid to be out of the secular workplace, will they find it easy to build relationships with the unchurched? Will that set the best example to other Christ-followers in their community as they seek to ?
I fear the answer to those questions will more often than not be “no”. If so, we’re setting them up to fail at their primary objective of doing something that will create church out on the edge. There are two additional problems with the model of front-loading full-time salaries: first, there is little evidence that these projects, with the notable exception of church transplants from large churches and projects that receive an influx of transfer growth (which isn’t really what we’re talking about), can make themselves cost neutral within a limited time frame. Secondly, given the money available to most dioceses, if we follow this model, we’re not going to get much started. In God’s economy, we can’t afford to do that.
I believe there are leaders out there who are committed to pioneering new forms of church without the mixed blessing of paid ministry. We want to find ways to support them in that process and give them empowering accountability. I want to be meeting with people who come to me with their vision and tell me that they’re going to drive a white van to make it happen, not ask me to pay for it. Let me know if that’s you.