I have never made any secret of the particular issues to which we, and other pastors in deprived places, run into. Among the more difficult is the need to raise support for our ministry. Whilst most pastors of self-sufficient churches can happily get on with the business of teaching the Bible, evangelism, discipleship and pastoral visiting, pastors in deprived places have to add a significant chunk of time fundraising to their task list.
Now, what is wrong with that? Another friend of mine – who works in a more monied middle class profession – said, when he started in his line of work, he was simply given a desk, a phoneline and told to make contact with people. He said a significant chunk of his time was given over to doing that. The underlying assumption was, so why don’t you just suck it up and get on with it?
I understand the impulse. But I think it is wrong. Mainly because we are not in the same line of work. My friend’s role was to make money for his employer. Spending time actively chasing leads to that end – even if it took up 75% of his time – and was exactly what he was being paid to do. He might well have other tasks and things to do alongside making contact with people, but in essence, if he was making money for his employer he was doing his job. I’d like to think nobody who reads the Bible and has any sort of gospel heart whatsoever seriously believes that is, or should be, a core task of a pastor.
Our task is not principally making money for our churches. Indeed, it isn’t really what we’re about at all. Our job is about faithfully teaching the Word of God and equipping the saints for works of ministry. As people among ‘the saints’ we are also reasonably involved in those works of ministry ourselves. I don’t know anybody who went into pastoral ministry to make money – most of us aren’t paid the cheques to make that a sensible choice – nor to chase money to keep their churches afloat.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a case of needs must here. There is nothing wrong with pastors seeking to make links and find support. At the end of the day, when your church is not self-sufficient because of the kind of people you are reaching, you need long term partners to help finance the mission. When you’re a little church, you don’t have the luxury of lots of people to do it and, in a deprived community, you don’t tend to have loads of middle class people who work in professions that are used to doing that type of thing either. So, unsurprisingly, it often falls to the pastor himself as he usually has the best links and the most likely chance of meeting people who might support the church. Such is life.
But the point is simply this, pastors of self-sustaining churches simply don’t have to do that. They can devote themselves to the core tasks of being a pastor without concern about whether their church will still have the resources to continue next year. But for those of us who don’t, we have to attempt to do all the core things of pastoral ministry that everybody (rightly) expects of their pastor, whilst devoting substantial amounts of time to building links and seeking partnerships in order to resource our otherwise financially unsustainable churches.
This matters because, as one of my friends in a deprived community said recently, he was forced to effectively choose between pastoring his church and building partnerships so the church didn’t go under. He choose the latter in the end. You can agree or disagree with that decision if you like, but the point is a system which forces pastors into that choice is surely broken.
Most people acknowledge that pastoral ministry is hard, difficult work. Usually, that is something pastors in self-sufficient churches say. But the financial burden of worrying about sustaining your church adds yet another layer of difficulty. The material needs of our communities tend to mean that there is also more legitimate and necessary demand on our resources than in many other churches, yet we routinely have the least in-house resources to deal with them.
At the end of the day, we don’t want to spend all our time whining about money and going cap in hand. We just want to teach the Bible, point people to Jesus and equip believers for ministry in our towns and communities where so few Christians want to go. But to do that, we need other people and churches to see the realities of working in communities like ours who will commit to supporting us long term so that we don’t have to keep banging on about finances and eye-watering financial deficits; instead, we can be about the business to which we were actually called.
This is something with which the wider church can help. Supporting ministry in deprived communities over the long term will free us up from the burden of constantly chasing partnership and financial support, allowing us to be about the business of sharing the gospel and building up believers. If you’ve not done so, maybe consider approaching a pastor in a deprived community and ask how your church might be able to support them. I can assure you it will be well received and, I strongly suspect, you won’t regret it in the long term either.