Since coming to Missiongathering, this has been perhaps one of the most persistent questions and critiques I’ve received. Many folks have been worried that by not having me in the pulpit every Sunday, that this signaled a sign of insecurity for our church or a failure to do my duties as pastor. I understand this concern and perspective, and wanted to take this first segment of Ask Pastor Brandan to address these legitimate concerns.
There are four primary reasons that I do not speak every Sunday- even Sunday’s when I am attending the worship service and may even be doing other duties like leading communion. The first two reasons are matters of practicality, the final two are matters of conviction.
First, most congregants have no idea of the amount of time it takes to craft a sermon each week. This isn’t your fault- most folks never have had the opportunity or desire to do so. Nonetheless, every week that I sit down to write a sermon, it takes about 20-30 hours from start to finish. This includes studying the Biblical texts, reading theological reflections on the topics, researching concepts and ideas, and then actually writing my manuscript. This may sound like a lot of time- and it is- but I assure you that it’s not abnormal. Numerous interviews and surveys have been done with Pastors across the nation (view them here and here), and the typical, seasoned pastor spends between 15-20 hours a week on a sermon. Young Pastors, new to the process of crafting unique content every single week typically range from 20-40 hours a week of sermon prep and creation.
As the only Pastor on staff for our church (which by the way, is, at 150 regular attenders, one of the largest progressive churches in Southern California- many others churches our size have 2-3 pastors on staff!) to give this amount of time to writing a sermon every week means that I don’t have time for the other essential duties, like managing our budget, vision casting, operations, campus, staff, outreach, and pastoral care. Therefore, since the beginning of my hiring (after preaching six weeks in a row) it became clear that in order to nurse our church into this new season effectively, I needed to spend less time preparing to preach and more time focusing on the pressing matters that were facing the Missiongathering community. While many have been dismayed by this reality, especially towards the end of the year, I knew that this was the best and healthiest choice for our church.
Second, when I was hired by the Board, there was an agreement that I would be bi-vocational. In other words, I would have multiple jobs both as a matter of my own personal desire but also because our community was not able to provide the minimum full-time salary that our denomination suggests for Senior Pastors. For the foreseeable future, I do not intend to take a raise at Missiongathering so that we can channel most of our funds into what matters most, which means that I will continue to be bi-vocational for the foreseeable future. My other jobs include teaching at two Seminaries and running a small non-profit that focuses on fostering spiritual and social impact around the world. These jobs mean that beyond the 50+ hours I work for Missiongathering each week, I am also giving my time to other projects. This bi-vocational ministry structure is again, extremely common among churches like ours. Some have even suggested that this is the more faithful and Biblical model of ministry. Pastors often split time between working for a congregation while also supplementing other necessary income doing other work. For me, this is a preferable model. I would rather, in the future, hire more Pastoral Staff than increase my pay and hours, because in reality, no one person should be the single pastoral leader for any congregation. (To read more about the prevalence of bi-vocational ministry, click here.)
None the less, I have committed to preaching a minimum of 75% of the Sundays out of the year (about three times a month) for the 2017-18 ministry year to help our church get to know me as the Pastor and have a sense of stability. In the future, that percentage may decrease slightly, not because of the first two practical reasons, but for the following convictional reasons. Again, not having the Lead Pastor preach every week is a common practice among churches large and small. In fact, seasoned Pastors and Church Leadership experts highly recommend that the Lead Pastor not preach for a whole slew of other, very valid, reasons. (To read the leading church experts recommendations, click here and here.)
These first two reasons are practical and personal. The final two reasons that I don’t preach every single week are matters of conviction.
The third reason is because, for far too long, the Church of Jesus Christ has been dominated by the voices of white, cisgender, men. When a singular voice of privilege becomes the dominant voice, speaking the “words of God”, we face serious issues. The beauty of the Church of Jesus Christ is that it’s made up of people of every gender, sexuality, race, creed, and socio-economic background. And as I often say from our pulpit, only in our diversity do we reflect the Divinity of “Christ in us”. God is not a white, cisgender, male, and the voices speaking about God shouldn't be either. And while I do bring a unique, often unheard perspective as a queer person when I preach, I feel convicted and called to give the sacred platform of our pulpit to diverse voices to share their unique reflections on our faith. This means that at least once a month, I am committed to giving the pulpit of our church to an outside voice- someone of a different race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic status, denominational background, or worldview- in order to challenge our community’s biases and expand our faith beyond the borders of privilege and power that they are so often confined within.
The fourth reason is because the Church of Jesus Christ has never been and should never be about a single person. Far too often, local churches form around a single pastor or personality. People come to church because they like or don’t like the pastors style of preaching and ministry, and they put all of their hopes and desires for their experience within the church on a single pastor. In our Western, consumeristic, capitalistic society, this is how many evangelical churches function. Missiongathering has functioned like this for much of its past history, and when a person like me, who does ministry in the broader world beyond the church, steps into a Pastor position, it is easy for that cult of personality to begin forming again. Church, I cannot think of anything more antithetical to Jesus Christ than for the church to be about a Pastor or personality. This isn’t remotely Biblical (the early churches in the Book of Acts were led by multiple people, and multiple people preached and represented the church publicly) and has been the demise of many pastors and churches. As your pastor, I am committed to fighting this at all costs.
If Missiongathering is going to be a healthy community, functioning as the Body of Christ, then I cannot be the only or even the primary face of our church. Our church is all of us, and as I laid out in my State of the Church Address, I believe the calling of the Pastor is to provide and maintain a clean canvas for each of you to use your gifts and callings to paint on. This has not been the traditional model of ministry for our church, and many people will be initially resistant to this. But I am firm in my conviction that this is the Biblical model of church, and therefore will continue to call on those within our congregation that have gifts of teaching and preaching to step up and use their gifts and callings during our Sunday Morning Services and beyond. Often, when others from our community preach, I will be in the congregation with the rest of you, because even though I am a “paid employee” of the church, I am still, nonetheless, a member of the community, and therefore should participate in worship and community life as much as I lead it.
Missiongathering, please hear me- Preaching is the greatest joy of the Pastor. Pastors, including me, live for and love to preach each Sunday. All you have to do is look through YouTube to see the amount of years I’ve preached in my bedroom in front of a camera every week, anticipating the day that I’d finally have a congregation of my own. (Don’t actually do that, my old sermons are pretty embarrassing!) None the less, as I have grown in my own personal theology, in my perspective on Pastoral leadership, and as I have assessed the needs of our community, I am committed to and convicted by the four reasons I have listed above. Be assured that me not being in the pulpit every Sunday has nothing to do with anything other than the reasons I have listed above, and it is my prayer that as we move forward into our future as a community, that we will all benefit from the model of ministry and Biblical convictions I have laid out above.
Thanks for asking these questions, and please feel free to submit more by clicking here. I will write this column twice a month for the foreseeable future!
Much love, Missiongathering.
Pastor Brandan Robertson