Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Clergy blues?

I've seen frequent references in church literature that ministers say they probably would not be members of the congregations they serve.
I wonder why this is the case, and how many ministers feel this way.


  1. My guess? They know all the bitchy inner-circle-power-struggle stuff that the average member of their church neither knows nor cares about.

  2. I'm assuming you mean called or settled ministers who choose not to be members of the church they serve. For interim or transitional ministers, I can see how they would prefer not to change church membership every year or two. Similarly other ministers without a call -- e.g., consulting ministers who are on a yearly contract, or assistant ministers without a call -- might prefer not to be members of their churches since they might expect to move on in a year or two.

    Of the called or settled ministers with whom I've spoken, who were not members of the congregations they served, I've heard them give a variety of reasons. One minister preferred to maintain a membership in another congregation for sentimental reasons. A couple have felt that being a member of the congregation they serve is a conflict of interest; these are ministers in churches with congregational polity, where they would theoretically have a vote over things like their employment status. In all these cases, the ministers made their primary financial contribution to the congregation they served.

    I also know of a congregation which asks that their ministers not become members; I don't know the reasoning behind this policy, but since it is a church with congregational polity I assume it has something to do with presumed conflict of interest (as above).

    Personally, I feel that the most important thing is to make my primary financial contribution to the church I'm currently serving, and to give my primary allegiance to that church whether I'm a member or not. When I have served as an assistant (not called) minister, or as an interim minister, I have not joined the church, but have not joined any other church, either. As a called minister, I never really thought about it, but felt it was my duty to become a member of the church I served.

  3. It's not my intention to be unkind, but my sense is that ministers don't want to be members -- they want to be in charge. (Field marshall = ENTJ, yes?)

    I had the president of a denomination nearly take my head off once when I suggested that ministers might benefit from management training. He bellowed, "That's NOT why people go to seminary!" I replied that if people don't become ministers to learn how to run organizations, they shouldn't graduate thinking that they know how, and they shouldn't be told that they are "CEO's" or any such thing. Ministers do not pursue the ministry to be team players, and it's not a value/skill they learn in seminary, so why would they want to be members of "the team"?

    Here's the other side of the coin: A called associate minister who left our congregation to further his education has been waiting for permission from our senior minister for several years now to join our congregation. The holdup has something to do with "ethics" and "conflict of interest," but I believe that the two-headed elephant on the table is POWER and AUTHORITY.

  4. This is interesting. I am particularly interested by Dan's comment as I have always assumed that when people say that they are just being grumpy as in "I don't know why those people think they are so great!" My first allegiance is to the church I serve. I am a member, as is my wife. So are the Assistant Minister and his wife. I honestly don't know how it would work otherwise for me. Congregation members lead their congregations, and the minister is a (not the) leader so they should be members, too.

  5. I don't know if there's any point in commenting on a really old post like this, but I'm going to anyway.

    I think there's a lot of different issues being discussed here, but I interpreted Mike's question in a different way than any of the comments so far. I understood the question being hypothetical 'if you weren't the minister here, would you join this church if you visited?'

    I am not a member of the church that I serve, but if I wasn't the minister I would want to be a member of my church, because I think it's a great community.