On Break

The recent posts were all written before my vacation — you remember: the one I spent in the hospital at lovely Sacred Heart Hospital Emerald Coast at San Destin, Florida — a very fine hospital, but not anything like a vacation.

So my recovery is going well — just not as fast as I wish. I’m breathing well (always a nice thing), and my stamina is better. But I have a lot of catching up to do.

So I’m taking a break from posting. I’ll probably continue to post in the comments. But it may be a week or two before I can spend much time writing new posts.

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Church Refugees: Reversing Our Judgmentalism

Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, addresses the needs of a class of Christians sometimes called the “Dones” — as in “done with church but not Jesus” — or the “dechurched.”

Reversing the Judgmentalism Assumption

Churches need to understand that they don’t start from neutral in this respect. Right now, people assume their intrinsic worth and character will be judged, harshly and negatively, by religious people and organizations.

In order to reverse this perspective, corrective action must be taken. This doesn’t mean affirming terrible behavior or advocating that people abandon morality. Rather, congregations and church leaders would do well to listen first, affirm second, and then listen some more.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh. Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 836-839). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

So many churches in so many denominations for so many years have used guilt and judgment to motivate their members that merely being a church is enough to have new members assume that you are judgmental. That’s the prevailing church ethos, and the only escape is to directly contradict it.  Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Judgmentalism

Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, addresses the needs of a class of Christians sometimes called the “Dones” — as in “done with church but not Jesus” — or the “dechurched.”


One of the killers of community is judgmentalism. When people feel looked down on and condemned, they won’t join (or they leave) the community, and so they soon give up their shared beliefs. That is, a spirit of judgmentalism destroys faith.

Many of the Dones mourned their inability to find a community where they could discuss their disagreements or questions without feeling judged. They weren’t looking for agreement so much as a place to be listened to.

I suggest that when people begin thinking they can’t talk to one another, the church has a bigger problem than could ever be solved by orthodoxy. Community without conversation, an equal exchange of ideas, is simply impossible.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh (2015-06-01). Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 685-687). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Ironically, the path to shared beliefs is not condemnation of dissent and judgment but creating a safe place within which questions may be asked, discussed, and answered. Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Community

Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, addresses the needs of a class of Christians sometimes called the “Dones” — as in “done with church but not Jesus” — or the “dechurched.”


The first problem focused on by the authors, and evidently the most common problem voiced by the Dones, is a failure of the local church to form meaningful community. Ponder the following quotation for a while:

The people who are leaving church are saying that the only thing they miss and have difficulty re-creating when they leave is a sense of community. In a time in which spiritual fulfillment is available in a variety of forms at any time of the day, what the church truly has to offer, according to the people who have left, is the ability to form and foster spiritual communities. From an organizational perspective, that would indicate that time and resources spent on nurturing and sustaining communities would be well spent.

But I don’t think many, if any, of the churches I’ve observed in my years of doing research with congregations actually devoted a significant portion of their ministry resources to community formation. Furthermore, I don’t think pastors and religious professionals have near the training in this area that they do for other parts of their jobs, such as budget management or sermon preparation.

Packard, Josh; Hope, Ashleigh (2015-06-01). Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith (Kindle Locations 612-618). Group Publishing, Inc.. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis added.)

The authors, who study churches for a living, find that churches in general make virtually no effort toward community formation. And yet those leaving most miss the community that the church provides and would likely have stayed had the church provided a better community. Continue reading

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Church Refugees: Introduction

Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith, by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope, addresses the needs of a class of Christians sometimes called the “Dones” — as in “done with church but not Jesus” — or the “dechurched.”

Church Refugees is based on thousands of interviews with older, mature Christians who’ve left the visible, institutional church to serve God though other means. The authors were unable to calculate how many or what percentage of the church is affected by this movement. After all, there’s no one taking roll of those who’ve left. But they quickly discovered that this is a major movement among all denominations: mature, motivated members who leave because they find they can better serve Jesus outside the visible, institutional church. Continue reading

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Who Should See the Church’s Contribution Records?

collection plateAll churches have to make a decision about the confidentiality of contributions. The IRS requires churches to track who gives how much so they can issue a receipt, but otherwise the law is pretty much silent on the question.

So whoever makes the church’s deposits will know how much the checks are for, and if this is the bookkeeper, the bookkeeper will track gifts by donor. (If your church allows electronic giving, software will track gifts automatically.)

Beyond this bare necessity, church practices vary quite a bit. Here are Thom Rainer’s observations on practices: Continue reading

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Thom Rainer on Letting the Church Know the Preacher’s Salary

bible-walletThom Rainer has provided a preview of some of the salary information gathered by the Leadership Network from a survey of 1,251 churches with 500 or more members. A fuller report will come out shortly.

Rainer only deals with a few of the survey’s conclusions regarding transparency of church pastor salaries. He reports,

  1. No churches made the salaries available to the general public. That is 0%. None. Zero. Nada. Out of more than 1,200 churches.
  2. Only 1% of the churches made the salaries available to the entire congregation. This data point was the most surprising and the most fascinating to me. I knew anecdotally that most larger churches do not give out the salaries to the full congregation, but I am really surprised that “most” equals 99%.
  3. Of all the churches in the study, 82% made the salaries known to an in-house group that deals specifically with personnel issues. That in-house group includes boards, personnel teams or committees, finance and budget teams, or some sub-group of these larger groups.
  4. Many of these churches likely offer a “hybrid” approach. This fourth point is not in the study, but comes from my own consultations and observations. Many churches do not make the salaries known to the congregation as a whole, but they are willing to share the information with church members individually on request.

… [T]his research is descriptive, not prescriptive. The Leadership Network team is simply offering the results of a study. 

In Churches of Christ, I routinely encounter great skepticism regarding preacher salaries.

  • Some don’t believe in paying the preacher at all.
  • Some want the preacher to live on the edge of poverty, as his job is spiritual and involves a level of commitment the other members haven’t made (which Gospel is that in?).
  • Some want the preacher’s salary disclosed to the entire church.
  • Some want the entire church to vote on the salary (and there are some Baptist Churches that do this, but it’s not a common practice in my experience. In fact, this survey pretty clearly shows it to be next to unheard of in large churches).

Now, what is it about being large (over 500) that makes the church less likely to share the pastor’s/preacher’s salary? I don’t know, but I have a theory or two:

  • Preachers in larger churches have more bargaining power. That is, there are far fewer preachers that would do well in a larger church — and large churches are very preacher -dependent. A small church may be held together largely by families and friendships. But at 500+, our consumerist culture and the sheer size of the congregation means a goodly number of the members are there for the excellent preaching. Smaller churches make do with the preacher they have — and will put up with weak sermons for excellent pastoral care and Bible class teaching. Big churches demand excellence in the pulpit.
  • In larger churches, there is less democracy just because it’s really hard to organize that many people democratically. This is especially true as the church gets to the 1000+ range. The leadership/membership dynamic changes.
  • Members of a large church understand that they have less individual influence than in a small church. Too many cooks. WAY too many cooks. And so they either decide they have confidence in the leaders or they attend elsewhere.
    • Big churches often have lots of novice members. And they are not ready to have substantial authority in the church. You can’t run a big church with its large programs based on votes of members who know nothing of church leadership.
    • That is, a church can’t get that big if the members insist on having the influence they had when the church had 200 members. The group dynamics change — a lot.
    • But this means the leaders have to conduct themselves with great care — as they have to exude concern for the members and make wise decisions for clearly spiritual reasons.
    • The trade off for individual influence is excellence in leadership decision making. But size doesn’t justify domineering. Rather, humility and staying in touch with the hearts of the members becomes more important because members will find it harder to be heard. That means the leaders have to become more approachable and more sensitive to the Spirit’s movement within the congregation.
    • Some intentional mechanism for membership input is essential. Which is why large churches often take lots of membership surveys. I’m good with this, but don’t think it’s enough. I think there has to be something more personal, as well, such as the leaders communicating and listening through small group leaders.
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CT on Clerical Hours and Wages

clergysalariesThe chart to the left is from 2001. (I have no idea why there is such a difference between Christian and Jewish clergy.)

Much more recently, Christianity Today has summarized survey results from 2013, published earlier this year. These sorts of studies are difficult because most churches don’t report salaries to a central denominational office and because compensation for ministers is complicated by the provision of free housing, housing allowances, and such like. And then converting to a per-hour equivalent is all that more difficult as so much preachers are part-time and few punch a clock.

Overall, in inflation-adjusted wages, non-Catholic clergy made $4.37 more per hour in 2013 than they did in 1983. That figure is more than double the wage increase of the average worker with a college degree.

Over the past 37 years, the average income for American workers was $49,225; non-Catholic clergy earned $46,216. Put another way, the general population averaged $21.20 an hour, while church clergy pulled in $18.85 an hour. (Clergy that worked elsewhere, like in hospitals or administration, earned $21.79 an hour.)

Why did per-hour compensation go up, even after adjusting for inflation, when most Americans saw little increase in pay during the same period? I think it’s like due to (a) clergy working fewer hours and (b) the closing of many small, largely rural churches. Continue reading

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Leadership: CT Surveys Church Governing Boards

Christianity Today recently survey 500 governing boards of US churches. The results are fascinating.

These governing boards would, in the Churches of Christ, be the elders or the elders together with the preacher.

The survey says that the most effective boards (as they evaluate themselves) are those meeting from 21 to 40 hours per year, that is about 2 to 4 hours per month, but less than 1 hour week. The decline in perceived effectiveness isn’t huge once you hit 1 hour per week, but it’s real.

Now, I suspect most Church of Christ elderships meet more than 40 hours per year. And I imagine that most elderships would rate themselves as less effective than they wish. It’s just a really difficult job, and our denomination does next to no training of elders. And there’s no doubt that we spend more time in meetings than is really necessary — largely due to very inefficient means of making decisions. That is, we allow reluctant elders and preachers to talk issues to death — all at the expense of making timely decisions — giving any unwilling elder or preacher the right to filibuster a proposal due to our cultural insistence on consensus rather than mutual submission. Continue reading

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Gordon Wenham’s Story as Torah: Reading the Old Testament Narrative Ethically, Part 7 (Clean, unclean, and violence)


Clean and unclean

To the modern reader, one of the more puzzling elements of the Torah is the teaching on clean vs. unclean foods and people. There is no obvious reason why salmon should be clean and crabmeat unclean. In few cases, we can imagine health reasons (trichinosis in the case of pork), but there is no obvious reason why camel meat should be unclean.

Moreover, there are degrees of uncleanness. Touching an unclean animal, such as a camel, does not make one unclean, but touching a corpse does. Killing someone not only makes you unclean, your uncleanness requires your death!

Wenham suggests that uncleanness is based on two principles. First, some unclean things are truly contrary to the nature of God. God is the enemy of death — and so corpses are unclean — and contagiously so.

Second, some things are unclean as a matter of election. Indeed, one major theme of the OT is that the Israelites were chosen by God to be his special people just because. That is, God elected the Israelites for reasons having little to do with their merits. Continue reading

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