Friday, May 18, 2012

Brutal Pastoral Transparency


Yesterday, I received an email from Pastor Ted Haggard requesting my presence at a round-table discussion he is having in Colorado Springs, CO. He would like my input for this group "in developing a more formal theology of restoration and healing for the Evangelical church." I thought this was great. I am so honored he would ask me. Perhaps I may be able go out there depending on other speaking engagements and the plethora of weddings I am officiating this summer. Lifest is the main date not working with the Ted Haggard invite.

As Ted and I spoke he asked how Radiant Fellowship is doing. I mentioned we really are seeing a lot of favor in the city. However, like other churches, the finances can be a little touchy. He fully understood as he is starting a new church. Being a pastor can be an interesting position...one that I love none the less. I find it interesting that some can be so concerned/interested/morbidly curious about how the pastor is living. Over and over I hear of pastors lives being pried into. Why? Does this happen at other places of employment? I wonder what would happen if any pastor sat down with random people and began asking them for all the details on how they live. That could be an interesting conversation. 

Since the last email I felt God prodding me to send out another email to maybe answer questions. Questions that are common to clergy today. No doubt some within this mailing list wonder, and so I am (this one time only) going to spell out how Tracy and I live. There are many on the church mailing list that don't attend the church but still like to be informed of whats going on. You should know me by now as being BRUTALLY transparent and so I will be with this email. Probably to the point that you may be embarrassed that I am sharing such detail about my life. The reason is that people can make assumptions on how the pastor lives and gets by ESPECIALLY if he is not taking a paycheck once in awhile. I will do it in numerical order as I have heard people ask these very questions in other churches. It is my belief that people at Radiant Fellowship or on the mailing list are loving and understanding. Perhaps if we are really hung up on the personal lives of people and how they live...we need a hobby.

1.           Question "If the pastor gives up his paycheck now and again...how do they survive?" Well...let me first say it is not by credit. Tracy and I only owe on our house and my truck. I personally do not believe credit cards to be a good thing. I don't believe debt is a good thing for boats, etc. Most of my kids clothes are either hand me downs or from the clearance racks. We were raised that if the clothes still fit for the next season...we can use them again. I can tell you that everything in my wardrobe is from sale/clearance racks. Even when I walk into an "Old Navy" which is already reasonably priced...I only shop the clearance/sale racks. Same goes for Kohl's. The only thing I pay full price for is my blue jeans.  When you have a 36" inseam you have to pay full price because that is a whole lot of material (please don't ask about my waist size lol). I have been told that my black suit coat must have been big bucks. Well...actually I only paid $10 for it. I may give up a paycheck now and again but it is usually when we have a little extra income or it is an extra paycheck month with Tracy's work. Personally, I think there is something scriptural about "sacrificially giving" to the church. I believe in this church...it is not a hobby for me. It is a way of life. Oh...btw....Tracy works. We are not the pastoral family where the wife stays at home hoping to squeak out some kind of life on a pastors income. Giving up an extra paycheck? Yeah...my father blesses me for that.
2.           "The pastor has an iPad!" You know what? We actually have TWO OF THEM, OH MY!" Now believe it or not this is a common question in many churches. The last conference I attended just about every pastor had some sort of a tablet PC. It was staggering how many talked about the flack they got for using one in their church. Let me explain this. Yes...I have an iPad that I bought. It has made my life exponentially easier. Many people view the iPad as an entertainment device. Perhaps to some it is. For me it is huge for productivity. "Well Tracy has one as well! Now I know they are in debt." Well, fact of the matter is I get paid $600 to speak at Cornerstone (how is that for transparency? A pastor sharing what he makes). Because Tracy has given up our anniversary trip (2 years in a row) in order to support me in ministry (because that is what a spouse does) and go to Cornerstone with me...I took my honorarium and bought her one for the 8+ hour road trip to Cornerstone last year.
3.           "It sure seems pastor goes on lots of vacations. Now I know they are loaded!" I had a lady in the church who thought that. She is no longer with Radiant Fellowship which is fine with me. If a person is going to think that way about the pastor then they are jealous. Remember the words from scripture? "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." I believe a person who says that kind of stuff sincerely has no idea at all what a pastor does which makes a little vacation now and again great. Yes it is true I just went on a cruise in December. Can I tell you that it was planned a year in advance? When you plan a trip that far out it makes it a bit easier to save up. Especially when the tickets are only $346.00 which includes all your meals but not flight. The flight was only $225.00 which is really a good price. In regards to my 10th wedding anniversary to Belize in a couple of weeks. Those that would potentially balk at his really need to hear that we are only paying $125 for the week at my cousin's condo. This does not include airfare but none the less, when we are there we live off mac n cheese, pizza, fruit, etc. We are not extravagant travelers. Even when we vacationed to New York we at at pizza joints and hot dog carts. We also saved hundreds by staying in New Jersey and taking the free fairy boat over to Manhattan. We cook most of our meals in our room. "What about your past trip to Grand Cayman Island?" Again...using my cousins timeshare. It is only a couple of hundred dollars to use the place for a week. Oh...and the camper? It was next to free and requires a lot of sweat equity to get it where we want it. Afterall, it is from the 1970's. 

The fact of the matter is that I could go on and on with issues, I along with other pastors have to face. It really seems to be interesting that people have such an interest in the pastor's personal life. There was a book written awhile ago (available on Amazon) entitled, "What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew." The chapters are as follows...
1.           I Am Not Superman
2.           Sometimes My Spiritual Life Suffers
3.           Ministry Has Taken a Toll On Me
4.           My Wife and Kids Need Your Grace and Support as Well
5.           This Bivocational Thing Isn't Easy
6.           If You Knew How Frustrating Ministry Can Be
7.           Sometimes I am Overwhelmed With Anxiety
8.           Your Difficult Now and Then
9.           I Want Our Church to be In the World, Not of It
10.       Preaching to You is the Hardest Thing I Do
11.       I am Concerned About Evangelism
12.       There's a Reason I am Still Here

I have to admit that not all of those chapters apply to me but the following do (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 12). 

A friend once told me this "churches are much like a country club. People become a member and right away think they run the place." One of the toughest things to deal with are people who like to give anonymously in a church. Now don't get me wrong...I love them! However, with anonymous gifts comes a whole lot of speculation that the pastor has to deal with. I wonder sometimes how many think about how we can spend so much money on tech stuff for the church. Quite honestly I have heard people say that. The funny thing is that from the new projector, the soundboard, to all the wires and boxes, etc. It was all anonymously donated by people that believe a church ought to have good sound. What about the equipment you see on the stage and in the sound booths? Radiant Fellowship only bought the subwoofer, speakers(back when the church first got started) and a few microphones. The rest was donated. What about the streaming computer feed and that fancy new sound booth? Donated. All the funds were directed at that project by a few couples I consider family within the church and an online viewer in Shanghai, China. 

When I hear of a pastor struggling to prove himself to his church I do everything I can to encourage him. One pastor called me asking for advice, he said "I had to buy a new car this week...the old one died. Do you know of anyone around that I can borrow an old car from? If my church finds out I got a new car...well...I simply am not ready for that." What a sad state of affairs! What kind of Christian does that? Are we not supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice? In my experience SOMETIMES the one(s) that talk the most are the ones who don't give hardly anything. 

No doubt there are those on this email list...perhaps in the church who have thought these things. Can I just say, I love hearing how the Lord is blessing your life...I truly mean that. I want to hear the great things going on. If you get a new car or a fun boat...I want to rejoice with you in the passenger seat (I do expect a ride lol!). If a guy gets a new motorcycle though, I do not expect a ride...that would be a clear violation of man rules. I simply hope that I was able to help people process through what a pastor goes through in their personal life. Want to give this pastor a little extra steam each week that no amount of funds will take care of? A simple email, phone call, Facebook message will do that. 

Every church has it's hurdles to jump over. Times do get tough but we work through them and get on top of it. Will another hurdle come a year or two down the road? Sure. As family though we hit it head on and let God be God.

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