lesson 5: get a job, fundraise, or do church for free or cheap

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : November 15, 2006

I often meet with folks who want to do church in an unconventional way. Often times these folks have really intriguing ideas. It always progresses the same way: we talk about ecclesiology, we talk about where they want to do church, we commiserate on how difficult it is to find people who really “get” it…and then usually right towards the end of the conversation the issue of money comes up.

Almost all church planters I know want to get paid for planting their church, even the incredibly unconventional ones. They hope to get denominational funding even though, many would admit, they’ll never be self-sufficient. Such a hope is often a foolish one.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for being unconventional. I also think that the most important sorts of ministry that needs to get done in this world can’t pay for itself (the poor aren’t the best tithers in the world). But denominations are interested in survival and not too keen of giving money away ad infinitum.

That’s usually why I encourage people to either A) let the love of ministry be its own reward (ie, get a regular job and do ministry as a volunteer) and/or B) suck it up and raise support. I can only think of one person who has taken my advice seriously on this point.

One of three things usually happens at this point: 1) the church planter compromises in order to make the vision more attractive to denominational folks, 2) the church planter goes away like the rich young ruler, sad and confounded, or 3) the church planter decides to tempt fate and embark on the painful journey of church planting with few resources.

My own story is this: I planted Missio Dei as a compromiser. I got funding–for a while. 6 months into the thing, I started feeling like a compromiser, so we began to focus in on the vision more aggressively. People left, we dwindled. At the end of a year or so, Missio Dei was hurting, and Amy and I were in debt. At that point, I started to fund raise a bit more and, through a number of nifty occurrences, I started to come on staff with InterVarsity. Working with InterVarsity is in a way like being bi-vocational, except I have to raise funds. I got a small stipend from Missio Dei for a while, but now I’m basically destitute until I can get my InterVarsity funds raised.

And so, I offer my experience as one who made some wrong choices, but was willing to go through the painfully awkward task of transitioning our church into the sort of community that doesn’t need much money to function. Sure, we’d love to have lots of money to serve the West Bank–we could put it to good use. But we’re now at a place where I wish we’d been from the beginning–a group of people who want to commit to being disciples in a particular place–nothing more, nothing less.

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5 Responses to “lesson 5: get a job, fundraise, or do church for free or cheap”

  1. Derek on November 15th, 2006 9:03 pm

    Once again thanks for this input from someone farther “down the road” in their journey doing this. We are in the position of trying to figure this all out at the moment and this was helpful.

  2. Van S on November 15th, 2006 9:20 pm

    Glad I can be helpful. I used to be embarrassed about sharing this sort of stuff–it reveals how little I really understand. But then I realized that nobody really knows what their doing when it comes to church, its just that some people have gotten good about acting like it ;)

  3. Kyle on November 15th, 2006 10:54 pm

    Just to say, I’m reading these ‘lessons’ and I’m appreciating them.

  4. Luke on November 16th, 2006 12:20 am

    Yeah, definitely.

  5. David Fitch on November 16th, 2006 2:15 pm

    Thanks for all these great reflections. I might add, that we never allowed anyone to come on “staff” (if I can call it that) who wasn’t bi vocational- or er -bi-ministerial. Nobody made any where near enough here to pay the bills, we all had to have jobs .. but there were at least 3 couples here committed together towards a vision of embedded Christian community. So, my add-on here is … three to four couples/people on a staff that can hand together thru the upstart mission.

    Blessings David Fitch

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