March 2015

“Clergy for Hire” = Cult-leadership?

You’ve heard of Wedding Singers
Now it’s Wedding Pastors

Here’s a very disturbing post: Clergy for Hire


The Rev. Jay McNeal was having a hard time getting his way.  He wanted a position that just wasn’t working out. He took matters into his own hands. Nothing wrong with that. But he is trying to bring the rest of the Church with him. Not just his own denomination—anyone looking to make a buck as a pastor and who is willing to bypass denominational structures.


With a little internet knowledge, McNeal set up an online employment agency to link pastors (people with ordination papers) to people who want the trappings of church without any commitment. His website has a list of services available. Weddings. Baptism. Funerals. Communion, etc. Some of this is just to sound good. Truth be told, Clergy for Hire are looking for weddings—ceremonies that people, who wouldn’t put a dime in an offering plate, are willing to pay big bucks for. Wedding Pastors.


Who benefits? The pastors. They can cherry-pick assignments. They can take the lucrative weddings and turn their backs on the messy stuff of life. The clientele for Clergy for Hire will not be the homeless, the weak, the ill, the marginalized, the children with only allowance money in hand, the elderly who have lost control of their bank accounts, the unemployed, imprisoned, abused and confused.


Oh, and there is another beneficiary. The Rev. Jay McNeal, the website guy. He’ll be churning a monthly income. $5 per month per participating pastor, for now. Watch that grow to $19.99 per month and then to $49.97 per month before you can recite the benediction. Wedding Pastors, do you want the better assignments? Go PRO for $997 per year. It’s the internet formula for success!


Who is overseeing all this? A pope?  A bishop? An elder? Elected clergy of some sort? A presbytery? A council? Someone responsible to anyone else? Nope. The Rev. Jay McNeal, the website guy, is in charge. He fast-tracked himself to cardinal of all denominations.


Why Clergy for Hire means trouble

This can get out of hand very quickly. There are serious problems that seminaries and denominations would be wise to address with their pastors and member churches.

  1. The focus of Clergy for Hire is on clergy need, not community or even individual needs. A “spiritual but not religious couple” don’t need a pastor to tie the knot. They can walk to city hall or take a cruise and ask the captain. Or they can hire a college friend who signed up for ordination papers online! It is not a need for them. It’s a want. They want a pastor for a day. Life is rosy at the moment. They can’t see around the corners of life.
  2. The clergy will set their own fees. None of it will go to Christian community—the people who look around life’s corners and give so that there is support for those in trouble when that day comes. How do “Clergy for Hire” propose to care for the troubled? Pay to pray. Indulgences! Here we go again!
  3. Clergy for Hire is for the affluent. Weddings, funerals, baptisms, for $500 or so a pop. Fostering relationship with God and participation in a faith community, the true work of pastors, is not required.
  4. Neighborhood pastors with set salaries will be competing with pastors who will never feel any obligation to invite people to join, give, or commit to anything.
  5. Clergy will be hiding from the organizations that ordained them, exploiting their certification for their sole enrichment. They receive authority as pastors from their denominations. That isn’t just a bishop. It’s the people. Clergy for Hire need not be bothered. They are in the employ of the website guy.
  6. There will be a temptation to water down doctrine. Denominational affiliation could cut back on sales! No unpleasant teachings for my $500, please! Just help us feel good.
  7. Fundamentals of Christianity are compromised. Baptism welcomes people into the family of God. There should be no such thing as “private” baptisms. Communion, too, is about community. But there are even greater problems.
  8. You might assume that this will attract retired pastors or pastors without a call. But what is to stop a pastor who is collecting a salary and benefits from a congregation from signing up? How does moonlighting affect the commitments ordained pastors make with their congregations?
  9. There is a strong temptation for clergy to develop their own followings—cult leadership. More about that later.
  10. Who is overseeing the accounting? Probably the website guy!


This may be what the Church needs to start using the web!

Clergy are notoriously slow for understanding the power of the web. Prediction: it won’t take them long when they see checks coming to them with 20% taken out by the website guy.


All today’s pastors who cannot see the benefit of church web outreach will soon understand! They will create their own web sites—personal sites, not church web sites. They will carry business cards and brochures. No more skipping the invitation to the wedding reception! Wedding pastors will learn to work the room. The celebrants are paying for them to attend. Might as well make the most of it! They’ll be lots of young people to impress. Turn on the charm. More weddings. Most will soon have babies to christen. Quick. Start a blog. Include some photos from your best events. Don’t forget a  testimonial page about how great a pastor you are. Collect those email addresses. Send out a newsletter once a month. Keep your name in front of the crowd. Impress them with your skills and charisma. Make sure they come directly to you next time.


Good-bye, website guy—unless website guy figures out a way to keep these pastors in his stable. How? If the denominations give him trouble, he can ordain his followers! They’ll be an additional fee, of course.


Good-bye, denominations!

This concept has cult leadership written all over it.

Seminaries, denominational leaders, beware. Website guy in Richmond is early to the gate. There are bound to be others. They will probably be better at this than he is.


When an Offer of Prayer Just Isn’t Enough

10406436_961084637269591_572108342105567820_nSometimes I wonder about Christianity.


It seems that in our culture we are all about building tidy communities—the bigger, the better. The measure of ministry seems to be how many pastors a congregation can support and how happy the congregation is—oh, and how big a parking lot! Understandable. People like to be in happy places and parking is helpful!


This is the state of Christianity in 21st century America. Oh, for the good old days of 17th and 18th century Christian America. Remember way back when?


Many of our ancestors arrived on our Atlantic shore hoping to escape religious persecution.


Some never made it past the chopping block and bonfires. Bombs were not yet the weapons of choice!


The Industrial Revolution taught us to organize for efficiency and to save money. We’ve done a whole lot of organizing since then.


We lived through the 19th century when Christianity organized into denominations that haven’t changed much since.


Today, we’ve forgotten our roots—the struggle, the sacrifices. Even when we reach out to the troubled we manage in organized, sanitized, safe ways.


Martyrdom is something we teach in order to avoid it, not to emulate its devotion. It will be harder and harder to find future saints.


There is nothing wrong with this except that it becomes so easy to overlook challenges facing Christianity squarely in the face—where witnessing involves risk and organization must rise through the murkiest of waters for a gasp of air.


We don’t have to go far to see this. Suburban churches talk about caring for the needy in the cities, but they visit our neighborhoods at their convenience—usually at holiday time. Christians rely on their many service agencies to do the hard work and many of them have become arms of the government, afraid to witness to Christ if it means losing a subsidy.


Our presence in the world is organized, too. Our denomination has divided the world into companion synods. Each of the 65 synods partners with the one small area of the world to which it is assigned. Neat and tidy. Efficient! We can travel back and forth and see where our support dollars are spent. That makes for plenty of feel-good photo opportunities.


But if you look at the companion synod system, you’ll see some huge gaps. Those are the areas where the photo ops aren’t important because we don’t want to risk any lives to get them!


The Middle Eastern countries are largely unserved.


And yet, the Middle Eastern countries dominate America’s news. This is likely to continue.


There ARE Christians in the Middle East, where gathering for worship is life-threatening. There is no place where a Christian presence could do more long-term good for the world’s sake.


Christianity has always spread by witnessing in difficult places at difficult times. The message of God’s love shines through when we are present among the suffering.


In September 2013 there were horrific bombings in a Christian church in Pakistan. And now, we have a second series of church bombings in Pakistan. Add the events together and count the casualties in the hundreds. The photos coming through are too gruesome to publish. We are publishing the photos of the mourners and the not those of scattered body parts.


The injuries are severe. The wounded fear going to Muslim hospitals. Children are orphaned. Families are decimated. They are truly desperate.


And where is the western Church?


Before I wrote this article, I googled “Pakistani Church Bombings Christian Response.” The only thing that came up were the resulting riots in Pakistan. More were killed. I changed the word “Response” to “Relief.” Still nothing.


I checked Lutheran World Relief’s Current Crises page. No Pakistan!


2×2 is generally not in the business of raising money. We don’t even have a donate button on our website!


If no one else can help, we will try.


If there is compassion in your heart for the Christian martyrs of Pakistan and you want to give, we will make sure that every penny is passed on to aid the survivors of the recent church attacks.


Again, 2×2 is not set up to raise money. We are more about raising awareness. We can’t look the other way. The need is dire.


Checks written to 2×2 Foundation and marked PAKISTAN will be directed to Pakistan in their entirety. We’ve been friends in ministry with Christians there for nearly three years. They sent these pictures.


Please use this address.

591 Hermit Street, Philadelphia, PA 1912810436673_1415532222092856_4189468322867621211_n 10433113_1627086694193084_163024593664094313_n

Church Bombings Again in Pakistan

11067771_725366507561166_9199742306905117228_nAnother Bloody Sunday.

It was another bloody Sunday in Pakistan this weekend. Suicide bombers focused on a Catholic house of worship on Sunday morning in the city of Lahore. 18 killed. Dozens injured.


Christians are easy targets. Sunday morning. Same time. Same place. Ready, aim, detonate.


The bombings aren’t about religion. They are about politics and power.


Politics and power go hand in hand. Both are often about having your way with other people’s lives.


The desperate—those who feel influence slipping away, guarantee support by fostering fear.




Christians in Pakistan dare to be brave. They take risk enough when they gather even in secret. Brave indeed when they hang a sign on the door. The Christians of Pakistan deserve the support of Christians in the West.


It has been about 18 months since the bombings of Christian gatherings in September 2013. Other Christians around the world barely noticed. A few seconds on the nightly news. A mention in the press. No public outcry. No waves of support. Assisting Pakistani Christians doesn’t fit into our organized view of the world.


In 2×2’s Ambassador visits following last year’s bombings we heard no mention of Pakistani Christians in the prayers of the church. In many churches these prayers had been written and published months before. Straying from the text is hard!


Perhaps we should remember the church bombings in our own history and how they changed our world.



Our Own Bloody Sunday


It has been some 50 years since four black children were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham. Their lives were remembered recently as we revisited the protest march that resulted in Selma’s Bloody Sunday.


Hate has a similar look.


2×2, small as we are, did what we could and will continue to do so.


We can spread the word.


For two years in a row, 2×2 readers have sent clothing and toys to Christian orphans. Church bombings have a way of making orphans.


We write to Christians leaders and share fellowship and encouragement as best we can from thousands of miles away. We’ve been doing this for two years now. We know some of the Christians of Pakistan by name. We’ve prayed together. We are praying for them now.


Little Change in the Sea of Changes

fishingAlban Institute dissolved last year. Its impressive stable of experts on church survival could not save it.


Today, the Alban Institute is a purveyor of books. Their web site is no longer a forum. It is a marketplace for authors.


Today’s offering is a new book on a tired subject: Transitional Ministry Today, by Norman Bendroth.


Anything new here? I don’t know. This post is announcing its upcoming release, so there is nothing to review just yet.


The promotional post leads me to believe it may be more of same.


I can’t get past the opening of the blog post promoting the book release.

In preparation for my book Transitional Ministry Today: Successful Strategies for Churches and Pastors, I spoke to dozens of practicing interim ministers, judicatory officials and observers of American church life. Those conversations and my research became a collection of essays reflecting upon new models and practices in face of the sea changes churches are facing.

Missing from his list of church experts is any hint that he spent time with the laity. Perhaps he did, but they did not earn mention.


The list of observations supports that the book is another review of what church leaders are to do with the helpless fish in the raging sea.

Any book that does not seriously consider the lay point of view is not likely to break new ground in transitional ministry.


Lay people are not helpless minnows, waiting to be used as bait for more attractive fish.


We’ve been dealing with transition just as long as pastors. We know that it is rough going in today’s world. We talk to people in the community, including people from other congregations. We can feel the offering plate getting lighter even when there are people in the pew. We do not need to have this explained to us—often as if it is somehow our fault.


We laity are on the front lines, holding many a congregation together in the absence of much professional help. The laity have tackled new technologies and new management styles in the secular world, while ministry experts have been slow to adopt even the basics of modern communication. Visiting the Middle Ages on Sundays is getting harder for laity.


Interim pastors, which are often forced on congregations, are often not dealing with the entire congregation but only with those willing to sit through endless discernment exercises.


One problem in the Church is that laity have little or no voice. Our views are often filtered through clergy—whether it be the local pastor or an editor moderating an online forum.


While this writer claims to have discussed strategies with dozens of experts, I wonder how many congregations he visited. How many heart to hearts did he have with lay leaders?


I and other members of our church experienced firsthand how the interim process is sometimes conducted with the interests of the judicatory in mind.


We visited 80 of our neighboring congregations. EIGHTY! Random visits—no plan. Close to a third of them had interim, bridge or mission pastors! There is a lot of discernment going on!


During our visits, we talked with members, sometimes leaders. We observed practices. We recorded our impressions—not as criticism but to help improve our own approach to ministry. We saw skilled and dedicated lay leaders working with little credit and no earthly reward. They are often leaders in their secular lives. Their insights are rarely considered in the tomes of material published on transitional ministry.


I don’t discourage anyone from reading more books about transition, including this one.


I do encourage others, including authors on church transition, to consider the lay point of view.

How do lay leaders get the ear of those in authority?

UndercoverBishopLead3I wrote a book about our experiences: Undercover Bishop: A Parable for Today’s Church.


PLOT SUMMARY: A newly elected bishop decides to visit congregations undercover to learn what the pastors in her charge don’t tell her. She chooses an urban neighborhood church, a small town church and a rural church.

The churches are composites of the churches we visited. Much of the dialogue comes directly from our conversations with members we encountered. A discussion guide is included.


Undercover Bishop is free in PDF form online and available in booklet form on Amazon.com.

You really nailed the lay experience!
—Reader from the Northwest

Coming Soon!
Welcome Is A Verb

2×2 is about to release a training that also grew from our church visits.


Every church has a welcome sign somewhere: in the church yard, on the church door, in the church bulletin. We all believe we are friendly and open to visitors.


Welccome Is A Verb—coming in late March


Our visits taught us that every church can improve welcoming.


As outsiders for 80 weeks, we saw hospitality in new ways. We often encountered congregations that were timid, tired and lacked the confidence to approach visitors—members and pastors alike! We understand. We are a small church, too. Our visits helped us see our own failings! We’ve included them!


Welcome Is A Verb: Fostering a Welcoming Church Environment for Congregational Growth leads congregations through a comprehensive view of their welcoming strategies and how they might be perceived by visitors.


Watch for Welcome Is A Verb. 2×2 expects to release it at the end of March.

Transparency in Church Finances Remains A Problem


“The absence of transparency is not due to a premeditated scam. We ecclesiastics (priests) fall into traps because of our ingenuity, lack of preparation and ignorance.”—Rector Monsignor Enrico dal Covolo

Pope Francis is trying to right a Church long at sea. His latest move is to send church administrators back to school. The above quote is from one of the attendees of the first class.


Only in the world of church can such a nonsensical quote be accepted. Sounds like the definition of bumbling schemers.


The problems Pope Francis contends with plague us Protestants as well.


I don’t know the specifics of the mismanagement the pope is addressing, but I have encountered questionable financial practices in the denomination with which I am most familiar.


It stems from “lack of transparency.”


No one really knows what is done with offerings. We Christians are taught to trust!


Carefully calculated terms fend off questions. Who would question a “Mission Fund”?


$90,000 of our congregation’s money disappeared from our bank account one day in 1998. It had been conveyed without the congregation’s knowledge to our synod’s Mission Fund. The Mission Fund, we were told, is the repository for the assets of closed churches—accept that we weren’t closed then—and aren’t closed now. Two years later, after steadily pressuring Synod to return our money, a plea was issued to all congregations to make up a deficit in the Mission Fund, which totaled almost exactly the amount of money returned to us. The Mission Fund was tapped to make up operating shortfalls. But advertising the need for Mission Funds is likely to inspire contributing congregations more than a plea for help with the rent.


There is some robbing of Peter to pay Paul, as if Peter won’t mind! (Peter minds!)


The bishop at the time shrugged as he reluctantly returned our money. “In ten years, you will die a natural death.”


The next bishop must have been listening! Ten years later, there was another knock on our bank’s door! This time they wanted everything! What was to follow was not “a natural death”!


We visited a congregation the Sunday before it closed a couple of years ago. It was reported during the service that their financial assets were going to the Bishop’s Discretionary Fund. More honest, perhaps—but no more transparent.


Transparency in the Church is a huge problem.


It is a relief to know one Vatican administrator has an answer.

“The absence of transparency is not due to a premeditated scam. We ecclesiastics (priests) fall into traps because of our ingenuity, lack of preparation and ignorance.”


I’ll let someone else figure out what he hopes that means.

Proactive Caring Requires No Proof of Need

shutterstock_218159407Wearing Your Heart on Your Sleeve

This weekend I came across a grand idea. A selfless, caring idea. A concept that has broader application. An idea worth sharing.


The idea comes from New York City where public transportation is the norm.


Public transportation is great. Greater if you are young and healthy and don’t have to worry about finding a seat before the bus restarts with a jolt and knocks you off-balance.


There are signs on Philadelphia buses. Front seats must be yielded to elderly or handicapped passengers. No problem in off hours. But the commuter rush hour leaves dozens standing in the aisles.


In these conditions, the disabled must demonstrate their frailty to justify asking for seating. Asking for help is difficult enough when you carry a cane or crutch. Harder when your weakness is not visible.


If we are to give up our comfort, it must be to someone who is not taking advantage. We can’t see the weak heart, the breathing problems, the temporary strain of recuperating from illness or surgery, or the neurological issues that make life harder for some.


Many truly handicapped or disabled people will not play the H Card. It may be pride. It may be survival. The illusion of health makes getting and keeping work easier.


Sadly, we live in a skeptical world.


The well-intentioned system is so easily abused. You’ve probably seen it: The car pulls into reserved handicapped parking. A youthful passenger hops out and sprints into the store. Yep! The license plate has the little wheelchair on it. A blue H dangles from the rearview mirror.


Abuse leads to skepticism. Don’t take advantage of our communal goodwill. We want proof!


That’s the beauty of this idea.



The proposal is for commuters who are willing to yield seating to wear a pin with a SeatShare logo (still to be designed). A person wearing this pin will give up a seat, no questions asked.


The effect could shame everyone into being a bit kinder. Take a moment. Consider being considerate.


Great start. But it still relies on the needy to ask for help.


Better yet, as this campaign gains traction—and I hope it will—that part of the emphasis be on true proactivity. I’ve seen younger, healthier riders automatically stand as the bus begins to fill to yield to weaker riders. But I’ve often looked across the bus to see riders oblivious to others—some even protecting the seat next to them with a purse or briefcase. Part of this campaign should encourage riders with their noses glued to their cellphones to look up now and then to see the people pressing against them in a crowded bus or train.


There is a lesson in this for church people. Do we demand proof of need before we help? Are we willing to make life easier for the downtrodden—no questions asked? Are we paying attention to the people around us—wherever they might be in the world?


Or are we protecting our turf?