by Jack Helser
I recently found myself looking at the institutional church in terms of overhead, and what the end product is for the majority of people. There is a sense in which the church exists to deliver the message, which in the institutional church is typically a 20-minute sermon on Sunday morning. For the vast majority of the congregation, the sermon is the product they take home. For those whose only church involvement is in the capacity of a listener on Sundays, everything other than the sermon is overhead. For giggles I examined the topic of dedicated giving using a typical church as an example.
The church has 500 members who collectively pay for a pastor to preach the gospel twice each Sunday for 20 minutes. That’s 40 minutes of preaching the gospel per week – which amounts to 2080 minutes per year or 34.67 hours per year. We’ll give the pastor credit for occasionally going overtime and round it up to 36 hours per year. Based on the standard corporate year of 2080 hours for full-time employment, the delivery of the “sermon” represents about 1.7% of the pastors work year. In the interest of fairness, it is necessary to credit that 36 hours of preaching to the congregation that hired the pastor to preach the gospel for them rather than do it themselves as Christ commanded in Matthew 28:19. So those 36 hours spread equally across the 500 church members amounts to 4 minutes and 10 seconds per member per year (250 seconds) of “preaching the gospel”.
Now the church has an annual budget of $250,000 or the equivalent of $500 per member per year. 250 seconds of preaching per member at $500 per member breaks down to a total cost of (including overhead) $2 per second for the sermon. The rate per minute is $120, per hour is $7200. Each 20-minute sermon costs the annual offering of 5 members. The church pays about $2,400 for a 20 minute sermon!
No wonder Peter left fishing for the ministry.
But wait! I’ve made a rash assumption! The pastor only preaches in the church where everyone is already saved (supposedly)! So that 4 minute and 10 second credit per member per year for “preaching the gospel” to the LOST is WIPED OUT because it was preached to the FOUND! In other words, the example church is spending a QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS per year to reach NO ONE!
How will the members of that church fare before the judgement of Christ who commands us to be good stewards and to preach the gospel throughout the whole world?
Personally, I think the devil laughs himself silly about it.
Obviously there are problems with my logic, nevertheless this flight of fancy serves to demonstrate the absurdities many of us have bought into for so long. I zeroed in on the pastor’s sermon because many of us have made it the pinnacle of the church week, and many of us have bought into the notion that only an ordained pastor can preach. In a very real sense, much of the church is built around the pastor’s message – just look at the sanctuary and the focus of the congregation: the altar – where usually the pulpit sits center-stage. Of course there can’t be a message without a church building, right? Or can there?
One of the biggest problems with the institutional church today, is that ministries are often viewed in terms of “vehicles”. A building! A bus! A plane (CBN’s Operation Blessing), etc. Many of us seem to have bought into the idea that ministry requires a vehicle – or that by giving our money for a vehicle that we are giving to ministry. Vehicles and ministry are not the same. Vehicles do not accomplish ministry – people accomplish ministry. Looking to Jesus as our example for ministry, we see that Jesus didn’t have a building from which He based His ministry (Luke 9:58). In fact, until Constantine the Great declared Christianity the state religion of Rome early in the 4th century AD, Christians were violently persecuted and they met in secret. There were no dedicated church buildings for the first 300+ years of Christianity. Yet in terms of growth, the first 300+ years of Christianity were the most explosive! Why then do we insist on having a vehicle for ministry when they have often served to constrain ministry and thereby render Christianity impotent by diverting resources from what ministry is supposed to be: people spreading the message of Christ! Vehicles turn Christianity into “church in a box” and they have become a “millstone” around the neck of the true Church – the people! Especially when we have been conditioned to think of ministry as something that happens only “in the church”, or more specifically “ministry in a box”. The only requirement for most ministries are dedicated Christians who are willing to serve.
Let me illustrate the point by a confession from my distant past.
When my brother and I were in our early 20’s, we had a Christian band. Our lives ahead of us, we had dreams of full time music ministry – touring the country – recording albums, etc. We had written 3-4 songs that were quite good considering the state of CCM in the late 70’s.And so with our big dreams, and the naiveté of youth, I began considering all that we would need for our ministry. Every big-name Christian band I’d seen up to that point traveled the country in a bus with their name on the side (picture the Partridge Family bus… ;^) and so I started learning everything I could about busses. GMC, Eagle, Prevost… 35 and 40 foot diesel powered vehicles – and I subscribed to 2 bus magazines to learn all that I could about busses. Yet there we were, with only 3-4 songs, while 10 was the standard for an album. And even if we had 10 songs – there was no money for recording and pressing an album, let alone buying a smelly old bus on its last legs. The saddest part was the time I wasted studying about busses – time that could have been spent writing songs, practicing, promoting concerts to reach more people, etc.
It didn’t take too long before I forgot about busses, and we turned to local ministry in the outlying areas of Western Washington State – and we hauled our equipment around in the back of my pickup truck. Our only investment was a public address system – we already had guitars and amplifiers. We enjoyed several years of weekend engagements at prisons, schools, churches, retirement homes, campgrounds, military bases and private parties. What little we received from love offerings was not put towards a bus or an album, it was given to area food banks, or returned to the host church for the poor in their congregation.
And we were greatly blessed for it.
If you desire ministry, take your talent, your testimony and your Bible, and put legs under them. They are the only vehicle you need.