Church for Church Leaders

May 3, 2010 by

I do not have the research to back this up, but I’ve been observing what appears to be a growing trend in the number of church leaders who work and serve in their primary church, and then attend a different church for their personal spiritual journey. This applies to church leaders in all areas of ministry, including lead pastors, worship team and nextgen leaders.

I’m seeing several different reasons for this, including:

1. Place of service is too small
In this scenario, the primary church could be a new plant or just too small to meet the spiritual and relational needs that the church leader is looking for. Example: Johnny Worship Guy leads worship on Sunday at the primary church but then attends a church across town where he is not involved in leadership.

2. Place of service is too big
When the primary place of service is too big, the leader may find difficulty plugging into community where she feels a sense of belonging or welcome for who she is as a person, and not for what they do for the church. Example: Jenny the Administrator feels too close to the business of the church and what happens behind the scenes, so she and her husband attend an alternate church closer to their home where they can feel like more of a participant and less of a facilitator.

3. Place of service is primarily a job
In this scenario, the leader is paid staff or receives a stipend, and sees his ministry role as a job. He loves what he does and it’s a thrill to be able to get paid for doing what he feels God has called him to, but he struggles to see the church community as his family and not his employer. Example: Shawn the Small Groups Pastor is so busy every day identifying, recruiting, developing and deploying new small group leaders, he and his family attend a church 20 minutes from home where he doesn’t view everyone as a potential small group leader.

Although I’ve observed this trend with primary public leaders (pastors and worship leaders), I’m seeing this trend more so with the behind-the-scenes people: administrators, core volunteers and communications people.

Are you seeing this? Are you someone who does this?
What are the benefits of this dual citizenship-like behavior?
What suffers?

And, in the context of church marketing, how does this affect the culture and community of the church, both those who receive the imports and send the exports?

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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21 Responses to “Church for Church Leaders”

  • K.C.
    May 3, 2010

    I’ve seen this also in paid staff, who take a job in a church they wouldn’t choose as a church home. Sometimes, in order to keep the income coming in, they’ve had to serve in churches that aren’t a good fit for their families. It’s not an idea situation, but better than being unemployed.

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  • Jared
    May 3, 2010

    As a working musician, I have been in this vary scenario before. My reason for working at one congregation while attending another were two fold:
    First, I had already made a commitment as a member to my home congregation. I had journeyed with people, participated in bible studies, and felt it important to continue that relationship even when I could not attend on Sunday.
    Secondly, it is difficult as paid non-programatic staff to join the congregation in which the work. The issue is one of duel-roles: When am I a member, and when am I an employee? I have a contract to perform specific functions. If I am asked to do something that is in the same vein of the work I’m contracted for, it gets sticky as to whether I am volunteering or am being paid for that activity. Furthermore, if I do not like something that is occuring in the church, I as an employee have to react in a different way than I could if I were a member. Since I receive payment from the institution, I am obligated at some level to refrain from expressing frustration and dissent over the actions of the church leadership. This is a right I would never choose to give up as a member of my own congregation. Though my voice should just be one of many, I could not join a church in which I felt my voice had to be silent.

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  • Kenneth Merian
    May 3, 2010

    I know of a church near my home that specifically looks for people from other churches. For example, they have services throughout the day on Sunday, they routinely hire Catholics to run their daycare services, because the Catholic can attend their home church on Saturday,and then be free all day Sunday to run the day care. It is a matter of freeing up their own people to worship.

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  • FreedbyJC
    May 3, 2010

    Not a surprizing situation… as a leader[Elder] I was REQUIRED to always BE “on” but never to be HIS; I was property of the church state and required to think, act and do as part of the ‘organism / organization’… I needed to lead as GOD willed, not as the ‘head’s concensus postulated the body’s actions.’
    I needed to be be a sheep in someone else flock and as I outgrew and challanged the ‘home team’s” ideals and resources I was not allowed to ask questions anymore. I fought it for years and now my flock has been over to some one who ‘loves them more’… I loved my sheep … the shepherd’s union poisoned the sheep to the sound of His voice and they turned away from His shepherd.

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  • chad swanzy
    May 3, 2010

    This comes from a desire to be connected, loved, and appreciated.
    They go because it means more to be cared about for who you “are” and not what you “do” as a leader.
    Often times staff are pursued by their direct reports with zero intentionality as just an individual with needs. They reason that if they are a non staff member they will not be taken for granted or treated like a cog in the big wheel house of insider church america.

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  • Andy Allen
    May 3, 2010

    I’ve lived this for sure. Employed as a worship leader it was difficult (at best) to find a SAFE place within the church where I was serving to be real. Everyone in small groups or in social circles connected to the church would not have a healthy appreciation or understanding of what ministry pressures might mean, or not mean, should I share them. Other people in those groups can talk about the stresses or pressures in their work-a-day-world jobs without it meaning they were disgruntled or unhappy in their positions. Not the same for church workers.
    I believe that church leaders (employees and lay leaders) need a safe and non-judgemental place to release the very real pressures ministry places on you. This usually comes in a place of ministry NOT connected to the church where you’re serving. It can also come through connections to other people who share the same positions in other churches…kind of a church-worker support group, if you will.
    I’m sure your observations and questions here are definitely in the zone and there are many reasons we see this. Throughout my time in itinerate ministry I saw this happen over and over as I became the unaffiliated third party who ministry guys could just be real with…a safe place to talk through the challenges they were facing. There aren’t any easy answers, I guess.
    Sometimes it’s an unhealthy church leadership that creates this scenario. Other times I think it’s brought on by a feeling of vulnerability because your job could be on the line if you were honest about what you were feeling or thinking in your work. I’m discovering quickly I have many thoughts on this subject and this could easily become a novelette comment (sorry.)
    Suffice it to say I definitely think you’re on to something here.

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  • PastorJohn
    May 4, 2010

    As a second career pastor I spent a long time in the congregation before moving up front. I genuinely enjoyed being able to worship with my wife but as a pastor and worship leader I rarely have that opportunity. Our current church is too small to have a youth group so my children belong to the youth group in a neighboring church. For me, I miss worship. I have a hard time just enjoying the presence of the Spirit without thinking/worrying about what comes next, etc. If a convenient solution/service were available I would have to give it serious consideration.

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  • Andrew Conard
    May 4, 2010

    Brad – Thanks for sharing your reflections. As pastor of Resurrection Online, I have been in contact with a good number of persons who worship online with us at that are active leading worship in other churches. In many cases, this provides a meaningful worship experience.

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  • Jenn Hudson
    May 4, 2010

    My husband and I direct the small group ministry in our church, along with teaching a Discipleship class on Sunday mornings for the maturing believer. We, much like Shawn, here in Example #3, are constantly walking in the front doors of our church with the feeling that we are walking into our ‘work’. It’s a great, rewarding work…but it also meets with the disadvantage of the missed opportunity of grabbing the door handle to a personal worship experience. Saturdays and Sundays become additional ‘work days’ and not rest days. Most Sundays, we are not even in the main service, rather serving behind the scenes…not receiving the message.
    Our fellow church members have complained to us how they never “see” us in church, and they are concerned that we are not getting a traditional sermon experience…but we’ve explained that we catch the sermon online…but have not explained how MANY other Churches we are connected with through weekly podcasts: LifeChurch.TV, Church of the Highlands, and others….
    It is a NECESSITY in our ministry that we stay plugged in to churches online to RECEIVE something for us personally, during the week.
    Starting to feel a bit guilty for “jumping the fence” for other sources of worship, I was refreshed a few weeks ago to see that Pastor @Chris_Hodges who I look to on Mondays for my “day after” message, mention that he was doing the SAME thing! via:

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  • CoryZipperle
    May 5, 2010

    I always struggle with the “church for me” idea. I know that it is a popular idea, but I’m not convinced that it is a healthy idea.
    Don’t get me wrong, we need time to rest and get away. Churches are horrible about honoring this (pastors are equally horrible at enforcing it).
    Also don’t interpret this as a call for one to stay in one body (I serve in multiple churches, even when I’m paid to be in one of them).
    But we have to becareful that we aren’t being selfish and idolatrous in our pursuit of church for “me”. If you aren’t fed in your current situation, or getting your needs met in your current situation, and you are the leader, chances are it is not the problem with the church environment that you are in… it is you.
    Doing ministry is about sacrifice. This is where us leader types will find our fulfillment. Pursuing fulfillment elsewhere only makes things worse and, in the end, gives people the wrong impression about what church is all about.
    Remember the church doesn’t exist primarily for us. It exists for those who are not yet in it.
    One final thought: our work IS our worship experience.

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  • Scott
    May 6, 2010

    As a “leader”, I know that our 1 service on Sunday night is jam packed with our purpose, “seeking and saving the lost”. It’s good to be able to get away to hear the word of God from the mouth of a Godly man, beyond our normal studies.
    Anytime we can get the word of God, it’s GOOD!

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  • Dawn Nicole Baldwin
    May 6, 2010

    Great observations, Brad. I’ve seen this, too.
    Oftentimes those in visible roles [either to the congregation or with other staff] have a difficult time letting down their guard or truly being transparent/vulnerable where they “work”. They’re reluctant to join support ministries or get the help they need in their own church because they’re afraid it might affect their job. So I guess it’s easier to engage somewhere else and truly plug in as a congregant.

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  • Joe
    May 7, 2010

    Put me down with those who work at one church and worship at another, for all the reasons mentioned above.
    The church where I found God and was baptized is my family. Why would I ever leave them? When I walk in the door, I’m there to worship, not find myself making to-do lists on the bulletin.
    The church where I work is my employer. Without the family ties, I can look at things objectively, say things that need to be said, and more dispassionately deal with things like work hours and pay.
    I’ve done it both ways, and it’s far better to separate employment and membership.

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  • Lisa
    May 28, 2010

    I also work for a church and yet worship in another. It is difficult to always be seen as “at work” when I am trying to worship and some in the congregation don’t take no for an answer when I ask them to contact the office during the week. To avoid feeling anger or bitterness towards my brothers and sisters in Christ, I choose to worship in a church where I can be fully open to the worship experience and be fed.

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  • Ruben
    June 2, 2010

    I totally sympathize. For 8 years I was a member of a congregation, six of which I was on staff. Being a deacon (involved in directional leadership with the elders, regular preaching, etc.), administrative staff (overseeing the office, communications, etc.) and a member, I wore several hats. When family life starts to suffer and the ministry starts doing more harm than good, you realize its time to go.

    In my case, I resigned membership and deacon position, but offered to stay on as an employee, which leadership denied. If I could have worked at one congregation but attended another, I would have loved that, because I loved my job.

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  • matt
    June 8, 2010

    as the current creative director for a church, i’d have a difficult time doing what i do, if i wasn’t living under the teaching and authority of my pastor.

    I couldn’t imagine being emotionally invested in my day to day work when my spiritual foundation is with another body.

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  • Margo Ruark
    June 8, 2010

    Question: If you have your ‘job’ at one and ‘worship’ in another, which one do you tithe to? If you tithe to both, is it 50/50? or if you tithe $100/week to one is that a match in the other?

    I agree, ministers need to get fed too, and I used to think that is what retreats are for. As a minister of a start up, It never crossed my mind to join another church. that would send a very mixed message to my congregants.

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  • Guy Lawson
    June 10, 2010

    I’m on the Board and the Chair of (what I think is) the committee with the most work to do at my Church home. If I weren’t getting what I need Spiritually, I wouldn’t give what I do joyously and lovingly physically. I may visit another Church from time to time, but I just consider that time spent with extended family. I don’t understand the nature of the title of this site and how this article fits in with it.

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  • Paul Hickernell
    June 10, 2010

    I am an elder/pastor/overseer for a church, my church. It is my family. It is also where I work as the Pastor of Creative Arts. A pastor is called to shepherd the flock, paid or not. If that pastor feels the need to go someplace else to be “fed” or “tune out” I might question either: their health and relationship to their church family or their understanding of the nature of the church altogether.

    Peter command elders/pastors/overseers (all the same thing) to be an example to their flocks. So, how is your church going to follow your example of attending a church but not engaging with the church but it is just a job church but I need to be fed too. If you feel so overtaxed as a paid employ of your church you can’t gather with them then step out of vocational ministry. You don’t know how to maintain a balance yet. Or, if you can’t help but walk around Sunday morning thinking about everything that needs done, learn to work smarter during the week. You expect the same from your attenders, or should.

    The local church is a family, right?! I don’t think my wife would appreciate it if I ate at her table but sleep in someone else’s bed, because the kids kept screaming.

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  • Greg Shore
    June 15, 2010

    I attended a church for many years and it was a place where I was loved and nurtured and I matured greatly while being discipled there. Fourteen years ago I was offered a temporary position at a church that later became a full time position. A few months later I realized I had been called into a vocational ministry – this was not just a job.

    One of things I’ve always struggled with is how to integrate my faith into ‘the rest of my life’. I’m actually pretty good at itnow because I’ve always understood that this is way things are supposed to be and I became intentional about it. Sunday morning, Monday morning, and Friday night should not be spiritually different from each other. So, when I found myself in ministry at one church, and worshipping at another church, there was a huge disconnect. Here I had the perfect opportunity to live out what I believed so I started worshipping where I work. My old church sent me out with much love, prayers and a party.

    Living and working with this tension and in a fishbowl has not always been easy and sometimes it’s downright difficult. I get the Sunday morning questions. I get the phone calls on Friday night about Sunday morning bulletins which are already printed. I struggle when I need to turn down a request and affirm a person’s worth and ministry. I have to work hard to connect with people on a personal level and to be a part of a small group that I trust to listen to my workplace struggles and who don’t have a problem calling me to account.

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  • Yuriy Z.
    July 21, 2011

    This is really true. In my case It’s just a matter of sermon quality. I attend and serve alot in my community church, however get my “spiritual food” from churches like Mars Hill and City Church here in the Seattle area.

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