Category Archives: Theology & Culture

When our words are weak – A Lament for Alan, Ghalib and Rehanna Kurdi

Yesterday, I was scrolling through my social media feeds and a vivid photo of a beach passed by. I scrolled back to see a very young boy in shorts and a t-shirt laying in the sand.

It took me a moment to piece together that this wasn’t a child playing on the beach, but instead a wordless and unimaginable tragedy. It was Alan Kurdi.

 I have a son. A little boy that has often been dressed in shorts and t-shirts this summer. Those hands and feet, those legs and arms, that little body is one I see everyday.

It was heartbreaking to see the same arms, legs and body as my little boy lying lifeless on a turkish beach. It was guilt inducing and gut wrenching to be grateful that there was dark hair and not my son’s reddish blonde.

I have regularly prayed for Syrian refugees in my church. I have just slipped in a few words for them along with prayers for rain in spring and sunshine in harvest, prayers for world leaders and peace, prayers for church ministries and programs, prayers for sick and dying people. It was the very least I could do.

I have regularly forgotten to pray for Syria when all those other things took all my attention.

I have have encouraged my congregation to collect sweaters for displaced Syrian refugees, to give money to our denominational aid organization working in the refugee camps, to be open minded about our muslim neighbours.

I haven’t pressed them as hard as I could have.

A few months ago as I sat in my office, a muslim refugee family came to me to ask for help. A father and mother just like Abdullah and Rehanna, 6 children just like Ghalib and Alan. A family just like Alan’s sat in my office and I hemmed and hawed about how much help I could provide, secretly wondering about how much effort I would need to put in helping them.

As a pastor, I have had grieving mothers cling to me. I have had to offer failing words and inadequate comfort to those who are grieving the death of a child – young and old.

My job is to point to hope, even when no one else can. My vocation is to be the one who declares “Life” when everyone else declares “death.” My calling is to give words to the grieving.

Words for Alan, Rehanna and Ghalib. Words to Abdullah.

Words that somehow make sense of death.

I wish I could say there is some purpose in this tragedy, but there isn’t. I hope that Alan’s  photo becomes as significant as the naked Vietnamse girl’s is, but it would better that neither needed to be taken. I wish that Alan’s death had some greater meaning, but would you volunteer your child’s life to be the one that moved the world to action?

I hope that Alan reminds us that the words ‘Syrian’, ‘Migrant’, ‘Refugee’ are synonymous with ‘person.’ I hope that we remember that Syrians, migrants and refugees are human beings, not numbers, not news headlines, not problems to pass off, or expenses we don’t want to incur.

The world – 5 years too late – cries out for Alan and for Syria.

Finally. 

Yet, world leaders, NGOs, military campaigns, and good intentions will not solve this crisis. At best, they will mitigate it, they will make things slightly less tragic.

That is where my job to speak words for Alan, Ghalib and Rehanna comes in…  to speak words that somehow spark hope in the midst of tragedy and death.

Words that are not mine… words that belong to and are given by God. 

Because when are confronted with images of tragedy that make us cry out,

Because when we know that our leaders don’t have the will to respond, nor could they adequately respond if they did will it,

Because our good intentions have never solved our problems.

Because the human spirit, as noble as it might be, will not save us.

Because when we cannot redeem senseless death, God can. 

God makes sense of that which we cannot. 

God turns our tragedy into something better – into mercy and resurrection.

God does have the answer, God has life and love for a little boy laying on a beach.

God has life and love for our broken world.


Featured photo courtesy of Leadnow.ca

5 Reasons Why Underpaying Pastors is Poor Stewardship for Congregations

The topic of clergy pay is a touchy one at best. Churches, pastors, denominational bodies all have vested interests in how clergy are paid… but sometimes those interests aren’t always aligned.

Determining what is appropriate pay requires that a number of questions be answered: How is professional ministry measured when it comes to compensation? How do you compensate someone who is fulfilling a calling? How do congregations balance shrinking membership and budgets with the need to keep clergy pay increasing, if even with just the cost of living? How do denominational bodies recommend guidelines that congregations can meet and that adequately provide for clergy?

Lately, I have heard a number of troubling comments and stories from colleagues about clergy salaries. Money troubles, like in marriages, can often be the straw that breaks the camel’s back between a congregation and pastor, and result in separation.

Unfortunately, clergy often end being underpaid for a variety of reasons, which ultimately ends up hurting the congregation just as much as it hurts the pastor who is not being adequately compensated. Going by the stories and comments I have heard from friends and colleagues surrounding pay, there are reasons that I see as being problems that will haunt congregations when they choose to underpay their pastor.

Disclaimer: The congregations I have served have always paid me according to the guidelines provided by the Bishop’s office. In my view these are fair and adequate, for the most part. I am grateful to the churches I have served for not making my compensation a big issue. 

The reasons that are often given for keeping clergy underpaid, might sound reasonable on the surface, but dig deeper and they become truly problematic:

1. “Pastors work for God, not for the money.”

It is absolutely true that almost no pastor packs up to attend 4 or more years of seminary in order to hit the jackpot as a parish pastor. Other than the handful of mega church pastors and televangelists who are making millions, most pastors earn modest, if not meagre wages.

But it is a false notion to equate working for God meaning that clergy are fine with working for free. All the clergy I know genuinely want to serve God’s church and God’s people. And they want to serve knowing that they can pay their bills, put food on the table and perhaps enjoy a meal out or a holiday away from home once in a while without breaking the bank.

The work that clergy do is NOT supposed to what earns their salary. The compensation is supposed to allow clergy a comfortable living so that they can attend to their work without having to worry about earning their pay.

2. “Pastor, the denominational guidelines are too high. You can accept less.”

I have heard of congregations negotiating one salary with the Bishop and Pastor in the call process, and the asking a pastor to accept less once they have settled into their new charge.

I cannot express how offensive this is. Clergy salaries are designed to be fair to both pastor and congregation. Asking a pastor to take less is effectively declaring that a pastor is not valued by the congregation, which is basically a non-confidence vote in the ministry.

3. “Oh, pastor ‘so and so’ never asked for raise”

This particular practice of some of my clergy colleagues infuriates me. I have heard of a number of pastors not asking their congregations to keep up with clergy pay guidelines. If this were simply a matter of the effect on one’s own family, then I wouldn’t care so much.

However, not insisting that congregations keep up with guideline salary is bad for your successor, and even worse for the congregation itself.

A congregation told me a story of how one their pastors had accepted a pay freeze during a period of renovations. The agreement was that once the renovations were complete, the congregation would “catch the pastor up” to guideline pay. I was told this was so difficult for the congregation to catch up in the end, that they made a policy never to fall behind guideline minimums again.

When a pastor accepts less than the minimum guidelines set out by a denominational body, it means the congregation becomes accustomed to a lower salary burden. And what happens when that congregation needs to call another pastor? They have to, all of a sudden, come up with thousands of dollars in their budget in order to pay the minimum. And congregations are really good making large year by year increasings in giving, right?

Worse yet, a new pastor might be asked to take a pay cut or accept less than what is supposed to be the minimum. (see point 2).

4. “Pastors get a housing allowance which is like a bonus”

Housing allowances are very misunderstood things. They originated as a means to allow congregations to provide a house that clergy could live in, without paying taxes on the benefit. Another way of looking it at was that the small salary or stipend that clergy earned (sometimes paid in chickens and garden vegetables) would be further taxed if the parish provided housing was considered a taxable benefit.

Once clergy began purchasing their own homes, there needed to be a way to make tax system equitable, regardless of the housing option a parish could provide – a home or an allowance.

In Canada, housing allowances can only be for the fair market rental value of a house up to 1/3 of total compensation.

But really, housing allowances are not benefits to clergy. They are benefits to congregations because they allow congregations to pay clergy less. If housing was taxable, congregation would have to make up the difference in take home pay by raising wages.

So to those who object to clergy receiving this benefit, I would argue that tax free housing is small price to pay in exchange for the virtually free civil services that clergy (and therefore churches) provide to their communities by performing legal marriages, by providing free chaplaincy care to many health care institutions, and by providing inexpensive or free counselling services to the community among other things. Not to mention the fact that studies show that people of faith are also the most likely to volunteer in communities and to donate to non-religious charities.

5. “Pastors should be poor and we are paying them too much already”

Another argument that makes me mad. If pastors should be poor, then so should anyone else who calls themselves a Christian. Really this is about controlling a pastor, where s/he lives, what car s/he drives, what clothes s/he wears, all in an effort to make the pastor the symbol of modesty on behalf of the congregation.

Still, a pastor who cannot afford the necessities of life really isn’t going to be effective in ministry. This argument makes no sense when considering that in many denominations, pastors have graduate degrees and as much education as doctors and lawyers. Pastors are expected to have the skills to administrate like a CEO of a small non-profit, to provide care and counselling like a social worker or secular counsellor, to teach children, teens and adults like a professional teacher, to provide event planner level organization to things like weddings and funerals, to oversee staff like middle managers, and then to provide spiritual leadership, guidance, and formation to a faith community.

The reality is most pastors could earn two times, three times or four times as much in a similar professional field with a similar education. But instead most clergy have chosen to forego that kind compensation in order to serve God and God’s church, to serve the people of God.

Ultimately, finding reasons to underpay pastors is poor stewardship

Underpaying clergy stems from a stewardship ethos that asks one person to bear an unequal share of the burden of providing ministry. It is shortsighted as it puts a congregation into a position where it won’t be able to keep up with minimum required to pay for a pastor when it is time to call a new pastor. And this poor stewardship assumes that pastors aren’t already making a huge sacrifice in order to follow a calling by taking on the burdens of student loans, of reduced pay compared to secular work and by working all overtime for free, most major holidays for free and being ‘on call’ 24/7.

When congregations underpay their pastors, it isn’t about saving money or stretching declining resources. It is about the value that congregations place on pastoral ministry. It is about the value that congregations place on their own work and following God’s mission.

The reality is that finding a way to pay a pastor less is really the first step in choosing to kill a church. Because the things that pastors do need to be done by someone in order for congregational ministry to go on. And as congregations who have been forced to make do without a pastor can attest, it is not an ideal nor a viable long term option.

But perhaps most importantly, adequately paying a pastor recognizes that ministry costs time, resources and money. It recognizes that ministry is worth the time, resources and money that is costs us. It recognizes that God’s mission for us in the world is worth our time, our resources and our money.


Does your congregation adequately pay your pastor? Do you have horror stories of being underpaid? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

On Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church Part 2: Finding the iPhone Church

Last month, I wrote about Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. In particular, I mused on the concept of cultural commute – having to operate in a cultural different than one’s own. As a millennial and as a Lutheran pastor, I find myself often operating in a Baby Boomer culture. And while this doesn’t compare to the struggle of making a language commute, an ethnic commute or even socio-economic class commute, making this generational commute is a struggle. And it is one of the reasons I think millennials find the church frustrating these days.

Since writing that last post, I have been wondering what would an ‘iPhone Church’ look like.

Part of me loves the idea of serving a church full of people who are social media addicts like me. Where the bulk of our community planning and organization could happen on our Facebook page. Where ‘Netflix Binge Night’ with discussion afterwards could be a legitimate study and fellowship activity. Where I could make reference to Grumpy Cat, Walter White, #ThanksObama, Donald Trump memes, Taylor Swift and Apple without explaining memes, hashtags, Ferguson, Netflix, Breaking Bad, Apple Music… basically without having to explain the internet.

But the more I think about the ‘iPhone Church’, simply replacing the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ references with Kanye West “Imma let you finish” references doesn’t really solve the issue of the cultural commute.

One the one hand, the Church absolutely needs to be culturally savvy more than ever before because our society is more up to date and inundated with the latest news than ever before.

Just a few weeks ago, the denomination I serve in – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) – worked hard to bring our denomination up to date on current issues facing our country and our congregations.

At the ELCIC’s National Convention, our church live streamed our gathering and many delegates were using social media to share the very relevant work we were doing:

  • We addressed issues of right relationships with Indigenous Peoples by having a Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner present to us only months after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its report with much national media attention.
  • We adopted resolutions on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (#MMIW), Climate Justice, Restorative Justice in the Canadian Corrections System
  • We talked about decline and adapting to current cultural realities through constitutional and bylaw changes.
  • And we embarked on an ambitious 500th Anniversary of the Reformation Challenge to:  Sponsor 500 refugees to Canada, Provide 500 scholarships for Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land schools, Plant 500,000 trees, Give $500,000 to the Lutheran World Federation Endowment Fund

I have to admit, that at the end of the 4 Day convention, I was feeling like my church was working hard to address issues that are important to me and to my peers (most of whom are not church members but are very socially conscious).

So yes, on the one hand the church absolutely needs to be more culturally savvy and up to date.

On the other hand, ‘Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church’ really doesn’t fully express just how cultural commuting is inherent to the life of the church.

Really the tag line should be ‘Being an iPhone Pastor to Typewriter members of a Papyrus Church.’

The Church has always been demanding a cultural commute of its people.

500 years ago Martin Luther was a ‘Printing Press Reformer for a Hand Copied Books Church.’

2000 years ago Jesus was a ‘Papyrus Saviour for a Stone Tablet Temple Religion.’

As church people in the 21st century, we have to realize that the good news is constantly being transmitted to us through the cultures of our forebears. Our stories of faith are told in a book that represents a whole swath of Ancient Near Eastern culture and history spanning thousands of years. Our manner and symbols of worship come from Ancient Israelite roots into Roman customs and symbols adapted by medieval culture and readapted through enlightenment, reformation and modern eras.

Our sacred stories and histories have been constantly reframed by political and secular influences. The Church has been coopted by the rise and fall of empires.

The church has been dealing with cultural commutes for 2000 years… maybe longer.

So yes, it seems trivial that the fact that Boomer pop culture references makes it hard for this millennial pastor to sometimes feel understood and at home in the church. But our post-modern world is changing so rapidly with technology that generations living today are taking in the same amount of information in a day that most people would not have access to in a lifetime even just 100 years ago.

The effect, I think, is as significant on church as the Roman Empire coopting the church for its imperial bureaucracy, as significant as printing presses making bibles and other writings widely available, as significant as scientific and scholarly advancements challenging the way people of faith understand the world and their history.

The good news is that the church will survive. It might become an iPhone Church for a while, it might then become something else. But the church knows how to survive cultural commutes.

The challenge is that knowing that the church will adapt. The challenge is knowing that we have to adapt. Boomers will have to speak Millennial. Millennials will have to speak Boomer. Gen Xers, Silent, Builders, Boomers, Millennials, Generation Z, we all have to learn to speak to each other, just as we speak with Ancient Near Easterners, with Medieval Christians, with Reformers, with moderns and more.

As an iPhone pastor, finding an iPhone church won’t really solve my issues of cultural commutes. It will just change my role and experience in the problem. Some version of Typewriter churches and iPhone pastors will always exist. The real issue will be to recognize the ways in which the dominant cultures that exist in our churches keep us from connecting with people from outside of our own experience.

And in the same way that we work to understand the cultures and speak the languages of the bible, of the ancient church, of the reformation and of our forebears in faith, we will need to work to understand the culture and speak the language of a rapidly changing world and the variety of people that make up our church communities and congregations.

Being an iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church requires a cultural commute… but that is simply being a pastor and being the church.


How does the cultural commute affect you? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

If the 2015 Canadian Federal Election was about doing the dishes

Canada is currently in an official Federal Election. For readers in the United States, that means that our government is dissolved and political parities are campaigning for votes. All in the longest election in decades – 78 days.

With endless media streaming at us for the next three months, I tried to articulate what the parties would be trying to do if the elections was not about security, the economy, the environment, jobs, etc… but instead about doing the dishes.

Please share!

Dirty_dishes2015 Election

UPDATED: Photo Caption Contest – Meet Jesus Here

So, now for something completely different on The Millennial Pastor.

As I was out for a walk with my family this morning, we walked past this sign: IMG_3590

While on the one hand I agree with the concept of meeting Jesus in worship, putting this on the kind of sign usually used to advertise a sale at the corner store, I had to stop and snap a photo.

Then my wife, Courtenay, started immediately thinking of captions. While aren’t trying to be mean or make fun, I think this could be a wealth of humour.

And so I am now putting this photo out to you, the readers of this blog. Download the photo, add a caption and email it back to me at: Millennialpastor@gmail.com and I will add the best ones to this post!

Or add a caption idea in the comments, I will add some of the best ones to the photo myself and post them here.

Let’s have some fun with this!

Here are a couple that Courtenay and I came up with:

Jesus Attends Jesus Book Signing

And here are some of funniest captions:

Sign my bible Rapure 10-31 Loaf Eating Contest Grape Flavour Aid