Does Your Church Own You?

June 10th, 2011

Some pastors seem to think they "own" their churches.

But I've noticed the opposite among many churches too.  They own their pastors.

Chances are if you aren't a pastor, you don't feel that your place of work owns you.  Many of you probably don't even like to be identified by what you do.  It's a job; it pays the bills.

But not so with pastors.  It's not just a job.  It's an identity. No wonder we have so many pastors burning out.

Whether you’re an “indentured” pastor or a layperson, it’s time to stop being owned by your job.

That Pastor Is Totally Church-Whipped

You had to jump through a bunch of hoops to get a job.  You had to submit resumes, have interviews, get training.  But if you're a pastor, you have to have another huge qualification, a "calling." Most men already have a hard time identifying themselves outside of what they do for a living.  But then, we have to add all this lofty language about divine callings.

And by the time many guys have gone through seminary, ordination and have landed a church, many of them have made the very first mistake.  They start to believe their "calling" comes from a church, and not God.  God provides your calling.  Your church provides your job.  You know how guys are looked down on for being "whipped" by their ladies, right?  Consider this becoming "church-whipped."

Forget who you answer to, and check off step one to being owned by your church.

Reality Check: You Don't Have a Ministry

There's a lot of obvious ways that pastors become owned by their churches.  Maybe they start neglecting their families or their free time so they can spend more tending to the often trivial needs of the church.

But there are more subtle signs that a pastor is owned by his church.  I can see it on all the pastors' Twitter profiles that feature a link to their church's website, rather than a site of their own.  Or the pastors whose blogs do not have their own domain, but are on the church's domain.  Sounds small, but you don't really see that with other professions.  I have never seen a chemical engineer link to his factory's website on his Twitter account.  But everything the pastor does, says and is becomes tied up in the church.

Those pastors don't realize it, but they don't have a ministry.  They are completely sold out to the church's ministry. And there's a big difference.  Because when that pastor burns out on his job, or is fired, or moves on, or the church crashes, suddenly he doesn't have a ministry.  Chad Holtz was fired because his church believed they owned his blog and they didn't appreciate him speaking his mind.  My last church split because my dad (the pastor) built a ministry to Sudan that didn't fit into the denomination's ministry.  If they couldn't own it, they didn't want it to happen.

Do you think Saddleback Church owns A Purpose Driven Life? Does Rick Warren even name Saddleback Church on his Twitter bio?  Nope.

Confuse your ministry with your church's ministry, and you're well on your way to being owned by your church.


A lot of pastors think of their churches as a measure of their manhood (or man-of-God-hood.) And what do guys like to do with their manhood?  Compare it to another guy’s manhood and see if it’s bigger.  Bigger church = bigger man.  There was more than one day that seminary felt distinctively like a sweaty locker room with guys giving each other quick sideways glances.  Everyone knows you have to make it look like you weren’t actually looking.

It's unhealthy for all of us to identify ourselves too much by our jobs.  Because the economy is stupid, and people get fired, and the suicide rate skyrockets because unemployed people feel they have no purpose.

Pastors, you need to do the same.  Stop identifying yourself so much by your church.  Your job is not your identity.  You are your own man (or woman).  You have your own calling and your own ministry...or you should.  Maybe John Wesley was on to something when he trained all of his pastors to be like nomads.  No one ever became the property of a church.

That goes for the rest of you too.  You know that you have an identity and purpose and calling outside of how you pay the bills.  So tell us how you identify yourself.  Is it by your job, your family, something else?  Have you struggled with identity outside of your job?


Matt Appling is a pastor and school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri.  He blogs at

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