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The New “15-Hour Rule” for Church Planters and Preachers

2) It promotes bivocationalism. This is obviously a bivocational model where each pastor has a job sufficient to provide a level of support which can sustain these three pastors together in the work for 10 or more years to come. Yet this also reinforces the idea that to do bivocational ministry as a singular pastor is VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE!! To do bivocational ministry—15 hours a week max—requires at least three leaders together on the ground, praying, discerning, leading.

3) It prevents any pastor from thinking the work of the Kingdom is dependent upon how hard he/she works. Instead, I have 15 hours to give and that’s it. It is God who will do this work, not me. I do not have to worry about results, people in the pews, offerings, because by and large I am being supported in and through a job and a community. I can exercise the patience necessary to see God work among new and unreached peoples.

4) It promotes an active body dependent upon the Spirit discerning what God is doing. Because every one in the community sees “the body” modeled by the pastorate, this kind of leadership automatically fosters a “body mentality” in the rest of the church that regularly depends upon the Spirit. We become participants in the rhythms of God’s grace in His Spirit, no meglamaniacal leadership that has predetermined goals (financial and otherwise). The community therefore becomes the arena in which and around which the Spirit can work. Leadership does not control the organization. It fosters an organization of a different kind, an organization that post facto the Spirit facilitates what God is doing.

5) It says that there should be more than one preacher/teacher. If it is true that it takes 15 hours of prep for a good sermon, then we need to rotate it among the three pastors (and others gifted as well) so that theoretically the 15 hours are spread out over a longer period of time than one week. This keeps the mission from being centered around one personality. It keeps the preaching grounded in the mission and life of the community (not a single person studying 20-30 hours a week for the most brilliant exegesis).

NOW LET US BE SURE TO RECOGNIZE that there will be times when “the 15-hour rule” must go by the wayside. As the church grows, as one’s gifts become more fully recognized, as the fruit of one’s ministry dictates more devotion to the work on the ground in fostering the Kingdom, more hours will be appropriate. This happened all the time in the NT. But I’m of the mind that every pastor, no matter how much he/she is working within the structures of the church, must always have the ability (i.e., another job skill) to go back to “the 15-hour rule.” Because it simply redisciplines the church to be the arena of the Spirit from which it can participate in God’s Mission in the world.

Your thoughts on “the 15-hour rule”? Outrageous? Impractical? This Can’t Be Done?  

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David Fitch is a bi-vocational pastor at Life on the Vine and the B.R. Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology at Northern Seminary.