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confessions of a failed church planter: bivocational martyrdom (2/3)

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Thursday, September 19th, 2013

eikon church

confessions of a failed church planter: bivocational martyrdom (2/3)

this post is the 2nd installment of a 3-part series that explores some of the reasons behind the closing of eikon church 1 year ago. you can find the first post here.

yesterday, i began by talking about how money played a more critical role in the life—and ultimate death—of eikon church than i could’ve expected when we began back in 2008. one of the issues i mentioned in that post was the inability for myself to be full-time at the church due to a lack of funding for a full-time (or any) salary. in this post, i’ll explore that and a closely related reason for the closing of eikon.

reason 2: bivocational martyrdom

as noted yesterday, prior to starting eikon, i made the not-so-fun decision to walk away from sizable funding because i knew that the vision for the church would be compromised by the funding agency’s expectations and goals. my intent, prior to leaving the funding on the table, was to be full-time at the church, devoting myself to its growth and maintenance. i felt strongly that i should be full-time, but that became only a luxury once the funding was removed.

so, i viewed the cup half-full and took it as an opportunity to do two things. first, to live out the idea of “tentmaking” that is a popular banner waved by bivocational pastors. in the book of acts, we learn that paul made a living not from the church, but from being a tentmaker. so, i took it as an opportunity to live out a biblical model of financial stewardship that didn’t put a financial burden on a church body.

second—and most importantly—i figured that not taking a salary was a great way to further live out my deep conviction of “flattened leadership”. in a nutshell, flattened leadership is one in which there isn’t a hierarchy of leadership, but rather a context in which the leader(ship) is a co-sojourner with the others in the church. simply put, the pastor/leader is a peer, rather than a distant and lofty ruler or ceo. there are certainly still leaders in a flattened context, but levels of importance or stature are stripped away. a pastor not taking a salary is one of the more concrete ways of integrating oneself into the larger body of the church.

to be clear, i still believe that both of those goals are noble. particularly, if i were to ever be a leader in a church again, i would absolutely still live out a flattened model. but… while i respect those who can be “tentmakers”, i learned that, for me, not being full-time—not having a singular focus on overseeing and leading our church—ended up being one of the most critical (possibly the most critical) reasons why eikon didn’t last.

punching the clock for 8 hours each day, coming home to spend a very brief time with my family and then shifting gears for 4 or 5 hours to work on church stuff was a fast track to the most intense burnout i’ve ever experienced in my life. i can’t fully explain it, but i compare it to what i understand clinical depression to be like. i’m not saying it was the same thing, but i think a certain type of motivational paralysis is shared between the two. there were so many days and nights that i felt so exhausted and overwhelmed by what i had to do (and things i wanted to do but couldn’t) that i would shut down and check out emotionally from the things that used to bring my joy and energy and fulfillment. without going into all the gorey details, it was an incredibly dark time for me.

i grew to no longer believe that being bivocational was something to strive to achieve. it works great for some, but not for me. i wasn’t a hero. i cheated myself, my family and my church because of my inability to devote the time i needed to the church. the church needed someone to spend time planning and dreaming and growing and preparing and leading. i couldn’t give it that and that makes it one of the top reasons why eikon couldn’t survive.

reason 3: details person

i’m not gonna spend a lot of time here, but i wanted to include it in the post with the above reason because it’s so closely related.

i’ll talk more about this tomorrow, but starting and leading a church is an incredibly humbling experience. you (not to mention others) analyze and pick yourself apart more than what you could ever otherwise imagine. for me, that picking-apart was largely negative, but some of it is positive and healthy. one of the things that became very apparent is that in order for me to execute and fulfill the vision i had for the church, it was critical for me to work alongside a details person who could oversee the nuts and bolts of the execution process.

i have big ideas and dreams and things i want to try and experiment with. and certainly, i can get things done when i need to, but at my core, i’m just not a details, get-it-done kind of person.

the issue, of course, was that we couldn’t afford to bring on that kind of person. we had some details people who were gifted at the art of execution, but much like myself and the rest of us, they were attempting to do that on top of their job, their family and whatever else they already had going on with their life.

so many dreams and really great ideas were left to die simply because i couldn’t devote the kind of time that was necessary and deserved to seeing them through. if we could’ve had that person there, i believe things could’ve looked different at eikon.

tomorrow i’ll wrap up this series with the final post. to be completely honest, i’m pretty nervous about it. it’s probably a post that i’ve spent more time thinking through than any other thing i’ve written here on the blog. titled contrary spirits, it’s a look at my leadership inadequacy when it came to handling some of the more challenging interpersonal dynamics of our faith community. so, check back then.


  1. Robin Wallar says:

    I’ve appreciated your input and thoughts and look forward to more of it as you continue to process. I myself am a bivocational pastor. I am a full-time engineer and lead a church. I relate very closely to many of your thoughts and see some of what you share in my own experiences.

    While I’m not quite ready to call success on my personal experiment I do think I have found some recipes to help along the way.

    In particular the issue of focus/details. Over the years I’ve come to clearly see my role as one of empowering rather than doing. While that sounds cliche it really does work.

    I am continually planting the seeds of the vision for the church and ideas in our leader’s hearts. Whichever ones germinate, so to speak, are the ones I continue to invest in.

    This means that many ideas do not take off because a leader does not rise to the challenge. However, the ones that do germinate really flourish because they become the passion of a person or a couple people.

    Rather than investing into our various initiatives personally I invest into the people that lead the initiatives. This means that I spend a lot less time chasing details and much more time developing leaders.

    This has the effect that while many ideas die the ones that do take off are burdened not by myself but by the leaders that have caught the vision. What could consume vast amounts of time and energy is now reduced to a couple phone calls and a coffee now and then.

    Over the last year as I’ve really driven this idea our church has become orders of magnitude better a making disciples, generating ideas and impacting our community. Even though a year ago we had full-time paid staff and now we have none.

    The temptation is to feel that this is laziness. It’s not. I believe it is the key to success and avoiding burnout. However, I don’t think this is a one-size fits all solution. It takes the right kind of leader and a years in-the-making ethos in the church.

    It’s worth qualifying that our church is primarily un-married adults with large amounts of energy and relatively flexible schedules. Which certainly helps the idea work. However, I believe the principle can work anywhere.

    • Ryan Byrd says:

      thanks for commenting, robin. i appreciate your insight.

      these are very much values and principles that we employed, truly out of necessity. and to an extent, they were successful. i’m thankful that we had a handful of people who were willing to sacrifice their time and energy to fill in the gaps where “traditional” leadership couldn’t.

      ultimately, though, i think—especially with some of the nuances of our particular circumstances—we really needed at least one person who could commit themselves full-time to tie together some of the loose ends that always seemed to be dangling.

      again, thanks for sharing.

  2. joshtilton says:

    Christ and the Apostles explicitly said that only “Tent Making” or unsolicited gifts (asking for anything no longer makes it a gift) is the only acceptable way to labor among the saints. Be encouraged that you entered into this well!

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