Where Being a Pastor is A Night Job

Where Being a Pastor is A Night Job

” We don’t find missionaries, they find us!” Dominic Rivkin

Dominic Rivkin graduated from Concordia seminary not as a  pastor, but as a missionary, a missionary to America. Only six of the graduates of his seminary class had completed the “Missionary Formation Track,” three for traditional missionary overseas work and three for the mission field of America. He is now the director of LINC in Los Angeles – a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi- mission-opportunity city.  

To many, “missionary to America” sounds strange. It shouldn’t. My own denomination, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has declined by 500,000 members from our high of 2.6 million members – and we are expected to lose another 500,000 souls. Not one denomination in America showed more members in the last census than it had in the previous.  I asked Dominic what his biggest challenge is. He replied, “Established churches don’t get it. They understand mission as something that is done ‘over there,’ outside the United States. They don’t see America as the mission field it is today. Even if they do, they find it very difficult to change and become a mission base.”

Change is, of course, coming – you can see the change in how LINC (Lutheran Innercity Networking Coalition) does mission work in twenty-first century America. LINC missionaries are different, not only in how they carry on their ministry, but how they are recruited and how they are supported. We can learn something from this.

You will hear in a later blog about the LINC missionary Stella Yau. Stella was born in Hong Kong. Her pastor in Hong Kong was the missionary Will Holt. As a girl Stella saw mission work in action; it permeated her soul, became part of who she was. When China was about to take back Hong Kong from the British, her family emigrated to San Francisco – where Missionary Holt had gone to begin work among thousands of Chinese who chose to live in the West.

Stella and her family joined the mission. This is not unusual. For over a century the LCMS has been sending missionaries overseas. Today the daughters and granddaughters and sons and grandsons of those our overseas missionaries had converted are returning the favor, by coming to America as missionaries. 

Stella had a good education in America, graduated from college and could have earned a lot of money working outside the church. However, that mission passion distracted her. And then she found LINC. Today she is a missionary to Asian immigrants in Los Angeles. 

Dominic says “We don’t find missionaries, they find us.” As director, Dominic is paid a salary. His calling is to be involved in the city, observe new ministries springing up, share LINC’s ministry, and be open to partnerships. Inevitably he comes in contact with local people who were impelled by the Holy Spirit to begin some Christian outreach. A few will take initiative and contact LINC to find support. LINC accepts those who have a passion to reach the community, entrepreneurial mission leaders, women and men of great faith.

LINC was begun to support the missionary-entrepreneurs, someone who has started a ministry and needs help to continue and grow the mission. When God sends that person to LINC they are not given a salary, but they are given support – help to be authorized for public ministry, support from a circle of like-minded missionaries, and help from partnerships with established churches. 

“The ability to get a higher education degree is not a Biblical qualification. It’s four guys in a fishing boat with a mentor” (Dominic Rivkin). In the West, we have put too much emphasis on education degrees, and not enough on calling.  If you look at a traditional seminary, students come from privileged backgrounds: they have been prepared to serve in an established congregation, with a salary and health and retirement plans.

They have proven they know how to be good students. This, in my opinion, is fine for Pastors, who spend most of their time caring for a group already gathered. The gifts and talents are different for someone who goes into a place where there has been no Christian witness. They give up many privileges.

While a good grounding in doctrine is essential, an equal requirement for a missionary is they have shown they can begin something new, starting from the ground up. They are so driven by a passion to share Jesus’ love with others they will sacrifice anything.  During the day the missionary works to earn a living, preferably in a ministry that will allow them to be involved in and witness to their neighborhood.  Being a pastor on a mission field is their night job. These missionaries eschew privilege:  All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud,  but shows favor to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34).

Of course, we still need pastors, those who re-present Jesus to a gathered community of Christians. Strong congregations will provide support to new expressions of outreach. Pastors are vital in giving missional leadership. But  I wonder how many contemporary pastors, and missionaries, would have applied to seminary to work as LINC missionaries among unchurched Americans.  Maybe some fishermen, or a tax collector, or a turncoat Pharisee.  Or a missionary from LINC Los Angeles. Just like Jesus. I also know Jesus paid the price for our inability to sacrifice everything, and that He did this for us!

I do not know the answer to how to help every church come to understand we minister on a mission field. I do not know how many churches will be able to change their approach to bringing Christ to the city, or the suburb, or rural America. But I do have confidence that the change has begun. I say this because I have met Dominic Rivkin, and Stella Yau, and, Jesus. 

To view the full video interview with Dominic, click here.

To view a short introduction to Dominic’s ministry, click here.

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4 thoughts on “Where Being a Pastor is A Night Job

  1. Hmmm, “privileged”? It seems to me, that you are using the newest catch phrase to denigrate the Public Office of the Ministry. I would have loved to have enjoyed such “privilege” as you call it. I am a parish pastor (over 15 years) who came to the seminary after serving on active duty in the military for 14 years, and while continuing to serve in the Guard. Any “degree” I have, I worked for, because I saw the value of being a well-educated pastor, grounded in the Word of God by use of the biblical languages, and the Lutheran Confessions. I have lived hand-to-mouth or paycheck to paycheck for a large portion of my life. I did not enter the seminary to earn big paychecks, but to bring the Gospel of Christ to a lost and dying world. I was raised outside the church, and I know first hand what it means to live in the world and of the world, and outside of Christ, in ways that I hope you will never know. Is there some of the “privileged” mentality out there in the parishes, yes. Even as there are less educated hacks that are only in church work to bring glory to themselves.

    We in the church, and particularly in the Public Office of the Ministry are sinners. As Luther said, and I am paraphrasing, “We are only beggars, telling other beggars where to find bread.” It is best that we be mindful of that, instead of casting aspersions on those who are brothers in the work of the Gospel.

    1. Pr. Bradt, if you read the post as denigrating pastors then I miscommunicated. Near the end of the post I say, “Of course, we still need pastors, those who re-present Jesus to a gathered community of Christians. Strong congregations will provide support to new expressions of outreach. Pastors are vital in giving missional leadership.”

      1. Dr. Scudieri,

        Words, as you know have meaning, and you used a word that is overcharged with with negative and disparaging meaning in today’s society. That word was “privileged”. Perhaps recognizing the current baggage a word carries with it, and clearly communicating what you intend to say, would go a long way to minimizing misunderstandings such this.

        The Lord Jesus continue to bless you in your work as you strive to communicate His Word of life to a lost and dying world.

        In Christ,

    2. Dear Pr. Bradt, Thanks for the comment. Frankly, I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to attend schools and live in a country and belong to an affluent denomination that allowed me to qualify for college and seminary. I deeply value my education, but understand that most of pastors throughout history and today have not had such an opportunity – and see no Biblical requirement for an advanced degree. On a mission field many of these privileges do not exist.

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