Why Unity ministers can't find jobs and what we can do about it

Mark Hicks

Hi Friends -

The reason Unity ministers can’t find jobs is because their salaries have grown without a corresponding increase in productivity. The same can be said for why Unity Worldwide Ministries has found itself increasingly dependent on grants from the Templeton Foundation.

To explain what I mean, let’s consider another industry where trends over the past two decades has led to declining revenues and diminished employment: symphony orchestras. To the extent there are professional similarities among musicians and minsters and that there are organizational similarities among symphonies and ministries, we may find helpful insight from this article in yesterday’s issue of The Baltimore Sun:

  1. Experts say the business of running symphonies has intrinsic structural flaws that result in costs significantly outpacing revenues.
  2. They are afflicted with what economists have dubbed “cost disease,” which occurs in industries experiencing a rise in salaries without a corresponding increase in productivity.
  3. Salary inflation isn’t a problem for industries that use technological advances to increase worker productivity. But no technology will ever help an orchestra perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 more efficiently.
  4. The cost disease isn’t new. But for decades, it was masked by [major donations from charitable foundations and,] though the windfall benefited the musicians, it may have done the organizations more harm than good by creating unrealistic expectations of future largesse without addressing the source of the orchestras’ financial instability.
  5. Orchestra’s financial problems sometimes are attributed to shrinking audiences. That’s not entirely true ... increasing attendance will never solve the problem, since the number of seats in any venue is fixed, while the costs to perform in them keeps soaring.
  6. When an orchestra’s finances inevitably worsen, music lovers predictably divide into conflicting camps: “Arts enthusiasts” [who] don’t really care about balance sheets [and] “deficit hawks” who believe that the only way to truly protect the organization’s mission is “cutting costs to the bone.”
  7. Orchestra leaders “need to step back and think through the vulnerabilities of their organizations ... otherwise, the cycle will continue. Someone will bail them out and in a few years, they’ll be in trouble again.”

My sense is that most people today who are searching for answers to a problem go first to the Internet instead to their minister because the Internet is more accessible.

My sense is that a typical parent has concluded that Sunday morning soccer practice may be less complex and possibly more emotionally beneficial to their child than Sunday School.

My sense is that curious people may find the availability of low cost travel and interesting destinations more conducive for spiritual development than Sunday services.

My sense is that people with common social affinities find plenty of opportunities with meetups and community groups at a much lower financial and social cost than religious organizations.

Of course these are blanket generalizations. Excellent ministers, excellent Sunday School programs, excellent Sunday services and excellent spiritual groups will always attract people, their attendance and their support. But the point of the Baltimore Sun article is that no matter how excellent they may be, ministers and their ministries must compete with alternatives that have an advantage of increasing productivity (Internet, soccer, travel, meetups). To do that, as the last point made in the article says, we “need to step back and think” things through.

Evangelicals have stepped up their game with what they call “church world leadership” and the building of megachurches. Megachurches may have their problems, but they do provide a way for increased productivity of a ministry and its ministers. Two notable resources to learn how they have done that are videos from the Pushpay 2019 Summit (recently attended by ten Unity people in Dallas) and The Cary Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (I never miss an episode).

We have a few notable attempts in Unity that also addresses the productivity problem, although they may not embrace that as their mission or vision. One is Mendhi Audlin’s initiative, Spirit Groups. The other is Gary Simmons’ initiative to move from minister to mission-centric ministry. While we don’t know how successful they will be in the long run, they deserve our attention because of their focus. We need more like them and I wish them well.

Let me share how I see TruthUnity addressing the problem of ministry and ministerial productivity. You may notice two changes to the TruthUnity homepage. First, the banner is now “Fillmore Fellowship” and just below it, in the upper left corner is a graphic for podcasts by Eric Butterworth and Bernard Dozier. I’ll get to the Fillmore Fellowship banner in a moment.

Eric Butterworth has been gone for over 15 years. But he continues to bless us through resources that have recently come to light, notably by this podcast, the "Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast" and the publishing of Practical Metaphysics, a book derived from lectures he gave many years ago. What we’ve accomplished, in my mind, represents an increase in ministerial productivity. Hundreds of people listen to this podcast and Practical Metaphysics has become a best seller for Unity.

Bernard Dozier has been publishing a blog called The Bright Side for many years. It’s not explicitly Unity, but the content of his posts can certainly take someone “on to the next step” of their spiritual journey. So I asked Bernard to allow me to syndicate his blog post as a podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher and my favorite podcast player, Overcast. Just search on “The Bright Side with Bernard Dozier.”

Remember that person who “first searches the Internet instead of going to their minister because the Internet is more accessible?” I believe that person will benefit from Bernard’s 50+ years experience as a minister. That, too, is an increase in ministerial productivity.

Even more, I believe that there are dozens, maybe dozens and dozens of retired ministers who have a special message for spiritual seekers with special needs, such as a guy who wrote to me looking for advice when his son was incarcerated or the adolescent who wrote a few months ago looking for children’s prayer resources. Know that I am open to proposals from teachers and ministers who wish to blog and podcast and who would be willing to develop relationships with visitors as “digital disciples.” All this leads to increased ministerial productivity, which is what is prescribed in The Baltimore Sun article.

Which brings me to the new banner, “Fillmore Fellowship.”

TruthUnity is now 10 years old. What is evident now that I did not see ten years ago is how much the reach of Charles and Myrtle Fillmore extends beyond what know as Unity, or at least Unity churches. Visitors who come to the website generally fall into three categories. Here is who they are and what the name Fillmore Fellowship means for them.

  • For those in Unity congregations who find themselves looking for fellowship with other “Fillmoreans” I encourage you to come to the Fillmore Festival 2019 later this month at Unity Village. I will be there and hopefully we can discuss how to form Fillmore Fellowship study groups in Unity churches.
  • For those in in other New Thought denominations, particularly those in the Universal Foundation for Better Living (UFBL), know that we’ve placed sidebar banners highlighting the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary when the seminary is teaching from a Fillmore book, such as Lessons in Truth—Study Edition.
  • For those in mainline and evangelical churches who are looking for better way, especially in how to interpret scripture, we have formed the Fillmore Bible Society. I am looking for an executive editor. The job may not pay much, but I believe that the Fillmore Bible Society will one day eclipse TruthUnity in reach and influence. I don’t know the exact number of people there are in Unity, but best estimates are that there were 2.19 billion Christians around the world in 2010.

That should explain why we are adopting the name Fillmore in our banner and branding. What’s “Fellowship” about?

In short, if Unity is a movement, then Fillmore is a fellowship. The problem with movements is that they eventually become a machine, as Eric Butterworth (clips 161 and 162) and others have said.

I believe in institutional pluralism. And I believe in collegiality. The term movement sounds very much like another term that is floating around today: GroupThink. Fellowship conveys friendship, not hierarchy. As The Baltimore Sun article says, we need “to step back and think through the vulnerabilities of our organizations.” Know that they truly are our organizations. Hopefully what we are doing is a step in the right direction.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

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