The Pastor without a Paycheck
On the first Friday in May 1990, an envelope came to the door of Randy Alcorn's semi-rural home in Gresham, Oregon, east of Portland. Inside the envelope was a copy of a writ of garnishment for Alcorn's wages. The writ required Good Shepherd Church, where Alcorn was pastor of missions, to surrender a portion of his wages.
Alcorn understood instantly what lay behind the writ. In 1989 Portland police had arrested him several times for blocking the doors of several abortion clinics. One of the clinics had sued him and other "rescuers," winning a small judgment plus attorney's fees. Alcorn had refused to pay, believing it would violate his conscience to write a check to an abortion clinic.
Some time before the suit, Alcorn and his wife, Nanci, had placed all their assets in her name—house, car, and bank account. Alcorn had given away or sold the copyrights to his five published books. At a debtor's hearing he was able to state truthfully that he owned nothing of value. An opposing lawyer went so far as to ask about the gold band he was wearing on his left hand.
Alcorn held up the ring, milking the drama of the moment. "I'm not sure what it's worth today, but I paid $12.50 for it at Kmart four years ago."
Alcorn had not anticipated having his wages garnished, however. This implicated not just Alcorn's conscience, but also that of his church. If the church refused to pay, serious legal complications could follow. Many church members had grave doubts about the wisdom of Alcorn's protests. Now they were sucked into the backwash.
A quick visit to the church offered Alcorn slight relief. By some glitch no legal papers had yet reached Good Shepherd. The church office would be closed for the weekend. He had until Monday.
After a flurry of phone calls, prayers and consultations, Alcorn concluded that he had only one alternative. Sunday evening he met with the church's elders to resign his position. On the spot, they wrote him a check for the week of May he had already worked. Though he was a founding pastor of the church, though it was the only church he had ever known since seminary, though he had expected to spend the rest of his life as a pastor there, he quit his job.
On Monday morning he caught his breath and began to ask the next question: What would he do with the rest of his life?
Alcorn is a man of passionate commitments. The son of an Oregon tavern owner, he gave himself to Christ in high school with a rare single-mindedness. At the age of 22 he joined one of his former youth pastors, Stu Weber, in launching Good Shepherd Church in the rural burg of Boring, Oregon. (The Boring Pastors Fellowship is a legendary but entirely real phenomenon.)
The church grew quickly to become one of the larger fellowships in the Portland area. Finances were tight in the early years, but eventually Alcorn began to draw what he considered a generous salary. Furthermore, he began to write.
In 1985 he published his first book. Others followed, and though the royalty checks were not huge they made a significant addition to his income as a pastor. Alcorn was enthusiastic about writing, so much so that he felt torn between his pastoral responsibilities and the time he needed for books and articles.
The royalty checks helped prime another emerging passion. After specializing in counseling and family life at Good Shepherd, Alcorn had asked to concentrate on missions. As he learned more about overseas needs, he wanted to give more to meet them.
Studying Scripture impressed on him the importance God placed on generosity. He and Nanci and their two girls had always lived simply—not entirely by choice. Now, as their income increased, they kept expenses at the same level and gave the difference to needy causes. A book, Money, Possessions, and Eternity, offered Alcorn's detailed scriptural examination of wealth. In it, Alcorn challenged Christians to give sacrificially.