Pastor’s schedule based around free lunches, saves thousands in one year

eatingmeetBy Joe LaGuardia

There is an old joke that if you want to get pastors together, just offer free lunch.

Every joke is based, of course, on some truth: When there is a conference, association or convention meeting, revival, or non-profit fundraiser hoping to raise awareness and clergy support, a free meal is not only helpful in turning out numbers, it is also expected.

For the Reverend Mark O’Reilly of Discover the Point Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, free lunches are a regular part of ministry and networking.  He participates in various organizations and non-profits that insist on providing free lunches: from his local Baptist Association meeting to state conventions, local non-profits, and other parachurch organizations with which he participates.

A glance at Reverend O’Reilly’s calendar paints a picture of someone who does participate, but seems to bank on free food at such events: “It is true, I plan my calendar around free lunches locally and, at times, state-wide as well,” he said as if free lunches are but a perk of being a pastor.

Close scrutiny finds that Reverend O’Reilly attends an average of three free lunches a week over the entire year, saving him and his household thousands of dollars in grocery and lunch bills.  He does not see this as an issue, but a way to raise visibility in the community, enrich the missional footprint that is a foundation of his church, and insure that he is networking with the best minds in the business.

“Discover the Point Church is built on values related to collaboration in God’s Kingdom with other believers, and with partnerships in our neighborhood.  We like to reach out in as many ways as possible because we are Good News in the world today,” he states.

One of Reverend O’Reilly’s parishioners, Riba Neery, agrees. “Our pastor is successful because he is ‘out there.’  He does not hide in his office or preach an isolated or insular faith; he puts feet to faith–and challenges our own faith–by reaching beyond the church for the sake of the Gospel.  It is part of the Great Commission, after all,” Neery says, quoting Jesus’ commission as recorded in Matthew 28.

Others are not as sympathetic to O’Reilly’s schedule.  “I know that he is well-liked and known for being proactive in getting out in the community, but when does he find time to do pastoral care, write sermons, and run his church?”, said the Reverend Diana Lee of nearby St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.

Reverend O’Reilly has a simple defense to these (and other) charges.  He reminds his critics that being available to the community, organizations, and his denomination is a part of what it means to be a pastor.

“Part of shepherding is to be in community and hear the needs of the people, be available to offer a helping hand with our missions and community partners, and build on friendships to further the cause of the local church.  So what if I receive a free lunch while I am being the best pastor I can be?”

O’Reilly’s wife, Allena, understands the significance of his schedule and will defend his philosophy of ministry if pressed.  She sees the benefit of saving money on the grocery bill (she is a stay-at-home mother of five).

But she also asks what it might cost to his health.

“I like the idea of not having to spend money on all that bread and lunch meat, but why can’t Mark order salads and water when he is out with his friends?  Whenever he comes home, he tells me about how wonderful the pizza, pasta, Rubens, or fried chicken he had that day.  I just think its a lot of calories and fat, and I’m worried about his weight,” she opines.

Her concerns are valid.  Just last year, a Baylor Study stated that over a third of pastors are obese as recorded in Christianity Today.

“I know that there is a cost to all of this free food,” Reverend O’Reilly admits, “But you need to understand that when I attend all of these meetings, especially if held at a convention hall, I am also getting exercise walking from venue to venue.  Even if I am having lunch with a colleague or pastor in town, you have to walk from the parking lot to the restaurant.”

This raises another point of interest for Reverend O’Reilly.  He admits that in order to get a free lunch, you also need to buy lunch as well.  He sees picking up the bill not so much as a social gesture, but an investment.

“There is some sweat equity in this game aside from having to walk to the restuarant.  Sometimes you have to buy lunch for a new pastor or colleague, but there are always strings attached.  If I pick up the bill and my colleague says something about paying, I’ll respond, ‘Oh, its on me, but the next time I’ll let you pay.’

“And there is always a next time.  I make a note in my calendar and usually call that colleague about six weeks and ask to go to a pricier restaurant.  I try to get the best return on my buck,” O’Reilly said.

Reverend Lee caught on to Reverend O’Reilly’s strategies soon after she arrived at St. Mark’s as its new rector.  “Oh, yes, he offered to take me to lunch since I was new, said he wanted to talk to me about ministry in the neighborhood.  And, yes, he did pick up the bill, which was generous since he invited me,” she said.

But things turned south.  Lee continued, “He called me about four or five weeks later and asked to go to lunch again.  I thought that a great idea, and I intended to pick up the bill — I mean, that’s what ministers do, it is something we are taught at seminary — but when he suggested Le Chef de Leon over on Sixth Avenue, I knew something was fishy.  The plates there are about $15.00 or more–much more than the previous restaurant, and I thought that was not right.  I declined.”

Asked if she would go to lunch with him again, maybe in a group, Reverend Lee responded: “I don’t feel the need to ask Mark.  I’ll see him next Tuesday for lunch.  The local United Way is sponsoring a lunch for pastors and chaplains in the community.  I’m confident he will be there.”

A Prayer from a Daughter’s Daddy


My daughter, many moons ago...

My daughter, many moons ago…

By Joe LaGuardia

quotesLord, have mercy on me, a father of a twelve-year old daughter.

She just turned twelve, as you know, and scripture says that we are not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, with gratitude, make our petitions known to you (Philippians 4:6).

I am grateful, believe me.  I know that you have knit my daughter in her mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).  I thank you for giving her smarts well beyond her years, whits that out-whit her father, and an intuition that matches that of her mother.

But that is what makes me anxious.  She is growing up too quickly, and my little girl is becoming a little woman.  Everything about her is changing, but I do not want her innocence, sense of adventure, and joy to change.  I’ve seen it in other girls–watched it unfold on the silver screen in that Disney movie, Inside Out– but I’m afraid to experience it in my own home.

Years ago, my wife and I worked with middle school kids, many of whom were my daughter’s age.  We enjoyed our time with them: They would try anything, and it made them a really fun group to be with.  Yet, they would try anything, which also made them the scariest group to be with.

I’ve always said that if our world wanted peace, prosperity, and more clean energy resources, just get a bunch of middle schoolers in the same room and let them have at it.  They are little geniuses, but that is also their downfall.  They get too big for their britches sometimes.

As smart as they are– (its the way they see the world, I think, the combination of madness, hormones, and naivety)– they can also be as dumb as a bag of bricks.  I’ve seen one middle school student jump off of a ten foot wall just to make his friends laugh.

I also worked with high school students, and they were not as fun.  They do not think it is cool to show any signs of interest or motivation.  They are too concerned about what other people think and, because of that, working with them at church is about as fun as going to the proctologist.

Lord, thank you that my daughter is not there yet.

Then there are the boys.  O merciful and gracious and kind Father, I pray that my daughter will still be more interested in Legos than she is about the young man with long, unkempt hair next door when tomorrow comes.

I know that your Word says that we should let the children come unto Thee and not hinder them (Matthew 19:14), but Thee is not my daughter, so may my Louisville slugger always be at the ready, your right arm there for protection.  I don’t own a gun, but I’m thinking about it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Lord.  This is an exciting time.  It is formative, and I’m sure that my daughter will think more critically about the type of person she wants to be in life.

We’ve raised her to think independently.  When we told her that she can be anything she wants to be, we’ve meant it, especially since we are the type of Baptists who will affirm her if she tells us one day that she wants to become a pastor like her Daddy.

We want to hold on to her for dear life, so give us the courage to let go when we must.  We have heard of Prodigal Sons, but surely there are such things as Prodigal Daughters.  We trust you and we trust her; its the rest world about which we are unsure.

As is any prayer, O Lord, this is really about me, not about you.  Its about the willingness to surrender life’s greatest gifts to your plan and purpose in life, even if we don’t understand it.  It is about changing, not the person for whom we pray, but us– your stubborn children, sons and daughters alike.

O Lord, have mercy on me, for my daughter is twelve.”

Questions to ask a Pastor Search Committee…

Every so often, McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University publishes “This Week at McAfee,” a few minute satire that highlights a variety of “resources” at the seminary.  They are humorous and become a welcome distraction for those seeking a laugh or two.  This week’s video highlights good questions to ask a pastor search committee…