The Entitlement Myth, Part 3 – On Professional Christians

In my last post, I started a discussion about the sense of entitlement that pervades much of the western church (and spreading, as we “evangelize” the rest of the world), dealing in particular with the issue of paid, “professional” Christians. Most of us take for granted that pastors, etc. should be full-time paid positions, and often are paid considerably more than the congregation’s average income. Having this filter firmly in place, we then read the Bible, interpreting it accordingly.

Let me say again, that I am not necessarily opposed to paying pastors and missionaries. I am, however, challenging the presumption that this simply is the Biblical way things should be done, or even the best way for everyone.

A historical analysis would suggest that in 1st Century Israel (and the surrounding Roman Empire), no one would have interpreted Matthew 10:10, 1 Cor. 9, or any other passage to refer to a “professional,” full-time status as pastor, etc. For example, it is my understanding that Jewish priests served in rotation, and while they received remuneration for their scheduled service, they had crafts or trades to support themselves when they weren’t in the Temple. This is good, not only for the Church, but also for the minister.

We currently have a situation where many, many people have, at an early age, decided to become pastors or missionaries, as a vocation. Certainly, most don’t expect to become rich; however, being single-minded, they are devoted to their goal and get their various degrees, and go out in search of a church. This is now their only viable means of support and they have, to various degrees, become a burden for the church. It is their expectation to find other Christians to provide for them so they can serve the Lord. These, for the most part, are good motives, but the strategy is defective.

I have had more than one middle-aged pastor confide in me that they are now in fear of being without a church, because they see no other way to make a living. The same issue applies to missionaries. It is a terrifying thought; starting out with an understanding that they are entitled to full-time support, they have become completely dependent on the church; they either have no other training, or are now too old to “get back in the game” when the church fails (or turns on the pastor).

This can lead to various abusive situations. For one, the church is now in a position to abuse their pastors, and to some extent, many churches have. Perhaps not in ways we’d think, but for example, simply by demanding their full attention to the church (leaving other vocations behind). I know of some churches who even insist that the Pastor’s wife doesn’t work, further hindering (and controlling) the pastor and family from providing for themselves. Furthermore, this dependence means that the pastor will often bow to whims of the church, because the church now holds the pastor’s future in their hands.

Also, we then have situations where the Pastor needs to focus on organization-building (rather than on really pastoring. The congregation, in a very real sense, becomes a group of “giving units.” The pastor needs to keep people “happy,” not for their sake, but for his. And, of course, a hugely successful “ministry” can often become a financial “blessing” for the pastor. This situation can often be an actual conflict of interest for the pastor.

I do know pastors who are partially or even completely self-supporting apart from their church; I’ve known at least 2 pastors who took no salary from the church whatsoever (and were marvelous pastors). It’s really a much healthier situation. And, it keeps pastors in touch with the real world; someone who’s spent 20 years in a church office has really forgotten what it is to work a 40+ hour week, then have to fit in church activities in their spare time.

NEXT: Entitlement for the rest of us

The Entitlement Myth, Pt 2

Okay then, let’s continue with The D.A. Chronicles

I know what I want
I know what I need
I want a miracle
I know what I need
I know what I want, I know what I need, give me
(A new car!)

I’m one of the king’s kids (He wants a blessing)
I’m one of the king’s kids (He wants a blessing)
I do deserve the best (Keep on confessing)
The very, very, very, very Best
I’m one of the king’s kids
I deserve the best, I want
(A new car!)

– Terry Taylor, “New Car!”

From Doppelganger, the 2nd in Daniel Amos’ The Alarma! Chronicles series of albums, New Car! addresses one of the more irritating aspects of American Pop Christianity, this concept that we are entitled, by virtue of our salvation, to a superlative life on this Earth. We’re the King’s Kids. Our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills. God’s not broke. And so it goes…

How about this one:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Luke 9:57,58

So, is this negative confession? Jesus also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” See? There you have it, abundance! Of course, to anyone who’s studied John, you can easily see how Jesus was constantly talking about the spiritual in contrast to the Jews’ focus on the physical.

This “gimme” Christianity is essentially bad Pentecostal theology (which is a somewhat redundant phrase) combined with American materialism, consumerism and individualism. This attitude is not unique to America, by any means; the British Imperialism of the 19th Century comes to mind. Regardless of origins, it’s a problem.

This sense of Christian entitlement is prevalent in our current church system; we have a whole class of “professional” Christians, who believe that by the sheer nature of their title, they deserve to be supported by the church. This, by the way, is not Biblical; that is, if you read the New Testament without filters. Many times I have been quoted the “double honor” verse in support of paid, professional Christians. Considering that I have often worked 20 hours a week or more as an unpaid “lay” Christian, my response is, “so what’s 2 times zero?”

“A worker is worthy of his wage.” Well, cool! Considering that most churches couldn’t exist without dozens of volunteers, many of them making way less than the pastoral staff, let’s do something about that!

I am not being facetious. I am also not reacting out of a “sour grapes” mentality. While I was on the board of one church (and also putting in many, many hours a week in various roles), I actually drafted a policy which prevented me from getting paid. I know a former well-known pastor, who was for a time the head of a very large denomination, who after stepping down from that position told me that he could no longer Biblically support being a paid pastor, and had to look for “alternative” employment. I am not alone in my thinking.

This sense of entitlement has also worked its way into the missions organizations, to the point where anyone who decides to go on a missions “vacation” expects others to pay their way. If you are like me, you may get several of these requests for support a year. Now, I think many of these excursions are totally valid; however, the mentality that says, “I’m going to tour a mission field so you should give me money” is, I think, defective. Consider Paul’s attitude, who chose not to be a burden to the church.

(Now, I have diverted slightly from a pure discussion of the Christian entitlement mentality, but I’ll deal with that next time. I figure, let’s start at the top and work down.)

What I am not saying

Before I end this post, let me offer this: I am not saying that it is wrong to pay a pastor, a missionary, or some other “ministry” position. It is the philosophy behind it that I am challenging.

I have a lot more to say, so tune in for next time where I discuss how these systems actually abuse those they intend to support.

The Daniel Amos Chronicles

I live in my room, it’s warm here in my room
World is spinning, spinning like a big top
I have got a secret, I will slip it
Under the door, slip it to this wicked wicked world

My Room – Words and Music by Terry Taylor
©1981 Paragon Music Corp./ASCAP

You may or not be familiar with the band Daniel Amos, probably the most “edgy” of the Christian bands to come out of the Jesus Movement in the 70’s. Starting out as a country-rock quartet, by the early 80’s they were anything but a country band, cranking out some great alternative rock (back then, it was called “new wave”).

Besides the fact that they were great musically, Terry Taylor’s lyrics were not your typical, syrupy, “pop” lyrics. In fact, there’s a good chance that there’s something there to offend (or at least challenge) everyone.

I’ve lately been re-listening to 2 of the 4 “Alarma Chronicles” albums, and have been struck by their continued relevance. So, a new series of posts will offer reflections on “my own personal religion” as inspired by Daniel Amos.

The concept of “my own personal religion” is summed up very nicely by the song “My Room,” which really needs no further commentary.

There’s many little rooms, with people like me
We often get together, in a bigger room
We harmonize, we harmonize
We know it’s real, we know it’s real

So until next time, I sit in my little room, slipping truth under the door…