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