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

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7 Responses to The Entitlement Myth, Part 3 – On Professional Christians

  1. john says:

    We might as well look at the definition of “living”.

    Does “living” mean enough to pay for necessities (food, clothing)?

    Does “living” mean cars, vacations, etc?

    I think Alden has defined the issue well when he wrote “full time paid vocation”.

    There’s A LOT in those four words…

  2. me says:

    Perhaps ambiguous would have been a better word? Paul’s context is “freedom,” and his freedom and rights as an apostle. To apply this discussion to another arena – without any other context, especially when discussing something that didn’t even exist at the time – is “iffy.” I don’t think we even know if all (or any) of the Apostles were full-time (I haven’t looked into that).

    My use of “vague” in reference to Paul’s “The Lord commanded” is that he didn’t actually quote anything specific – we don’t know for a fact that he was referring to the verses that we believe he intended.

  3. Quixote says:

    Hmmm. We must have a different definition of “vague.”

  4. me says:

    To quote myself:

    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.

    I do not intend to start a rebellion; my opinions come both from scripture/history, and from observations made while on various church boards and as close friends of pastors and former pastors.

    Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians is vague as to context; at that moment, note that he refers only to apostles. His comment “the Lord commanded” is also vague, and we presume he is referring to Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7, which refers to being supported by those you are preaching to while “on the road,” which fits in with Paul’s reference to apostles. If you isolate that verse, it does appear to be categorical. But then, you’d have to do the same thing with other verses, like “let women keep quiet in church.”

    My basic point here is not that it’s wrong to pay ministers, just that I don’t think the Bible provides strong support (if any support) for the pastor, worship leader, or what have you as a full time paid vocation. Good non-scriptural cases can be made for paying full time ministers, and I don’t have a problem with that – God also gave us the ability to reason, and I don’t think we need to proof-text everything we do.

  5. Quixote says:

    Though there are definitely problems with what we’ve made of the system (I could make a list too), the idea that serving as a pastor or missionary without pay is more spiritual or somehow closer to the way it’s supposed to be is misleading and, I might suggest, also a “filter” for Biblical interpretation.

    As an Old Covenant reference, you mention the Jewish priestly system but do not take into account the sanctioned Levitical class: “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting” (Num 18:21). Rotation of duties is more a matter of scheduling than compensation.

    As far as the New Testament discussion, you still have not fully accounted for Paul’s categorical declaration: “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1Co 9:14). Paul not only asserts the appropriateness of material compensation for preaching the gospel, but that it is Jesus himself who has mandated it.

    I have my problems with the system too, but categorically dismissing “paid” positions by applying the “professional” label is more attitude than scripture. Paid positions do not necessarily imply a “business” model, and “making a living on Jesus” is, the writer’s acerbic intention notwithstanding, a near-perfect paraphrase of 1Co 9:14.

    The issue is not the system of ministry compensation, but abuse of that system. (Eli’s sons in the Old Testamnent, for example; and, in the New, Paul’s indictment of those “who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”) To challenge the overall validity of paid positions simply cannot be supported Biblically.

    What I detect in this discussion is a general dissatisfaction with the whole “conventional” church experience. We must be carful not to allow this disillusionment to “filter” the Biblical evidence.

  6. john says:

    Great topic and well handled! I also like how DennesM ended his post because he brings up a great point: Does vocational ministry actually hinder the rest of us from getting involved?

    It seems every church can either be a business or a ministry. A business has PROFIT as a goal and they achieve it by providing ministry. A ministry has helping people as the goal and they achieve it by using resources.

    Unfortunately, it seems the minute you have expenses you HAVE TO pay (building,”employees”, etc) you have a business on your hands.

  7. DennesM says:

    Due to my unconventional christian upbringing (turned off by conventional christianity, turned on by “Jesus Freaks”), I’ve always had issues with “making a living on Jesus”. I also believe, the original intent of the founders of the church (Paul, Peter, etc.), was that ministers (pastors, priest, what ever you call the paid position), were expeienced believers who guided the new believers. Nothing more nothing less. As the recent scandals in the Catholic church emphasize (the protestant’s sins have yet to be exposed); with much power, comes much temptation. I am aware of individuals who chose the “priesthood” for all the wrong reasons… A minister is an experienced believer, who evangelizes, helps new believers grow and worship God. That’s you and me pal… no salary, no praises for the growth rate of the church… just you and me doing what every mature Christian should do… minister. Could it be that simple? The multi-denominational, professional nature of the modern church couldn’t be what Jesus intended, could it?

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