When did the pastor become a commodity?
I’ve served in full time Pastoral ministry for over 20 years, and with my recent “retirement” from pastoral ministry, I’ve begun to think of the issue of “professional pastors” a bit differently…
I can best explain it by going to one of the passages most used to justify “hiring” a Pastor…
Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. – 1 Corinthians 9:6-14
When Paul wrote those words… what did he have in mind?
- Clearly, he DID think that at least some ministers of the gospel should be supported full time (notice the very first sentence).
- Clearly, he believed that spiritual work among the body is deserving of some kind of physical responses of care (notice the very last sentence).
But I’m confident Paul was NOT thinking about anything like:
- a monthly salary
- benefits packages
- expense accounts
- job contracts
Why am I so certain?
Simple. It wasn’t characteristic of his culture to think in those terms. Those are more modern, perhaps even “western” mindsets.
Why does it matter?
Because the “employee” way of thinking immediately translates into the ones being “paid” being commodities that are intangibly “owned” by the rest of the church. You may think that’s a bit jaded, but think it through in light of your own employment situations (present and past).
What are you buying when you “hire” a Pastor?
Think about your own job for a moment (or one you’ve worked in the past).
- When your employer hired you, he was doing nothing more than “buying” your time, your skills, your expertise, your knowledge, your experience.
- YOU are his commodity, his tool by which he accomplishes the tasks or services required to keep his company operational.
- YOU are the commodity because you have been bought.
I feel very strongly that it is not only unhealthy, but biblically WRONG to think of a shepherd of the flock in those terms.
- He’s a member of the body too… but when he’s seen as a commodity, he’s not treated that way very naturally or easily.
- He’s to be appreciated and encouraged… but when he’s a commodity, he tends to be evaluated and scrutinized.
- He (and his family) have needs of all kinds that the body is supposed to meet… but when he’s a commodity those tend to get overlooked because it’s “his job” to look after the needs of everyone else.
I’ve heard the wrong mentality over the years in statements like these…
What are we paying him for if he’s not going to (fill in your own, gift-oriented, church-background colored blank here)!
I want to know what he’s doing with all his time, after all, we’re paying him!
I don’t see him around the office very much… I wonder what he’s doing.
So what DID Paul have in mind? -Heartfelt appreciation, expressed through love.
Leaders in the church are members of the body God has gifted to lead and serve the rest of us.
Support of those in ministry is to be done as a gift, as a “thank you,” as an act of worship to God for providing someone who is gifted and able to be dedicated to the spiritual well-being of the flock.
NOT as a means of holding their feet to the ministry-fire and scrutinizing their every decision and action.
Am I saying that Pastors should not be held accountable?
No, they (like everyone else in the flock) should be held accountable within the natural body-life of the church family.
They should be known, understood, cared for, and challenged just like everyone else, within the context of the church doing life together.
THAT is biblical accountability… the exercise of the many “one another” passages in the New Testament.
And your Pastor is one of those “others” it’s talking about.
He’s not a commodity you can use. He’s not one whose actions are to be governed by your desires and expectations.
He’s a person, a brother in Christ, a member of the body just like you… and he needs your deep concern and care.
Next post in this “Re-thinking church” series:
What does the Bible REALLY say about church leadership structures?
as I have been doing lately, is more than a hobby or intellectual exercise for me.
I think there is much at stake – for believers in Christ and for the kingdom of God.
But in order to truly “rethink” things as they are, you have to be able to imagine things as they “might be.”
Seth Godin is not (to my knowledge) a follower of Christ. But he’s a smart man who has a lot of God-given wisdom about human nature and how it impacts what we do. Here’s a recent quote from the Seth-ly sage…
The most effective, powerful way to envision the future is to envision it, all of it, including a future that doesn’t include your sacred cows. Only then can you try it on for size, imagine what the forces at work might be and then work to either prevent (or even better, improve on) that future and your role in it.
Can you imagine a future for how you “do” church that doesn’t included the “sacred cows” of current church practices? Here are some examples you might want to try on for size…
- Sound systems (We’ve gotta’ be able to hear what’s going on, right?)
- Weekly sermons (I talk, you listen…)
- Morning bulletins and announcements (But there’s so much going on… how will I know what programs to connect with?)
- Budget meetings and congregational votes (This IS America after all, everyone should have a voice).
- Large gatherings as the central part of corporate worship (Smaller groups aren’t really a “church”… right?)
And I wouldn’t advocate killing these just to kill them. Only if they seem to keep you from being what the church should be.
But more important than looking ahead with fanciful imagination, is looking behind…
…and asking some very important questions:
- Did Jesus, or the Apostles intend the church to be an organization (as opposed to an organism)?
- What are the “main things” the church is to be about in this world?
- Are the things we’re currently doing as “church” leading us to accomplish or become those things?
- Does the scripture teach us how to “do” church or how to “be” the church?
I think that if we are brave enough to make the attempt to reconsider some of these things, we might end up slaying some sacred cows (they make the best hamburger, by the way). And in doing so we just might be able to come to some practices that better move us toward BEING the church, instead of DOING church.
Where are you in this process? What are your thoughts? Please interact below…
You can read part 1 here
Imagine that I asked you to draw me a picture. I handed you a set of colored pencils and you set to work. But you discover that the pencils are all worn down and the wood is even with the tip. Imagine that you know nothing about a pencil sharpener.
I think you’d accomplish the picture one way or another. But I also think it would have come out much better if someone had taught you about a pencil sharpener.
Translation: I’m beginning to wonder if we are using ineffective tools in our efforts to “be the church.”
Who’s the hypocrite in our day?
In Matthew 15:1-9, Jesus and the Pharisees and Scribes are going at it. In characteristic style, Jesus lets them have it because they are hypocrites.
But they are a kind of hypocrite that I think we may be… if we are not very careful.
You see, those guys had “traditions” in place because they thought they were good… right… best.
Yes – they thought the things they were doing were right.
But Jesus said they were wrong.
Possible modern traditions that need a re-think…
The legally-defined, corporately organized church organization has become the norm, the expected that people in our day define “church”… and there’s much about it that feels like mere tradition to me…
- Focus on large assemblies (yes, the early church had large assemblies, but we FOCUS on them a bit much I think).
- Paid staff (yes, a worker is worth his wage… but you can’t convince me that Paul was thinking “salary” and “job description” when he encouraged caring for those who minister the gospel).
- Facilities (I don’t even know when the first “dedicated” church building came into existence. It was a long time after the first century though).
- Programs (these have their purpose and use, but why do we depend on them so much?).
- Order of service (1 song, announcements, 4 songs, offering, 1 song, prayer, sermon, response song… pretty predictable, and I wonder how “Spirit-led”…).
- A few serve (Pastor, music team) while many watch (congregation). (Of course, there are other places people serve besides Sunday mornings… but again, why the focus on the large meeting?).
- Official job descriptions for “paid staff” (How would Peter or Paul have responded if their local church family pulled out a sheet of papyrus, listing 27 and a half bullet points of expectations for them, and asked them to sign it? I think they would have cried, on the spot).
- Membership agreements (this is a new one for me to consider, because I’ve even recently advocated membership agreements. But I’m re-thinking their usefulness, especially if the church were to stay small in number).
- Organizational By-laws (corporate America at its best… or worst. Why do we do this as a church?)
Yes, I know… many of these things are useful, and none of them are “bad” in and of themselves. But they are things we’ve done for so long, I wonder if we really know WHY we do them… and whether or not we are willing to evaluate whether they are helpful at all.
At this point in history most of these seem to be structures we’ve developed for the sake of expedience and “comfort” rather than for the safe of effective body-life within the church.
Most of them could be termed “extra-biblical” in fact. (Yes, I know – the Bible is “descriptive, not prescriptive.” I’ve heard it… and am not sure I completely buy it anymore).
The questions we should be asking…
- What is “effective ministry?” I sit about large crowds or is it about true life change? – I have to insist on the later.
- Is what we are doing as “church” (see the list above… and feel free to add your own!) truly and most effectively facilitating that definition?
- If not, why are we continuing to do what we are doing? (You remember the definition of “insanity?“)
Other questions that should be asked right on the heels of those…
- Do our current structures enable us to obey the New Testament’s instructions regarding love for one another, unity together, and bearing one another’s burdens? (I struggle to see how they do).
- Why can’t we, the richest nation in history, accomplish what the poor folks in Acts 2 did (none of them had need)? (My answer: We’re putting all our dough into salaries, buildings, utilities, and retirement plans).
- Is it possible that in all our good attempts to advance the gospel and the church of Jesus, we have utilized and clung to methods that do not truly accomplish what we are trying to accomplish?
- Is it possible that in doing so without critical examination, we have given ourselves over to methodology, rote tradition, and structures, rather than to our Savior?
- Is it possible that as a result, our hearts (like those of the Pharisees and Scribes) are really far from God, while our lips (and structures) appear to honor Him?
I’m not trying to throw stones… just to evaluate why we are doing what we are doing…
I’m just thinking out loud here… what do you think?
Lately I’ve been rethinking church… because of what’s been happening in my own life… here’s the short version…
Today (Jan. 23, 2013) I am 8 days away from the date of my “official” departure from paid Pastoral ministry.
It will be the first time in almost 20 years that I’m not desiring, feeling called/led to be a “Pastor” in an organized local church.
In many ways, it’s weird.
But the reality of my own heart is that God has removed the calling to that role… and has given me another calling that I’m pursuing and praying I will be able to do full time.
Leaving “professional” ministry has naturally sparked a lot of reflection… which is part of what I mean when I say I’m “rethinking” church.
I’ve been a part of a “system” of doing church for the past 20 years.
- I’ve believed in that system.
- I’ve promoted it.
- I’ve worked hard to maintain it.
- I’ve tweaked and adjusted it.
- I’ve loved it.
And now I’m not so sure about it… or at least some aspects of it… for more than a handful of reasons.
Over the next few weeks I’m not sure how much time I’ll actually have to write on the subject… but I want to and I intend to.
Stay tuned for more on rethinking church…
Sometimes God redirects you…
As a Pastor for the past 20+ years, I’ve often bemoaned the statistics that are regularly released about the number of men who leave the pastorate. It’s hard enough to find a good man, the right man for your pastoral need… so it’s tough to see them leaving church ministry altogether.
Many years ago I received a very clear call from the LORD into pastoral ministry. Over the years, and a lot of trial and error, I figured out that God had assigned me to smaller churches specifically. I assumed, out of my own limited view of things, that a call like that would be for the rest of my life – or until I couldn’t work anymore.
It’s funny to think about that mindset – because changes come, and they have come to me.
Now, just as certainly as I sensed God’s call into church ministry, I’m sensing His call out of it.
Just last week I sent out a letter to my church family, informing them of my decision to leave pastoral ministry. My wife and I have been walking through the process of making this decision with the help of my Elder team for months.
I can see from this side of the issue that the LORD is indeed sovereign, over calls and over situations. He’s used a variety of means, both joyful and painful, to redirect me, to show me that my time in pastoral ministry is coming to a close.
I still love the local church, though I am rethinking a lot of how we actually “do” church, in light of my experiences. I still love the people in the church. But the LORD has removed my zeal to serve as its shepherd.
I guess I’ll be one of those misconstrued statistics that people bemoan… but I believe this is a good thing.
A right thing.
An act of my sovereign LORD for both my good and the good of His church.
In weeks to come I’ll be writing some “lessons learned” from 20+ years of pastoral ministry, for the sake of those who are in the ministry and for the sake of those who are part of the flock. I believe I see some things clearly now that I was unable to see when in the thick of things. I hope you’ll stay tuned, and interact.
Much like Abraham, I don’t have a solid plan. I just know the LORD has told me to go. I do believe that He’s leading me to develop my other ministry to a point it can support me full-time, but I know that could take a while. So, I’ll be figuring out how to support the family, in whatever ways the LORD provides, while I work toward that end.
I’m curious what you think of a Pastor simply quitting the ministry?
Affordable Christmas script for church drama
A few years back our church was in need of a script for the annual Christmas play, and I couldn’t find many options that were:
- Biblically accurate
- Portrayed things in a way that exalted God’s sovereign design in Jesus’ birth
- and were affordable.
So, I wrote my own Christmas drama for our church.
At first, I offered it for free, but have had to change to a modest cost.
So for $2.00 you can get a…
- Biblically faithful Christmas script
- that is fairly easy to produce
- only has 2 or 3 separate scenes (helps with construction & props)
- can use adults or kids
- and focuses on glorifying God in His work at the incarnation
If you are interested, check out “Through Heaven’s Eyes” on my Drama Resource Page
Pastor appreciation month… from a Pastor’s perspective
It may sound kind of obvious or even weird for me to say, but I appreciate Pastor/Clergy appreciation month.
The fact that somebody, somewhere took the initiative to highlight and promote the value and importance of what I have done for the past 20 years is truly meaningful to me.
Why do Pastors or clergy need your appreciation?
While it’s true that most jobs have their vital contributions to make, there are certain vocations that have a deeper or larger impact on individuals and groups simply because of the nature of what they do (assuming they do it right and well). The pastorate is one of those vocations.
Reasons to appreciate your Pastor
I write this hesitantly, because I know that members of my own congregation read this blog, and I don’t want to seem like I’m fishing for something personally. So please know, that’s not my motive.. honest.
I’m taking that risk because too many Christians actually DON’T GET why their Pastor’s job is so vital, or what they actually do. So, in that sense I’m wanting to “go to bat” for my fellow Pastors out there. With that in mind, let me give you some food for thought…
What other professional is EXPECTED to do the following as part of his normal duties each week?:
- Present a well-prepared, heart-stirring, biblically faithful, public “speech” between 30 minutes to an hour in length, every week – 1 Timothy 5:17. (How long would it take YOU to adequately prepare?) Some Pastors do this more than once each week.
- Ensure that his own heart is adequately prepared to humbly but boldly instruct others (think, “take the log out of your own eye” on this one – Matthew 7:5).
- Do this when their own life is going well… and do it when their own life is heavy or full of pain – 2 Timothy 4:2.
- NEVER have the option to “not go to church.” Even when they’ve had a rough week, are tired, stressed, coming down with a cold, just had an argument with their spouse, are struggling with their children, or just don’t feel like it.
- Be available for anyone (church member or person off the street) who comes in the door… or at least be able to make time to meet with them in the near future.
- Know how to wisely and sensitively juggle those kinds of sometimes-conflicting priorities.
- Give wise and timely counsel in every one of those situations… counsel that is truly helpful (Colossians 1:28-29).
- Know the names and life situation of anywhere from 40 to 150 people or more. (I think I’m on the “low end” here…), and actually CARE about them.
- Wisely oversee various administrative functions, or the people who do. Consider the variety and weight this: buildings, schedules, curriculum, consumable supplies, equipment, assets, funds, property, fund-raising, recruitment, community outreach, publicity, inner-organization relationships, volunteers, etc.
- Effectively and continually recruit and equip an ENTIRELY volunteer pool of people to serve the needs of the church and community.
- Keep tabs on how those volunteers are doing week to week, both in their service and in their morale.
- Doing what is necessary to keep those volunteers excited/motivated about what they are doing… and why.
- Effectively hold those volunteers accountable without the “leverage” of salary or other types of tangible motivation (it’s almost an art-form to do this well… and I personally have to work very hard at it, and still don’t do it well.)
- Effectively have and communicate a gripping vision to those he leads.
- Motivate the individuals in his congregation toward continual growth/change, on a heart level.
- Counsel, guide, teach, and equip individuals and families who are experiencing situations he’s never encountered personally.
- In some cases, oversee, encourage, and hold accountable paid staff (from custodians to other ministerial staff).
- Faithfully and consistently pray for those under his care regarding their needs and concerns.
- Maintain his own spiritual walk with integrity and diligence.
- Do all of this while maintaining a healthy, exemplary family life at home (which is a qualification for his position) – 1 Timothy 3:4-5.
And I don’t even think this list is complete.
Seriously, do you know any other profession that is EXPECTED to do all this, every week without fail?
Do you know of any other position EXPECTED to fulfill such a variety of responsibilities with excellence?
Ideas for appreciating your Pastor
I love it when my wife tells me how I can love her better. That way I know, without any doubt whatsoever, that I’m doing something she values, something that speaks love to her.
In that spirit, I want to give you some ideas of what a person in the position of a Pastor would likely appreciate as a meaningful gesture of appreciation.
- SAY “thank you” to his face, and be specific. Your Pastor needs to HEAR it.
- WRITE him a note of appreciation. Don’t just buy the card and sign it. Make it PERSONAL.
- Write out a LIST of specific ways he’s personally positively impacted YOU and your family, and give it to him. Sometimes we Pastors can’t see the trees because of the forest.
- Say you are SORRY if there are past issues relating to you or the church where he or his family may have been hurt. Sheep-bites often get infected if not addressed and dealt with.
- Take up a monetary COLLECTION for him and his family. Pastors struggle financially just like you. Sometimes the best gift is one that relieves the stresses brought on by financial difficulties. (A side note… don’t tell him what to do with it, i.e. “This is for you to do something fun….”)
- GIFTS are always nice… the thoughts really do count.
- PLAN for him and his wife/family to have some time away from the responsibilities of ministry. A weekend getaway, a dinner out, a surprise week off… be creative.
- ORGANIZE a group of people to send a card/letter/note to him every day of the month. The slow trickle of appreciation can erode a great deal of pain, disillusionment, hurt, etc. that he may be feeling.
- ESTABLISH a “Pastor/Elder Encouragement Team” that takes this issue seriously year-round. Taking this kind of initiative will speak volumes of appreciation and care to your leaders – and it serves you best in the end (Hebrews 13:17).
- RECRUIT people to join you in showing appreciation for him. The more the merrier, and the more effective.
- DON’T FORGET his family. They pay a price to enable him to be in ministry. You truly don’t know how high a price. Make sure you don’t neglect them.
What is acceptable “practice” in the American church in the 21st century?
Sparked by some very interesting conversations with some dear old friends, my wife and I have lately been pondering the WAY we do church here in the good old U.S. of A. It’s not that I see anything particular that I’m bugged about in the American church, but that some of the questions and ideas that our friends have been suggesting have made me think through some new possibilities.
I’ve always been an “outside the box” kind of temperament – meaning that I’m willing to try new things (some of the churches I’ve served have regretted that on occasion… I remember this one time…).
So I’ve enjoyed our conversations back and forth over email about some of the things they are considering for their family. I guess this isn’t really a “new” idea… some of our more modern manifestations of this “experimentation” mindset in the church are:
- Multi-service churches (one building, many services throughout the week)
- Multi-site churches (with or without the same teaching Pastor piped in via video)
- Internet church (www.lifechurch.tv for one example)
- House churches
- Cell churches
- Family integrated churches
- and many others I’ve failed to recall, I’m sure.
And we must admit, gladly so, that none of these models actually define THE CHURCH.
The church is the people, saved by the blood of Christ, gathered to worship, grow, and work together to spread His saving message.
So, wherever the church gathers, however they gather, whenever they gather, they are still the church.
When it comes to a local gathering of people who are members of this world-wide church, I believe that there are certain criteria that make a local assembly of believers an actual local church – rather than a Bible study, prayer group, etc. As long as these things are met, I think they can call themselves a church – no matter where or how they meet. The easiest way to detail these criteria is to say that I agree with Mark Dever, who has written a book, “9 marks of a healthy church.” His 9 marks are:
- Biblical Theology
- The Gospel
So… back to my original topic: If a group of believers is meeting and including each of these criteria in their organization and church life, then I consider them to be a “local church” – no matter what other practices (video teaching, multi-site, house groups, etc.) they engage in.
With all that said…
What do you think about the following ideas?
- A house church that utilizes video sermons from a respected pastor who is not part of their local fellowship?
- A larger church that makes use of the internet to broadcast sermons into the homes of those unable to attend?
- Rural churches who cannot afford full-time paid staff, but can afford to pay a little bit in coordination with other small churches to fund a modern-day “circuit-riding” pastor?
- Various combinations of any or all of these?
- Other thoughts you have?
The last in our series “Life IS worship” is now available online. It’s entitled “Ways to Worship” and deals with biblical practices in worship as well as the conundrum we often face between practicing our freedom in worship and being sensitive to the needs and concerns of others.
Our church is beginning the process of developing a mission statement… and there’s no shortage of stuff to read on the subject. As I’ve read and considered what is being said, I’ve come to some fairly simple conclusions.
- Every believer in Christ is called to be and make disciples. That is a non-negotiable calling for the church of Jesus Christ.
- But it’s important to recognize that every group of believers is placed into its own unique time and place by the LORD.
- As well, that group is also made up of a unique mix of individuals, each one having particular gifts, experiences, and talents.
- Wisdom demands that we recognize and accept these realities as we consider God’s specific calling on a gathered group of believers.
Here’s how I’d say it in a more succinct way:
- What God intends for us to do as a church family naturally flows out 3 things:
- the time in history in which our LORD has placed us
- the location in which He’s placed us, and
- the gifts with which He’s equipped us.
This has not only been helpful for me as I endeavor to lead the church family, but also as I prayerfully develop the web ministry the LORD has recently called me into (but on more of an individual level, since it’s only me and the family right now).
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON MY SIMPLISTIC FORMULA?