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?
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?
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?
Anti-depressants for the Christian?
This is an issue fraught with varying degrees of confusion.
The reason I even ask the question is this… I know many people who are “on” anti-depressants, and more than one of them has told me that the effect they feel is that their emotions are sort of “flat.” No lows (the desired outcome, being “anti” depressants) but also no highs. On the surface level, that bothers me… like having a very low level of emotional-elasticity. What impact would that have on the ability to truly worship with all your heart, mind, and soul? Not that worship is purely emotional, but it should be a part, don’t you think? Personally, I don’t think I’d want that kind of limitation.
On the “down” side of the emotions is this: In Pastoral counseling with some of these individuals, I’ve noticed a seeming inability to really grieve over sin. Sometimes it’s manifested in the inability to truly see/feel the magnitude of a betrayal they’ve committed, or a sin they’ve nurtured. Not only are they not connecting with the reality and depth of what they’ve done, they also seem to be unable to reach a point of godly grief (2 Corinthians 7:10). My understanding of what Paul teaches it that godly grief is necessary for deep, lasting repentance to come about. I wonder if this type of medication, even if warranted on one level, is erecting a spiritual barrier on another?
Were I in those shoes – pressed to make the choice of EITHER being debilitated by a constant heaviness of depression, and therefore being engaged in a life-long struggle to have joy in the LORD - OR – taking an anti-depressant and running the risk of not being able to truly see and deal with my own sin adequately, I wonder what I would choose.
Perhaps the LORD’s intention is not that we escape the lows, but receive them as His will and means of our sanctification, faithfully enduring for the sake of His purposes and for His glory (Romans 5:3-5). I’m reminded of C.H. Spurgeon’s battle with this very thing.
What are your thoughts?
Lately my book, The Elder Training Handbook has been evoking a lot of interest…
The Elder Training Handbook is a hands-on, practical guide to identifying and assessing a man’s qualifications for church leadership. It’s designed as a one-on-one type mentoring tool, for an existing church leader (Pastor or Elder) to walk through the handbook WITH the candidate over a 1 year period (approximately).
As I have used it with up and coming leaders, it has proved helpful in processing the curriculum alongside them… so that I can see how the information is hitting their hearts and minds. That allows me to see their motivations, degree of maturity (to a point), and how discerning and wise they are in the scriptures and in life.
Here’s some “stats” on the book:
- Includes biblical instruction, examples, life application questions and “homework” assignments so that mentors can interact with the candidates about what they are learning, and the impact it is having on their heart.
- A self-paced study… suggested to be done over at least a 1 year time-frame.
- Complementarian in nature (see my beliefs page for a definition) – so men are the focus of this book’s training.
- This is a serious study, designed to challenge men to search their own heart and calling. The church is precious, and deserves the best leaders possible.
- The book is available in paperback, print edition AND pdf e-book formats.
- 170 pages (8.5 x 11).
Go see a “preview” copy of the book.
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?
Life and leadership are related in this way – one aspect OF leadership is helping others accomplish what you have already accomplished in your own life.
An insight the LORD has shown me recently fits along this line and is a type of “personal archaeology”: DISCOVER, UNCOVER, RECOVER
The difficulties of life (situations, conflicts, health challenges, etc.) usually serve, among other things, to help us DISCOVER some deeply held belief, ingrained habit pattern, besetting sin, unwise behavior, lack of faith, etc. that really needs dealing with. It’s as if you were walking along and suddenly trip on something. You look back to see the end of a bone sticking up out of the ground. Something strange eerie is down there, and the “trip” enabled you to discover it.
It’s at this point that many people (most people?) ignore it and go on. There’s something fearful about digging things up, whether in the ground or from the past. But for God’s people, it should be an exciting prospect – for our LORD has used the routine circumstances of life to reveal something to us (Romans 8:28) – and He does all things well!
For those brave souls who aren’t content with ignoring the bone sticking out of the ground, the excavation begins. Too often Christians run to a secular or Christian therapist when a trusted, mature Christian friend or Pastor could serve them just as well (or better). They don’t need someone with letters behind their name, they need someone with whom they can have a truly trustworthy relationship.
It’s in the uncovering of these discoveries that we begin to get clarity, begin to understand some of the things that have hindered and tripped us up for a very long time. It’s often-times painful to do this kind of digging, but the LORD is gracious by giving us such pain. He uses it to etch the lesson deep in our souls, bringing about godly grief (2 Corinthians 7:10) that leads to lasting change… the transformation we call “sanctification.”
But the excavation isn’t over until something new is built on the site. We have to do the equally hard work of developing a new truth-based mindset or behavior to help us in overcoming the old. This is what Paul calls “putting off the old” and “putting on the new” (Colossians 3:8-10). The Spirit of God is ever-present to help us in this task as we learn to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) and see His fruit produced on the very site where there used to be only bones (Galatians 5:22-23).
THE LEADERSHIP CONNECTION
Leaders dig up the bones of past issues in their own lives (or should) – and then help others do the same, using their own deeply etched lessons to help in guiding the process. That’s leadership. That’s discipleship. That’s the Christian life, lived together as one body (1 Corinthians 12:12).
What are the reasons YOU keep walking when you trip over the bones of past issues?
How might you be helped if a trusted, mature friend was alongside to help you dig?
Caring for people
I often struggle with what I call “the balance.” I want to be genuine and active in caring for people, but I also want to be productive in the variety of responsibilities that I have as a husband, dad, Pastor, friend, son, etc. I don’t want to neglect one for the sake of the other. Is it just me, or do you know what I’m talking about?
Previously I mentioned a conversation I had with my oldest daughter last week. Another thing that came out of that conversation was this statement…
Caring for people is not a part of where we are going… where we are going is a part of caring for people.
That statement shocked me… mainly because it came out of my own mouth! I was surprised that I’d never seen the issue that clearly before, and that in that very moment the LORD was giving me clarity in an area I’ve long struggled.
I think what the LORD was trying to get me to see is this:
- The future, my goals, desired outcomes… those are not to be the thing I should be aiming at. That doesn’t mean I should neglect planning and goal-setting… but it does mean that I have to learn to think differently about those things.
- People are much more important than things, yes, even those things. If I am side-stepping or neglecting people in my attempts to reach my goals, then I’m way off track.
Moving diligently toward my goals, whatever they may be is something I should do AS I care for people – not the other way around.
Jesus’ example in this is HUGE. Just this morning I was reading Matthew 9:18-26. Jesus was with His disciples when a man who had just lost his daughter to death crashed their dinner. He begged Jesus to come touch her so that she’d live. Jesus didn’t let any agenda (or perceived agenda) stop him from helping the man. He rose and went with the man immediately.
But that’s not the end of the story. On the way to the man’s house, a woman who had been suffering from a discharge of blood for 12 years snuck up behind Jesus and touched His robe, believing she’d be healed if she could only do that. She was healed. And Jesus stopped. He turned to encourage the woman’s faith and add a personal touch to the miracle.
Caring for people – it’s tough to do for a variety of reasons. But one thing the LORD is teaching me is to NOT let there be a false competition between caring for people and setting and accomplishing goals.
Christ designed the church to be the most empowered institution on the face of the earth by gifting every individual with significant gifts to be used for His kingdom. Instead, it is often the least empowered institution, leaving frustration in its wake at every level and encouraging many to sit on the sidelines rather than get in the game.