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.