Rethinking Church #4 – When did the pastor become a commodity?

pastor becomes a commodity

You can find the other posts in this series (so far) here, here, and here.

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.

Why?

  • 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?

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4 thoughts on “Rethinking Church #4 – When did the pastor become a commodity?

  1. I had never quite thought of it like this. I have friends who are adamantly against anyone in ministry making money for what they do. I have told them that I think their position isn’t really practical or biblical. I’m a huge fan of the pastor being paid and paid well. But I had never considered the other side that you’ve presented here. I imagine this would apply to all staff members and not just to the pastor.
    So how do you cultivate this attitude appropriately in your church?

    • Honestly, I’ve not found the best way to facilitate this in a church family. It can come across as the Pastor being “self-serving” which is the last thing you want. I think a key thing is to find some respected, mature non-staff people (yes, this applies to all staff positions) who catch the vision and champion the cause. Their enthusiasm, seriousness, and constant example (in word and deed) will go a very long way toward helping the rest of the congregation take on a better mindset. I do know this… the mindset we’re trying to overcome is a long-standing one, and therefore hard to chip away at. Maybe YOU could become one of those influential souls in your church family, for the sake of your Pastors and staff? What do you think?

  2. Nice thoughts. I wrote a bit about this here http://etchea.com/the-family-model-of-ministry/. In short, I don’t have any problem with supporting a staff member in a church, but that should be done as a family member who is freed to serve the family in a concentrated manner, not as a staff member who is paid to do the work of the church. As such the pastor must recognize the responsibility of the role, and the church should hold that person accountable, but money cannot be a tool to control the pastor.

    • My thoughts exactly deetsjohn. I don’t have a problem with supporting staff members either… in fact I tend toward the “be generous” side. But like you, I don’t think it should EVER be used to control or manipulate staff, which in my experience is too often the norm. Thanks for taking part in the discussion.

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