What do you think about paid preachers and pastors? What about the way in which we go about hiring them? I have my reservations. But I should be clear; my thoughts are pretty deeply tied to:
- Christ’s incarnational form of ministry. [To read my definition of, and a series on, incarnational ministry and its counterpart, attractional ministry, go here. For a brief expose’ on the American church’s tendency to invite people to programs, rather than living Christ into their communities, see this post.]
- the “priesthood of all believers.” See 1 Peter 2:9 and Hebrews 7:23-28.
The one way I know for sure I could get behind paying a minister is if he’s so good at discipling and mentoring others to be Christ in the community, we’d pay him to quit his “secular”* job and mentor others full-time on how to make disciples.
This is the route I’d go with paid ministry staff if it were up to me:
- Everyone works “secular” jobs.
- If God has gifted an individual, AND that individual is already using these gifts in such a way that the church — and, even more, the community in which it exists — would benefit if he went to half-time or even less in his “secular” job, then we pay him to do so.
This way we’re recognizing what God is doing, acknowledging giftings the Spirit has placed, and not just hiring some guy because he went to college. [You know these guys decide at 18 to major in Bible or youth ministry or missions or worship leading? I was barely able to drive a car when I was 28, much less 18 — and you definitely would not have wanted me making important spiritual decisions that might affect your congregation and its community at that age. Dress code would have been shirts untucked with Birkenstocks, and all current church activities would have been replaced with sporting events and cajun food. There would be no old songs and Sunday School would start at 2:oo pm, right after a spicy shellfish-eating competition. Outreach would consist of inner city VBS, and I would’ve been paid a lot of money to make those decisions.]
I believe our system of sending kids to school to become preachers and ministers — and then hiring them based on grades or preaching ability — is broken. If we intend for our ministers to equip the saints for good works, they need to have track records of themselves doing good works. Often the closest we get to this is letting a guy prove he can consistently preach decent sermons for a time, and then hiring him away from that smaller congregation. Our focus is on this guy having the right doctrine and being able to share it from the pulpit in an effective way — which is in itself an oxymoron at times.
We ought to be recognizing individuals in our congregations whom God has already gifted — and maybe then we send a few of those to school to add knowledge to their already thriving relationships with God? But we’ve got it backwards; we believe knowledge is the foundation. People go to school to gain it, and then try to sort out their relationship with God, good works, and obedience. I fear we recognize diplomas and degrees over the ability to live Christ into a community, teaching others to do the same — making disciples, that is.
I should admit, however, that I am a product of our system. I went to school for the knowledge. And it was many years later — after making a lot of mistakes, being disciplined by God himself, letting go of my status and education, and learning to rely solely on him — that I began to be useful in the kingdom. And I am surely only now in the beginning stages of God using me for his purposes.
I should also confess that I serve as a missionary in Tanzania, fully funded from the United States — half from churches and half from individuals. I am both honored and thankful to be able to do so, but I also wish I could say otherwise, that I’d discovered some way to live and work here in Geita without financial support — but I have not. I am happy to say, though, that I’m bi-vocational in a way. I’m doing sustainable development (primarily in agriculture), and this “secular” job gives me a reason for being in the community and living Christ among the local people. No one calls me missionary, father, pastor, or reverend. Agriculture provides me with a context in which to meet and serve others. I wonder if there’s a parallel option for ministers in our churches who have entered into those positions under the “education-based” systems?
Don’t hear what I’m saying as being anti- paying ministerial staff. I am not that altogether.** I just believe we need to rethink our systems of preacher preparation and hiring, and even more so what it means to be a minister. What are your thoughts? Am I being unrealistic? Unfair? Or am I just plain wrong?
And what would church have been like if you were in charge at 18?
* I frown a bit on using the word secular to describe a job in which the individual is not paid for work with, or in, a church. I believe distinguishing between, and even claiming it is possible to separate, secular work from spiritual work is a mistake on some level, if not most. This dualistic mindset has caused a lot of problems in Christianity, not the least of which is the way in which we view the clergy / laity relationship. However, I’m choosing to use this word because it has come to be common terminology, and it is therefore expedient to do so.
** For another issue of concern with paying ministers, see “prophets for hire: preaching God in a congregation’s image.”