preparation and payment for preachers and pastors

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:

  1. Everyone works “secular” jobs.
  2. 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, seeprophets for hire: preaching God in a congregation’s image.”



Filed under just thinking, woe to us

15 responses to “preparation and payment for preachers and pastors

  1. I agree with you. As Christians there is no such thing as a “secular” job — wherever we are it’s is God’s ministry that he has given us. Hubby and I have been thinking much the same thing — that churches should not be going outside themselves to find pastors. Of course, some of our ideas about church leadership are a little more radical than your’s 😉 Paul does say that a servant is worth his hire, and defends his right to receive support from churches as a missionary, but when he knew it was a burden he went out and had a job tentmaking while also “planting” a church. I think if we read through Acts and the Epistles carefully we can see that once a church was planted and discipled by Paul or one of his co-workers (such at Timothy) they helped them identify elders and teachers from within their congregation and left them to their own.

  2. I believe that unpaid preachers have a much harder time ministering to their congregations and communities. I also feel like “works” is a scary word. As a lost child growing up I do not have “works” to back up a lifetime of tremendous faith and I certainly do not have a degree stating that I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and “get it.” I do indeed hope that this doesn’t ruin my chances at a ministry in missions in the future…

    That being said, I know you weren’t focusing on works as the topic of this post. I suppose I read your posts (every day even though I’ve never met you, Thanks, Freshly Pressed!) and apply them to my life… So that’s just what stuck out.

    Keep writing, I will be reading!

    • thanks, audrey, for reading regularly.

      i agree that “works” can be a scary word. i was only borrowing the language from paul in eph 2:10, 4:12, and 2 tim 3:17. i believe completely we’re saved by grace through faith. but i think our salvation is evidenced by our obedience to God. and i believe much of what is supposed to draw others to God is our good works and service in our communities.

      i guess what i was trying to get at, in a way, is that we don’t seem to be using paid staff effectively — partly because we select them based on education and not service.

      and i don’t think your chances to be involved in missions are ruined by not having the “right” education. you know the majority of our mission team in tanzania doesn’t hold any kind of bible degree. [i probably shouldn’t be typing that out in public like this…]

  3. i’ve been blessed to have both perspectives, as a part of congregations with full-time pastors and bi-vocational pastors. i’m also a ministry major in college, so my opinion could be a little biased towards the system. 🙂
    it would be wonderful to do ministry as a vocation (i hope i’m wording that adequately, for i know that each believer is charged with embodying a lifestyle of full-time ministry) without the need of financial support, but we both know that our broken world doesn’t make this a simple feat. having grown up in rural oklahoma, most pastors in this region are bi-vocational – and many have never darkened the door of a seminary or bible college. for me, this is a double-edged sword.
    is formal biblical education necessary to become biblically literate and equipped to lead His flock? no way. but a conscious effort to be biblically literate from a spiritual AND an academic standpoint is, whether that takes place in a college classroom or at a desk in one’s home. i’ve interacted with pastors who did not pursue theological higher education, and for some, their leadership suffers because of that. for others, their wisdom and knowledge of God’s word is incomparable.
    i guess what i’m trying to articulate is that the current ‘system’ of preparing men and women for ministry should by no means be a cookie-cutter one – not everyone needs formal education to be a successful minister of the Gospel. however, it pains me when ministers sneer at such training, perhaps because they feel their own interpretation of scripture is superior to outside sources. make any sense? 🙂

    • very well said, taylor. and it makes perfect sense. i don’t know how a refusal to receive further bible training can exist in the heart of a true disciple. but if i’m going to err, it’s going to be on the side of practical obedience and not untapped knowledge.

      what are you wanting to do in ministry after college?

      • i’m praying about serving either overseas, or here in north america – hopefully utilizing TESOL as a means to minister in either venue! 🙂

        • that sounds like a good plan. my wife teaches some english classes here in tanzania, and we actually met while both teaching english in china.

          God’s blessings on your plans to do TESOL.

  4. Thank you for your insights into the damage done by the false division of the world of work into sacred and secular. I especially appreciated your explanation of the conditions under which you would agree to paying a pastor. Right on! The first chapter in my just-published book, JOB-SHADOWING DANIEL: WALKING THE TALK AT WORK, focuses on the sacred-secular distortion. Chapter three deals with the false “I’m-just-a-layperson” identity that defeats so many.

    • thanks, larry, for your kind words. i was trying to link over to a blog or a website, but i just get your email address. are you and your book (or information on it) online anywhere?

  5. Ike

    Most mennonite pastors in my area work a job and also pastor for little or no money. Maybe “cycleguy” needs to get a job:-)

    • ike, i assume that’s true of most mennonite pastors in general? or do you know? i’d really like to learn more about those guys; i think i’d respect and appreciate them a lot.

      my guess is cycleguy will tell you he’s got enough work on his hands trying to keep diet dr. pepper in business…

      • Ike

        “JB”….in the area I live….this is the “norm” with the mennonites. Also…most (not all) do not have “formal” training. I admire the mennonite community. I also admire the amish community. The amish “kick-butt” when it comes to taking care of their own. Seriously…..if a barn burns down in my area… will be built in a week. They may have some things wrong… but they really do take care of each other.

  6. JMF

    I’m not sure how functional this actually is, but I am also completely against paying a preacher. Being said, it sure is nice to have a really talented, moving, and eloquent preacher!

    Here is my issue: I was talking to my preacher the other day, I asked him what his upcoming series was about. He says, “Well, I’m just doing a few freestanding lessons until I find something to jump in to. Everything that I really WANT to preach and that I feel needs to be preached will come off as soapboxy, so I won’t do that.”

    I was floored. I thought about it for a few days, then went and visited with him again. I told him that I felt that was exactly what we needed from him!! I told him that people don’t follow a fence-straddler; they follow passion for Christ. (This was not a “I contribute money therefore let me tell you what to do” talk. As a similarly-aged friend, I was telling him to follow his heart, and he took it as such.)

    Now, here is the rub: He is in his 30’s, and has three kids. His family loves our area. His kids love the school. HE DOESN’T WANT TO LOSE HIS JOB!! And I COMPLETELY understand. …And this is the EXACT reason why I don’t like paying preachers.

    Money makes it political.

    And that gives us watered-down, “safe” leaders.

    • If a liar and deceiver comes and says, “I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,” he would be just the prophet for this people! – Micah 2:11

      This is what the Lord says: “As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them, they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him.” – Micah 3:5

      i wrote a post or two about this a while back. it gets awfully tricky when preachers are:

      1. getting paid, and can’t afford to be fired
      2. not from within that congregation and community.

      here’s one of those links:

      is said preacher going to bring what he feels led to bring?

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