Confessions of a Frustrated (Christian) Preacher, pt 5 (1 of 2)
“In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast. Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it” (1 Corinthians 9:7-18).
“ ‘I’ve had it with the church. I think that I should go back to school and become a psychotherapist.’
“That’s what a lot of disillusioned clergy do. They still want to help people, but they can’t seem to do it within the church.” (Charles Irish, Back to the Upper Room, 9)
My second full-time, paid ministry position began when I was 27 and ended when I was 29 and 5 months. I was too young. Someone told me that, a respected person, when I was at a weekend retreat. Ah, sure. Who at the age of 27 wants to be told, let alone admit, that they are too young for something? Many professional athletes are in their prime at 27, it shouldn’t be any different for a paid preacher. I confess that I was not fully prepared for the level of politics that has to be played in a local congregation and in that sense I was too young. I was naive, easily manipulated, impulsive, defensive, and stubborn. There was yet to be developed in me the spirit of faith, the sustenance of grace, and the humility of defenselessness. Those things are developed in the crucible of turmoil.
I have said, on more than one occasion, that paid ministry is a different animal altogether. The local paid preacher, at least in my own denomination, carries a great deal of responsibility—far more than is biblically mandated or professionally reasonable. If the preacher is part of a multi-person staff, that responsibility is lessened; if he is solo, it is heightened. In all of the churches I have served, I have been solo with no other paid staff. (Please don’t misinterpret me here: I assure you this is not a complaint, just reality.) This means, ultimately, that the bulk of the work falls on the paid preacher’s shoulders. I was young enough to expect the church to work and encouraged the church to be an ‘every member ministry’. Every member ministry is a myth of epic proportions. The American way is easier: Let’s just pay someone to do it.
The paid preacher is chained, literally, to the expectations of those who write his job description and sign his paycheck. He is only relatively free to pursue his gifts and passions. He is on-call 24/7 and is paid for 40. Again, there is no whining here, just brutal facts. The sad truth is that in my experience paid ministry is neither ‘paid’ nor ‘ministry.’ It is something akin to indentured servitude or serfdom if he lives in a parsonage. I don’t think that is an exaggeration. There is the unwritten rule that the preacher can be bothered at any time, for any reason, and by any person. His home phone is published under the words ‘parsonage’ unless he owns his own house.
I believe there is a place for our modern concept of ministry and I believe there are some people who are made for it. It and they are called, collectively, The Church, The Body of Christ, The Congregation. The worker, yes, is worth his wage, but I have grown to believe more and more that our modern model for paid ministry is downright unbiblical and unnecessary when the Church functions according to the biblical descriptions and prescriptions. The Bible describes the church as a place where everyone is gifted by God (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12) to accomplish the work He has prepared in advance for us to do (cf. Ephesians).
The problem, as I see it, is that congregations end up believing they have paid for services—therefore, they do not have to do anything but show up on Sundays—that is, admittedly, a terribly vague generalization and not true in all cases. “It” is the preacher’s job. And if it is done properly, the paid preacher will spend the majority of his time planning, administrating, attending meetings, taking phone calls, or visiting the parishioners in their houses among other things. Most preachers will not be lost in their study of the Scripture or hunkering down in the prayer closet. Yet this doesn’t seem to jive with what Scripture says. Consider Acts 6 where we can clearly see that the responsibilities of the church have clear lines of delineation:
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.
“This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
In the absence of apostles dedicated to the preaching and praying, I believe that some are specifically called to such ministry. As Paul wrote in Ephesians Jesus himself apportioned such gifts (such people!): “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Some people are specifically called and gifted for ‘pastoral’ (visitation) ministry; others are not. Some are specifically called to preaching ministry; most are not. Since very few churches are willing (or able) to pay someone simply for their involvement in the Word and Prayer, the line gets blurred and ‘paid’ preachers become hirelings to do all the work that those gifted in the congregation should do—a truly every member ministry. Instead of all of us taking care of one another, it is the ‘pastor’s’ job.
I think there is a better way to do church, a better way to be church—a better way to be a minister of Christ. I also believe that this is precisely the place where my disillusionment with the church and with ‘paid ministry’ comes into the picture. I know it is not the same for every single preacher on the planet. I know my experience is and is not unique. I know that making one person, effectively, the CEO/Pastor/Preacher/Planner/Etc., is the American way to do things. I know there is not a biblical prohibition against paid ministry per se. (Although I don’t know that the modern version is what the apostles had in mind.)
But what I have experienced has led me to a place where I can no longer do ministry precisely because of the paycheck that comes along with it. The paycheck hasn’t freed me for ministry, it has shackled me to the expectations of others and it has prevented the full expenditure of whatever gifts and passions I might have (and probably stagnated my congregation since I seem unable to motivate them at any level). In other words, it has limited ministry. What’s better? Preaching to a few people on Sunday mornings, once per week, for about 30 minutes and hoping that the church building will be the primary place for ‘salt and light’ type of evangelism, and being beholden to the whims of the paycheck? Or being out and about among the ‘lost’ all day, every day, doing good deeds, influencing people directly who are without Christ, preaching as we go, wherever we go, wherever we are led, and being free to do ministry out of love and not obligation?
This is the struggle I have been having for a number of years now and it has come to a head in my current ministry. The frustration is born out of the problems I noted above and out of the desire to be free to serve Christ in a more meaningful way because I love and not because I am obligated.
“How can they fathom that half the world is too poor to feed its kids when their church just spent two years raising money to build an addition to their building? They gather, they sing, they hear a talk from the pastor, and then they get back in the car with their parent and they go home; the garage door opens up, the car goes in, and the garage door goes down. This is the revolution? This is what Jesus had in mind?” (Rob Bell and Don Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 138)
I don’t believe it is. Christ has called us to something more as ministers of his Gospel.