“Oh boy, here we go.”
That was the second thought that entered my mind. The first thought was, “I’m not really sure I should be getting paid to preach.” I want to point out that I made the word I in the above sentence bold on purpose. I want to be very clear that the opinions that I am about to unleash in this blog are just that, opinions. With that being said let’s get started.
It all started with a very brief interaction I had with a person that I had never met before and don’t really know now. He was fixing the windows of the church building that I live beside. I rent my house from this church, because of this, a lot of people mistake me for the minister. I am not. I walked over to the guy to inform him that I would be letting my dog out and to not worry about her all she would do is bark. The man proceeded to ask me if I was the minister of the church, I told him I was not, and started to explain that this particular church had gotten out of the parsonage business awhile back, and had decided to start renting the house out for some extra income. As a passing comment I noted that, “I think they realized that it was more beneficial financially to rent it out.” I didn’t mean anything negative by the comment. I was really just making conversation. His response was, “Yeah all the Church is worried about is making money anyway.” This guy had no idea that I was actually in ministry. He had no idea that I preach about three times a month. He had no idea that I work for a Christian University that trains men and women to work in ministry. Because of that, this guy felt comfortable enough to tell me what he really thought about “Church people.”
It’s hard to explain why this guy’s comment stuck with me so much. It’s hard for me to explain the thought process that began to spiral out of control from my head because of his comment but I will do my best to explain it.
The Church has a bad rap.
Really good, kind, awesome ministers have a bad rap. Most of the ministers I know are doing all they can to serve Jesus Christ, and support their family while they are doing it. Most of the ministers I know are in no way making enough money to do the later. Even though all that I just said is true, there are still a lot of people out in the world who are vehemently opposed to the church. Mostly because all they are exposed to on the nightly news is that one guy, in that one state, that stole all those people’s money, in the name of God.
I’m not an idiot (most of the time). I realize that all in all this is just an excuse that a lot of people use so they can be mad at someone other than themselves and live in direct opposition to God. I realize that. I also realize that even a perceived problem is still a problem. Even if it’s not true, the Church still has egg on her face, and it may be time to start addressing it. There are lost people who will never give the Church a chance as long as they perceive that we are only after their money.
This issue puts the full-time vocational minister into an awkward situation though. On one hand, he, or she, wants to be as sensitive to the perceptions of the outside world as they can be. The Bible is very clear that as ministers they need to be, “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). They don’t want to be perceived as only caring about making money and getting people to do what they want to them do. On the other hand, they have really staked their well-being, and the well-being of their family on the paycheck that they are going to be receiving from their congregation. There seems to be one of two options.
1) Take a pay check, support your family, and probably never really have much of an impact on those who are jaded by the idea that all the Church cares about is money. Those people would be like the gentleman that I had a conversation with who fix windows for a living.
2) Don’t take a pay check and starve, lose your family, and maybe still never really have much of an impact on those who are jaded by the idea that all the Church cares about is money.
That was my train of thought in a nut shell. It bothered me. I was not sure what to do, so I did what every person who is torn by a major life question would do; I put the question on Facebook. After that I looked to see what the Bible says. Yes I understand that was the wrong order to do it in, but it is what it is.
It seems that there is one major passage of scripture that people rely on when talking about making money as a minister. I realize there are a more passages that indirectly pertain to this topic. We could go all the way back to the OT and look at the compensation that the Levitical Priesthood received for their service, but this is a blog not a book. I’m too lazy to write one of those, and no one would buy it anyway so I’ll stick with the popular passage.
Well that pretty much seems to sum it up. If you dispense the gospel you should be able to make your living from doing it. Paul himself in other passages of scripture readily accepted gifts and offerings for the work he did i.e. Philippians 4:18. So what is my problem? Why am I even questioning the issue? The problem is that there is more to this passage then just verse 14. Go ahead and go back and read the whole chapter starting in verse 1 all the way to the end.
It seems that Paul, even though he had the right, was not taking compensation from the Corinthian Church. He was not taking compensation for his work with the Church, because in his words, to do so would, “hinder the work of the gospel” (vs. 12). I don’t know the whole background, but it seems from this passage that someone in the Church felt that perhaps Paul was only worried about the money. Obviously this was not the case. Paul had given up everything to follow Christ and preach the Gospel. It’s interesting to me that Paul did not get into all of that. He simply says, “fine if you don’t want to pay me, that’s ok keep your money, I will still preach the gospel.” Paul understood talk is cheap. He also understood that just because he had the right to something did not always mean he should have it. So what does this mean for me? I have come to a couple of conclusions.
1) Getting paid to do ministry is biblical, and is one sign of a healthy and mature congregation.
Paul is working with a pretty messed up Church in Corinth, one out pouring of that messiness seems to be their unwillingness to compensate him for the work that he is putting into them. That seems to mean that one sign of maturity as a Christian is to realize that those who are set apart to devote their life to full-time ministry need to be taken care of.
2) There are some people who will never be reached as a long as I take a pay check from them.
If I am going to make my living from a congregation, I need to realize that there are just some people I will never be able to reach. My right to a pay check may be a genuine hinderance to them understanding the gospel message. I’m not sure I’m ok with that.
3) There is freedom that comes from preaching the gospel free of charge.
If you have been in ministry for any amount of time you know at least one story of some poor preacher who spoke truth from up front and watched his pay check walk out the back door. It happens a lot. The beauty of a “tent making” ministry is that type of immaturity is thrown out the window. Paul knew this, check out verse 17 and 18 of 1 Corinthians 9.
So what is the conclusion of the matter in my mind? I don’t know. I do know this. It’s ok to get paid to preach. It’s ok to accept compensation for the work that is put into ministry, and it’s ok expect that the Church where you minister makes this a priority when setting a budget. I would challenge Churches that are sending tons of money to outside sources when their ministers are struggling to survive to check out 1 Corinthians 9:12.
At the end of the day though what’s important is that Jesus’ name is glorified. If we can do that, and make a living from it great! However, the issue still stands that the Church has a bad rap in the world when it comes to money, and it seems that some of us may have to give up our rights to combat that. I guess the whole matter comes down to one question. What is the price of our ministry? That’s a question only each individual minister can answer.