Summary: These are my personal objections to working in paid Christian ministry.
I graduated from seminary about a decade ago.
For much of that time, I wanted to get into some form of paid ministry - I went back and forth wanting to work with local youth and/or overseas serving in some capacity.
But like a lot of people, I had painful experiences and saw things that really made me question whether or not it was the right thing to do.
I started to wonder if the model for church leadership that we have across so many different denominations has become totally alien to what the New Testament church was and did.
Churches operate too much like businesses (e.g. see my post on Adam Ramsey [Truth On Fire]) and I suspect for many people, becoming a pastor is a career choice rather than a calling.
When I was in seminary I took a leadership subject that was basically lifted right out of a business management course - applying worldly management concepts to God’s kingdom.
Wrong on so many levels.
But of course not all churches are like this and I should tell you from the outset that I’m not against ministers accepting some form of compensation for their service:
17 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
1 Timothy 5:17-18
NOTE: I’ve come across some dubious ministries that use this passage to somehow justify giving pastors “double” a normal salary.
So today’s post is really about my own personal reasons for resisting paid ministry.
Don’t get me wrong.
There are ministers in all denominations who serve tirelessly in advancing the Gospel.
These are men and women who cheerfully give up their own comforts daily for the Kingdom and would do more if only they had more hours in the day.
I know plenty of men and women who do this.
But the members of your congregation who work full-time or parent their kids full-time almost certainly work harder than you as a paid minister.
Well, let’s say you have a guy who works Mon-Fri in a demanding job, his wife is home all week raising the kids and then on weeknights and weekends, they’re serving you in some capacity at the church.
They’re meeting other believers.
They’re volunteering in various ministries.
And then they’re back to work on Monday working their day job.
Volunteers are the backbone of any church - they are the church.
So for me personally, I just can’t justify taking a salary from hardworking people when my only responsibility as a pastor is to delegate tasks to volunteers, meet a few people throughout the week, then prepare and preach a message on Sunday.
Of course, a pastor’s role should be much more than this.
But for most it’s not.
“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.”
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9
”I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so.”
2 Corinthians 11:8-9
“After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.
And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.
And he went to see them, and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.”
Paul is the ultimate example of how a Christian leader should live and serve.
There’s a reason why God chose him the way he did on the Damascus road.
He never stopped!
In an age long before the Internet, Paul had apostolic oversight over many churches across two continents. He dealt with congregations vastly different in cultural, linguistic and religious background.
He put his neck on the line and risked his life repeatedly.
And yet… he didn’t like taking people’s money for it.
He preferred to work a day job as a tentmaker and pay his own way wherever possible.
For him, it wasn’t a question of religious duty or obligation - he simply felt wrong taking money from people and was even very careful when asking for money on behalf of other churches.
Even though he regarded provision as a “right”, he didn’t like exercising it.
Contrast that with many ministers today.
“Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”
1 Peter 4:15-16
The world loves church scandals.
Whether it’s financial impropriety or ministers being caught in sexual sin, the world will jump at every opportunity they can to point at the church and say:
“See! Such hypocrites.”
So if the world is always on the lookout for such things then shouldn’t we do everything we can to remove the appearance of impropriety?
Nobody can accuse church leaders of misusing finances if they don’t handle finances in the first place.
Nobody can accuse a minister of stealing or ripping people off if that minister has a day job and earns an honest living while rendering to Caesar like everyone else.
Why give the world more ammunition to fire at us?
And on that note - why is it such a bad thing to suggest that churches pay taxes?
This is something that the world loves to weaponize - why not just render to Caesar and remove that point of contention?
Yes, the Church does more by way of charity than any other organization on earth.
But we do so joyfully, without expecting anything in return (including tax cuts).
There are Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world living in poverty levels that are so desperate I believe we in the Western world will have to answer to God for ignoring it.
Paul took up collections from churches to help alleviate the suffering in others (the Jerusalem collection).
This wasn’t a “love offering” in the sense that we understand it in the Western church (where a collection is made to pay a guest speaker for the privilege of his/her visit).
Rather, it was to alleviate the suffering of the Christians in Jerusalem who were experiencing poverty and famine.
This fundraising effort would have been a massive undertaking back in that time.
Now, I’ve seen first hand the kind of conditions that many Christians have to experience in other places and a very basic salary in the United States can make an enormous difference in these communities abroad (even $1000 a month is enough to totally transform the living conditions of an entire family in many places).
So any pastor in the Western world who is able to work a day job really needs to ask him or herself:
“Should I be taking this when I don’t really need it and it can be better spent feeding and clothing other members of the global Church?”
I’m certainly far from perfect in my charitable donations so I don’t want to be a hypocrite but why should I pay a tithe to fund a pastor’s 6 figure salary when I could just give that directly to an overseas mission?
Or a Christian homeless shelter?
I know that the role of “pastor/minister” being a sole vocation goes way back - no doubt as far as the vocational priesthood in the OT.
Scripture certainly has examples of it.
But for me personally - at least while I am physically able to do so - I’d prefer to pay my own way.