Saturday, February 03, 2007

Freely you have received, freely give (for a "suggested donation" of...)

I thank Paula for her comments on my previous entry. As I hoped, I’m glad that the entry is prompting examination of the issue of “selling ministry”. As I set out to answer some of her questions, I realized that the length of my response was better suited as a new entry.

I agree that people who labour in the ministry God gives them are “worthy of their wages” and those on the receiving end are responsible to support them materially. Paul upholds this (1 Cor. 9: 7-14, 1 Tim. 5:17). However, Paul never demanded payment for his services rendered in preaching the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:12, 15-18; 2 Thess. 3:8-9).

These scriptures appear to give responsibility to both the giving and receiving ends with regard to payment for ministry: 1) on the part of the minister, to follow his calling and offer freely of his gifting, trusting that the same God who raised him up to serve will also raise up his supporters; 2) on the part of those ministered to, to accord “double honour” to those who serve, and give materially to those who labour for them on behalf of the Lord and are “worthy of his wages”.

As for ministry transmitted by books, recordings, etc., this wouldn’t have been commonplace in Paul’s time, other than Paul’s letters to the churches (it’s amusing to imagine if one of Paul’s epistles ended with “the suggested donation for this papyrus is 20 drachmas”). Of course, in light of the labourer being “worthy of his wages,” it would be wholly unreasonable to demand that those transmitting their ministry through mass-media cough up their production costs (even though Keith Green did so, and prospered). So I don’t have sufficient grounds to determine that the “selling” of such ministry is unallowable. Such ministers are nonetheless accountable to seek God on what constitutes “freely giving” in accordance with the spiritual gifts they freely received from God (Matt. 10:8).

I suppose in this time and place, such “ministry” is consumer driven, and it’s the buyer who makes the choice to fork over 20 bucks for this or that item with the hopes of beefing-up his belief. But as I said in my last entry, this “consumer” has been encouraged and edified by precious little that he actually had to pay for, and greatly blessed by ministry that has been freely received and given in part.

So what does the minister do if his support dries up? In Paul’s case, he says he was “compelled to preach the gospel” no matter what. Paul had to make do with much at times, and with little at other times (Phil.4:10-13). It is also recorded that Paul sometimes worked as a tent maker to support himself in ministry (Acts 18:1-4; 2 Thess. 3:7-10). George Tabert, who I referred to in my previous entry, himself doesn’t receive a salary but is supported by those who receive from and recognize his gifting to teach. George once told me that if his support dried up to the point where he could no longer fulfill his God-given obligation to support his family, he would “go out and pump gas.”

On this note, I have long perceived a need in the church for clarification as to what actually constitutes “ministry”. There tends to be a lot of playing fast and loose with calling this, that or the other activity a “ministry” (such as the work of plumbers, doctors, musicians etc. being called their “ministry”). A distinction has to be made between the exercise of vocational skills, which is mandated in the creational commission to work and rule over creation (Gen. 1:28; 2 Thess. 3:6-10), and the exercise of spiritual gifts, which is specifically outlined and mandated for the edification of the body of Christ (1 Cor.12:7-10, 27-28; Eph. 4:11-13). The former report to earthly clients and bosses who are in turn responsible to pay for the services rendered. The latter report to God in the exercise of the gifts, and are duly provided for on account of his authority and promises to do so.

For example, my position as a school teacher is not my “ministry”; it is my vocation for which there is a contractual exchange of service for money. If God gives me a spiritual gifting (such as for teaching in the church), I am bound to freely impart it to others, and leave them accountable to God on “what they owe” for the service.

Bottom-line: it requires, on the part of both minister and ministered-to, the free exercise of faith that it is God who supplies so that they can bless others, and thus follow the command, “freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8).


marla said...

Finances are a tricky thing...I agree that Paul never required payment for ministry rendered. However, I have continued to find Paul's comments to the Corinthians in 2 Cor 9 challenging to my views on how discussions of finances should be carried out. Paul openly challenges the Corinthians lack of giving; while comparing their lack of giving with the willingness of others to give. Often people are happy to have those ministering to them live at a substantially lower economic level...and begrudge them luxuries that they would not be willing to surrender.
In the end,if our security is in God, as the giver of good gifts, then we won't look to mere man to supply our needs.
All that to say... Paul asked for money from the Church, he asked for it with a purpose and rebuked a stingy heart, but he never trusted that money would supply all his needs...he trusted God for that.

...just a thought or two...Thanks for being thought provoking...

Serenity said...

Hi. I'm a friend of Paula's and have just come upon your blog. I just read your posts on charging for ministry. I agree with Marla. Thank you for being thought provoking.

I think that when looking at a book store, music and teaching CD's and books, it is completely reasonable to charge money. There are many people who are using this as their job. Even if the one speaking, writing, singing, or playing their instruments considers it their ministry, there are still the companies who are recording, editing, and producing the material. And there are obvious costs involved.

However, when you are considering the people ministering in their local churches or traveling because God has told them to, that is where the whole subject of "freely giving" should go into effect.

My question might be then... How does this relate to paid staff at our churches?


Renny said...

Well put Marla when you said that Paul “never trusted that money would supply all his needs...he trusted God for that.” That comes through in all of his writing on the subject. The interesting thing, not only in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, but also in 1 Corinthians 16, is that indeed Paul was exhorting the Saints to give. The only thing is, he was not taking up a collection for himself, but for other Christians who were in need. There is no indication in scripture that Paul ever held out the bag for himself, but all the scripture references in my entry point to the opposite: that though he had the right to support based on “the worker being worthy of his wages”, he laid it down. More than that, he went beyond this by labouring for his keep amongst those he ministered to so that he might serve as an example to them.

There’s no question that “stinginess” is biblically condemned. I think it is reasonable to suggest that the parable of the talents applies also to people who “took, took, took” without, as it were, “re-investing” what they received, in terms of money, time, giftings, and everything that God has given them.

Ultimately, everyone, whether ministering or ministered to, will be made to give an account to God on the basis of his word.

Renny said...

Serenity, thanks for the input. I don’t have anything to add to what I have already said about Christian merchandise or what people “consider” to be their “ministry” (other than how it pertains to church staff; what ultimately matters is not what we “consider” but what God has defined as ministry...).

As for paid staff at churches, it is admittedly a bit tricky. When it comes to how to “do church”, the Bible appears vague enough to allow for innovation depending on our culture, circumstances, etc. In other words, the Bible doesn’t say the church shouldn’t have programs, a legal corporate entity, its own buildings, staff etc. While these things are the norm in today’s visible church, and are not biblically disallowable, they are still worldly structures, and therefore come with worldly concerns and problems. As such, they should be handled with a spirit of prayer and discernment, and a willingness to let go of them if the Lord so leads.

Here it must once again be stressed that “ministry” should be defined biblically. Many church staff positions cannot be defined as “ministry”. If I am hired by an incorporated church organization to be a secretary, groundskeeper or what-have-you, it is a job for which there is a contractual exchange of service for money between myself and the incorporated entity (such was the case when I worked at the Canadian headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ). It is not a biblically defined “spiritual gifting” – although I may very well carry out some spiritual gifting in my comings and goings on the job.

So there shouldn't be a problem with people who work as such to expect a salary from those who, for whatever reason, choose to “do church” with their own buildings, corporate entity etc. I for one tend to prefer fellowshipping in groups (like my old church in Langley at that don’t “do church” this way.

As for “church pastors”, keep in mind that just because a church hires someone to be a pastor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that person has been gifted by God in that way. A church board could very conceivably write a job description for a “pastor” that looks more like a job description for a CEO, and give the job to whoever they see fit without regard to how God has actually gifted the person or defines what a pastor is in his word.

If someone who is gifted as a pastor accepts such a position, it is hoped that such a person has already been demonstrating and operating in his gifting outside of actually being hired as a “church pastor”. Hopefully he has already been "speaking the truth in love" in such a way that has been bearing fruit, and has been strengthening others to do likewise (Eph. 4:11-15). And hopefully if he accepts the position and the accompanying salary, he does so with a thankful heart, and is ready to let go of the position if God so leads, without letting go of the gifting and calling God has placed upon him. Such a person is exhorted to walk in the following attitude of Paul (1 Cor.9:14-21):

“So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things and I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”

Anonymous said...

Renny. Well said & well read. To me, it is clear that Paul was setting the best example as an apostle (leader of leaders). Ponder this: If there was a need for tent in the Church would Paul of made it? Would he have considered asking other tent makers in the Church to help him make it without wages? I'm not sure that he would have done so. Instead, I think he would have offered up the need, collected money, and paid the tradesman Brother for his labor. But, I digress, choosing to be the leader of leaders he would have done the later and donated his own skill to the effort. Regardless I find it amazing how easily members of our body assume that a discount on crasftsmanship is assumed if you are a member of the Body. My 2 Cents, or 3.

David T.

David T.

Renny said...

Fair comment, David. It's hard to know exactly how such a scenario would have played out, but your description sounds reasonable in light of the principles Paul preached. In his time and ever since, Paul's example has spurred countless others to "freely (and joyfully) give" of their resources (be it finances, time or otherwise) for the sake of the cross of Jesus.