The Laborer is Worthy of His Hire – A Different Perspective
Many pastors have blogged about the alleged church-hopping and consumerist mentality plaguing the modern church, the proper care and feeding of pastors, the duties members have towards them, and the plethora of solid and conscientious men ran out of their pulpits by lay coteries and cabals. Often, they have been right, but there’s another side to the story. Not a few of your colleagues – and maybe even you – have ignored, nit-picked, brow-beaten, or blatantly ran sheep from the cote. I’m not talking about the willful, heretical, defiant, or the entitled demanders, but orthodox folk who take their church membership seriously – perhaps more than you’d care to admit. For instance, the LCMC Central Illinois District’s Pastor-Elder Handbook (cidlcms.org) lists reason why members leave their congregations. Besides the reasons/excuses involving obvious sin on members’ parts, the list includes “Failure on the part of the church to care enough about them to bring them to the point where they feel they really belong;” “Refusal of the church to let young and new members participate in the church;” and “Disagreement or disappointment with the Pastor (#3-1 p 7).” There really is enough fault to go around.
Much of what are glibly and condescendingly dismissed as “perceived needs” are scripturally founded, or even boldly stated in denominationally-authored job descriptions. For example, on p 53 of The Pastor-Elder Handbook, the pastors duties include “feeding Christians with what keeps them in the Body of Christ – the Word of God” and “comprises the equipping of Christians to carry out their ministry towards one another. He is an enabler (Ephesians 4:11-12).” In the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order 8-3 the duties of an elder (which includes the office of pastor) are described thusly: “They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, and guard the children of the church (hopeofchrist.net).” Don’t homeschooling families, singles, people far from family, outcasts, and the just plain socially awkward, have a legitimate need for the fellowship and communion of the saints? Indeed, don’t all Christians need such? If so, then why not admit that those who perceive the need therefor perceive correctly?
Parishioners agree to submit to the doctrine and discipline of the church, including regular and proportionate contributions of time, talents, and money, given the nature of membership vows and plain common sense. Their relationship with the pastor, though, is pastor to parishioner rather than liege to vassal or commanding officer to recruit; in other words, it’s a relationship of mutual love and submission within the bounds of the membership covenant. Likewise we must remember that you are neither our private chaplains nor corporate lackeys, have entire congregations to minister to, and families of your own entitled to your time and care.
This relationship is somewhat economic in that it is a voluntary covenantal association, and thus no party can rightly claim to own it – remember Guinn v Church of Christ (see at law.justia.com). When you perceive that a parishioner has not upheld his covenantal obligations, you may institute church discipline; the parishioner believing himself to have been short-changed, has options as well.
It goes without saying that we should respectfully remonstrate with you if we believe we’re getting short shrift, we should receive the same, and all parties should exercise the judgment of charity. Yet we may at times feel that you blow off our concerns, claim lack of time for the visitation you vowed to provide, or to aid us in suffering the slings and arrows, but seem to have ample time to hobnob with those members better connected and endowed. Nobody can have it both ways.
When Paul said that the workman was worthy of his reward (1Tim 5:18), he did not say that the slacker was worthy of the workman’s reward; the ox not treading the corn needn’t be unmuzzled. If a series of respectful appeals fail to gain a charitable hearing, we may then opt to diminish or withhold completely our offerings. This is hardly blackmail, but rather a declining to pay for services not rendered as in any other economic relationship. Israelites were taxed an half-shekel per capita to maintain the ministry of the tabernacle and temple, but neither the state nor the church were empowered to collect it. The clergy thus had good incentive to be diligent in their duties. Clerical abuse lead to loss of income, offerings, and credibility thanks to the negligence of Eli (1 Sam 2:12-36); why is today different?
Prior to the next blog on nasty parishioners or tithing, please examine your own possible contribution to the mayhem. Are you ministering to the whole flock, or just playing cabana boy to your favorites and importantes? Are you fair and impartial when judging between parishioners, or is discipline under you more a function of who a person is rather than what s/he has done? Is respectfully disagreeing with you disagreeing with God? Remember that we’re talking about God’s money rather than yours or ours, as well as God’s church rather than your or our personal fiefdom. We all need the grace and humility to admit that we can be just as much a part of the problem as we accuse the other party of being, accept the responsibility that entails, and made the necessary amends to maintain the purity and peace of the church. This trumps all ego trips and tests of will.