Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who Should the Church Pay: Start with Nothing But God!

There are actually a lot of strategic reasons to come first as a weak missionary.

1. The indigenous people are empowered from the start. The new churches do not start dependent upon the missionary. In fact, it can be the opposite. The new churches begin with empowerment.

2. Multiplication of missionaries is much faster. The next generation of churches does not have to wait to get the strength needed to perform at a higher standard. If building hospitals and schools is our first wave of missions there will never be a second wave.

3. The missionary starts with complete faith in God. Missions are an exercise in humility and faith in God’s power, not an exercise in your own abilities. That also passes on much quicker to the next generation.

4. God gets all the glory. The missionary is seen as a normal human who needs assistance, but who also has a powerful God who grants him or her what they need. God’s provision is not just part of the story…it is the story!

5. The missionary is not better then the indigenous people. When we have nicer homes, cars, schooling for our kids and more discretionary money then those who we are trying to reach then there are a lot of negative side-effects. This dis-empowers the indigenous church. It also raises the missionary to a level above those they are trying to reach. Jesus carries this thought further when he tells the missionary to stay in their house and eat and drink what they eat and drink. The missionary is to live at the same standard as the people he or she is trying to reach.

6. It keeps the missionary’s motivations truer. The missionary’s motives are not in question. This is definitely not a career move. When someone goes out without pay and does the job just for Jesus it is pure. There is a sense of confidence that one can have in someone who has proven their heart on the fields in this way.

7. It keeps the indigenous Christian’s motives truer. The new Christian’s motives are also kept more pure because it doesn’t offer some false hope of a raise in their standard of living by becoming a Christian. Coming in strength may give the new Christians a poor incentive to be saved and serve as a missionary. There may be an unspoken promise that “you too could step up to a better standard of living if you become a Christian worker!”

This happens all over the world. There is a monetary incentive to become a Christian, and especially a Christian leader in many parts of the world. Your standard of living raises instantly as Western money supports your life. An American family giving up a daily latte can feed a family for a month in many parts of the world. That is cheap labor for the church, but what it does is mess with the new Christian’s motivations. It actually separates the indigenous Christian worker from the very people they are best suited to reach because suddenly they are in an entirely different social class.

The more I have studied the passages of Luke 10 and Matthew 10 I have an increased appreciation for Jesus’ missiological strategies. He does know what He is doing.

Many will say that the culture in the time of Christ was much more hospitable, so this sort of missionary method was able to be used. Today is a very different culture. True, but I do not think Jesus’ words are to be classified as irrelevant because the culture has changed. I believe that His words here are transcendent above culture. The point is not that the people are more hospitable, the point is that the sent one must depend upon God for his or her daily provision. Personally, that is a lesson needed in every culture and generation! At the same time, when doing cross-cultural missionary work, there are some cultures just as hospitable as the one Jesus was part of.

Jesus shows us the value in training missionaries in this manner in a later passage of Luke’s Gospel. Near the end Jesus pulled the disciples together and asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"

“Nothing,” they answered.

Then He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it.” This is what my wife always quotes back to me in the Mall when I do finally start to hold her purse.

Why does He first instruct them to not take a purse, and now He is telling them to take along financial resources? Does He want them to go without or to go with financial resources? After all the reasons given for going without finances we now have to explain this statement.

As I said earlier, it is not whether people are supported or not, but when they are supported; that is the issue. Going first in weakness and dependency is important. After you have shown that you will do it without support, support can be given more confidently. There is a testing process. It is, however, much more then a testing process, it is a growth curve. It is as much a chance for the missionary to test God as it is for God to test the missionary. The disciples came out believing in God’s provision with stories they would tell the rest of their lives. That is a foundation to build upon.

Dallas Willard was once sharing at a workshop on ministry in a postmodern world on this very passage. He asked the question, “Why would Jesus tell them not to take a purse at first and now tell them to take a purse?” His answer was, “You don’t know how to handle a purse, until you know how to go without one.”

We learn something when we trust God’s provision and He comes through. What we learn sets a course for the rest of our lives. When we have gone on faith and God shows us His miraculous care and provision it changes the way we see everything. We view God differently. We view ministry differently. We view money differently. When the tough times hit, and they will, that old lesson will fuel the same faith once again. You will be reminded always that I am not in this for the money.

This is a far better foundation for a life of service then simply deciding on a career move. Even when leaders are supported “full-time”, it’s still not a job but a life calling.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Who Should the Church Pay: What about pastors?

Should we pay pastors to shepherd the church? We have so many godly people who would be without income if we put a stop to this. So many have spent lots of money and went deep into debt to be prepared professionally to be pastors. What would become of this investment if we no longer paid pastors?

In the context of most organic churching, where churches are intentionally smaller, more intimate and rapidly reproducing, there is no need to pay someone to pastor. The bar for ministry is down low enough that it is easy to shepherd 10 to 20 people without needing to be paid to do so. In such a context, the whole body is more easily mobilized to serve and ministry is not as dependent on a single professional leader.

While it is not a sin for a church to employ someone, I do think it may not be the best investment of kingdom resources. It is investing in our weaknesses and throwing more fuel on the separation of the clergy and laity. A huge pool of anointed, under appreciated and certainly underused servants are sitting in pews every week. When we invest more resources in our weakness perhaps we end up yielding greater weakness.

A More Important Question: When Are People Supported? And Why?

The question of whether or not people should be supported is not as important as when do we support them and why. When we approach church like a business, and look for employees to hire we have already started down the wrong path in my opinion. Job descriptions, office hours, performance reviews, raises, bonuses, vacation days, sick days are all things that belong in a business, but we should think hard if this is the way the church operates.

I once heard a Church consultant instruct a room full of high powered pastors and Christian leaders not to use the vocabulary of “family” when talking about church but instead use the language of “team”. He said the reason why we should make the shift is because you can fire someone who is on your team for not performing well, but you cannot fire someone who is in your family. This sounds much more like a business then a church. The New Testament uses a great many analogies for the church. Family is used arguably more then any other. Business is not used much at all, and only when highlighting the value of buying in and investing in the cause. Never is it used to describe our relating to one another.

Weakness Evangelism

When Jesus sent out the disciples to do kingdom work he said, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.” (Luke 10:3-4 NIV). Whenever my wife asks me to hold her purse for her at the mall while she tries something on, I always quote this verse and say, “No, Jesus said, ‘Do not take a purse.’”

“Purse” is translated in NASB as “money belt”. It is your wallet. When Jesus sent out the disciples He instructed them to not raise money or take any surplus. Not just surplus, but do not take any money at all! They were to go out completely dependent upon God and the kindness of strangers.

There are books out today on a variety of ways to do evangelism. There is servant evangelism, prayer evangelism, prophetic evangelism and even power evangelism. Jesus’ method was what I like to call “weakness evangelism”. It is actually quite the opposite of most of our strategies. The disciples were not to come in strength and rescue the people who are in the world, but rather, to be completely in need.

Not that they were to be helpless bums, they did have strength. They were to “preach the Gospel of the kingdom, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead.” Yes, there is a place for power in your evangelism. But do not miss the point that they were totally dependent upon the hospitality of those they were reaching out to.

We usually sweep in with some sort of hero complex. We host a huge crusade in a football stadium with professional musicians and speakers. In our best efforts we build hospitals, schools, homeless shelters, halfway houses and exercise our strength in an attempt to impress the community with the compassion of the church. The results are, in the best-case scenario, that we may impress a few people that end up saying, “Those Christians are really nice.”

Do not hear me wrong, all those things are good and we should do them. I think we should be salt to the world with good works that glorify our Father in heaven. We should do all of those things and much more. The question isn’t if we should do them, but when. My point is that we never come in weakness. And there are good arguments for why that is the first way we should come in. Tomorrow I will post 7 reasons why Jesus' instructions are a better place to begin in serving as a leader in the church.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who Should The Church Pay: Double honor to the preachers and teachers

Paul does mention giving “double honor” to elders, and especially those that work hard at preaching and teaching. I am in favor of giving honor and double honor to godly elders who shepherd, mentor and teach the churches. But I have a hard time interpreting “double honor” as a full-time salary and benefits. We have come up with the word “honorarium” based on this expression in the New Testament. When we present a speaker with a financial token of appreciation I actually think we are closer to Paul’s intent in this passage.

To be fair, Paul does refer to a “worker worthy of his wages” which is a quote from the Old Testament, mentioned by Jesus as well. It is probably in reference to paying for a day’s hire rather than a yearly salary. We should definitely be generous in sharing all good things with those who teach us (Gal. 6:6), but the goal is always the strengthening of the church, not the sapping of her strength. I also think we are rather limited and uncreative if we think that money is the only thing that we should give to those who teach us well.

I think that the principle of the New Testament is to release the servant to be able to fulfill a specific need in the church. I also think that the precedent is that the servant will have already been performing the service before the honor is given, rather than becoming a condition of service in advance.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who Should the Church Pay: The true widow

The second role defined in the New Testament as needing full time support is what Paul calls the “widow indeed” in 1 Timothy 5:3-16 (NASB). Paul delineates clearly what the qualifications are for this role and what the job description is. She is to be at least 60 years old, have no family to support her and to have been faithful in serving the Lord and His people. It appears as though she is to actually make a pledge to serve the Lord and not to be remarried, and for this reason younger women are exempt from this role. Her sole job description is to continually pray, night and day.

This is not just a case of charity. With God’s plan, not only is a woman without means granted stable provision, but perhaps even better, the church is blessed with constant prayer bombarding the throne of God! This has got to be a powerful partnership. Not only is this woman given financial support, but she is also granted a meaningful purpose for her remaining days. She is given a privilege of great significance rather than brushed aside.

Wow. I wonder what our churches would be like if we had apostles starting churches all the time in new areas and among new peoples, and the churches were supported by full-time prayer warriors—night and day! I can’t think of a better investment in kingdom resources. Church would actually be investing in spiritual endeavors of kingdom expansion and we would be investing in spiritual battle with full-time prayers and intercession.

In this cast-aside society where people are routinely brushed off as not valuable because of a lack of vocation or a handicap of sorts, this principle could make a huge difference. In God’s economy there are no useless Christians who are welfare cases. An elderly, arthritic woman who can barely rise to answer the door, is an extremely valued servant who is needed to breakdown walls of separation, destroy spiritual strongholds and set captives free! She has a calling on her life and is supported full time to serve in this way. I can see why Satan would want for us to get away from such a function. He’d much rather we pay a full-time staff person to keep our youth entertained and focused while the adults have fellowship and teaching. Could it be that the enemy is more threatened by this old woman than the highly educated professional pastor! Ouch.

Paul makes one thing clear in this passage that he also made a point of in 1 Cor. 9—the role is not to be a burden to the church if it can be helped (v. 16). We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the church as a burden to the pastor, but Paul saw things the other way around. I think our concerns are often misplaced because our values are far removed from the New Testament.I wonder how our churches would be if we were more concerned for the stress placed on the church than on getting as much from her as we can?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Who Should The Church Pay: The role of the apostle

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul makes a case for his right to make his living from the gospel just as the other apostles do. He even cites the Lord as the source of the directive (v. 14) perhaps a reference to his commissioning of the twelve and the seventy to take no purse with them for a laborer is worthy of his wages (Matt. 10:9-10; Luke 10:4).

Paul and Barnabas, however, forgo their right for such payment and choose rather to work to support themselves. Paul worked as a tentmaker while starting the church in Corinth at least until others arrived to help in the support so as not to be a burden to the emerging church.

Apostolos, the Greek word translated “apostle” means one sent on a mission as a representative or a special envoy. They are the ones to lay a foundation for the expanding church in every region and among every tribe and nation.

Such a role is not limited to a single church in a given region, but is commissioned to church an entire region. They are not likely to manage an existing church, but lay the foundation for others to build upon...and then are likely to go do it again somewhere else.

This role is actually defined as having a “right” to make a living from the preaching of the good news (vv. 3-9). It is important to note, however, that this right can be laid aside and surrendered for the sake of the church as Paul and Barnabas chose to do. This right should never be demanded at the detriment of the church. Have we hurt the church by making her responsible to employ her leaders like a business? I believe the answer to this question is yes, in many ways. Besides draining her of resources, perhaps the worst detriment is how we have segregated the body into a professional class that does the ministry and a nonprofessional class that works hard to pay them.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who should the Church Pay to Serve?

This is a very critical question for the church to ask today. In order to approach this subject with cooler heads and calmer hearts, may I suggest we commit ourselves to addressing this from the New Testament rather than from our traditions, practical challenges and emotional bias. Can we read the New Testament as if we never read it before? Can we consider this question as if we did not have 2000 years of history weighing in on our perspective? Can we ask this question divorced from the concern of where our next paycheck will come from or worrying about career choices and educational investments? Probably not, but we should at least try.

It is my personal belief that much of our theology of church financing is dictated by two things. We are heavily influenced by the Old Testament principles of supporting a centralized religious government, and by our own need to support a new centralized religious institution. Frankly, I believe we draw much from the Old Testament for the very reason that we need to support a centralized religious institution and the New Testament is found lacking in that regard. Not that the New Testament is lacking in content about finances, in fact principles of financial stewardship is voluminous in the New Testament. Jesus spoke more about money than about heaven and hell, but the New Testament does away with the centralized religious institution. All of us are priests. All are servants empowered by the anointing of the Holy Spirit for the work of the ministry.

As I have studied the New Testament with this question in mind I have discovered that there are only two roles that are expected to make their living being supported by the church. If we could only pay two roles in the church today, which would we choose? Senior pastors and missionaries? Pastors and worship leaders? Denominational executives and pastors? Push comes to shove, I’d probably want to include a gifted secretary in the mix, but that’s more reflective of my own weakness than of any understanding of the Bible. I am confident that whatever two roles we would choose, they would not be the two mentioned in the New Testament.

In the next few blog posts I will examine this issue and share who is supported "full time" in the NT.