the weblog of Alan Knox

Modern Day Parable of the Subcontractors

Posted by on Jan 12, 2009 in discipleship, spiritual gifts | 10 comments

A man decided to build a house. The builder drew up plans to his exact specifications, then he subcontracted various parts of the project to different craftsmen: a mason for the brickwork, a carpenter for the woodwork, a plumber, an electrician, a roofer, etc. He gave each of the subcontractors a set of plans and asked them to carry out their tasks according to his plans.

When the builder checked on the progress, he found that his house was behind schedule and was not being built to his specifications. In fact, part of the flooring, which should be wood, was made of brick. Some of the plumbing had been replaced with bricks. Even the electrical system and roof including brick, which was not part of his design.

The builder called the mason and asked the mason what happened. The mason explained that he was a master craftsman, much more skilled at his craft than the other subcontractors. When he saw that the carpenter was not as good at woodworking, the mason jumped in and did part of his job. When he saw that the plumber was not as good at plumbing, the mason jumped in and did part of his job. In fact, the mason said, he had to be involved in each part of the project of it would not have been done properly.

The builder promptly fired the mason, explaining: “I gave you the task of laying bricks. I did not ask you to do the carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, or roofing. Instead of following my plans, you decided to run things yourself. You are fired for breech of contract.”

Next, the builder called the other subcontractors and asked them what happened. Each subcontractor in turn explained that the mason was much better at laying bricks that they were at their tasks. When the mason decided to do their tasks as well, they stood back and allowed him to do all the work.

The builder promptly fired all the other subcontractors, explaining: “I gave each of you a specific task. I asked you to do the carpentry, or the plumbing, or the electrical work, or the roofing. Instead of following my plans, you decided to follow the mason’s plans. You are all fired for breech of contract.”


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  1. 1-12-2009

    Maybe you could do a “scripture as we live it” tie in with this post from Ex.1:14.I laughed at “fired for breach of contract”. I should probably cry though. Praise the Lord all day today.

  2. 1-12-2009

    You have to wonder, did the builder wait too long to check?

    When I think of God’s timing, He is rarely early but never late. As we build in His name to His glory, we would do well to remember that.

  3. 1-12-2009


    Sometimes, observing the way the church works (or doesn’t work) today makes me want to both laugh and cry.


    In Jesus’ parables, the workers never know when the master is returning. But, they soon begin to believe that he’s never returning.


  4. 1-14-2009

    This well written parable speaks so loudly today about the penchant we believers have for employing paid clergy and then abdicating responsibility to operate in our individual gifts. We find (or create) a mason (Pastor) who becomes the “jack of all trades” in the church while we sit as spectators (and judges)?

    Blaming today’s institional leadership for the church being ineffective and weak today is tantamount to the subcontractors blaming the mason, (no matter how good he is at his job). He is not the reason we fail to operate as the parts of the body to which we are called; he is our rationale for doing so.

    Neither can those who are elders or shepherds in the church (aka “Pastors” in most cases) blame anyone but ourselves for encouraging such transfer of authority and power (and, most important, responsibility), before we similarly decry the traditional church’s current and sad state.

    We must move away from this unbiblical ecclesiology with its corporate structure and unhealthy placing of preeminence on a few good men (clergy), and go back to each of us “being” the church (fulfilling our calling as a part of the body), so that when we assemble we accurately reconstitute Christ.

    Excellent parable.

  5. 1-14-2009


    Great comment! I appreciate the thought that you put into it, and I agree completely!


  6. 2-17-2012

    I like this parable. The buildings have been constructed, millions of them over 1,700 years. They are not repairable, many people like them just how they are. During the exile in Babylon the children of Israel built synagogs (churches) and even though they were in a foreign land in captivity, they grew accustomed and comfortable their captivity and their man made buildings.

  7. 4-24-2012

    I see the parallel to the professional clergy. But this spoke to me on a more personal level. I’ve often had a “stand in the gap” mentality — filling in where there’s a need, whether it’s Sunday School, small group leader, usher, etc. — when no one steps forward to do the task. In other areas of my life too, not just church. As a result, I’ve often felt burned out and frustrated and even resentful because I’m doing things I’m not necessarily good at and I’m getting criticized for it and not seeing a lot of fruit from it. I’ve learned that in those cases I wasn’t trusting God. God will raise up the people he needs to do what he wants. I’m supposed to do what he wants me to do.

  8. 4-25-2012


    That’s a great observation! Thanks for adding that point to this discussion.


  9. 9-21-2012

    Love the relationship of the guy who takes over all the others’ tasks with those who are willing to get out of the way and let him – and how both are equally at fault for breach of contract/disobedience. My wife and I found that obeying a man over the Lord was plain and simple disobedience. Our previous “pastor” micromanaged every detail of that church, and people simply let him.

    While I do not despise leadership and can respect people who are able to give direction, I find it distasteful when people use their gifts for what amounts to personal gain/achievement/preference/glory…what have you. It is very true that a person who is good at encouragement and motivation can quickly turn it into manipulation as well as someone who is a perfectionist can become a micro-manager – any gift can become a source of selfish gain and disobedience…it can become a matter of worship, the worship of MY gifts, MY talents, MY calling, etc. However, it is equally wrong for a person to allow someone to manipulate or manage them over their own scruples, convictions or obedience to the Lord. This, too, can become a matter of worship – putting a man in the place of God.

  10. 9-22-2012


    You picked up the meaning of this parable perfectly! I loved your explanation and applications. Thanks!