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The Vocational Pastor: the definitions I use

Posted by on Jun 6, 2012 in elders | 21 comments

The Vocational Pastor: the definitions I use

This is the third post in my series on “The Vocational Pastor.” In the first two posts (“The Vocational Pastor: an interesting discussion” and “The Vocational Pastor: keeping on topic“), I primarily wrote about why this is a difficult topic to discuss. The topic is personal and emotional for almost everyone involved.

Whether someone believers that Scripture supports or does not support paying a salary to someone in order for that person to be a pastor/elder, almost everyone has a story or experience to bring into the discussion. Almost everyone has a personal stake in this discussion – some have a bigger stake than others.

So, when we are discussing this topic (or any other topic such as this), we must understand the emotional and personal nature of the topic. This is a difficult issue to address in the abstract because of the real consequences involved.

It helps, though, to define exactly what we’re talking about. When I use the phrase “vocational pastor,” what do I mean? Some use the phrase “professional pastor” or “paid pastor” or something similar.

When I use the phrase “vocational pastor,” I’m talking about someone who has accepted and carries out a certain role among a group of Christians (church) because that group has agreed (beforehand) to pay that person in exchange for carrying out that role. For the “vocational pastor,” if the money was not available (for whatever reason), then that person’s role and function among the church would change drastically.

The fact that a person is or is not a “vocational pastor” is not related to the person’s relationship with God, or the person’s ability or effectiveness at helping others follow Jesus, or the person’s motivation or work ethic.

For example, I am currently employed as a web developer for an educational institution. In exchange for my work, I am paid a salary that we agreed on beforehand. If I did not receive that salary, I would not do this work for them. The salary, however, does not affect my relationship with God, my work as a disciple-maker, my work ethic, etc.

Also, when I say that I believe that Scripture does not support the idea of paying someone a salary in order to be an elder/pastor, I’m talking about the connection between a salary (as discussed above) and the role of elder as found in Scripture. In making that statement, I am not (yet) assigning a value (good or bad) to “vocational pastors.” I’m simply stating that the practice cannot be supported from Scripture. (The question of the value of “vocational pastors” is a separate question that should be dealt with separately.)

(Note: I use the term “pastor” in this post and others because it is used so widely among the church today. I prefer the term “elder.” To me, pastoring/shepherding as found in Scripture is a spiritual gift like teaching, prophesying, serving, etc. An elder is instructed to shepherd, but that does not necessarily mean the elder has the spiritual gift of shepherding, just as an elder and all other Christians are instructed to serve, but that doesn’t mean that they all have the spiritual gift of serving.)


21 Comments

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  1. 6-6-2012

    Leading as a church elder from a biblical point of view is much like leading as a father or grandfather. You don’t expect to get paid for taking care of your family, nor do you expect to ‘do ministry’ while your family watches you. The expectation is that you communicate what the family should do and YOU ALL do it together. That is the NT picture of the church (or Christ’s “ekklesia” — His political action committee) and God’s household.

  2. 6-6-2012

    This is a great opportunity for me to ask some questions about this topic. I am currently a full time volunteer associate Pastor within a paid staff, and I am going to school for my ordination requirements. I have always felt as though the position of Pastor in the Protestant sense seemed more like a job than a calling/vocation. Growing up Catholic, it seemed the vocation of a Priest was less of a job and more a position where one was called, and in that calling he was cared for by the church.

    The questions I have struggled with find themselves coming out of Luke 10:7, where the seventy-two are sent out, and 1 Timothy 5:17-18 where Paul is talking about the Elders receiving a double honor/portion especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

    While I wouldn’t say these passages speak to a “salary” they do seem to speak to the overall care for the workers in food, shelter, wages, etc…

    Both of these have made me feel awkward, and at times I think my service has made others feel awkward too. Our church is struggling financially as are many others. And I see my service, and my wife’s service through her income (her job is truly her vocation), is a blessing to this church.

    But the question is, what kind of care do these passages put forth, and what kind of care should be expected?

  3. 6-6-2012

    I think another important definition would be how you are using the word “pay” as this is a point of contention I come across often in this discussion. Are you talking about gifts? Provisions? a Paycheck? You kind of eluded to it, but I never saw it spelled outright. I get the impression that you mean a paycheck, as you have compared “vocational pastoring” to other jobs (also simply using the word vocational implies this) but making this clear is important, as it can impact how we view certain passages which seem to indicate a different kind of provision (room and board for example).

  4. 6-6-2012

    Rick,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

    Paul and Dan,

    You’ve both asked some good questions related to my definitions. In my perspective the “salary” of a “vocational pastor” could be an agreed upon amount of money or an agreed upon amount of provision (housing, food, etc.). The question, to me, is not what is given, but the relationship between what is given and when/why the “service” is provided. If a group agrees to give someone something in order for that person to be an elder/pastor, then I would define that person as a “vocational pastor.”

    -Alan

  5. 6-6-2012

    I became fascinated by what I have read in the Didache…possibly a controversial account (of the Training of (from)the Tweleve Apostles to the Gentiles)…regarding care and feeding of apostles and prophets which seem to be interchangeable terms referring to evangelists and teachers. No mention of pastors…but there are some pretty direct instructions about receiving or NOT…those that would ask for silver (for themselves). Apparently some meager food and lodging is ok but if they ask for silver, they are considered false. This has helped to inform my thinking on this subject…having endured 25 years + of ministry with a huge emphasis on $$ that eventually became a real point of contention in a large group of believers who watched the Pastor live in relative luxury in comparison to the flock. Also mentioned in the Didache is the admonition that “…those speaking in Spirit…should have the habits of the Lord…therefore, from these habits should be known the false… and the true.” Obviously the Lord has women taking care of him…and also to a degree the Apostles. So there is some “habit” of the Lord – in being provided for, but it seems to me it is not a contractual relationship by any means.

  6. 6-6-2012

    Rita,

    Yes. The Didache also makes a distinction between those who travel and stay in one place only one day (or at most two days), and those who remain in an area. Those who travel are to be offered food and lodging (as long as they don’t request it), but those who stay in an area longer are to work for their own provision.

    While I wouldn’t draw a hard-and-fast line at 1-2 days, I do think that the distinction between those who travel around and those who remain in one area is a valid distinction from Scripture, and it’s also part of my definition of elder/pastor.

    -Alan

  7. 6-6-2012

    The only reason someone should be a pastor is because God has called him to it. Money (or anything else, including natural gifts and skills) should not be a part of the equation.

    And likewise, the only reason a pastor should leave is because God has led him to leave. We have too many professional pastors who hop from church to church, climbing the ladder of ‘success’.

  8. 6-6-2012

    Good thoughts from this post: http://www.lilligren.com/church/money.htm#Salary

    The sending out of the twelve (Matt. 10:5ff; Mark 6:7ff; Luke 9:1ff) and the seventy (Luke 10:1ff) was a temporary assignment which had a beginning and an end. Reliance upon hospitality was the norm during this time, and it was conditional, “if a man of peace is there,” otherwise they were to not stay in that home and presumably would go without provisions until they found a suitable host. Wherever they stayed, they were to “eat whatever is set before you” (Luke 10:8). This hardly equates to full-time or long-term support.

    There came a time when Jesus told his disciples to no longer do this, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Jesus himself marks this as a change from what He previously directed his disciples to do (v. 35).

  9. 6-6-2012

    Could someone describe to me some more specific passages on what a pastors job is? I have looked on line, but I want to know what a pastor does for individuals. Let me explain my situation: my (former) pastor was a missionary to Kenya for 10 years, and raised a family of seven on the meager support of the loose organization of Reformed Baptist churches. He has a Master’s degree in Theology, can read and write Hebrew and Greek. Our congregation is/was pretty small, and the church covered his housing and a salary. He taught classes at a small college for a couple of semesters, but I think it was too far for him to drive every weekend. He does something, not sure what, at a local high school, so he has some claim to Social Security. They pretty much starved trying to feed the family, no luxuries at all. But aside from preaching, ministering at a few funerals and weddings, what does he owe the congregation? Being a complementarian, I feel that he stopped ministering to me, a woman, when my husband became a member. I wonder if it is me expecting too much of him, or is he missing the duties of his calling.

  10. 6-6-2012

    Andrew and Rick,

    Thanks for the comments.

    Susan,

    The role of an elder is very important in defining what I mean by “vocational pastor.” In Scripture, it seems that the role of elders is the same as every other Christian’s role. The only difference is the level of maturity and consistency. In Scripture, the church is instructed to recognize as elders those who are mature in the faith and consistent in living the way all Christians are called to live in Christ.

    -Alan

  11. 6-6-2012

    Being new to this blog, I am finding the discussions well-worth the read. In regard to this current topic though, I would like to offer several comments. I was a minister for four years and for one of those years I was deployed to Iraq and served the soldiers under my authority not in a chaplain position but as a minister of God – unpaid mind you. I say that to say that I am not unaware of the problems within the ministerial community dealing with monies received.

    I have seen the vying for positions of power in the congregants who wanted their position of belief pushed more than others. The way this was accomplished, or at least attempted, was through the threat of pulling their support. Support to the minister/pastor should never be used as a means of control. If, as the congregation and leaders pronounce, the minister is indeed led to that congregation by our Lord and Savior and verified/validated by a congregational vote (different topic), who is to remove that minister? I believe Paul talks about this type of congregation in 2 Tim 3.1-5, 4.3-4.

    As to the focus of the discussion, paying the minister is not unheard of in the N.T. God authorizes a minister to receive payment for his service. Paul clearly articulates this in 1 Cor 9.3-15 and 2 Cor 11.7-11. It is not wrong to support a minister but to use it as a means of control is wrong, as stated before. A minister is led by God to fulfill a specific mission at a local congregation and this, without scriptural support, is not a hopping from place to place. How can a man of God help a congregation grow when he is not there for the long haul? The lure of money is a dangerous temptation for many as we have seen with the Prosperity Gospel (TBN). It needs to be stamped out by the power of God.

    I better close before I get on my soapbox…

  12. 6-6-2012

    Craig,

    Thanks for the comment.

    -Alan

  13. 6-7-2012

    Alan,

    I keep getting caught up on the “in order for” language. What would happen if you used “because” instead. That would change the definition, but some might say a church decides to pay a pastor because he is a pastor. That this makes his financial strain less “in order for” him to devote more time to pastoral duties, it’s not the same thing. In some sense, this is showing honor to that person as a pastor. Thoughts?

  14. 6-7-2012

    Wes,

    Thanks for the comment. I intentional used the phrase “in order for.” I’ll try to explain. If a person agrees to be recognized as an elder/pastor for a group only if a certain income is provided (in the form of money or something else), then I would consider that person a “vocational pastor” (in the definition that I’m using). On the other hand, if a person is an elder/pastor without requiring income, but someone gives that person a gift (money or something else) in response to that person’s service (a la 1 Timothy 5:17) and without a promise of future gifts, then I would not consider that person a “vocational pastor.”

    -Alan

  15. 6-7-2012

    I thought about the emphasis on “in order for” in your first post question. I’m glad you elaborated here. I don’t believe that scripture “supports” the concept of paying someone in order for them to become an elder. You cannot pay someone to be older (elder) or mature. You can only recognize that maturity that already exists.

  16. 6-7-2012

    Thanks Alan!

  17. 6-8-2012

    I have no axe to grind here, but following a quick search under ‘muzzling the ox’, it seems to me those who say they find ABSOLUTELY NO Scriptural support for paying ‘pastors’ are sailing very close to the wind.

    1Ti 5:17-18(NET) Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker deserves his pay.”

    1Co 9:4-14(NET) Do we not have the right to financial support? Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I lack the right not to work? Who ever serves in the army at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Who tends a flock and does not consume its milk? Am I saying these things only on the basis of common sense, or does the law not say this as well? For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest. If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you? If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving? But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple eat food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar receive a part of the offerings? In the same way the Lord commanded those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel.

    Am I missing something in this discussion? The passages above seem to say that payment is ‘a right’ just as in any other work. Is the debate centered on whether or not there was an ‘in advance’ agreement to pay a specific amount? Is your very careful definition letting you take the wind out of these standard Scripture passages by arguing that all the remuneration (honor) described went to ‘non-vocational pastors’?

    Where do Scripture references to ‘appointing’ elders fit in? The implication is that they were already fitting the requirement when they were appointed, and there is no indication that a contract was signed, but the fact of payment seems beyond argument. Likewise, what do you do with the parable of the men hired for farm work throughout the day without an advance contract? They were all verbally assured they would be paid what was fair.

    I haven’t seen anyone arguing the YES side here. Is it that the abuses have wounded so many of you that you have all moved to the NO side? Organic church, house church, and all may be the best model, but dont ‘wrest the Scriptures’ to make them support an obscure aspect of the issue.

  18. 6-8-2012

    “One-on-one meetings with parishioners going through time of crisis including taking communion to a church member in the hospital
    One-on-one meetings with families/ individuals interested in learning more about the church and/or becoming official members of the congregation
    Follow-up conversations/ emails with visitors from Sunday morning
    Planning meetings/ phone conversations with church leadership about new initiatives for growth in congregational life
    Attending to the administrative tasks of the church office: supervision of two other staff members, overseeing communication coming from the church office, planning with church administrator dates for the church calendar
    Attentiveness to church outreach tools: updating Facebook fan page, twittering about important events, working with church administrator to update contact list for weekly email and making sure website is up to date, and of course blogging when new ideas come for posts
    Meeting with church members who come to the office during office hours to ask questions, say hello
    Attending community functions to represent the church
    Preparing for upcoming Bible Studies by doing research on curriculum choices
    Planning for worship; editing the bulletin
    Connecting with colleagues in the area for meals for shared learning and support
    And, of course, preparing for sermons by doing research, mediation and sitting still long enough so for God to have the opportunity to form my thoughts in the direction of what the congregation most needs to hear”

    Here is the kind of list I was looking for. In our small church, many of these duties are taken care of by other people than the pastor, but the pastor is the only one that gets paid. If I am dissatisfied, is my only choice to leave, and they think I’m a heretic? What kind of advice can I give the pastor if I feel like he is not covering his duties properly?

  19. 6-10-2012

    I serve a small Virginia church as Pastor of Evangelism. There is no financial compensation for the work I do. But there is great reward, like the young lady who claimed Jesus as Lord and Saviour just last week. The Lord has blessed me in many ways and I have an income that is adequate for my needs.
    I served three different churches over the last 35 years as a bi-vacational pastor, one of them for 18 years. My high pay level was $200.00 per week which just about covered expenses associated. There were times that my tithe exceeded my paycheck.
    I think the bottom line is this. If a church is willing to offer compensation, then let them do it. If a pastor moves from church to church because of pay, you and I are not the judge he must answer to. Our entire eccumenical system is failing. And that failure is not unique to Paid Pastor or non-paid pastor. That failure is the result of those of us in the pews who have fogotten to do what were COMMANDED to do in Acts 1:8. Our seminaries appear to be doing a poor job of training but that is not the not the problem…those trained can only do so much. You can’t make a horse drink and you cannot make conplacent church members witness.
    I am having the best years of my life. When God called me to preach, he DID NOT call me to prepare…He called me to witness His love to a dying world. And now he has put me in the position to train others to do the same. Let us focus on that and the rest will pale in comparison.

  20. 6-10-2012

    Jon McCranie says:

    I serve a small Virginia church as Pastor of Evangelism. There is no financial compensation for the work I do. But there is great reward, like the young lady who claimed Jesus as Lord and Saviour just last week. The Lord has blessed me in many ways and I have an income that is adequate for my needs.
    I served three different churches over the last 35 years as a bi-vacational pastor, one of them for 18 years. My high pay level was $200.00 per week which just about covered expenses associated. There were times that my tithe exceeded my paycheck.
    I think the bottom line is this. If a church is willing to offer compensation, then let them do it. If a pastor moves from church to church because of pay, you and I are not the judge he must answer to. Our entire eccumenical system is failing. And that failure is not unique to Paid Pastor or non-paid pastor. That failure is the result of those of us in the pews who have fogotten to do what were COMMANDED to do in Acts 1:8. Our seminaries appear to be doing a poor job of training but that is not the not the problem…those trained can only do so much. You can’t make a horse drink and you cannot make conplacent church members witness.
    I am having the best years of my life. When God called me to preach, he DID NOT call me to prepare…He called me to witness His love to a dying world. And now he has put me in the position to train others to do the same. Let us focus on that and the rest will pale in comparison.

  21. 6-10-2012

    Hello everyone. Sorry that I haven’t been able to take part in the discussion. Thanks for sharing your views here.

    -Alan