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.)