Called Out 1: Paid Clergy

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My harshest critics are religious people from the culturally defined
“Church.” It’s always been that way. Let’s be honest, it’s not without cause. As someone who is deeply committed to the work and mission of the Biblical Church, I have not withheld my critical analysis of those areas where I seek her reform. Even at the beginning of my ministry in my teens, I was called an annoying gadfly who just can’t accept things as they are.

After twenty-five years in “brick and mortar” ministry and nearly another nine in the “online” environment, I’m still deeply troubled by the cultural church’s confusion over what it means to be salt and light in a dark world. Jesus Christ is supposed to be the head of the Church. The power of his Spirit is supposed to flow through his “body” and offer healing and transformation to a broken world. This is certainly happening in small pockets all over the globe, but the predominant experience with the church has almost nothing to do with Love’s ability to heal a hurting world. In the minds of most people, the church is a building we go to. It has become an institutional power play (political, social, racial, economic) which increasingly defines itself by all that it is against. It feeds itself, not on the Flow of Spirit, but on disdain for the “other.” This morphs it’s message of “Truth” into civil propaganda.

The Church has lost her way because people are leading it. The Church needs an infusion of the Holy Spirit, of the Prophetic word, and Priestly care to heal the marginalized.

I would love to serve in an Institution that is training up Pastors and Missionaries. I would gladly do this free of charge. It’s not likely to happen, because such places will reject my first rule of ministry: Never take a dime for sharing the Gospel.

One of the biggest watershed topics which would radically transform the global Church is not in it’s theology, but in it’s structure. The single biggest hinderance to the Gospel and the Church is it’s confusion and assumption that it must serve as an economic engine for those who lead it. Once a pastor, priest or missionary derives their livelihood from the ministry, they forfeit fidelity to the relationship of Christ and their culture. The “donor base” ultimately usurps the place where God would ordinarily speak, and once that happens, the Church ceases to hear from God about the world it’s supposed to serve because it becomes pre-occupied with its own self-preservation. It’s amazing how much time pastors spend appealing to, catering to, and cleaning up drama which could affect their “donor base.”

Church polity is not a calling, it’s a distraction.

If we follow this one thread back through our own experience and back through American Church history, and back through the entire history of the Church in the World, we discover that the “paid clergy” is behind nearly every form of corruption, every power play, every edict and position paper that lifted some and crushed others. Paid clergy is behind every misguided theological absurdity, and every church split, and every departure from the Truth into heresy. What do we suppose Jesus’ reaction would be if a disciple said: “How much am I going to make to bring your Gospel to my city? If I don’t get paid, then I’m not going to do it.”

I brought this message to my own elder board and it was resoundingly rejected. “What’s a pastor to do? Who can manage all the work?” Very simple. First, get a job and work along side everyone else. Second, volunteers.

As I’ve applied this model, I’ve discovered, that our world has not rejected the Gospel, it has rejected the neutered, impotent gospel contrived by those who “grow their base” by creating pitiful distinctions, divisions, and ad hominem arguments. The weak and needy cultural church needs your support to keep all of its distracting programs afloat, the True Church cannot be bought, nor can it be stopped, and it cannot be found on any Google search. It exists both within and without the cultural church.

Every paid pastor will quote the Old Testament: “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” (Deuteronomy 25:4). It’s even more amazing that they follow Paul’s logic in 1 corinthians 9:14 that “those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” Paul established more churches than anyone and if pastors were to follow his lead they would also follow his example of NOT GETTING PAID BY HIS MINISTRY.

“But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16 For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18 What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:15-18)

Look, I wanted to be a “rockstar” pastor too. Our world has many of them. Underneath our resistance to this ethos is our Neo-Platonic division between sacred and secular work. In this sense, Pastors worship Plato far more than Jesus. The bigger teaching is that all work is ultimately sacred when we do everything as “unto the Lord.” The life of “faith” means that whether we are doing our laundry, driving a truck, leading people, counseling, or cooking, it is all ministry because all work done in faith is serving the Lord by way of serving all others. That may not be as sexy, but it’s biblical and it redefines who and what the “Church” actually is.

Call me radical if you want. Here’s my advice to all pastors of churches. Go get a job. Maintain your position of leadership, but stop taking any more money. Next, tell your staff to go get jobs along side of everyone else they are serving. If people won’t lead worship, teach the youth, or organize a potluck without pay, then let it all go. Sell your building, free yourself from debt, and begin meeting in peoples homes or parks. Liberate your congregation, their time and their resources and reallocate them toward serving and healing the world. If this seems unreasonable, even impossible, then frankly, you don’t love the Gospel as much as you love your job. Your faith and trust is not in God, but in your economic microcosm.

It was hard for me. I had to go out and start at the bottom and work my way up like everyone else. I learned humility. I learned how to live on mission. The Gospel preached on Sunday rarely penetrates to the team call, but when it’s lived out in service to everyone around you, it is believed. If this is good enough for the congregation, it’s good enough for the pastor and his staff. So long as there are paid clergy, the world will point in disbelief. That hardened world is not Satan’s evil influence on the souls of mankind, it’s the result of the cultural church forsaking it’s founder.

If you an bear to look at it, this series will explore the Biblical description of Jesus’ Church and hopefully inspire a change within us to move away from being a “consumers” seeking to be exalted and pumped up on weekends to following our Founder downward along a path of self-emptying service whereby we exchange our powerlessness for the power of God to heal the world.

If we truly want to see the living body of Christ in the world, if we truly want the promised New World to come into view, we must be willing to trust the work of the gospel which calls us out of our bondage to institutional power and into true freedom.

I hope you’ll join us.

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