J. Randall Stewart
62 - The Church Swap
Updated: May 1
I must first apologize for my irreverence in the midst of applying some humor to a serious situation. When I saw this label, and started laughing hysterically, my mind went quickly to how the Church often does this same sort of thing. But, don't misunderstand me. I have a lot of respect and consideration for the difficult job of pastors and church leaders. This is not a protest against the right of pastors to receive support. This is a comment on the difference between support and salary.
Jesus never got paid to preach the Gospel. Nor did Paul, Peter, John, or any other Apostle or New Testament leader. They did, however, receive support. So, what's the difference between support and salary, and how can we rethink the ways churches spend money in order to focus the bulk of our resources as Christians towards the effort of reaching the world for Christ?
That's a pretty big issue to address.
One of the things I do out of habit, when visiting any church, is get a hold of their yearly financial statement, if I can. Many churches will have it out in the foyer, in the form of a booklet, for anyone to see. That's not only called transparency, that's called the law of the land for any non-for-profit. A non-for-profit must be transparent about how they spent their money, since it's not their money. It's also just a good idea, especially for the Church. If church leaders are asking congregates to support the mission of the local church, they should be transparent in how they direct those funds. And, if you happen to look at how those funds are being spent, you'll see that the bulk of the money churches spend is on themselves. The number one cost for most churches is salary, and the number two cost is the building. I've noticed that in most churches, these two-line items usually absorb over eighty percent of the budget. That's a lot of money. But what's the payout, and who benefits the most?
Pastors and paid church leaders benefit the most, not only in salary, but because they also use the building the most. Think about that. The bulk of the money most churches spend gets absorbed by the least amount of people, even within a local church body. Is this the best use of that money?
Scripture lists a lot of different gifts and callings for individuals in a church. It also says that, in the body of Christ, every part matters, and every part is essential. So, it's good to ask the question; should some gifts, callings, and "parts" get paid to pursue their calling, while others don't? Another way of asking this question would be, "How should we divide up the money our church brings in?", or "What should we spend that money on." I think most people would say that, however we spend that pool of money, it should go for reaching the most people with the Gospel of Christ. So, likely, your pastor is the best equipped person the preach the Gospel of Jesus. They've likely already invested a lot of time and money of their own before they even get to a place to begin being paid to preach the Gospel.
However, it's not your pastor's job to preach the Gospel of Christ. It's his or her job to teach you how to do that. Christ has called the Church to go into the World and preach the Gospel, not for Christians to go to Church to hear a pastor preach the Gospel. When a pastor teaches Christians what the Gospel is, in a church building, it's for the purpose of equipping those Christians to take the Gospel back out into the world. It's good to support church leaders who are called to help equip Christians to preach the Gospel in their individual worlds. It's good to have a group of church leaders who can dedicate their full time and attention to equipping the saints. It's also good to have a central hub, a building to facilitate the work of that equipping. But what happens when we lose sight of the main function of the Church, and start thinking that church leaders get paid to preach the Gospel so we don't have to?
Education costs money. When it comes to the Church, we should pay for what we get, and get what we pay for. If secular professors get paid to teach students, so they can get a degree and go out into the world to use it, so should religious teachers. But if we're not using that education for it's intended purpose, what are we doing? If we think we're paying a few people to pursue their calling so we don't have to, then we don't understand the Christian idea of calling or support. Then we are paying profession Christians a salary to do a work we are all called to do, and all in need of being supported in.
There is no such thing as paid Christians, and unpaid Christians. No Christian deserves to be exclusively supported in the midst of other Christians who don't. Once we start distinguishing between the importance of calling based on who's paid, and who's not, we lose sight of the fundamental call of the Church in the World. It's fine to support any Christian who's dedicated themselves to full-time ministry. It's not okay to think they are the only one's called to full-time ministry. It's also okay to support yourself, in your full-time ministry.
If you notice, in scripture, there were times that Paul received financial support from other Christians, and there were times when he supported himself. Paul had a trade. Paul was a tentmaker. This is where the term, "Tentmaking Ministry" comes from. When it was possible, and available, Paul took the support of other Christians willingly, and gladly. When that wasn't available, Paul didn't give up his ministry, spend time fundraising, only to get back to his ministry when the money was there again. Paul pursued his ministry in every way possible. So should we.
We're all called to the ministry. Some in the setting of a church building, but all in the setting of the world. Some with the financial support of other Christians, but all with the support of the local church to which they belong. It's not a calling or gifting to make money and pay someone else a salary to do the work of the Church. We are the Church. We are all called to be the Church in the World. Let's not let money, or our ideas of Church and calling get in the way of that. Amen!