Exploring Church Staff from a Biblical Perspective
Stop Paying Clergy and Ministry Staff to Do What We’re Supposed to Do Ourselves
In part one of Embrace a Fresh Perspective about Church we looked at adopting a new, biblically enlightened view on the role that a church building should play for our spiritual community. Now we’ll continue that theme by looking at church staff, along with the related topics of missionaries, local ministers, and payroll.
In 7 Things the Church Is Not, we mentioned that the church should not be an institution. Yet most churches today move in that direction after about ten years of operation, and they become an institution a couple of decades after that. For an institution to work, it needs paid church staff (and money). That’s why local pastors receive a salary: to keep the institution of church functioning and viable.
As we’ve already covered, this thinking follows the Old Testament model of church. But we don’t live in the Old Testament or under its covenant. We live in the New Testament and under its covenant—at least in theory. In the New Testament, we—that is, those who follow Jesus—are his church. Each one of us is a priest—that is, a minister—to care for one another. We shouldn’t pay someone to do what we’re supposed to do. As part of the body of Christ, we each do our part to advance the kingdom of God and shouldn’t expect to receive payment for our labor.
There is, however, one exception to this idea of no compensation. In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul builds a case to pay missionaries. This doesn’t apply to the folks who run local churches. Paul refers to those who go around telling others about Jesus. Today, we might call these people evangelists. Based on Paul’s teaching it’s right to pay them.
Yet once Paul builds his case to appropriately pay missionaries, he points to an even better way: for missionaries to earn their own money and not require outside support. Paul often covers his expenses and those who travel with him by plying his trade. He works as a tentmaker. Springing from this is the idea of a tentmaker-missionary, someone who pays their own way as they tell others about Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:7–18).
But what about the local church? Shouldn’t we reward our clergy, out church staff, by paying them? Doesn’t the Bible say that workers deserve compensation (1 Timothy 5:18)? Not quite. The context of this is for traveling missionaries to be content with the food and lodging provided to them as they journey about telling others about Jesus (Luke 10:5–7).
But don’t we need a minister to teach us about God each Sunday? No. The Bible expects us to feed ourselves spiritually. And we are to teach one another.
What about a clergy member to address our spiritual needs as they arise? No. We are to care for one another.
In short, through Jesus the institution of church is over—at least in theory. Without a physical building or an institution to maintain, there is no need to pay church staff to run the whole show.To pursue a New Testament path, take church with you wherever you go and help others however you can, paying your own way as you do. Click To Tweet
So if you are part of an institution and want to perpetuate it, then buy a building, hire church staff, and pay them their due. However, if you want to pursue a different path as seen in the New Testament, then take the church with you wherever you go and help others however you can, paying your own way as you do.
We must reform our thinking of paying church staff to do what the Bible calls us to do ourselves as priests who serve one another.
Next week we’ll look at the church and money.
[Read more about this in Peter’s upcoming book, Jesus’s Broken Church.]
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.