This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Friday, November 8, 2013


                         Man, I did love this game.  I'd have played for food money.  
It was the game...  Shoot, I'd play for nothing!”
--Shoeless Joe Jackson, in Field of Dreams

            That statement perfectly expresses what it means to have a calling, a vocation.  Joseph Campbell famously told his students: “Follow your bliss.”  Do what you love.  Ministry is a vocation.  It is something that gives to those called to it such joy and fulfillment that ministers would often do it whether they got paid or not.  We do it for the love of the work and of the One who calls us to the work.
            In the misbegotten “corporate” era of the church – the 1950’s through the 1970’s – we realized that many ministers were working for love… and often being taken advantage of by unscrupulous congregations.  (Just as ballplayers were abused by team owners in Joe Jackson’s time.)  So we developed minimum salary standards, medical insurance, pensions, and so forth.  In fact, presbyteries began to see themselves in part as “unions” for ministers.  Some of this was good and necessary.
            The unfortunate word attached to this development was “professionalization.”  That word meant that a cancerous demon entered the church: “the love of money,” which in 1 Timothy 6:10 is identified as “the root of all evil.”  Increasingly we adopted the mentality that ministers, like middle-management bureaucrats, are measured by the amount of money they make.  We stopped assuming that ministers were working because of their love for God and people; and we started thinking that ministers as “professionals,” were motivated by money, just like other professionals.  Churches imagine that, like a corporation, they have to offer bigger salary packages “to attract the best talent,” because the best, professional, talent cares mostly if not exclusively about money.  This degenerates into the assumption that higher paid ministers serving in large, wealthy churches are “better” at their work than lower paid ministers serving in small, poorer churches.  We also talk about “career tracks” in which ministers start at the “bottom” in small churches and gradually work their way up to better, that is to say, more remunerative jobs in big churches. 
            In other words, we replaced our understanding of calling with a corporatized, money-oriented mentality.  It is so bad right now that many simply don’t believe God would call good ministers to small churches, I guess because God wouldn’t be dumb enough to call a good pastor to be poor.  Pastors, like everyone else, are assumed to be in it for the money.  Not because God called them, or because of the joy and love of serving God and God’s people.  When we come across someone who really does serve God out of love, who doesn’t care about the money, our suspicion is that they are either fools or working some angle we haven’t yet figured out.  We assume that ministers do what they do for the same reason that hedge fund managers to what they do: for the money.  And if they were as bright as hedge fund managers, they would be doing that.  It is an attitude that is fundamentally toxic to the gospel.  In fact, it shoves the gospel into the trash and replaces it with the “values” of Capitalism.  At least in this part of our life together, we have replaced the gospel with the root of all evil.  That can’t be good.
In all 2000 years of Christian history,
there has not been one single saint
who was in it for the money.

            We have to cut this cancerous mindset out of the church.  We have to take definitive steps to remove the love of money from having any influence at all in the decisions we make as a church. 
            We have to stop the delusion that God agrees with our mercenary equation of salary with quality.  Ministers whom God calls to serve in small, poor churches, are not less faithful or effective than those whom God calls to serve in large, rich churches.  In fact, in my experience it is usually the opposite.  Some of the best pastors I have ever known worked in small churches.  And some of the least effective pastors I have ever known managed to land sweet positions in large churches.  God emphatically does not follow our Capitalistic way of valuing ministers or measuring competence in ministry.  Neither should we.  I propose we develop a system whereby all churches pay into a fund according to their wealth, from which all ministers are paid equally or by seniority, no matter what the size or wealth of the church in which they serve.  This will have the beneficial effects of both terminating the absurd idea that better ministers receive bigger salaries, and at the same time hopefully weed out from the ministry anyone who may still be in it for the money.

1 comment:

Wilderness Wonderings said...

Excellent. Well said...and may we escape the madness soon....