In Defense of Paid Clergy – With Perspective to Clarify Their Role
We recently discussed ministry of the masses: why aren’t normal, everyday Christians leveraging their gifts, resources, time, effort, sheer numbers to radically change our world? Is it possible we’ve let paid ministers do “ministry” so we don’t have to? A scary thought, but a tragic reality. We imagined a Kingdom where the paid ministers (clergy) train congregations so the unpaid ministers (everyone else) could minister in their daily lives, reaching more people and maximizing our impact in the world.
We don’t want you to think we are anti-leadership, per se. (See our last post on not taking offense so quickly at leadership decisions that rub you wrong! You can read it here: And other duties as assigned) It shouldn’t have to be pointed out, but Millennials aren’t running around our churches with pitchforks rioting until anarchy is instituted. No one is saying a paid minister is a bad idea. What we are suggesting is that modern pastors for pay generally don’t do what they did in the eras where the Church had its greatest influence; they aren’t doing what they were founded to do; and they aren’t doing what the Church desperately needs right now!
Is it a great idea to pay leaders so they can be wholly dedicated to their work? YES. Imagine Paul accomplishing EVEN MORE than he did if someone could have just paid him! “Here, let me fund you – don’t spend all your time working and then raise disciples on the side. Spend all your time raising disciples!” Being paid for spreading the Gospel was so rare in Paul’s day that he felt the need to defend the possibility. While he expressed his own personal commitment to work for a living by tent-making so no one would be burdened, he took time to remind the Corinthians that the Lord said those who proclaim the gospel should be able to get their living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14).
But here is the issue that has developed in our modern times, the comfortable crisis we’ve arrived at: paid pastors should be paid by the people to teach the peoples to minister, to reach the people in their own sphere of influence with the gifts God has given them. Paid pastors should equip the rest of their flock for ministry. Instead, paid pastors are paid to do the ministry itself so we don’t have to. That’s a pretty big difference, and one that Millennials are no longer allowing Christians to sweep under the carpet. It sounds all nice and cozy to say, “Yeah, we pay Bill to do the ministry – I just bring my friends to church and he lets them have it!” But it’s a shameful avoidance of our most basic responsibilities as Christians – loving neighbors, spreading the good news, bringing God’s grace and blessings and comfort to those who need it. But then, it’s just easier to refer them to a church instead of getting our own hands dirty.
Our critical look at clergy as a profession is not to ask whether it should continue. Of course it should. Our question is regarding what they provide the Church; what job they do. Hold this tension: On one hand, these are, without a doubt, men of God doing God’s work. On the other hand, they aren’t magical elves. Paid, trained, educated, experienced pastors are no more able to do ministry than you are – it just feels that way because you might not be able to do ministry the way they do have been trained to do it. But God doesn’t need us all doing the same ministries in the same way – that would be a Body full of left hands. A left hand is rather convenient, if you ask me – but two gets in the way and 2.9 billion left hands is simply ludicrous. Your own personal ministry will look radically different than a paid minister’s because God has prepared you both differently. God gave you different gifts that might not include public speaking or leadership, but he’s got plenty of work that needs done and he invites each of us to be part of it and has tasks that each of us could perform with his aid!
Clergy have often spent considerable time studying the things of God. They have been set apart to do special kingdom work without the stress of having to worry how their bills will be paid. But they have been set aside by the rest of the Church to mobilize and train and teach and prepare us, the Church, to get out there in the trenches and do ministry with the things God has equipped us with and prepared for us to do. Not sure God can use you? Get this: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD HAS PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO (Ephesians 2:10). Did you get that? It is our purpose to do God’s work, and he’s already handpicked and prepared the things he wants you to partner with him on!
Go forth and minister, even if you aren’t a paid minister. Especially if you aren’t a paid minister! You’re a noncommissioned priest, a fellow NCP! (Missed part 1? Catch it here: Reactivating the Body (part 1 of 3))
Image: friends ministering without a preaching degree or a paid position at a church! Imagine how much could be done if Christians didn’t pause their faith life when they leave the church, and instead see everything from how they raise their family to how they treat coworkers, how they help neighbors to how they are kind to strangers as part of their own personal call to ministry by a God who wants us to help him love and save the world!