A Hired Gun: Money and Paid Ministry.
One Common Scenario: A congregation has elders who do little to actively shepherd the flock. Some teach Sunday School but most concentrate on budgets, programs, and business administration. They believe that the task of shepherding belongs primarily to the Senior Pastor. He is a man with a formal theological education and official credentials of ordination. He will be paid to preach the word, shepherd the flock, and do the work of the ministry.
The previous pastor was asked to resign after a vote was taken and a majority of the congregation believed that it was time for the pastor to leave the church and find another job. A search committee is formed to compose a list of potentials candidates. Most of the men on the list have resigned or been fired from other pastorates. Over the course of the following weeks different men are invited to preach a sermon, share a meal, and then answer questions from the congregation. The man who has the most polished message and best credentials is then approved by a vote and offered the job.
The new pastor signs on as a hired gun. In return he is promised a weekly salary and other benefits. The man has little knowledge of the community. He does not have a working relationship with any of the members of his new congregation. Nevertheless, he is expected to perform the work of the ministry and meet both the spoken and unspoken needs and expectations of the congregation. If he fails he may be fired. When he leaves he will receive his promised severance package but may be asked to no longer have any contact with members of the congregation. After the hired-gun is fired the process starts over. Sadly, this is a common scenario in many local churches. The flaws in this pattern are numerous. They are the direct result of the failure of churches to follow the New Testament pattern.
A Critique: There is nothing wrong with elders being good administrators or business men but the primary job of the elders is to shepherd the sheep. Some elders may have more time to devote to the cause. Others may have a particular spiritual gift that would enable them to better perform certain tasks (i.e. the gift of teaching may make an elder a better expositor of the word). The Bible makes it clear that it is the elders, not a hired gun, who are to oversee the spiritual needs and affairs of the local assembly.
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Jesus Christ is called the Chief Shepherd. He is the Senior Pastor of every local church. The elders (plural) are under-shepherds but no one elder has more authority than any other. Some may be more diligent and some may be more skilled, but they are all equal in authority. There is no mention of the office of pastor in the New Testament church. Ephesians 4:11 speaks of gifting, not an office of pastor-teacher. There is not one reference in Scripture that would suggest that academic credentials or official certification is necessary to be an elder. The same holds true for ordination. Formal schooling is not wrong in and of itself, it may even be helpful in some instances, but it is not necessary for leadership or even to teach the word of God.
The job of teaching is not restricted to the “pastor,” “pastor-teacher” or “teaching elder.” Elders (plural) are encouraged to share the responsibility of teaching. All elders are to be “able to teach” but not all elders will be equally gifted at public speaking. The job of teaching is not even restricted to the elders of the congregation. All men are encouraged to share in the ministry of the word. There may be some who are spiritually gifted in the area of “teaching.” Teachers are instructors who may function locally, or as an itinerant. They may be elders or they may not, depending on the needs of each situation.65
Ephesian 4:12 teaches that it is not the job of the pastor or even a plurality of elders to perform the work of the ministry. The Lord ascended into heaven and gave gifts to men. It is these spiritually gifted men who are to “equip the saints” so that they can do the “work of the ministry.”
Another problem in the common selection process of a pastor or teaching elder is that the elders and congregation do not really know the man. The New Testament teaches that those who are appointed to positions of leadership are to be tested first and then allowed to serve (1 Timothy 3:10). This passage specifically refers to the office of deacon but wisdom dictates that it be applied to all who are in leadership. The Bible exhorts believers to “not lay hands on anyone hastily.” A primary qualification of an elder is that he must rule his home well. Delivering a polished sermon and answering a few questions reveals little about a man’s family life. It takes time to get to know someone and determine the quality of his family relationships. The pattern in the assembly at Antioch was first conversion, and then later the appointment of elders (Acts 14:21-23). The apostles and their representatives, such as Timothy and Titus, carried on itinerant ministries to establish and strengthen local assemblies. As these congregations matured elders were appointed in each local assembly. There is no mention in the New Testament of elders being imported or hired from outside to shepherd the flock.
Money and Honor
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:17).
One incorrect interpretation of 1 Timothy 5:17 claims that the ruling and teaching elder (i.e. senior pastor) should be paid a salary while other elders should simply receive honor. The problem with this interpretation is that it is unscriptural to assume that there are two classes of elders. Some may rule “well” but all elders are to rule. There are not separate classes of ruling and non-ruling elders. Another popular interpretation of 1 Timothy 5:17, particularly among paid clergy, is that elders are divided into two distinct classes, ruling and teaching. This is also foreign to the New Testament.
The distinction of “teaching, presbyters” or ministers proper, and “ruling, presbyters” or lay-elders, is a convenient arrangement of Reformed churches, but can hardly claim apostolic sanction.66
The word translated “rule” is proisthmi. It means to “manage,” “conduct,” or “care for”.67 The emphasis of 1 Timothy 5:17 is not payment of elders but honoring “those who rule well”. The adverb “kalws” could also be rendered “excellent” or “commendable”. Some elders may have more time, more energy, or even a greater spiritual burden for the people. Whatever the reason, some elders may do a more excellent or commendable job of leading the local assembly than others. Those who “rule well,” not just those who teach are to be worthy of “double honor.”
The superlative adverb “especially” (malista) is used to show that some elders who “rule well” do it by laboring in the word and teaching. This does not mean that there is a division between “ruling” and “teaching” elders. Some elders rule better than others. Some who rule well do it by laboring in the word and doctrine. The double honor statement applies to all elders who rule well, especially, but not exclusively, to those who devote time and energy to preaching and teaching.
The word translated “honor” is timhs. It can also be translated “value,” “honor,” or “price”. The word appears 42 times in the New Testament. In every usage it should be translated “value,” “honor,” or “price.” There is a completely different word for “wages” (misqos) cf. 1 Timothy 5:18. (A wage is something that has been agreed upon and must be paid).
Those who rule well are worthy of “double” honor (timhs). The word translated “double” is diplhs. It could also be translated “two-fold” or “twice as much”. If it is claimed that “elders who rule well, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” should receive “double honor” (diplhs timhs) then all other elders must receive single honor. If “honor” means wages then all elders should receive pay. If “double honor” means full wages then “single honor” would mean half-wages. If one uses this verse as a justification to pay teaching elders then all elders must receive some form of financial compensation. If one insists that this is a wage, he is faced with the need to pay all the elders some money. And those who do excellent work should be paid more.68
It is generally assumed that the elders were paid for their services in the apostolic churches. We are convinced that this assumption is not tenable. The probability is that none of them were paid. The elders of the synagogues were not paid or salaried. Each synagogue had a number of elders, too many to have a payroll that would be large enough to support them. The apostolic congregations imitated the synagogue in this respect. Our passage speaks of “twofold honor,” not of twofold financial pay or salary.69
What about oxen and laborers?
Paul uses the analogy of the ox being fed and the laborer receiving wages in order to illustrate the principle of elders receiving honor (cf. Luke 10:7; Matthew 10:10). The elder too should be rewarded with honor and esteem by God’s people for his unselfish labor.70
In spite of the misinterpretation of 1 Timothy 5:17 there is some biblical justification for giving financial assistance to those who minister to others. This concept is not limited to elders or even to those who teach the word.
If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel (1 Cor. 9:11-14).
The context of this passage is the itinerant ministry of Paul and Barnabas. They had the right to receive unsolicited gifts for their labors but they did not use this right “lest we hinder the gospel of Christ.” Matthew 10:10 reads “a worker is worthy of his food” and Luke 10:17 reads “a worker is worthy of his wages.” Both of these passages also refer to the receipt of unsolicited gifts for itinerant ministry. Not that it is prohibited to provide financial assistance to individuals with a localized ministry but there is no biblical warrant to the claim that each local assembly should provide guaranteed wages to pastors or elders.
Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:34-35).
This passage was addressed to the elders in Ephesus. He encouraged them to be employed to the extent that they could not only support themselves but give to others as well. There is no hint that the assembly was expected to financially support one or all of the elders. Elders gave of there spare time to shepherd the flock and shared in this responsibility.71
The New Testament allows those who minister to receive unsolicited financial gifts. Most often the Bible mentions those who are involved in some form of itinerant ministry who are not able to secure long term employment. Those involved in such ministry were normally supported by multiple assemblies. The problem comes when the biblical concept of unsolicited gifts expands to include a guaranteed salary or wages. A wage is something that has been agreed upon beforehand and must be paid. It is a form of contract labor wherein a specific job description is performed for an exact amount of compensation. If the work is not performed to specification the laborer may be fired. If the money is not paid on time the laborer may withhold his services. Both of these scenarios violate the New Testament principles of ministry and service. The disciples could reasonably expect to receive support but they could legitimately elect to decline support also. Jesus told His followers “freely you have received, freely give.” They were allowed to receive support but they were not allowed to withhold their services or contract them to the highest bidder.
Another issue that shows the weakness of the clergy-pastor system has to do with fellowship and relationships. The assembly is not about buildings or programs it is about fellowship and relationships. Although some pastors leave churches amicably, many do not. They are often forced, voted, or starved out of congregations. It is biblically untenable to think that an elder can be fired and told to leave an assembly. If a shepherd is involved in sin he should be “rebuked in the presence of all” (1 Timothy 5:20). If he repents he should be restored to fellowship. Depending on the offense he may need to step down from leadership but there is no biblical justification for a truly repentant believer to be excluded from fellowship.
If a shepherd is simply not doing his job according to the expectations of the congregation, and no sin is involved, it is unbiblical for him to be fired and forced out of the assembly. He may need encouragement or correction. He may need help from other shepherds who have different gifts and talents. It may be appropriate for him to resign if he is not suited for leadership. Whatever the case, fellowship and continuing relationships should never be denied to shepherds simply because they do not meet the congregation’s expectations.
65 Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, p. 241.
66 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. I (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884) p. 496.
67 Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 715.
68 Donald Norbie, Double Honor, paper (Kansas City: Believers Bible Lessons, no date) p. 2.
69 R. C. H. Lenski, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon (Columbus, OH: Wartburg Press) p. 683.
70 Donald Norbie, Double Honor, p. 2.
71 Donald Norbie, Double Honor, p. 3.
Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle. All rights reserved.