Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Bring on the Hired Guns

So how much should you pay your pastor?

No, really, that’s the question.

Patrick Traylor poses it in this article. Patrick is an elder to quite literally thousands at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., as well as a lawyer by profession. As an elder, the man knows megachurches. As a lawyer, he ought to know all about compensation.

But is he right about what the scripture teaches on the subject?

Because really, that’s the only thing that ought to matter.

If as a body of elders you decide that the teaching of the New Testament is inadequate to deal with the needs of the 21st century church and that you need a little something above and beyond the instruction and example of the apostles in order to fire up your weekly Big Religion Machine on schedule, so be it. No public explanation or apology is required. Local churches are autonomous and responsible only to the Head of the church. I would normally have little to say about what Baptists in Washington, D.C. do, beyond, well, best of luck in your future endeavors.

Using the Word of God to Justify Yourself

But if you now go back to scripture and read into it things that are not there in order to justify your position, and if on top of that you decide to publish your exercise in self-justification on the Internet as an INSTRUCTIONAL piece, of all things, rest assured somebody will have a go at you.

Actually, in the comments section of Mr. Traylor’s post, somebody already did. Sadly, I’ve missed my chance at having the first crack at him.

But having served members of the legal profession for more than 20 years, I have a feeling that if Mr. Traylor practices law the way he uses scripture, his win/loss record in court is probably not so hot.

It’s a long article, and I’m going to ignore the practical points he makes because they’re nothing new; they’re voiced by everyone everywhere who seeks to justify paying a salary to a seminary graduate to do the work of elders and teachers in a local church. I’m simply going go through the verses he quotes to see if any of them support his case for bringing in a hired gun to perform a job that the elders at Capitol Hill Baptist cannot find one or more gifted local servants of God to do for free.

That’s out of more than 1,000 people to choose from, according to their own website.

Why don’t you be the judge as to whether Mr. Traylor makes his case.

Defining Some Terms

Actually, before I do that, we’d better make a distinction or two. Mr. Traylor uses scriptures that have to do with “shepherds”, “elders”, “overseers” and “leaders” to make his argument. These words have historically been taken by most commentators to describe various aspects of a single leadership role: “shepherd”, emphasizing feeding and care; “elder”, emphasizing maturity and wisdom; and “overseer”, emphasizing supervision and responsibility to the Head of the church. Even in megachurches like the one at which Mr. Traylor serves, the role he’s referencing in the Bible to support his position is actually much closer to his own function as an elder than to that of the hired guns he refers to as “pastors”.

And when the New Testament speaks of this leadership role, its writers give strict and clear qualifications for those who exercise such responsibility.

Elders vs. Pastors

According to Mr. Traynor’s line of thinking, these verses about elders and overseers are all applicable to the situation of the hireling ‘pastor’, often fresh out of seminary, at least insofar as they relate to his compensation (and in his view if you are not prepared to pony up the big bucks, your church is not a very spiritual one).

In short, he’s saying that local churches should treat their hired preachers like he believes Christians in the New Testament were instructed to treat their elders, overseers and shepherds.

But the role of the hired platform performer is not identical to the role of elders, overseers, shepherds or leaders as delineated in scripture. If it is, then I would strongly suggest to you that in order to qualify for his “pastorate”, each newly minted seminary grad must genuinely meet all the qualifications of elders and overseers set out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The maturity qualification alone (not a “novice”, “neophyte” or “new convert”) is impossible to meet fresh out of school, and I would suggest that many others (the establishment of a consistent testimony, the demonstration that he can manage his own household well) are just as difficult, assuming we actually take these instructions seriously and don’t simply gloss over them with nonsense justifications like, “Well, he’s 26 now and he was saved at 14, so he’s not really a ‘recent convert’. And nobody I know has anything bad to say about him. And his kids are only two and four, so they’re certainly not poorly managed”.

If those are really your standards, good luck to you.

Dealing with the Objections

“But surely you’re misrepresenting those of us who hire pastors”, some would say. “We hold our applicants to the highest biblical standards, including the passages you’ve mentioned in Timothy and Titus.”

I’m afraid I have to disagree. One reason is that the whole ‘pastoral’ system would not work if seminary students were sent out into the workforce to make their own way after graduation so they could mature in their faith while serving an apprenticeship without financial compensation in a local church. Almost nobody would go to seminary if there were not some sort of regular paycheque to be had in their field of study immediately upon graduation.

Furthermore, it is clear from any survey you might do of those who actually hire pastors that many of them ARE hiring neophytes who do not at the time they are hired meet any sort of biblical standard as to conduct, maturity, gift or even worldly standards of civilized behaviour. Here is Robert Anderson on the subject. He actually teaches seminary and is very much concerned about the same problem:
“Not many of our graduates fail in the ministry because they fall prey to doctrinal errors. Numbers, howev­er, have made an improper impact on the ministry simply because they are ‘klutzes,’ are continually making themselves offensive to people — and they will not change.

If they learned a few social graces in addition, and were able to remember to express grati­tude to people for every kind action no matter how small, they would be making major progress toward becoming the type of re­spectable person the Bible demands for the position of pastor.”
“Offensive” “klutzes” are neophytes by definition. It seems that many in Mr. Traylor’s situation understand the requirements of leaders in Timothy and Titus (at least insofar as we might apply them to “pastors”) to be things you sort of “evolve” into or make “major progress toward” over years of actual service during which you do who-knows-what sort of damage to the church of God, rather than being prerequisites of which there should be evidence before you begin to serve.

This sort of blundering, officious incompetence is manifestly not what the apostles had in view.

Now of course not every experience with hiring a pastor is a bad one. Sources vary, but it seems that in 2014, pastors were lasting between 3.6 and four years on average with any particular congregation, down from five years in 2001. Perhaps some of these abbreviated ministries and negotiated departures lead to lessons learned and more fruitful rehirings, but three and a half years seems like not a very long run. Not to me, not to those who are writing about the subject and not, surely, to those who hired the pastor in the first place and now have to go through the entire process again. There is quite literally a cottage industry developing around dealing with pastor burnout.

But somebody is hiring the green kids. And I know of several disastrous situations in which someone actually did. Usually these are small, rural congregations with limited options available to them, and usually their new pastors are gone as soon as they have something to put on their resume and a better opportunity presents itself.

The Real State of Affairs

Now there is certainly some overlap between the role of the biblical leader and the modern hired pastor. Among other things, an overseer must be “able to teach”. When churches go looking to hire a “pastor”, this is primarily what they are seeking: a guy who can stand and deliver behind the podium; a man who can draw a crowd and hold it. When pastors get dismissed, it is generally because they can’t pull off this part of the job, though there may be a zillion other personal reasons offered as excuses for getting rid of an incompetent pastor. No matter how personally difficult, antisocial or uncooperative a pastor may be, if he can fill a building or prompt his audience to fill the offering plates, I suspect he’ll keep his job.

So let’s call a paid ‘pastor’ what he is: a preacher for hire. Yes, of course he may wear many other hats depending on the church and the level of authority conferred on him by the elders who hired him. He may become involved in the hiring of under-pastors, in counselling, in administration and he may sit with the elders to make decisions. Or he may actually dominate the elders for a time. Some pastors evolve into micromanagers and insert themselves into every aspect of church leadership, at worst in order to ensure their position, and at best only out of a lack of respect for the gifts of others. Others are content to delegate or simply accept the role assigned to them. But the bottom line is that it is primarily a platform presence that the church is looking for. If a hired gun cannot deliver from behind the microphone, it really doesn’t matter what else he can do.

But merely being able to teach from a platform does not an overseer/elder/shepherd make. It is only one aspect of the role. Mr. Traylor’s assumed equivalence between the role described in Timothy and Titus and the modern Hired Platform Presence misrepresents the teaching of the apostles.

The Actual Scriptures Quoted

Now that I have all that off my chest, let’s look at some of Mr. Traylor’s Bible references adduced in support of paying your pastor well:

First, Mr. Traylor makes ten separate references to passages from Acts, Hebrews, Timothy, Titus and James.

None of these passages is relevant to his subject. None. Not a one. But the abundance of superfluous scripture references provides a gauntlet through which few critics of his position will likely be serious enough to wade. I’ve provided a link to his post and invite our readers to examine each one of these to determine that what I’m saying is in fact true: not one of the first ten scriptures to which Mr. Traylor refers relates even slightly to the compensation of pastors.

The ‘Double Honor’ Thing

At long last we come to a passage that may be at least slightly applicable to our subject. Our erstwhile law professional quotes 1 Timothy 5, which says:
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’ Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”
This is as close as our friend gets to being relevant to the subject he has chosen to explore. And if paid pastors were exactly equivalent to elders, he might have something to say. These verses establish only that those who function as elders according to the qualifications presented in 1 Timothy and Titus are worthy of some kind of compensation. They say nothing whatsoever about the modern pastor, nor, for that matter, do they deal with the issue of what sort of compensation might be appropriate for elders who rule well.

It is not clear in any way that this sort of compensation equates to a regular salary, and in any case we have already established that paid pastors are not the same as elders. It sounds to me like Paul is telling Timothy that when mature Christians expend themselves in service as overseers in the churches, it is not unreasonable that believers take it upon themselves to help them out financially provided the situation so dictates.

This service from believers is voluntary, irregular, and dependent on a particular set of circumstances. It can in no way be construed as an ongoing instruction to provide regular salaries to young professional speakers, let alone lavish ones.

Another Relevant Point

Mr. Traylor now goes on to quote Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
“Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.”
With this I wholeheartedly agree. But it must be understood as a command to individuals to be generous with those who teach them within their own means. In other words, if you’ve got food to eat, make sure your teacher does. If you’ve got clothes to wear, make sure your teachers do. It is severely limited in scope by what we read in the New Testament about the way Paul himself behaved when he came into a town to teach believers about Christ.

How would Mr. Traylor explain the following words of the apostle Paul:

In Acts:
“You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.”
From Luke, again in Acts, concerning Paul:
“… because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade.”
From Paul to the Corinthians:
“… we labor, working with our own hands”
And again from Paul to the Thessalonians, in which he makes it clear that his own behaviour is not to be considered unusual in the church; rather it is to be an example for all servants to follow:
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.”
I could go on with this further. It is clear that Paul in his preaching accepted help only under exceptional circumstances. It was not a regular event. It was certainly not any sort of salary arrangement. Where appropriate and where possible, he paid his own bills. Further, he expected that others who followed in his footsteps would live the same way.

When taken in the context of his own behavior, Paul’s words in no way justify making ongoing commitments by entire congregations to any individuals claiming to serve Christ, no matter how enthusiastic or effective they may be, particularly when such commitments may be years in length.

So How Much SHOULD You Pay Your Pastor?

Mr. Traylor quotes one or two more scriptures, but they are even more strained and inconsequential than his earlier efforts. Can anyone really believe that Psalm 133 (“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”) has even the remotest thing to do with giving a salary to a pastor?

All I can tell you is this. Lawyers, apparently even when they are also elders, will say whatever they need to in order to make a case.

How much should you pay your pastor? I think, in all honesty, that if scripture has any bearing on your decision, you really ought to reconsider the whole idea.


  1. If you don't think your 'pastor' is a hired gun...if you think he sincerely gives of himself out of love for Christ alone, then you can find out if that's true. Cut off his salary. Tell him from henceforth he will be paid only as the Lord Himself leads the congregation and others to make personal, private donations to his upkeep. And instruct him that he is not to ask for money from anyone.

    If he obeys, stays and works, and if the Spirit of God leads congregants to support him on an ad hoc basis, then you know he's no hireling. If he leaves or threatens to quit, then you know exactly what his real motives are.

    Let us see whom the Lord approves.

  2. But how do you really feel about this issue?

    1. Something like this:

      "In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.”

      I'd like people to think about taking some of "these things" away instead of defending the practice of paying pastors a salary by constantly pointing to the "good ones". There are decent, caring men doing such work, no doubt, some of whom have just accepted the status quo without thinking it through, and others who lack the faith to trust the Lord to provide for them but are otherwise good expositors, loving counselors and responsible stewards.

      God has used and can use all sorts of corrupt and semi-corrupted institutions and people, along with half-measures and semi-commitment, to accomplish his purposes, but I tend to think we enjoy being used a lot more when we do things his way rather than the "practical" way.