Some time around the beginning of COVID, a new person started following this blog. I checked out the person’s own website and found that he seemed to be an intelligent man who loves the Bible, yet who also has had some struggles with The Church. This is typically the type of person that the Pilgrimage serves best, and so I reached out with a welcome email, thanking him for the follow and inviting him to check out some of what we offer here, including the spiritual development courses.
Approximately three months later, no longer expecting any sort of reply, I got one. It said,
I checked out your suggested page. Noticed you wanted some funds for the study. Thanks but no thanks. You should consider doing ministry as a ministry, instead of as a profession.
This begs a question regarding “professions”–shouldn’t all professions be ministry, for a Christian? Also, what does “ministry as ministry” mean? The Bible doesn’t talk in those terms. The original followers of Jesus and the earliest Christians immediately after them didn’t seem to have a concept of a secular/sacred divide. You simply did whatever your work was, as a Christian. As for being paid for it–well, the economy of the day wasn’t structured in quite the same way as ours is, and the earliest church was somewhat communal, so it seems a little tricky to make definitive statements about what was and wasn’t worth compensation at the time, and what specifically one was to do with such compensation in any given situation.
The Bible does tell us about the apostle Paul making tents as a source of income during (at least some) of his missionary sojourns, which might indicate that people engaging in more full-time expressions of what people today would call “ministry” should have an additional work as the source of income enabling to do said ministry. But then again, it also tells us about the apostle Peter and others receiving financial support from the churches they served. (Paul, who actually advocates for the compensation of “clergy” in multiple places, is the one who mentions this; though he contrasts his approach with it, he indicates that the way these other Christian leaders were supported was a perfectly legitimate expectation because “a worker is worthy of his [or her] wages.” Jesus Himself lived (and therefore ministered) off of donations (and a coin found in a fish), for crying out loud.
All Christians are called to minister, whatever we are doing. It’s just that some of us have been given a skill set which is really only suitable for preaching, teaching, and/or “shepherding,” and we’re not that great at anything else. Or maybe that’s just me. All I can tell you is that if I couldn’t “do ministry as a profession,” I’d be living on a park bench right now, and to be honest, most ministry isn’t even that lucrative–so that if I were still single, I might still be living on that bench at this point.
Frankly, though, it has taken me all five years of the Pilgrimage’s existence so far to accept the fact that it takes money to run this thing, and that it’s okay. At the end of 2019, I got a job as a part-time TSA agent–partly because of employee benefits and partly because I was feeling embarrassed that I wasn’t yet a “bivocational” pastor, and this seemed like a good way to become one. But the TSA wouldn’t allow me Sundays (kind of important for a pastor), so I quit after five weeks, and now the airport I would have worked at is not even operational because of COVID.
I wonder about that five-week blip sometimes. I can see a few reasons why I may have been directed down that path, only so far and no farther. One of the reasons, I’ve recently begun to suspect, is that, while some pastors and others in ministry genuinely are called to bivocational work, and while others (although I don’t know any of these and feel like maybe they only exist on TV) abuse the generosity of their “flock” and are really only in “ministry” for the fame and fortune, some of us would get sucked into a pride vortex if we could say that we could support our own selves and not “burden” anybody else that way–and I needed to try it for myself and discover that’s not how I’m called to do it. Jesus and I have been having it out about money for a long time now, and while I still hate asking for money and even talking about it, and I’d rather not need it at all and I know I need to be both wise and generous with it myself, I’m beginning to believe Him when He says that in my case, at least, the way to keep it from becoming my master is to humble myself, get uncomfortable, accept it–and talk about it.
Which is why there’s going to be another money post after this one.
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