Sunday, January 11, 2009

Is there such a thing as a "professional" Christian?

Are all Christians ministers, or just some?

What is ministry?

Share your thoughts, please.


Joshua Tucker said...

I think that all Christians are ministers, though we don't always practice it that way. There are no professionals in God's Kingdom, because we've all been bought by blood and are on equal standing with God. We all have the right and responsibility to care for God's people, bring others into it, and live a life of love.

The best definition I've come up for ministry is this: ministry is building influence over others by genuinely caring for them, then using that influence to bring them closer to Jesus. Of course there's many other things that are "ministry," but this is what I've found myself trying to do in daily life.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

Okay Joshua, I'm loving the stuff you're saying, and the questions you're asking. So I'm just wondering how you answer the folks who can only think in terms of "clergy" and "laity", who point to things in the bible like elders and deacons and such, and claim they support the practice of having certain people be 'professional' ministers.

I really like your definition for ministry, but there are many, many people who will take that position as being dangerous, and since I'm struggling to learn how to better deal with those in that position, I'd be interested in your input on that whole side of things....


Alan Knox said...

No "professionals"... all are "ministers"... "minstry" means "service". Good questions! Of course, the answers lead down a path that most people won't walk.


Joshua Tucker said...

Daniel - Thanks for the comment. Feel free to play devil's advocate on here any time.

First let me echo a little bit of what Frank Viola says. He writes basically that in the New Testament elders and deacons were less titles than they were roles. People were already serving (the meaning of "deacon") and shepherding (the meaning of pastor/overseer). The apostles and others simply appointed those who were already living as servants and shepherds to more specific roles and responsibilities in the Body.

In talking about professional elders and deacons I'm not exactly sure what you mean. We may have to define terms a little bit here. By "professional" I'm not sure if you mean "mature," "prepared (schooled)," "hired," "official" or some other thing. So I'll just deal with each of these with my understanding from Scripture.

If we mean "mature," then yes I think we have professional Christians. There are Christians who are far more mature than me, and in that way have more authority than me spiritually. They are spiritual shepherds.

What about "prepared" leaders? Yes, there are many who have benefited (including myself) from Biblical schooling and ministry training done in specific schools or programs. But these should in no way be some criteria for which leaders are now "official," nor should scholarly learning earn a title in God's Kingdom. I am not a minister because I graduate from a preaching school. I have only completed an intellectual work, which may make me a theologian but it does not make me a disciple (or minister).

What about professional "hired" ministers? Frank Viola writes that basically this is a bad practice that communicates superiority one over another in the body of Christ. I disagree. I've been fully supported for about 4 years now, but I don't have more authority because of it. In Russia, I was merely a servant in the church who had a freer schedule for Bible studies, service, meeting non-Christians, mentoring etc.

This next one is the one I disagree with, and even despise. Do we have "official" ministers in the Church? (There are elders and deacons, appointed to a specific work.) Let me rephrase. Do we have some who are called to ministry and some that are not? Absolutely not; we simply have some who are designated mostly for "equipping" and everyone else who ministers too (Eph. 4:11-12). My point is simply because some are appointed to a specific work (elders and deacons) does not make the rest of us less in our ministry, or less called to ministry. I work in a program that trains missionary interns. I help train them full-time, but does that make me more of an official minister than them? No way. We are called to be disciple-makers (Matt. 28:19-20), and just because some of us are further along than others, that in no way elevates us over each other.

Here's the thing. I have no problem with full-time ministers (financially). In fact I love the idea, personally. But there still needs to be a mutual ministry. Ministers should not be the hired Christian. And the way full-time ministry is done today is appalling to me. It is not someone hired who is especially mature to HELP mature Christians and spend his time more fully on ministry, without the hampering of tent-making.

Since we have made the assembly the entirety of Christianity, we have hired someone to do Christianity for us. Full-time ministers are a good idea (in my opinion); full-time public speakers are not. 1 Cor. makes it clear that everyone has something to offer in the assembly. But hiring someone specialized in public speaking is not the same as hiring someone mature in the faith who assists in helping Christians mature in their faith as well.

I'll leave my thoughts there for now so I can hear your response (don't hesitate to be honest where you disagree with me). As for my definition of ministry being potentially dangerous, maybe you could explain that a bit?

As always, I appreciate your love for Christ and continually adding to the input on this blog.

Joshua Tucker said...

Alan - Thanks for dropping by. I agree. Most people don't want to ask such questions, and maybe I shouldn't either. But I want to do Kingdom Life the way God wants, and not just buy into the way we're doing it. I've just started reading your blog, but I really like it.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

Hi Josh, sorry if my first comment was a little confusing (the whole dangerous position thing), but I suppose I was assuming that what you meant by, "There are no professionals in God's Kingdom," is that there are not to be people who are paid to serve in the Kingdom. To me, professional has always simply meant someone who does something for some form of financial compensation. Just like in things like sports, the arts, or whatever, you can do them for your own reasons, but you're only a "professional" if it brings home the bacon...

After reading your second comment I see much more clearly what you meant. You said "in the New Testament elders and deacons were less titles than they were roles"... (and I'd completely agree) So from there, the next question (in my thinking anyway) is this, does paying someone to minister (whether it be a tiny amount or large) in fact create a dichotomy within the body, regardless of our intentions?

You said, "there still needs to be a mutual ministry. Ministers should not be the hired Christian.", and again, I completely agree, but from where I stand today, I firmly believe that once you cross that line of giving financial compensation to certain individuals so they can serve "full time", you HAVE given someone a title, in a manner of speaking, whether we are willing to recognize it or not. The fact that you are supported, but yet don't feel like you're "in authority" over others, because you aren't the one telling others what to do, really misses the point. The problem occurs that in the minds of people, we cannot help but make a distinction between someone serving "full-time" and someone who does it "part-time"... There is automatically an imaginary line drawn between the two. You say that ministry must be mutual, but nevertheless there is an invisible line through what ministry is, it becomes divided into two camps. Full-time / part-time. So, on a more subconscious level, it continues to reinforce the lopsided approach that we see so often today.

Rejecting the idea of paying people for public speaking may be well-intentioned, but those who do that will defend themselves with the same response that they are "equipping" the saints...

I think the matter of "equipping" is a pretty central one. You mentioned that being supported allowed you to have more time for things like bible-studies, mentoring, etc., than if you were hampered with tent-making. What I wonder then is this, if your intention is to "equip" others to reach the same level of maturity and service as yourself (and I sincerely believe that is what you want to do!) how can you train others to learn how to serve, mentor, gather, etc., while working jobs at the same time, if it unreasonable for you to do it? (I don't know if that even made sense...) Taking financial support, from my perspective, automatically sends the message that it is simply not possible to serve the Kingdom on a certain level if you're weighed down by the mundane responsibilities of a job... (makes me wonder how Paul was able to do it, since that's where the term "tent-making" comes from...) How can I train someone to do something that I do not believe I can do myself? Hence, the clergy/laity split lives on, regardless of what terms we choose to describe it...

Am I making sense? I know you have a distaste for titles, but to me, the titles are only an official way of acknowledging a split can exist just as easily without them. Okay, enough for now, this comment got longer than I expected...

peace, Daniel

Joshua Tucker said...

Daniel - Well said.

I definitely understand where you're coming from, and it's difficult for me to sound anything but bias when I am in a position where people are paying me to minister. But let me say that I am trying my best to think unbiasedly, yet from my own experience as well.

It's funny, because I agree with what you said. I do think that paying someone "full-time" for ministry can naturally foster the thinking that some are professional ministers and some are not. My only reservation is, does it ALWAYS foster this thinking?

Let me just say that from my experience in America, you are absolutely correct. American evangelicalism has entrenched the idea of professionalism in the Kingdom immensely in our culture. You have to be an "ordained" minister to marry people, whatever that means. You need an intellectual-based degree at a seminary or college to be "qualified" for full-time ministry. The preacher is the one we see at the forefront of everything we do: in the pulpit as well as the voice of the church in the community.

But let me step away from America for a little bit. I have my own experience in Russia working as a missionary intern. In all we had 10 full-time workers there (5 interns, 2 American missionary couples, and 3 fully supported Russian workers). Let me add as a side-note that we used no titles whatsoever to describe ourselves.

We had 10 full-time workers for a church of 120 or so, and we had more work than we could handle. Now we had a leaders' meeting twice a week to make decisions for the church and encourage each other, but everyone was invited, supported or not.

You asked, "does paying someone to minister (whether it be a tiny amount or large) in fact create a dichotomy within the body, regardless of our intentions?" I would rephrase it with "CAN it create a dichotomy"? Yes, and most of the time it does. But does it always? No, it doesn't.

I know this because I was part of a church where the leaders were respected because of their spiritual leadership, and I'm not even sure most of the church knew if we were supported or not. One of the guys I mentored there does more ministry than I did being paid to, and he's a full-time college student.

It's all about what you teach people when they come into the body. One of the missionaries there, as part of his studies for new Christians, teaches that each of us are called to ministry. And they live it there. Most people, regardless of who they are in that church, has studied the Bible with someone one-on-one. It's in their DNA, and no one even thinks about the support issue.

Anything can be corrupted, but we have to determine whether the thing itself is evil or if our corruption of it is. We know that at least the apostles were not wholly against being supported, for Paul affirms this a lot in his letters to the Corinthians that he was worth being paid.

You did bring up a very good point about being supported vs having a job and expecting others to live a life you yourself can't live. I tend to agree with you. I have asked myself that question often. I have several friends who have decided to be "vocational missionaries" in foreign countries based on this very conviction, getting a teaching job or something like that.

And I'm not sure where I stand. I do think that living on support can be a crutch for not having to live for Christ in the "real world." But again, my question is is this ALWAYS a hindrance? It may be for many, but certainly this would not be true for an elder who lived his whole life for Christ working, then later in life the church decides to support him full-time so he can spend more time mentoring other Christians.

I think I agree with you (at least mostly) when it comes to these things in America. I just don't think I'm so absolute about it, and I do think God can use our mistakes (He used the institutional church to teach me about Jesus). I also think that God's money should be spent on supporting people to teach the Gospel. Too many questions arise if I think it's wrong.

For example, I have a friend who runs a church-planting school in Zambia (I'm going there this summer) where they train Zambian church-planters to be self-supported by teaching them a trade as well as how to make disciples. But the guy who helps run it is supported full-time. They do look up to him, but there is certainly not an excuse to be not doing any ministry, for that's the very reason they come.

Should he stop running the school? I just don't think so, and I know he couldn't if he had another job.

My point is that I don't think the financial issue is so cut and dry, but that we must use godly wisdom in it. Have we abused it in America? Without question. Is supporting someone full-time evil to plant churches or do some other kind of ministry? I just don't think so.

Please understand also that I'm open. I'm not dogmatic in this, and I'm welcome to any discussion on it. Thanks again for the honest thoughts, and I'm looking forward to either your response or more discussions.

Like a Mustard Seed said...

Hey, I'm really enjoying this conversation, I think it's turned out to be a pretty edifying one.

At this point, I realize that maybe I should've earlier clarified that I see a distinction between what the scriptures describe as far as supporting people who are doing some form of apostolic work, and those who are "ministering" in a place that is their own native place/culture... If anyone should be receiving financial help to spread the gospel, it is those who are operating in this apostolic role, in fact, I probably should tell you that we do help support a family we know who are in Russia right now, doing basically what you described earlier! (I suppose I really should've explained this better before...) I'm still wrestling with all the questions as to when it becomes a crutch and so on, and right now I think I'm feeling convicted that people who are receiving support to do some kind of apostolic work should at least always be open to the possiblity that God might call them to support themselves at some point, and just maybe in a country that is not their native one.

Anyways, the more I've studied scriptures lately, the more I've begun to realize that by in large, we in America have completely lost this biblical understanding of the various gifts, and the "office" of the Pastorship has overshadowed all the others. It is this man-made creation of a local pastor, who is payed to "shepherd", (in the way most commonly understood today), that is where I see the main problems being centered.... So hopefully that helps further explain, that I think we are in fact much more in the same boat than not.

I am still wrestling though with a lot of questions about "missions", as I myself did spend two years as a "full-time missionary", within a missions organization. During that time, I witnessed from the inside, many examples where the organization functioned much more like a business corporation than the body, where huge sums of money were spent on "overhead", conferences, flying big-wig missinaries around to various speaking engagements, etc. Much of the time and energy of the organization went into securing more givers, and devising new ways to raise more money... Even though I do believe that there is probably a warrant for some people being supported for spreading the gospel, and planting churches around the world, I've seen that even this realm can be easily exploited to justify any number of expenses or ventures, so long as it's stamped with the label of "missions". Maybe I've just seen too many people who got sucked into "missions" being some kind of career path, where once they were "in the system", (i.e. accustomed to living off the support of others) it became incredibly difficult for many of them to seriously consider finding a job in the 'marketplace' on their own... I try not to have my perspective too clouded by the things I have personally experienced, but I know that I'm not able to stay completely objective towards this whole issue. I am admittedly cynical towards these things.

Like you said, it definitely is not cut and dry, and I continue to wrestle with these things, and I appreciate talking with someone who is so open, but dedicated to the bible first, and not just clinging to traditions. I also appreciate the fact that you are seeing many of these things from an inside perspective, and please know that I don't look down at you at all for receiving support. There is no denying that you are very passionate for seeing men and women come to faith in Christ, and for that I am encouraged and strengthened... Thanks for being willing to engage in a longer conversation about these things.


david said...

"If your desire is to become a robotic, cookie-cutter professional preacher...vacate these premises."
-Gerald Jackson

When i was interning at a congregation in Washington a few summers ago i don't know why but i wore a shirt and tie to an elders meeting (big mistake, lol) and after one of them said, "Hey, Anthony (the youth minister there), did you convert a Mormon?" another asked me if I was trying to be a professional Christian.

My intentions were pure...i was just trying to take pride in my appearance but ever since i was asked that, while i've worn suits here and there i've done so far less than i used to.

I would much rather dress like everyone else (during the week mostly) than walk around with a suit everyday looking like a professional preacher or a Mormon or J.W.

Granted this post wasn't about dress but i just thought I'd mention that.

I'll work diligently and labor hard for the Lord...but I never want to be a "professional" preacher, Christian, or anything else.

I think we really need to take a look at that word "minister." In most places, the "minister" is one guy (or a few individuals) who preach or evangelize in one capacity or another.

In reality, they are the evangelists. Every Christian can "minister." In the Gospel accounts we read of women "ministering" to Jesus. We see angels doing the same after being tempted in Matthew 4 and Luke 4.

If we would only think about what we're saying half the time, ya know.

Good post.

Joshua Tucker said...

Daniel - Thank you for your very encouraging and kind words. I'm really enjoying this conversation as well. It's good to wrestle with Biblical ideas played out in real life with someone who comes at it from a different perspective than myself.

I'm sorry for taking longer this time to reply, but it really took me a lot of chewing to articulate some things in my mind. Particularly, I've had a hard time defending the idea of having paid ministers who weren't in the sole role of church-planting.

Let me start off by saying that I completely agree with everything you wrote. I can certainly see how seeing such a misuse of God's money would make you skeptical toward the idea of financially supporting someone to minister at all. It would make me that way, too. In fact, if I hadn't seen such a healthy use of it in Russia I think I would be against the idea altogether.

I come from a denominational tradition that doesn't practice "pastoring" like most of the evangelical world does. We tend to believe that there can only be a plurality of "elders" (we see "elder" and "pastor" as synonyms) and that these men must be older physically. You can't be an elder when you're young, it just goes against the meaning of the word.

I think Scripture implies, if it doesn't just come out and say it, that some elders should be (or were) supported financially. 1 Tim. 5:17-20 says that elders are worthy of "double honor" and that "the laborer is worthy of his wages." In 1 Tim. 3:1 Paul writes that if anyone desires the "work" of an overseer he desires a good thing.

Though I think Biblical eldership is vastly different from the modern pastoral role, it does seem that some elders were supported financially. We know historically that the Church soon abandoned a plurality of elders, making some head elders (bishops) and even making some churches as having authority over others. But regardless of this corruption, they were supported financially, obviously taking this practice either from tradition or from Paul's words that they should do so.

I think that Biblically some older men in the faith, if they are qualified elders, should be supported for shepherding God's people full-time. (I know saying "full-time" sounds like I'm saying everyone else isn't, but that's not what I mean. I just mean, they'd have more time working ministry than working for money) Shepherding is not giving a public speech several times a week, counseling in an office, and doing weddings and funerals.

But what if a Church isn't old enough to have men who are really elders? What if the most mature men are in their 30s, and would love to spend more time having Bible studies, encouraging the body, evangelizing, and serving? Would it be wrong to say, give them partial financial support so that they could work less and devote more time to those things?

I think they can, and that it might be wise to do so. Of course it sounds like some highly theoretical situation that would never work out in our current religious tradition.

We just have to ask ourselves, why should church-planters be supported anyway? I think it's because they need the freed-up time to really use the time and energy it takes to plant a church effectively.

But is it possible that true Biblical eldership may require the same time and energy? Maybe it doesn't, but maybe it does.

I guess when I talk about support, I don't think we should support someone to take over our assemblies. I think we need mutually-participatory assemblies like the Bible talks about, and that leaders should encourage everyone to have something to add.

When I talk about support, I mean supporting someone to do the work it really takes to shepherd a body away from the assembly. The assembly is easy, but helping people in real life is exhausting. Give me preaching any day, that's easy. I just have to prepare my speech, give it a lot of emotion and sit down. No interaction. No risk.

But when you really deal with people in everyday life, helping them to REALLY be disciples of Jesus, that is incredibly tough. As I said before, in Russia the entire church was ministering. But even with 10 full-time ministers we still had more work than we could handle. I had more studies than I knew what to do with, and way too many guys I wanted to mentor that I couldn't. Jesus only did 12.

Sorry for yet another essay. I feel like I've only barely introduced my point, but oh well.

Thanks for not judging me ;-) I certainly don't want to use God's money for my own benefit, and I'm really wrestling with these ideas. I deeply desire for the entire body to be functioning as disciples and disciple-makers, and I am more than willing to get out of the way to make that happen.

Let me also add that I don't want to be hired as a "preacher" in the United States, though I'm currently going to a preaching school! It would have to be a very special church wanting to go way against the mold before I would even consider such a thing.

But I do want to do church-planting. I'm really just wrestling lately with... what should I plant? What does God want His Church to look like? I don't want to spread what was handed down to me from men, but instead from the mind of God. I'm looking forward to more discussions with you in the future as well.


Joshua Tucker said...

David - Thanks for the post. I agree that everyone is a minister. And I think everyone is called to evangelize, though some may be more gifted that way. And I'm not against full-time ministers so long as they do not rob the rest of the body of being able to minister as well.

And I can't wait to hear how things go for you guys in China! I hope it's a really fruitful experience for you. Sure wish I lived closer to you guys so we could have more conversations. Give Amanda a hug for me!