Permission To Do Your Job

In the course of recent events at our church to fill the pulpit I am affirmed that there is no appreciable difference in sacred and secular efforts to find someone to fill a role on behalf of others. Much as we might be tempted to think of sacred projects to be particularly invulnerable to posturing and politics or specially guided by heaven in ways that secular efforts are not, it seems that where there be human beings there one will also find these things. That might sound like a bad thing, but I actually think it is a good thing. As Reformed, we are nothing if not able to see true piety in that which appears at first blush to be impious. Whatever else the Incarnation might teach it also seems to suggest that God has desired to work through a foiled humanity, because despite its sinfulness it is still very good.

 

And having been involved in the process, I have come to understand these things to be less an appraisal of individuals and more an insight to a church. The firing of questions says as much about the questioner as the answer says of the candidate, and for whatever one thing I have learned of any candidate I have learned, say, twelve about my brethren. And I am not so sure that what I have learned is so much inspirational as it is disheartening.

 

What follows, then, is one layman’s rather unconventional attempt to take that experience and make a plea to ministers looking ahead to fill a pulpit. 

 

Since Christianity implies absolutely nothing about statecraft but only demands I be a contented citizen of whatever time and place God has bestowed upon me, if I ever slyly suggest or explicitly demand you to show your hand in politics or seek guidance on how to vote, tell me to figure it out myself and send me back to my pew. Similarly, just as you should feel no pressure to comment on how I express my patriotism, feel no need to bolster or dismantle how I choose to educate my children.

 

Because true religion is other-worldly and demands its administrator points me to the age to come, if I ever demand that you become a jack-of-all-trades and pretend to be something you’re not, feel perfectly free to kindly suggest that just as you have been trained as a pastor-theologian there are those with equally particular training who can help. I hope it comes as a relief that you don’t have to assist me with every problem I have.  At the same time, because true religion is also this-worldly, be content to allow me my humanity and to respond appropriately to the good, the bad and the mediocre. There is indeed a better country that no eye has seen nor any mind has contemplated, but that doesn’t mean that this life is of little to no consequence.

 

In light of the fact that the gospel is simple, if I ever press you to keep up with all the rest and litter the church with all sorts of programs and activities, remind me that the church’s success is best measured the way my golf game is: the fewer strokes, the better. Feel no need to cheer lead Christian sub-culture, but instead every burden that comes with the keys of the kingdom. So if you find me looking to the church to meet my less legitimate felt needs or my more legitimate creational needs, shoo me away and tell me that I am called to be out in God’s world pursuing my various vocations as a covenant-keeper, imperfect as I may be and as proximate as my success may be at those vocations.

 

When you do call me back once a week out of the world, all you need to give me is Christ, in both Word and sacrament and through sound liturgy. Preach the Law in its full force and provide the Gospel equally. Though we both may think so, I don’t need your creativity.  I need neither your advice nor your castigation. I don’t need to be moralized or shown how to be more spiritual. I don’t need to be coddled or brutalized, energized or inspired. Don’t acquiesce to my desire to be any sort of consumer—intellectual, social or emotional. Open the scriptures and the historical tradition and teach me but only with the ambition of making me a disciple and not a student. And do not feel yourself compelled to show me how to change or take over the world, just send me out into it after you have truly administered Christ to me.

 

Baptize and marry my children. And after I have trod my pilgrimage lower me back into the earth and commend me to God, waiting for that age to come previously mentioned.

 

I realize these things may be easier said than done, given just how sinful we are and how complicated things can be in light of it. This is not meant to be typically Polly Anna. But let’s agree that if you make a good faith effort to do your job I will make one to see to it you are justly recompensed and taken care of.

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28 Responses to Permission To Do Your Job

  1. sean says:

    Cut! Print that!

  2. Brad Lenzner says:

    Zrim,

    I thank the Lord for what you wrote. I’m grateful to have read this.

    As one aspiring to ordained ministry, I welcome every bit of this type of advice and encouragement.

    Blessings!

    Brad

  3. Mike says:

    Zrim,

    As an ordained pastor for 16 years and a layman for 20 before that I thank you for your words but… While not being Polly- Annish it isn’t what Christ did either. It seems that there is more to a pastors job than Sunday morning. As the Good Shepherd shows us we have to know the Scriptures and the roll book of our church equally well. Not to dispense advice or opinion but to comfort, bring hope, and to explain the times to people who are otherwise not as mature as others in their faith; 24/7. Not my opinion but the truth of the word on every and any experience of life. I have said more than once that it is not my job even to interpret the Word for others but to proclaim it and let God do His job.

    But having said that I have been called as a pastor/teacher..which doesn’t deny the role of preacher but if we had more pastors and less preachers (Sunday morning…and night…kind of guys in the ministry) maybe just maybe there would be a real relationship between congregants and pastor.

    Now I totally agree with you on the “litter” in the church but then speak to your fellow congregants who want CEO’s for pastors rather than shepherds. A shepherd’s job description is simple on one hand..to keep the sheep happy so that they will eat, drink, and rest in safety. So as the 23rd Pslam says…I (and the session/consistory/council)am to lead them to the greener pastures, cool waters, with a rod and a staff for their protection and to discipline. And it is the same job everyday. If the shepherd changed how he did things the sheep wouldn’t follow him. It may be boring in some eyes but it is the most fullfilling calling I have ever been given. All the sheep are different and it is great that you don’t need the extra care…make sure your pastor knows that then don’t get upset with him when he leaves you alone. 🙂 :-0

    Thanks for your excellent posts. They always give me something to think about.

    Mike

  4. sean says:

    “It seems that there is more to a pastors job than Sunday morning. As the Good Shepherd shows us we have to know the Scriptures and the roll book of our church equally well. Not to dispense advice or opinion but to comfort, bring hope, and to explain the times to people who are otherwise not as mature as others in their faith; 24/7.”

    Lots I want to say. First, When I find a pastor who gets sunday morning done right and done consistently for let’s say, a year, I might be willing to encourage him to do something besides study and prepare mon-sat.
    Second; He doesn’t get to meddle ’till he’s figured out L/G preaching, and administering the sacraments weekly for at least a year. (basically this is the first point unpacked)
    Third; What does it mean to “explain the times; 24/7.” ? These people need to be handed over to the deacons (zrim should love that, hey I served in the diaconate for 6 years) but in all seriousness if someone needs 24/7, that burden needs to be shared. If they need that kind of “explaining” refer them to a professional.

    “but if we had more pastors and less preachers (Sunday morning…and night…kind of guys in the ministry) maybe just maybe there would be a real relationship between congregants and pastor.”

    Until sunday is right, I don’t really want to know him that well.

    “Now I totally agree with you on the “litter” in the church but then speak to your fellow congregants who want CEO’s for pastors rather than shepherds.”

    Turn these cats over to me, I have a plan for them.

  5. Mike says:

    Sean,

    Well said Sean. As you know it is hard to carry on a “conversation” on a blog. There is so much more that could be said in explanation but let me try on a couple of things that you questioned. “explain the times; 24/7” Is an explanation of what I had said earlier about less mature Christians being in need of seeing what the Bible has to say about today rather than letting them get most of there information on the times 6 days a week and then a total change in direction on the 1st day of the week. I have always understood that to be apart of discipleship…training others to be the ministers as it says in Eph. 4.

    I agree with what I believe is your basic premise but it is extremely clear that the “sheep” couldn’t find greener pastures and or cool water on their own that is why God gave the church such gifts as pastor/teachers–elders and that is not just a Sunday job. It appears that the priest worked 7 days a week to prepare for the Sabbath and then to lead in the Sabbath but it was not all preparation time. I still spend 20 to 30 hours a week in preparation with the Scriptures English , Greek, Hebrew and Aramiac when necessary.

    Being a second career pastor ( I was a general contractor in South Florida for 15 years before being called) I saw too many pastors that were just Sunday morning kind of guys not approachable during the week. And I guess it was then that I realized pastoring was a 24/7 job just like shepherding. The sheep need tending to… as it says in Ezekiel… always. I don’t think it is meddling when I am called on to do the job of a shepherd knowing that at least most of the sheep…myself included…aren’t smart enough on their own to go it alone.

    I remember one of my favorite pastors once saying to a person who said they wanted him to counsel them through some rough time…His answer was simple..”Sit under the ministry of the Word 3 months and then we will see if you need counseling.” D. Martin Llyod Jones.. I try to balance this thinking with all that I do…oh to have more space and time but I guess this will suffice.

  6. sean says:

    First, I appreciate that you are distinguishing yourself from guys, who, I would say, approach their job with an “aristocratic air”(unapproachable). I’ve known a few, and often felt a swift punch to the mouth would save a lot of discussion.

    However, my experience has been more along the lines of pastors who quite frankly either simply don’t know what they’re supposed to do, and therefore “litter” the church with programs and carnival rides to distract the patrons from noticing their shortcomings or WORSE are convinced that discipleship involves reinventing the “city” and I need to sign up for the reclamation project. At this point in my life I would rather stay at home and iron my underwear than sit through that “discipleship” anymore.

    You can meddle as soon as you prove to me, you’d leave me in better shape than you found me before you meddled, and the only way I’m trusting that, is to see you minister to me the word and sacrament rightly on sunday mornings.

  7. Zrim says:

    Mike,

    Thanks for commenting. I am painting in admittedly broad strokes here, so not everything can be covered, obviously. My only point, I think, is that I think the mission of the church, and therefore her officers, is really quite simple.

    The Jones anecdote is interesting. It hits me as left-of-center. Some people really do need care that the gospel isn’t designed for. I find that to be yet another version of the notion that Xianity is the answer to everything. It isn’t. It is the answer to how we are reconciled to God, how we get to the next age. It says nothing about how to kick drugs or get through a marriage or find a job, etc.

  8. Mike says:

    Zrim,

    I beg to differ with you when you say “It (the gospel) says nothing about how to kick drugs or get through a marriage or find a job, etc.” The gospel is actually the A through Z of the Christian faith. The whole point behind Dr. Jones’ quote is that we all too often seek out other things rather than the gospel of God. We don’t trust Him and His word as we should so we want to lean into “conventional wisdom” rather than into His word and His sacraments. Often what ails us has more to do with spiritual lack..lack of relationship with the Father than anything else. I have done my share of drug counseling, abuse counseling, family counseling, marriage counseling and my personal favorite pre-dating and pre-marital counseling…but all of that is done with in the context of the gospel for it is the best medicine for what ails all of us. The words of life, I think it is called… :-0

    Genesis 1-3 speaks volumes to the human condition for believer and non. And of course the NT writings speak to so many of the same failings as well as successes that we all endure today that it makes the Gospel as I said the A to Z of Christianity.

    Jesus is the answwer to all that ails the human condition if that wasn’t so we wouldn’t need Him for anything. That is not to say that all we have to do is quote verse and page and all things will be better. Like I said before shepherding is a 24/7 job since the sheep do in fact need what God has to give them. But He also makes it abundantly clear that we are to “one another” each other …shepherding each other as well.

    To your words…”My only point, I think, is that I think the mission of the church, and therefore her officers, is really quite simple.” I basically agree for we have come to expect secular work from those in the ministry. They are pressured to grow the church, the budget, keep more people coming as if this some kind of side show. God has prescribed the kind of worship He will accept. he tells us how to love one another..how to hold one another accountable…even how to proclaim His word…and He has given us His Spirit to be able to do all that He requires. These are not suggestions. The sickness we see around us is because we have chosen our own path rather than His.

  9. sean says:

    Zrim,

    What’s your experience with what pastors make relative to the “market” in your area? Clark wrote a fairly straightforward piece on his blog about expectations when a church calls a pastor, and there is at least an allusion to the idea that the pay is marginal. Quite honestly, in my experience with 3 different reformed congregations just in San Antonio shows me that these guys make ample money. They’re not John Hagee rich, but they make as much if not more than most middle management. Most of the compensation I’ve seen is starting at around 60 and it’s not uncommon to find it at 100 or better when you factor in their annuity. And just for reference, your 60-100 pay range goes a lot farther here than say so. cal. With that money your living in suburbia, got health insurance and possibly sending your kids to private school, and so far I haven’t met a working spouse in the bunch.

  10. Zrim says:

    Sean,

    I think it depends around here. But the CRC is mostly an upper-middle class denomination from my experience. Their pastors are well compensated, etc. I can say that in our current MPA search our package is pretty, ahem, “competitive.”

  11. sean says:

    Zrim,

    That seems to be consistent with what I’ve seen.

  12. Echo_ohcE says:

    A lot of pastors are underpaid. Sure, when you’re talking about guys who are pastors of larger, more established churches, they’re making a decent buck.

    There are a couple of things to consider, however.

    Many reformed churches are not large and more established. Many are quite small. They simply can’t afford to pay their pastor well. Many pastors just barely squeak by. Most are very frugal. They drive old cars, always eat at home, have old furniture, live in old houses, etc.

    I’m talking solid reformed churches’ pastors, now, not more broadly “evangelical” churches that call themselves reformed.

    For example, in the OPC, the average salary is more like 40 grand. The average church is probably less than 100 members. Many are church plants, and their pastors make very little.

    I think the tendency in most reformed churches is to pay their pastor as little as possible. Often, and I say this after having talked to pastors about it, their sessions kind of forget to ask him how he’s doing, if he needs a raise, etc, and it just doesn’t happen, because he’s unwilling to bring it up out of humility. So most have their basic needs met, and that’s it. Their budgets are usually very lean and trim. They get by, but going out to eat is very, very rare, for example.

    Sure, you got the Tim Keller type churches, who obviously can pay their pastors very, very well, but most reformed churches are smaller than that. It’s just hard to scrape that much money together. Also, the thinking is typically that if his needs are met, he’s doing fine.

    I don’t understand why churches don’t want their pastor eating steak every night and driving a really nice car and living in a nice house, etc. I don’t understand why they don’t want to lavish things on him and spoil and pamper him. That doesn’t make sense to me. It seems like a truly grateful heart would want to express itself that way.

    It seems that when churches consider how much to give their pastor they ask, “Have we done our duty, have we given him enough yet?” I don’t understand why they don’t ask, “Can we give him any more than we already are?”

    A true pastor would never demand such things. But I just don’t understand why congregants don’t do this by nature. They’re always trying to give him they minimum they can get away with. I don’t get it.

  13. Echo_ohcE says:

    Oh, and by the way, when you consider that pastors have a seminary degree, a master’s degree, then compare them to the average salary of people with master’s degrees in the world, then you’re talking about a huge difference. At least in typical small reformed churches.

  14. Mike says:

    As a small Reformed (PCA) church pastor I am touched by the remarks here in many ways but at the same time having come from a construction salary into the ministry I didn’t expect to make a lot of money. It would be nice sometimes to have someone ask…How are you doing financially? They ask about everything else which is good. God has certainly taken care of our needs through the years.

    The church I serve in Victoria, TX. was a church plant 10 years ago. We grew to about 120 or so and then just before we became a particular church God decided (for the good of the church) to do some pruning and we have struggled ever since to hit the 75 mark again. Financially we are “strong” as far as a small church is concerned. Our budget grows every year along with our membership slowly but surely. As we grow I have seen 1% and 2% raises 3 times through the years but I understand that is all part of the process of growth. I love this church, these people, and this town in South Texas and I do not plan to leave it.

    Now when I served a church of almost 200 in Southern Illinios they on the other hand were only concerned with how much money they could save. In otherwords, at least in the PCA we have all forms of thinking concerning how well to pay the pastor. As long as there is a mentality that the pastor “works” for the church and we are influenced by corporate America and salary is based on how many people “we” bring in and how “we” grow the church then salaries will always be in flux especially in the smaller churches.

    By the way one thing my church does for me is give us a substantial Christmas gift every year which always comes in handy.

    One of the ways i determined to help churches long ago was when i had the option to opt out of Social Security I did and this saves the church a lot of money as well. I was already vested by the time I was ordained anyway.

    God Bless y’all this weekend as youprepare for the Lord’s day.

    Mike

  15. sean says:

    For my part, the compensation issue is relevant as it regards getting paid to do a job. I had originally raised the issue as it regarded a pastor who faithfully executes his vocation, according to a fairly straightforward job description, and my willingness to make sure he is taken care of (salary, benefits) upon executing that job. Zrim ended his post with a commitment to do his best to see that a pastor filling that job description, and it’s very specific, is paid accordingly.

    Having said all that, pay structures are going to vary widely based on the economic climate of an area, ability and or size of a congregation to meet that pay et al.

    A couple things I’d like to add as caveats, that were at least implicit in the post, but I speak for myself on these points; If you, as a pastor, are not fulfilling these guidelines, I’m not gonna be real motivated to make sure you get paid handsomely. The law of the harvest applies to the common world and Paul seems to confirm it’s application to a shepherd’s pay in recommending double wages for the WORTHY pastor. If you’re neglecting these basic duties or substituting other, any other, programs or activities for these duties don’t look to me for support. You have the opportunity to provide me or your congregant with a very specific and unique service that I can’t get anywhere else. If you aren’t willing to do it, or you do it poorly you SHOULD see that reflected in your pay. Also, while I understand that reformed congregations, maybe even particularly OPC, have small congregations relative to the evangelical populace, I have to wonder based on what I’ve seen, encountered, and discussed with others across a fairly broad geographic area, how much of the relatively small size of some of these congregations is DIRECTLY tied to a pastor or leadership who does their job poorly. And what I mean by poorly is pretty much inversely related to what Zrim has outlined as baseline responsibilities.

    I’m sure there are pastors out there who do the work and are not compensated fairly. I feel for you, and hope that those things change for your better. For my part, I’ve taken part in session meetings and gone to bat for pastors who deserved better and was not willing to take no for an answer. Good pastors need advocates for them when it comes to compensation matters, and I pray that they receive that advocacy. As for the rest, see the law of the harvest.

  16. Mike says:

    Hey Sean…did I read you are in san Antonio in one of your responses or was i asleep at the wheel? If in SA where?

  17. sean says:

    Mike,

    You heard correctly. I get nervous when people want to know specifics. Why and what for? (mainly kidding, sort of). I’m on the north side spitting distance from Hagee’s Zionist, word faith, christian america, eyesore of a church. That’s not an invitation for discussion of Hagee, just involuntary up-chucking.

  18. Zrim says:

    Sean,

    If Hagee got paid for his finger snap alone he’d be, like, really rich.

    And I can’t help myself…”If you are tempted to make up for not preaching the whole counsel of God by screaming, finger-snaping, verbal theatrics and general sentimentality meant to scratch itching ears…I dunno, get your own TV show.”

  19. sean says:

    Zrim,

    I am trying to stay on beat, but didn’t we all used to laugh at Jan Crouch’s purple hair? What happened? I keep waiting for someone to yell; “Live from New York……..”

  20. Mike says:

    As I said, a while back, I am in Victoria, TX. Not to far away. Wasn’t wanting to many specifics other than what church are you a part of. It is helpful sometimes to know a little something about the people you are talking to without getting too personal.

    We have a PCA church in the North end off Blanco Rd. But I am not too familiar with other REformed works in SA..so that is why I asked. I have been in Texas…this time for the last 10 years…I got back here as quick as I could.

    And then back on subject ..i always wonder about the cosmetic company that kept Tammy Fay in make-up…are they still making it or did they go under after her demise? You just have to wonder. Or maybe not…

  21. sean says:

    Mike,

    I was in that PCA church for 10 years. Good people, as they say. I don’t think it’s fair for me to discuss specifics. I don’t attend there now, but I still have many friends there. That it no way means they fail at the points that have been outlined, and I left with permission and in good standing. I currently am attending an episcopal church that is part of a communion that is trying to get released by the archbishop of canterbury. I’ve made some deals with myself to get liturgy, and get away from transformationism, plus they’re trying to clean up house. I’m probably completely delusional but we’ll see.

  22. Mike says:

    Not delusional if your group can break away and once again regroup around the Scriptures…. What a novel thought that would be. It is just too high church for me. I like that stuff in small doses..though there are times that worship is so much more fulfilling..

    Thanks for the info. See you around the blog.

  23. Zrim says:

    Mike,

    Watch out for those Reformed Episcies; the ones I know are brutual theocrats and not a little unbalanced (restoration of Christian monarchies and all that, yeow).

    I understand your situation, and I won’t pretend I have never been tempted to the trailheads of Canterbury (my fraternal grandmother would be overjoyed, no doubt). But I am holding out for a recovery of a high-church Calvinism true to Geneva. It can be done.

  24. Mike says:

    Zrim,

    Having read all the books I can on the worship of Geneva…(I like Bruggermann’s book on the Church and Architecture…I think that is the title. Its not on my shelf right now.)

    Could you give me your assessment of the worship there as you see it.

    I can be a sucker for being in a Catholic Catherdral as well. There is just something about a true catherdral…We also have a Catholic church that is built like the old mission churches of long ago here in Victoria that is simply beautiful. The preist (who is not there any more…interesting guy. A true believer who is now the head of the Order of the Holy Spirit) would let me come in for prayer every once in a while.

    But don’t worry (as if you would) God makes it abundantly clear in Scritpure the “inconsistancies” of both the RC and Episcapol systems.

  25. sean says:

    “But don’t worry (as if you would) God makes it abundantly clear in Scritpure the “inconsistancies” of both the RC and Episcapol systems.”

    Yeah well, as I’ve said elsewhere. When WCF makes room for monocovenantal , theonomic, law/gospel refuting practitioners and adherents I ain’t so sure what you GOT is as good.

  26. Zrim says:

    Mike,

    “Could you give me your assessment of the worship there as you see it.”

    You mean at the church I linked, Redeemer? If so, I have only two words: faithfully Reformed. The local Evangie’s (including members of my own family) say, “It’s too Catholic.” I tell my friend who minisyers there that when Evangies say you are too Catholic you are doing something right.

    It also sounds like you are making a point about architecture (?). I recall I was struck when I visited Princeton’s Chapel when I first saw it, that it captured transcendance in ways the modern church has completely lost as it emphasizes immenance, looks to more living room models,. etc. But then I realized that, as vital as form and content are, God desires faithful worship first and where it is done is not as important as how it is done. Princeton’s Chapel, for all its transcendance, may have been yesteryear’s mega-church, too aligned with power structures and all that.

    While I think we should careful not divorce form and content and do all we can to keep them united, sound Reformed worship is actually what matters at the end of the day, be it in a Princeton Chapel or renting out a modest Seventh day Adventist Church.

  27. Pingback: Just Jesus, thanks! « gospel muse

  28. Zrim says:

    Hey, it’s Matthew! Long time no hear. Good to, ahem, see you again, Matthew.

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