The Danger of "Full-Time" Ministry
Being a pastor is a noble service. But many who have taken the title have not served nobly.
This will not be a post that delves into the many pitfalls that many pastors (or missionaries) have fallen into in the past. Certainly, sins of a sexual nature, or fraud, or self-exaltation have derailed men in the ministry, that is, if they were on the right path to begin with. The temptations that men face are numerous, and there is no exception for the men that have taken on the role of being a pastor. One may be able to make the argument that church leaders, while facing the same temptations of the flesh as all other men, are targeted more by evil spirits who seek to lead them astray so as to disrupt and discredit the work of churches. This is no excuse, of course. Temptation is not sin, but giving in to temptation is a sin, and the Bible warns that church leaders will be dealt with more severely when they deviate from the straight and narrow (James 3:1). To take on the role of pastor in a church, and then to selfishly gratify the flesh when faced with temptation, instead of yielding to God, is inexcusable. Through repentance, the pastor can be forgiven and in some cases be restored to his position of leadership, but prayer and caution should both be exercised.
Specifically, I wish to address the danger of what some people call “full-time” ministry. “Part-time” ministry is not a biblical concept, nor is the idea of “bi-vocational” ministry. The bifurcation of life into the secular vs. the spiritual is foreign to the Bible. When someone commits to being a pastor, he is in the ministry, no matter where he goes, who he talks to, or where he gets his income. If he pastors a local church, and bags groceries at the local grocery store, his vocation is the gospel ministry. He is as much “full-time” as the preacher that fills the pulpit of the big city church. What he does have, in providing an income for his family that is not dependent upon the whims of a church filled with carnal make-believers, is liberty to preach the Word without worrying about losing his income. The “professionalization” of the institutional churches has resulted in churches operating according to the wisdom of men instead of the wisdom of God. Pastors get selected by a “democratic vote”, rather than appointed by church elders who share in the pastor’s scriptural authority, and who cooperate with him to lead the church and make its decisions. I believe the church should have a plurality of elders, if possible, and this includes the pastor who is not subordinate to, nor superior to the other elders, though his labor in the Word should result in him being distinguished from the other elders.
Church votes are not a biblical concept, but in America today, democracy is the holy grail. The theory of democracy rules in politics (though it has failed), and it has been foisted upon the churches by professing Christians that are more versed in political practices than scriptural commands. The church people, whether they are living in obedience to God or not, decide who the pastor will be, what he must do, what he cannot do, when he must leave, and in many cases – what he must preach. In the typical American church today, the proverbial “tail” is most definitely “wagging the dog.”
But this message is not about the carnal pew warmers. It is about the cowering men that are occupying the pulpits. For all the talk about the danger of what is called “bi-vocational” ministry, I see a greater danger being present in “full-time” ministry, what I will call "solely dependent upon the church" ministry, though I would not expect those who are "solely dependent upon the church" to agree because they have carved out their niche and are operating within the confines of church professionalization. Now, with that said, I do realize there are some exceptions to my claims.
Nowadays, churches are looking for certain credentials from their pastor. I don’t mean the credentials listed in the pastoral epistles, rather, they are looking for men with seminary degrees and who have specific personality traits. Never mind that the apostles were not “educated” by the professional institutes of learning in their day or that men like John the Baptist would not have won a popularity or personality contest. But men decide they are going to commit to the ministry, so they make sure they have the credentials that the churches and denominations are demanding. Some of these men spend years obtaining a degree and go “all in” when it comes to preparing to enter one of the modern-day religious institutions called a “church.” They say what needs to be said in the “interview”, they wait for the “vote”, then they come in – elected like a politician, treated like a politician, and they start acting like a politician. What good politicians many preachers are.
When a man takes his family into this situation, he must be very careful that he does not upset the wrong people. It’s ok when he speaks against the sins of the world, or of the fringe church members, but when it comes to the errors of "the core”, he is endangering his standing in the church, and along with it, his livelihood if he "drops his plow in their potato patch." How many men have identified issues in the church where the scriptures are not being obeyed, but they shied away from addressing the matter because they did not want to offend "the core?” I suspect that most men would not word it this way; instead, they rationalize that the Bible may not mean what it appears to say in a certain passage, so they look for an alternative “interpretation” that will keep the “peace.” They are like those spoken of in the Book of Jeremiah: “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” Pastors are failing the Lord when they try to address issues in the church but refuse to offend "the core.” They fear men more than they fear God. They fear losing their position. They fear losing their reputation. They fear losing their paycheck. So they say enough to get by, but they refuse to preach like the men of the Bible who railed against the establishment of their day. A man in the role of pastor should preach against the errors of the people in the church before he attacks the sins of the world - and his position, title, and salary should have no bearing on what he says and does.
Don’t depend on the church to provide for your family. Perhaps the greatest mission field in America today is inside the buildings that say “church” on the sign. The pulpits and the pews are filled with carnal, selfish, antinomian make-believers. Don’t subject your family to being beggars and being at the mercy of those who the Lord said only have a form of godliness. Your priority is your wife and children. You are called to be a provider and a protector, not to sell out your family because you want a position in a church. I know of at least one instance where a family had a need, but instead of the man (who was the pastor) doing what his family needed, he did what the church wanted him to do, and the family suffered because of it. Don’t be a sell-out because you are afraid of upsetting the establishment or because you want to hang on to your position and salary.
The Lord deserves the rewards of his suffering. Preach and obey his Word or get out of the way.