Clergy & Laity: Introduction in the Churches of Christ are about as low church as you can get. We even claim to have no clergy — because every member is a minister.

We refuse to allow our preachers to be called “pastor,” and we’d be positively apoplectic if a preacher wore a clerical collar or robes.

We are so concerned to minimize the power of the preacher that most churches consider a minister automatically disqualified to be an elder.

But not every member gets paid, and not every member gets to sit in on the elders meetings. Not every member works fulltime for the church.

And there are other differences, too. We don’t let our ministerial class dress differently, but we certainly treat them differently — sometimes appropriately and sometimes not so appropriately.

So I figure it might be a good idea to lay some of this on the table and talk about it.

Now, I’ve never been on staff at any church. I’ve been an elder for a while, and I was a ministry leader and deacon for many years before that. I’ve hung around ministers all my life. But I can’t pretend to see the world through their eyes. Therefore, I will likely miss some critical issues, and I might even be insensitive to the ministerial perspective now and again. So please pitch in and help me sort through the issues that come up between our paid ministerial staff and the rest of us.

Here are some issues that seem to merit discussion —

What does the preacher do for a living? How many hours does he really work?

If he’d ever had a real job, he’d know how unrealistic his preaching is!

How come he expects me to volunteer in addition to my fulltime job — and he wants Fridays off?

Why doesn’t the minister have any friends at church?

He says he’s suffering from burn out. Is he serious?

He wants to take time off to get another degree?

I know my wife wears shorts, but I really think the preacher’s wife should set a better example.

You’ll get to come to the elders meeting if we ever discuss anything that matters to your job.

How little can we pay him without running him off?

Can you believe how the preacher’s kids act in church?

Why didn’t you visit my great aunt twice removed in the hospital?

What else?


39 Responses

  1. Good list of topics. This could be a long series! I’m chomping at the bit to get into a few of these, but I’ll refrain.

    Here are some more questions for consideration:

    Who holds the minister accountable?
    Is the minister a spiritual leader or just a public speaker? If a spiritual leader, who is following him? What does that look like?
    Is the minister supposed to be an evangelist? Is he?
    What do we expect his career path to look like? Is there advancement? Retirement?
    Should ministers move from congregation to congregation every few years? What are the downsides?
    Should ministers be brought in from the outside, or “raised up” inside the local congregation? Where should ministers be produced?

  2. I realize these are leading questions, though I don’t I feel as strongly as the questions may suggest. I just think they’re worth asking… and answering.

    Does paying ministers further a clergy / laity mindset? Are we contributing to a consumer mentality when it comes to church membership and participation?

    Does paying one (or two or more) guys to preach and/or teach limit the development and use of others’ spiritual gifts? Are we in some way preventing our churches from becoming mature by paying some and making such distinctions?

  3. The way we view preachers is even more odd than some of our other distinctives. I disagree with the conventional view completely.

    A consideration of Ephesians 4:10-12 gives us one of 4 labels to give our preachers, apostles, prophets, evangelists, or pastor/teachers (or shepherd/teachers). Of the 4 choices “pastor/teacher” fits him much more than “evangelist”. After all, he does most of the teaching and does little evangelizing.

    In almost all of the churches I have observed the pulpit guy is the one who most shapes the congregation, he is the default leader even if he is not recognized as a leader. It is my firm belief that the preacher should be an elder. And, as of several months ago, both of our preachers are elders.

    Yes, everyone is a minister. No, not everyone is gifted by and equipped by the Holy Spirit to be a pastor/teacher. There are many, many preachers who should be doing something else.

    BTW, the majority translation is “pastor/teacher” not “shepherd”. Why run away from a Biblical description?

    Finally, isn’t it odd that elders in many cases are not teachers? They are pastors (shepherds) or should be. That does not mean micromanaging every tiny part of the member’s lives. I don’t think God ever intended that elders should serve more as board members than “servant/shepherd/teachers”.

    The report card for a preacher is the people in the pews. Are they growing up spiritually? Are they growing in grace and the knowledge of Christ? And are they growing in their love for the lost, across the street and around the world, and for each other?


  4. Jay….Are you wanting just more added to the list or are you wanting some answers to the questions?

  5. I always was proud that the churches of Christ had the church organization body right until we began an elder selection process. As I studied I began to actually see why other denominations had paid “pastors” and didn’t really inderstand why we had our view of a paid preacher with essentially no decision making authority as well as why no preachers served as elders. It seems some of our ideas are based partly on perceived conflicts of interest when perhaps they should be based on an overwhelming theme of mutual interest.

  6. This will be interesting. (I use the term pastor because I consider all christians to be ministers. Please adjust the nomenclature in your head as you read if it helps.)

    Hours? In my experience, 50 to 70 hours per week is the norm. 15 to 20 hours of study and sermon prep. 10 hours plus in meeting and getting ready for meetings, and doing the follow up from meetings. 10 hours plus for visitation. 5 hours in individual counseling., General administration can easily take 10 to 15 hours. Then there is prep for the classes that he leads, the time spent talking with people who just drop by, community functions, etc., etc., etc. One of the fun things about being a pastor is being on call 24/7. In many occupations, you get a stipend for being on call, even if the beeper never beeps.

    Then there is accountability for the churches as well as for the pastor. In my denomination, there has been a tradition of guarenteed churches for pastors in good standing. That is being challenged for a variety of reasons, but along with that challenge comes the a look at the concurrent tradition of every congregation being promised a pastor. Everyone knows of pastors that bounce from church to church every 2-3 years because that is about as long as anyone can take them, and everyone knows of churches that destroy good pastors.

    Some of the questions you raise are going to be a little harder for me to wrap my head around because my background is different, but I look forward to the discussion.

    Last thought for now. If a pastor is to lead the church, but is not allowed to participate in the meetings of the elders, in my opinion, his hands are tied. But I suppose a lot depends on the maturity of the elders, and the overall health of the communication that goes on in the church.

    Pastor Mike

  7. Royce, you raise a good topic for another series: what the role of elders should be (contrast to the role often taken).

  8. Royce said “In almost all of the churches I have observed the pulpit guy is the one who most shapes the congregation,”

    Which I agree with, because he is out front, and the elders work behind the curtain.

    But he also said ” It is my firm belief that the preacher should be an elder. And, as of several months ago, both of our preachers are elders.”

    This I do not agree with, elders should be those best qualified to answer questions, to guide. preachers should be picked because of the ability to get the attention of those he is teaching, while bringing the words of God, the same words that were delivered by Jesus Christ “now that was a preacher/teacher” I still can imagine hearing his words ringing through the mountains and valleys.

  9. Royce, you said: “The report card for a preacher is the people in the pews. Are they growing up spiritually? Are they growing in grace and the knowledge of Christ? And are they growing in their love for the lost, across the street and around the world, and for each other?”

    i would suggest the preacher’s report card has more to do with whether or not he’s proclaimed in the word of God in a way that’s culturally appropriate and easy to understand. has he declared that the kingdom is near, and what that means to us? has he accurately led us into God’s word to know God’s heart? the response of those in the pews says little about the preacher himself — and i’m convinced he shouldn’t be “graded” on it.

  10. James, I agree no one should be graded/judged on another’s actions. Graded is just a word used to jump over the command “You shall not judge” report card is just another phrase for “grades”

  11. jamesbrett,

    If a preacher does what you said, he will have done what I said. Lets not make more of something than is there.


  12. i’m sorry, royce, i’m honestly not trying to be difficult. i just don’t agree. i think there are lots of times that a preacher does exactly what God asks of him, and there is no response — or even harsh rejection. i think of old testament prophets ignored; i think of the parable of the soils; i think of Jesus explaining to his disciples that some will not accept what they preach, or hate them; and i think of countless preachers today who preach the word of God in hostile environs or in churches with hard hearts.

    i’m honestly not trying to make more than is there, though. i just don’t believe there is always Godly response to Godly preaching. and i think that’s one of the problems in our hiring, firing, ranking, and comparing of preachers in modern-day christianity.

  13. James,

    The difference in preachers we are discussing and the context of their ministry is clear. You are talking about preaching to the lost world. We are discussing preachers who preach almost exclusively to Christians. If fact the passage I referred to in Ephesians says of these men that they are to, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”

    My earlier comment is a fair representation of this text.


  14. Alan, on May 22, 2010 at 6:52 am Said:
    “Should ministers be brought in from the outside, or “raised up” inside the local congregation? Where should ministers be produced?”

    It is my understanding that if we are to use the model presented in the New Testament, ministers must be “raised up” from the local congregation. Specifically they should be the “paid elders” mentioned in the New Testament. There are quite a few verses warning about ambitious traveling teachers seeking a paying position.

    Therefore, I have concluded that, “Biblically”, career ministry as we know it may be “wrong” somehow… I know I am taking it to an extreme, but is it really possible for a “stranger” to effectively minister to a congregation? Wouldn’t “one of their own” be able to serve the people better?

    I hope no one takes this wrong, as I fully support the Idea of paying those engaged in full-time ministry / missions. But you did ask for input on the subject, so that is my current thoughts.

  15. Jay,

    Good luck with this can of worms. I won’t comment further now beyond letting you know I am praying for you and for those who respond. Having been in all of the shoes being discussed, there is no doubt you will need the support.

    Let me know if you don’t get enough feedback on this issue. (smiling)

    Blessings on you and all who comment –
    peace for your troubled hearts,
    wisdom for your choice of words,
    love for all the brethren,
    and a willingness to be heard only after you have listened well…


  16. “The difference in preachers we are discussing and the context of their ministry is clear. You are talking about preaching to the lost world. We are discussing preachers who preach almost exclusively to Christians.”

    I don’t know where God called us to teach to “Christians” I believe we are called to preach to the lost..
    I believe Jesus said he came to save the lost not the saved.

    Hbr 8:10 For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:

    Hbr 8:11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.

  17. Too often emphasis is put on their education and where they were educated. I’m certainly not against education and fully realize its importance especially in relation to biblical knowledge; still it isn’t a substitute for what’s in your heart. If one doesn’t truly love the Lord and does not practice “living” the Sermon on the Mount, then the education is wasted knowledge. I compare it to having a wall full of degrees, what good are they if there isn’t any common sense to go with them?

    Our elders are to desire the office. My understanding of the meaning for desire is a very intense longing. Sadly over the years I have seen this turned into more of a political/personality position rather than a desire to “keep watch over themselves and the flock”. “The good old boy system.”

    Preaching is a gift or talent, as a body these talents vary from one member to another. Too many ‘sheep’ are content to just graze and after 20, 40, 50 years are still in need of milk. Too often the ‘sheep’ treat the preacher and elders as they treat God when praying, like a genie just waiting to fill their every request, not to mention all of the trivial complaining that fills their ears of these men. 1 Tim 5:17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. Has this been forgotten?

    It’s always so easy to find fault with someone else instead of taking our own inventory.

    I have always wondered too, why a preacher is expected to live in a house someone else wouldn’t dream of living in, why he is expected to live on a salary no one else would accept on their own job and why their kids are supposed to be perfect when their own kids are terrors, and why he shouldn’t have acceptable health insurance and retirement.

    Sorry Jay, your post obviously sparked some feeling in me. 🙂 In my lifetime I have experienced good and bad. Where we attend now are elders and preacher are absolutely worth of double honor.

  18. I think a good standard to “grade” a preacher on is in 1 Timothy 4:12-16,

    “12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 13 Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15 Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. 16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (NKJV)

  19. Apostolic doctrine doesn’t include any such office as is being spoken of as “minister.” Every Christian is to serve. Therefore, every Christian is a minister. We, most of us, have adopted a clergy system in which our congregations hire a clergyman to do the work which elders should be doing. Meanwhile, the elders are often doing work which no one should be doing! And we claim we want to follow apostolic teaching.

  20. The gospel shouldn’t be so complicated you need a preacher to explain it. this is where christianity has gone wrong. JEsus’ simple gospel of God is going to judge everyone according to their works in the end and render a proportional judgement has been made into a complicated apologetic for immorality and for beating everyone over the head if they dont accept your metaphysical definition of God and your view of what a worship service and church government ought to be.

  21. by works above I mean exclusively in the moral sense, no ceremony matters, as he told the rich young ruler ‘keep the commandments’ but only listed moral ones not ceremonial like sabbath and circumcision and kosher and sacricis

  22. royce, i didn’t intend to make my comments sound as if i was only speaking concerning preaching to the lost world. however, i will acknowledge that several of the scriptures i alluded to do deal with preaching to the lost. but in keeping with one of those i mentioned, i would argue the majority of church buildings are filled on sunday mornings with at least half (i’d actually guess a much, much higher percentage) 2nd and 3rd soil christians. and good preaching itself won’t overcome that.

    i just don’t think i can be on board with a preacher (whether to the lost or the saved) being graded on the response of his listeners.

  23. As a minister’s wife for twenty years, I can share some of the frustrations and questions from the other side. What a minister does with most of his “office” time is listen to members and those who wander in off the street, who wonder why their life is in such a mess. When explained to it might have something to do with their lifestyle many leave hearing, but not doing. Some return many times always hearing and agreeing, but never doing. I saw a link someone sent me on youtube and that encapsulates many times what a minister goes through during the day. (If you google Bob Newhart stop it, you’ll find it.) Other days you put up with crazy people who threaten you, clerical work, talking with members who have questions, or who just want to talk, visitation, phone calls, etc.
    And then there are those delightful days when you find out your youth minister has been having an affair, or that the secretary has been embezzling money, or that the youth minister is creating dissension, gossiping and running off several families.
    Then after dealing with that all day you go home to work on your lessons and sermons because you must have 3 different Bible class lessons and 2 sermons that week. Saturdays are catch up days to get done what you didn’t during the week. You rarely get to get away for the weekend, to take a breather, because you work on the weekend and your kids are in school during the week.
    Then there’s the phone calls from your members such as at 5 in the morning needing a ride home from the ER, another needing a loaf of bread (even though we have a food pantry open 2 days a week, but wants home delivery) , one called needing a fork ( I kid you not!) a woman ringing the doorbell at 2:30 in the morning who had been in town shopping at and had run out of gas and couldn’t get back home to her children, the hoochie mama (as one of our members called the streetwalkers) walking into our home needing money, the man following me to our kids school to hit me up for tires for his car so he could get to a job he had in another town, I could go on but I think you get the idea.
    Then there are the members…..when you finally do get a day off and forgot that one of your member’s was having out-patient surgery and you weren’t there. Of course you weren’t there when your wife had her surgery, but that’s different. And yes you didn’t visit Uncle George whom you’ve never seen, or didn’t call.And those members who leave at the drop of a hat when they perceive that there is errant doctrine being taught, but do not study it out for themselves, or bother to even come study it with you. Or those members who show up when they need money. Or the members who always hear only what they want to hear not what was really said. Or the members who just seem to dislike you, just because. Or the frustrations of when things seem to start going well and the church is growing and something happens, the bottom drops out of the economy and members have to leave, sins, whatever the reason and you seem like you’re back to square one.
    And I don’t have much to say about minister’s wives, even though I am one, they did not hire me and I have no office. I raise my children as I was raised.
    The ministry, as are many jobs, are not for the faint of heart.
    And even though most of this post was negative, then there are the days when an elderly couple starts sending you money every month just because. Or those who remember every birthday (even your wife and kids) with a gift, the ones who pick up the tab for you when you go out, the hugs, the pats on the backs and the many words of encouragement. The ones who step up and do a job without complaining or even being asked.
    It makes me think sometimes how God must feel putting up with all our complaining, griping and sinning and how many times we forget to thank him for all He has done for us.

  24. We are about as low church as it gets. Do you think giving more attention to creating a “holy space” with our buildings would aid in making our worship environment more reverent and spiritual? Perhaps some stained glass depicting Bible scenes. Also, maybe an increased emphasis on the Lord’s Supper, spending more time with that part of the worship.

    My thinking is that ministers should always be elders, given they meet the qualifications. Most of the qualifications apply to all Christians. Why would you want a person as your minister who wasnt a faithful Christian? Surely you would want him to meet the ‘apt to teach’ requirement. Do we take the apt to teach qualification seriously when selecting elders? What about the faithful children one? The minister is the ‘face of the church’ to many, like it or not. Why would we want to hold him accountable without sharing control with him. Accountability minus control could sure lead to burnout.

    Perhaps less so on this blog, but if we are so into restoration, why do the preachers not appoint the elders like the example we have in the NT?

    Perhaps some of the stress between elders and ministers is because our model is likely different from the first century. I’m guessing their preachers were largely itinerant or the elders handled the preaching locally. We dont do that.

  25. oops! read over what I wrote and it should say “of course THEY weren’t there when your wife had surgery…..” didn’t mean for it to sound like my husband wasn’t there! sorry hubby!

  26. The church of Christ is in some ways is becoming more culturalized and many of the issues of what a preacher or minister does as employment is clearly understandable. However with church models changing so rapidly and the cost of religion growing higher and higher staffing is always going to be an issue. Is there such a thing as a career in ministry? Well if what we mean by career the method by which an organization tends to serve then yes! Now is there a case for abuse and neglect based on such organizations getting obsessive with titles and structure and pay and staffing yes. But this why there is many method and motives in ministry. The Holy spirit can work through any type of structure paid or not or the miss use of a titles or bad dynamics of the church. This is why there is mega churches and house churches, churches in gyms and churches in buildings can all become successful.
    Now the title Pastor should be used in the church not as a doctrine of qualifications but rather as a description of what one does. Stephen in Acts 6 and 7 was a pastor who was killed by Elders of city.  6:8”Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.” 6: 12 “So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law.”
    Did we miss some of the titles in these passages only to come up with some ridiculous version of how we got deacons? Is Stephen just a table server or did Stephen die for this cause, “ It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.

  27. “We are about as low church as it gets.”

    why is this a bad thing? Jesus didn’t establish a high church with vestured celibate predators. he took a bunch of fishermen and a tax collector or two and sent them out to preach to mostly poor people. “brethren, you see your calling, how there are not many mighty, not many of noble birth…” Paul says. And again Paul says “mind not HIGH things but condescend to men of LOW estate.”

  28. 1 Cor 1:26 / Romans 12:16

  29. Help Jay! The inmates are taking over the asylum!

  30. The discussion changes 180 degrees depending on the situation.

    Suburban congregation, 500 members, four staff members

    Rural congregation, 50 members, one preacher who also has to work a full-time job outside the church.

  31. Structures grow with the size of a congregation. But it seems strange when a small congregation does not view itself as “complete” just because they don’t have the leadership-structure of a mega-church.

    A small congregation where the elders work full-time (such as ours) has its good sides, too. (Given that the structure of a church is closer to a familiy than to an institution). Actually we are better off than both examples, you give, Dwayne:

    60 Members, of which 10 brothers share the responsibilty of teaching and shepharding in our network of house-churches. Before we changed to this more famliy-sized church structure, we had two main preachers only, and other gifted brothers just sat in the pews … We tried to copy the structure of a big church, but this – in retrospect – meant that we lost several years of training and practice for many chosen servants of the Lord.

    But now we are really far from a clerical approach of church-leadership. We still think of appointing elders in the course of the following year (one eldership for all house-churches); but when this takes place, they won’t be the main preachers, because others are already doing this, and they are doing it well.


  32. Alan,

    Interesting questions. I’ll try to take some or all on.

  33. Brett,

    More good questions to add to the list.

  34. Doug,

    Just setting up future discussion. Answers really need to come later. Further questions are welcome.

  35. Grizz,

    Thanks. I need your prayers — always, but especially on this one.

  36. John,

    Those are some excellent observations.

    Yes, while I’m good with being utterly low church (for want of a better word), such as by meeting in homes, for those who meeting in dedicated spaces, I’m all for making the buildings reflect who we are. As Churchill said, “We shape our buildings, and then they shape us.” I’ve addressed our use of space and the use of stained glass in a post on “iconography” a while back — and I can’t find the link because WordPress is down. Very frustrating.

    And I agree that ministers have to be given authority — and boundaries. Elders can’t micro-manage but neither can they stop being overseers.

    We need to seriously re-think the relationship of elders and ministers. Maybe this series will take us in that direction.

  37. Jerry,

    It’s not an insult. It’s just a fact. We are so low church we pretend we have no clergy (refusing to use the word), but we act very much like we have clergy. I think it was Anne who mentioned how our members feel deprived when the preacher doesn’t visit them in the hospital, considering other friends in the church — even elders — a poor substitute for the actual man in the pulpit. That means we have a clergy/laity distinction in our thinking even if it’s not in our vocabulary.

    I just thought it might be worthwhile to spend a few posts considering this distinction which doesn’t exist but does really.,

  38. The “authority” of ministers that I was thinking of was simply the minister being a member of the eldership team, not the minister-eldership team, but the eldership team. Unless he is quite young, surely he is qualified, or why was he hired?

    You are exceptional as an elder. I am confident you know more about the Bible than your minister, and I dont even know who that is. You know more than I do. But, that is not generally the case. I think your situation would be very rare. It is normally the other way around. Then, if the elders try to tell the minister how to preach, when they have no training or experience in that area, it can be awkward. I am not a lawyer. How would you like me telling you how to run your law firm?

    How should the elders properly oversee in situations like that?

  39. Do we have a clergy system?

    In my first full-time work stateside (I had previously been in New Zealand as a “missionary”), the wife of one of the elders insisted on calling me “Brother Starling.” I asked why she wouldn’t call me by my first name. After all, I was a good 20 years younger than she. She said, “Oh, I just couldn’t call the preacher by his first name!”

    My response? I said, “Then why not go ahead and call me ‘Reverend.'”

    I don’t think she saw either the humor or the logic of what I said.


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