Clergy & Laity: Further Thoughts on: And he wants Mondays off?! (Part 1)

[Please remember as this series proceeds that I’ve been involved in church leadership for a very long time and get calls and emails from churches all over the place. Please don’t take any of my comments as being pointed at my church’s current staff.] agree with all that, if the minister is working as hard as most, there’s no issue. In fact, many ministers work far too hard.

If the minister is hard working, then it’s just a question of setting fair pay — which is a tough question in its own right. Most ministers are underpaid, in my view, but that trend is reversing among the more progressive churches, at least. Good. Some think ministers should accept starvation pay, but I disagree and disagree strongly. (Post on compensation is coming.)

On the other hand, if a minister is not accountable for how he spends his time, I don’t know how he expects his elders and congregation to appreciate his hard work. If I was a minister, I’d do the following:

1. Provide time logs to the elders without being asked. I wouldn’t do it every week, because I expect I’d be too busy, but I’d do it on a regular, recurring basis. Not just once. And this is how some senior ministers I know do it.

2. I’d never leave the office without telling the receptionist where I’m going — but I’d only hire a receptionist who can keep a confidence. I’d teach her how to respond to questions about where I am without revealing confidences — “He’s in a meeting out of the office” rather than “He’s helping Jane and John avoid a divorce.”

I tell my wife where I’m going when I leave the house, and I tell my secretary where I’m going when I leave the office. Secrets aren’t good for relationships, you know. Why would I want my wife wondering why I’m out of the house?

3. I’d have a calendar that my secretary keeps so people can make appointments — rather than hearing, “Oh, I have no idea when he’ll be back in the office. I’ll have him call back and set up an appointment if he comes back today.” Modern software makes it easy to have a coordinated calendar.

4. Sometimes a minister has to leave the building to have uninterrupted time to prepare lessons. If so, he needs to train the receptionist on what to tell members when they inevitably ask where he is. “I don’t know” will always make him look lazy. I’m for the truth: “He’s working on his sermon and can’t be disturbed, but I’ll be glad to get a message to him later today. He always calls in for his messages and will return them as soon as he can” or “He can’t be interrrupted, but I can make an appointment for you.” Something like that.

None of these are “secular” or “business” habits. They are simply the practices of someone who understands that perceptions are the other person’s reality.

And they are the habits of a man who knows himself to be flawed and easily tempted — which is unquestionably true of me. The more accountable I am for my time, the more likely I am to use that time well. Accountability is spiritually healthy. Non-accountability is not good for us — and may well be one reason 30% or more of our ministers get caught in sexual sin. Yes, really.

(Heb 13:17) Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

I’m going to stand by two principles I think are incontrovertible —

1. Ministers should work hard — every bit as hard as the people they minister to.
2. Ministers should be accountable for how they spend their days.

It’s a mistake to characterize 2 as an issue of trust or distrust. Rather, it’s a recognition that we are all fallen creatures, and we all do better in our struggles with sin when we’re accountable to someone.

Now, none of this is about “business” or being “secular.” Rather, the Bible plainly teaches that those who labor in the Kingdom are entitled to be paid, and the Bible plainly teaches accountability to each other.

I would add a third —

3. Elders shouldn’t be jackasses, but should model their oversight on the oversight of the Great Overseer.

We cannot define ministerial accountability on the assumption that we’ll always have bad elders. It’s sad (but true) that many minister’s attitudes toward accountability and work ethic are driven by painful experiences with former elders — and so we have many ministers looking for protection from abuse, even from elders who are not abusive. Hence, just to mention “accountability” inspires negative reactions.

So, accountability is good. Abusive elders should be retrained or else removed from office. Ministers should be able to trust that the men they are accountable to will be men of godly discernment and want nothing but what’s best for them and the congregation.

I admit that the Churches of Christ have a problem with bad elders — so much so that good elders often have to cope with the perception they are bad elders just because they’re elders. It’s true. Why is that?

Well, it’s largely because we’ve done a very poor job of teaching our churches how to pick elders. I blame us. You see, an ungracious theology leads to ungracious leaders. The more unforgiving, demanding, and nitpicking you teach that God is, the more unforgiving, demanding, and nitpicking the elders are going to be. They’re going to model themselves on whatever kind of God is preached from the pulpit.

And in transitional churches — churches moving away from legalism — the elders may struggle to get over bad mental habits learned when they had a more legalistic spirituality. The preacher and other teachers should help them see how God’s forgiving, serving, self-emptying nature models how they should do their ministry as elders.

It’s all tied together.


6 Responses

  1. When it comes to issues and church structure this paid minister concept is up there in the top 10. But like many of other top 10 issues its never discussed in church settings. Instead it becomes a backroom meeting with ignorance and arrogance of what is Biblical and what is expedient. However what is not understood in minister pay is the view of authority. Jay said, “if a minister is not accountable for how he spends his time, I don’t know how he expects his elders and congregation to appreciate his hard work”. Can we say the opposite is true also if the Elders and the Congregation are not accountable for how they spend there time the minister should have a hard time appreciating the churches hard work. Should the church report to the minister?

    As I see it there is an authority problem. You see the questions here begins to the over throw some of the strongest principles in the scriptures. For instance the power to “fire” or let go for a better term or at will contracts are in and of themselves self serving and don’t fulfill the law of love. But lets be honest (I include myself) we are far more at easy with the way the world works and it ability to provide structure than the spiritual models of the Bible. It doesn’t make sense to go to prison or be stoned half to death or mocked to be accursed when leading the church. Yet this is distance between paid expectations and volunteer sacrifice.

    When we can begin to say you can be fired by the elders and still sit in within the congregation with out the feeling the glances of shock and awe maybe just maybe ,we will have turn a corner in the idea of paid ministry. But until then the model is corporate in operation and its spirit is based on profiteering.

  2. Mark, x 2. Well spoken.

  3. I must say that the assumption of a receptionist on the church staff along with a minister assumes at least two staff member. Well…that is not most Churches of Christ congregations. Many CoC’s if they can support a f/t minister, that is the extent to what they can afford in terms of “staff” budget. That means that the minister is already doing administrative tasks that might otherwise be done by a receptionist or office manager.

    So the issue of a time-log…I have an open calendar policy where any church member can see the calendar I keep. But to take the time to log my time…well, that is just one more unnecessary administrative task that takes away from the mission of God tasks. I have a ministry track-record that churches can look at as well as an M.Div degree with a 3.0+ GPA (no student earns that by being lazy). If a church cannot trust me to be hard at work doing the work I believe God has called me for…well then, they can find someone else.

    Grace and peace,


  4. I agree that accountability is a must. So the real question is what accountability should look like. For ministers and elders, “reporting” (e.g. keeping time logs, etc) really is not an effective means to understanding the essence of what has taken place in ministry. One thing that I think is a mistaken assumption in this series is that the time done doing work is somehow correlated to quality of work for a minister. For me, there are some days where I will spend all day working on projects, lessons, meeting with people, speaking at worship, and more. And then there are other days where the most that will get done is having coffee with a student. However, sometimes that one meeting with a student will be a more significant hour spiritually and ministerially than dozens of other hours of work.

    What communicates this understanding among my leadership is the fact that I meet with one of my elders every week for at least an hour and a half. Through this, we are able to share a truly discipling relationship that helps each other understand the true nature and effects of our work. Because of this relationship, I never have to face the question of “what are you doing with your time?,” because that’s a misguided question in ministry. The better question, and one that we discuss every week, is “What is God doing?” Then we get to discuss how God is using us in what he is doing. To me, this is the kingdom way of doing things, rather than the business-based models we want to look to for answers in how to keep people working so that our money is well spent.

    I’ve been in one too many situations now where elders have not sought this kind of relationship with ministers. It lets bad things happen. Very bad things.

  5. Cary,


  6. To people in their 20s today, keeping hours appears to be “unforgiving, demanding, and nitpicking.”

    To the typical 24-year-old who accomplishes in two hours what a 44-year-old never dreamed of accomplishing (use of technology does this), the idea of working ten or twelve hours in a day brings one response – “I am sorry it takes you so long to do your job.”

    If we are going to appeal to a generation, we should adjust our non-biblical ideas.

    Jay – you often write about mistakes of 20th-century Churches of Christ and how we try to move away from them. Hours worked each week may be one of the bigger mistakes.

    Let’s not hold a 24-year old minister to the concepts of 44-year old members. Hold the 24-year old minister to the concepts of 24-year old members.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: