July 24, 2019
I haven’t been blogging anywhere near as much for a few reasons:
- Much of the types of discussions I used to host on my blog now happen a lot more naturally and conveniently directly on my Christian Reflections Facebook Page (and linked Twitter account). If there were an easy to put the same stuff into my blog that I put on Twitter/Facebook, that’d be a good way to revive the blog… but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet :-/ Any suggestions? Maybe I just need to post into the three locations: Facebook, Twitter and Blog?
- I have been doing more long-form writing, first with The Good Life in the Last Days (also available on Audible and Christian Audio) that came out last year, and now working on a new book whose working title is The Vine Movement: Building Trellises for the Global Vine. It’s an excerpt from this work in progress that I’m sharing in this post.
Super keen to what you think about this one. I started writing this section, thinking it’d be only a couple of paragraphs. But as I started getting feedback (on the Facebook Page and Twitter) from people from different countries and different church backgrounds, I realised it’s more complex than I first thought!
Church Staff and External Income
With regard to money, parachurches need to manage their finances beyond the basic standards legal compliance, but adopt policies that enshrine sound principles of wisdom and godliness. For example, while seeking to honour and care for those who work hard for the ministry, we should question what level of remuneration and hospitality is inappropriately luxurious. As the Lausanne Commission on Co-operation wrote:
While the Commission understands the need for stressing the interrelationship of money, time and energy, it regrettably notices that the life-style of some para-church leaders leaves a lot to be desired if they wish to impress the Christian public with responsible stewardship. We need to be extra careful in differentiating between essentials and luxuries, perhaps especially in the area of travel.
A basic starting point for a parachurch governing body to assess an appropriate level of remuneration and provision is for those who set such policies to do enough research to learn what the average standard might be for relatively equivalent contexts. Then the governing body can make its own judgement about whether the average might be too luxurious or too austere.
How should Christian leaders think about additional income that is earned through parachurch activity (wedding and funeral fees, book or music royalties, speaking or board member honorariums, consultancy fees, part-time paid positions)? While there is no absolute biblical command on this matter, and there is need for substantial freedom and diversity, a few things are worth considering about the nature of gospel work.
1. The nature of employment in Christian leadership
First, like with any employment, the Christian ministry “worker deserves his wages” (1Tim 5:18) and is fully justified in claiming this right for any work they do (1Cor 9:1–12). Second, the “the elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1Tim 5:17) and so churches should seek to generously provide for their paid leader, rather than seek to police contentment through low remuneration. Third, Christian leaders are paid in order to be freed up to perform their gospel ministry: more as a stipend than it is a wage (as illustrated in Acts 18:5). Fourth, Christian ministries ought to have a generous, spiritual interest in the wider kingdom of God beyond the bounds of their organisation and Christian leaders have a wider responsibility to God’s work in the world beyond their formal employer.
2. Risks of paid external ministry work
Work beyond the area of primary employment brings particular risks that need to be managed. First, additional external ministry work and mental load might detract from a Christian leader’s primary ministry, for which they have been employed (kind of like 1Cor 7:32–35). Second, the benefits a Christian leader gets from external ministry (not only money, but also respect and future ministry opportunities) creates a conflict of interest, which might distort their priorities and judgments: will they choose what is best for the primary ministry, or what is best for their external ministry? Third, however additional is received, the Christian leader must flee greed and pursue generosity, for they should not think “godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain…. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1Tim 6:3–10). Fourth, a Christian leader should always be concerned about commending the gospel by living in such a way that is seen to be “above reproach” (1Tim 3:2).
3. Ways to manage the risks of paid external ministry work
These dangers can be managed in the following ways: If the parachurch ministry was conducted within the context and regular hours of a Christian leaders’ ministry job, it is fitting for the organisation for which the leader works to receive the income — or for the income to be given to some other church, parachurch or charity. The work was done in the context of their primary role and funded by their salary so it is just them fulfilling a differing aspect of that role. However, if a Christian leader has additional personal needs that a church is financially unable to meet, additional income might be used for this purpose. In such cases, it is usually best for this to be formally approved by their employer.
If a Christian leader does external ministry outside of their regular ministry context and hours, this raises questions around the nature of employment in Christian ministry. Because Christian leaders paid so as to be freed up to give themselves to the work of ministry, it is legitimate for those employed full-time to ask whether any additional ministry capacity they have ought to be devoted to the ministry to which they are primarily appointed. Because of this, it is usually appropriate for the Christian leader who is employed full-time to formally seek permission from their primary employer before taking on substantial amounts of external ministry work. While recognising there are many factors here, it seems to me far wiser for any income related to a Christian leaders’ ministry, to be largely thought of in the same way whether done inside work hours or not. It is all part of them fulfilling their role in serving God’s people. Why does a full-time Christian leader need any more income to be freed up to conduct their ministry than a full-time salary?
If a Christian leader works across several a variety of parachurch ministries, they need to declare these various activities as potential conflicts of interest to each leadership team they are accountable to. They cannot simply presume to use the public platform and mailing lists of one ministry to promote another parachurch ministry, especially if they personally benefit from this ministry. They need to be examine their motivations before requiring their team members to purchase books they have written; or to subscribe to services or register for conferences hosted by external organisations they are involved with. So also, if they are employed by a local church they must be careful not to privilege this church in their local parachurch activity, such as inviting all the university to their church from the campus Christian Union they help lead.
If a Christian leader chooses to keep substantial external income, additional steps need to be taken to guard against greed and to avoid any appearance of greed. This might mean publicly declaring how much of their income they give away. Or it might mean the establishment of a trust, whose trustees decide how much income might go to the Christian leader and what to do with the rest. If a Christian leader can be freed up from relying on income from their primary employer, this obviously allow the money that would otherwise go to their salary to go to other good causes. Lack of financial dependence might even make such a leader a more courageous truth-teller, since they do not fear for job security. However, such freedom could also lead to an unhelpful autonomy which should be restrained by a clear set of expectations and accountability.
The less the parachurch work is the work of gospel ministry, the less directly these concerns apply. Being employed as a preacher is different than being employed as a parachurch administrator or a teacher in a Christian school. But even in these other cases, many of these principles are still worth considering and applying as is appropriate.