Paid to serve the Lord?

Posted on August 9, 2012 by VMMissions Staff

I have no bone to pick with those who are paid to serve the Lord. After all I do know the Bible says that, “those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” And too, I am one such person, which probably biases me in a particular direction. Being paid to serve God, or “being paid to be a Christian” as I sometimes call it, does have its advantages. One advantage is that it increases the available time for service. In some cases too missionaries have no other option.

I am, however, interested in others who, like Paul, “haven’t made use of any of these rights.” We call them “tentmakers,” a description that comes directly from Paul. These folks figured out how to support themselves and went out to serve God. Occasional hospitality or love offerings were their material rewards. Rather than simply serving for a day here and there or a week-long service trip from time to time, these people made it a lifestyle.

Yesterday I sat with one such couple. They are retired farmers, and they were very good ones too! Then they were called into ministry. They retained a hired hand to hold things together when they needed to be gone, and then they went, serving in churches nearby and in fields further away. “We never got paid,” they said, but it was still obvious they were devoted to this life of service to God. I specifically asked the wife how she experienced those years. “We loved it,” was her reply. Interestingly, I believe all of their children have been in some kind of Christian ministry too, a testimony to this family’s ongoing service.

Sometimes I do wonder if Christian ministry is improved when a dollar value is affixed to it. I am aware that not all children of unpaid ministers have equally fond memories of their overworked or too-often absent parents. But I am also aware that such issues have applied to families of paid professional pastors, or any busy family for that matter.

In our own world of Virginia Mennonite Missions we are increasingly exploring new ways of supporting ourselves as we move out into ministry. Or are we simply rediscovering old ways? Providing financial support from the congregations and supporters of the sending church will still be a very important way of doing missions. Increasingly, it is not the only way. Some scholars are now even suggesting that the paid professional missionary of the last 200 years is really the exception in Christian missions, not the norm. More often, “normal” were the people who simply went out into the world in the multitude of ways that people do (work, education, migration, etc.) and while doing so, they bore witness to Jesus.

That sounds like my retired farmer friends.

Filed in: All posts, Editorial, From the President


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