A few weeks ago, a colleague approached me seeking to find out if there was a biblical endorsement of the concept of “pastor’s appreciation”.
divineinsight BY PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI
At their church, there had just been a call for all members to part with something so that they could honour their “man of God” with some substance. He said what he found quite disturbing was that after the congregation had bought the pastor a room divider and a black television stand, he said he would have preferred a silver one. The congregants, some of whom have given sacrificially for the gift to be bought, he said, were not amused.
This brought about the debate concerning the issue of pastors’ appreciation, which is a widespread practice in churches, although a lot of people have little understanding about it.
My answer to him was, yes, the pastor’s appreciation is biblical. I understand this has always been a sticky issue from as far back as the days of the early apostles, which is why Paul took time to address the issue in his letters to the churches at Corinth and Philippi.
The apostle Paul starts off with the building blocks in 1 Corinthians: 9. He describes the congregation at Corinth as his “work in the Lord” and the seal of his apostleship. Obviously, there were some in the congregation who had questioned the authenticity of his apostleship. In other words, what he was saying was that a congregation — or invariably a ministry — must confirm the pastor’s calling.
A pastor’s calling is confirmed through those who sit under his spiritual authority, grace and anointing. In other words, what Paul was implying is that the churches he had planted sealed his apostleship. He employed powerful imagery to drive his message home. He contended that a vine dresser had a right to eat from the vineyard. A shepherd was entitled to the milk of the sheep he tended.
To strengthen his case, Paul explained that his argument was no personal opinion, but a contention with scriptural endorsement: “Say I these things as a man, or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?”(1 Corinthians 9:8-9).
Here, Paul was quoting Deuteronomy 25:4, contexualising the origins of the practice. In simpler terms, a pastor is entitled, at the expense of the assembly, based upon the money people give to the said assembly, to be taken care of at the congregation’s cost. Writing to his young apprentice, Timothy, Paul quotes the same scripture while explaining that “the labourer is worthy of his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18b).
Paul justifies the practice as a fair exchange between the pastor and his congregation in which both parties accrue benefits. While the church gets spiritual nourishment under the pastor’s ministry, the pastor gets natural provisions from the congregation: “If we have sown unto your spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” (1 Corinthians 9:11).
Paul explained that when the Philippians got a chance to give to him while he was ministering in Thessalonica, it was not so much that they had to do it for him because he had learnt to be content in all circumstances. Their giving, he said, would be beneficial more to them than to him: “Not that I seek a gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:17-19).
When a man of God draws from the congregation, the motive is important. Paul says whether or not he received something, he should not cease ministering to the church because his calling far exceeds whatever his flock would do for him. This is an important ministerial principle. “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward… What is my reward then, verily that when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, That I abuse not my power in the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9: 16-18).
The tragedy of our day, however, is that there are ministers of the gospel who throw tantrums and rages, if not give up on ministry altogether, simply because they feel their congregation is not doing enough to ensure their comfort, well-being and provision.
It is quite unfortunate when pastors put the material benefits of the gospel to themselves ahead of their calling to minister unto the people of God. To rant because one feels the church is not taking good care of them is, as Paul said, like putting a “charge” for the gospel, something he equates to “abuse of power” by a minister of the gospel.
Phillip Chidavaenzi is the author of The Gospel of Grace (From the Old to the New Testament) and Walking in the Spirit. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org