Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pastoral Salaries as a Signal of Congregational Spiritual Quality

First, I should probably mention that I am not a pastor, I have never been a pastor, and I have never aspired to be a pastor. (And no one in my family . . . ) I neither celebrate nor lament that, but when you talk about money, people sometimes wonder about ulterior motives. I have no personal stake in increasing pastoral salaries.

Back to the main topic: It's completely true that pastors should be "free from the love of money" (1 Tm 3.3). But salaries don't just speak to potential pastors, it seems to me that salary offers can signal the spiritual quality of a congregation.

Let me first slightly amend something I posted below when I posted what I thought nominal salaries ought to be in medium-sized congregations in large-enough towns for pastors of ordinary quality.

It is, of course, impossible for many congregations to meet those nominal figures for many different reasons. That's not a problem. I have a relative rule of thumb (one that I applied in the post below, but did not explicate there).

I think that maybe providing a pastor "double honor," as Paul suggests, might mean that pastoral support should be pegged to twice the median income ("honor") of the individuals in the congregation. That way even relatively poor congregations can provide their pastors with "double honor," and the pastor will understand it, even if the nominal pay is low.

The thing is, however, that congregations "honor" their pastors. I'd suggest that the size of the pastor's salary, relative to the incomes of the church members, provides a signal of the value the church places upon the pastoral office, and on the health of their church itself.

If members of a congregation don't love God and their church enough to pay their pastor(s) an honorable salary (relative to what the congregants make), then I would suggest that any pastoral candidate could run in the opposite direction without apology whatsoever.

This is also why I think that the expected range of salary offers should unapologetically be announced when looking for a pastor. "See, this is how much we honor our pastor."

A concluding thought: In Titus, Paul seems to designate pastors as being among the group of "elders." I don't think that it takes great linguistic depth to recognize that the root word of "elders" is "elder," as in "mature" or "old." Contrary to the push in the LCMS to enroll young men directly out of college into seminary so that they will have a long professional career as a pastor, I think that pastors generally should be, well, elderly, in the sense of being men who are grown up, and have been around the block a few times.

It might be preferable that a man have a career before going into the ministry, certainly in terms of understanding the lives of his congregants a bit more. Beyond that, if you're going to ask a man in his forties or fifties to become a pastor -- a man who has earned a living, and knows what it is -- then the church will have to cough up enough to meet with what the man knows a living is. (Young men are cheap. Then they get sucked into the pastorate, pay high upfront costs by specializing at an early age, don't know any other profession, and are trapped into continuing as a pastor even if they then discover they aren't very good at it.)

As long as I'm providing a rambling wish list, one other concluding thought: You can't discover whether a man has the qualities that Paul lists in 1 Timothy and Titus in the interview process. You basically need to live with a person to know that type of thing. To the extent possible (and I recognize that it's not always possible), I think that pastors should be raised out of their local congregations because only then will you have enough experience with a man to know that he has the necessary qualities to be a pastor.

Another thought on the pastors & the money thing

Part of the problem with pastors and the money thing is the way that many pastors explain how they chose to become pastors. Many will talk about the Spirit prompting them to become pastors, often it's a "strong" version of this claim.

Of course, saying that God told you to do something is a conversation stopper. If God did tell someone to do something, then they need to do it no matter what. So saying, "That's really neat Bob, but your two failed marriages would seem to suggest, a la 1 Timothy 3.2, that you shouldn't become a pastor," really isn't a practical answer. When was the last time you heard someone counseled not to become a pastor because he was imprudent, inhospitable, pugnacious, rough, or contentious? (Again, see 1 Timothy 3.2-4.)

In contrast, consider how Paul introduces the topic in 1 Timothy 3:

"It is a trustworthy statement; if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do" (v.1).

So, first, this is something that men can "aspire" to do. It is something that men can "desire" to do. Nowhere in 1 Timothy or Titus does Paul say that only those to whom the Spirit clearly speaks should become pastors. Preaching the Gospel and pastoring God's church is an important job. There is none more important on earth. We want men to aspire to lead churches; to desire to lead churches. Or, at least, we want the right type of men to aspire to lead churches. The right type of men have the qualities that Paul then lists. (And that's why they should receive a lot of honor, and high pay. There really aren't that many men with these qualities.)

So I don't think it's a matter of the "Spirit speaking," at least not in any direct fashion. The question is this: Do you aspire to be a pastor? Is that your desire? Do you have those qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3, Titus & etc.

If so, then it seems to me that Paul says, "have at it."

Too often, however, it seems that churches are willing to make a bad bargain: We won't insist that you meet all of the criteria in 1 Timothy 3 if you don't insist that we give you "double honor" for preaching and teaching, and if you allow us to provide you only with a poor living from the Gospel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Restraint of Trade in Pastoral Salaries?

Do a search of LCMS pastor salaries, and a bunch of documents like the one linked here show up --

It's been a long time since I took classes in antitrust law and the law of competition, but I think these sorts of documents would be considered restraints of trade in ordinary markets.

While I suspect their origination derived as a way to overcome the notorious cheapness of congregations, I wonder whether their continuing existence has the effect of suppressing pastoral salaries in the LCMS, by coordinating on relatively low salaries, rather than letting the market set pastoral salaries.

I suspect that part of the problem lies in the absence of a natural constituency for higher pastoral salaries. Every dollar the pastor gets is a dollar the congregation needs to cough up, so congregations don't usually push to increase pastoral salaries, and the pietism which pastors are often expected to reflect when they talk about what drew them to the ministry, prevents them from matter-of-factly talking about compensation.

From all reports I've seen, and from what I've observed, pastoral ministry is a human meat grinder. I recently read an LCMS report (I forget where I found it linked) that said something like over 50 percent of current LCMS pastors are on the edge of severe burnout, and plan to leave the ministry within 10 years. (I'm not sure about the exact percentage, but it was really high.) And wives were in even worse average shape.

Now, to be sure, money isn't everything. But it is one concrete way of showing honor to someone is by giving them money. (We call the fee that we provide to speakers, for example, "honoraria.")
In 1 Tm 5.17, Paul writes that especially those elders who work hard preaching and teaching should be considered worthy of "double honor." I've heard that the Greek word for "honor" is "weight," as in a sum of silver or gold.

Or this extended discussion in 1 Co 9:

"Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn't the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: 'Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.' Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn't he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn't we have it all the more?

"But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don't you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel" (emphasis added).

So I don't see that we need to tiptoe around the salary question, pretending that it's somehow unholy to talk about money and the Gospel in the same breath. It's hard to get any more real than Paul put it: "The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel."

So what's a "living"?

As a first cut, I'd suggest that when half your pastors (or more) want to get out of the ministry if they can, then they're not exactly making a living from the gospel.

On the more mundane level, simply consider the administrative requirements, the personal cost of seeing much of the unseemly under belly of sinful human life, the criticism, the isolation, and etc. (Plus, wives are often expected to be a second, "free" church worker.)

I do not know any profession that calls for so much from an individual for the average pay scale that seems apparent from the LCMS web documents.

I'm spit-balling here, but I'd think that mid-career pastors of ordinary competence in medium-sized congregations ought to be pulling down at least $100,000+. I'd guess that starting salaries should be in the mid-60s, and the salary of a senior pastor about ready to retire would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $130,000+.

That being said, the church shouldn't be surprised that she gets what she pays for. To the extent that high-quality candidates for the pastorate see that churches will not pay them sufficient to "receive their living from the gospel," and as a result do not go into the ministry, then the church attracts lower-quality candidates, some of whom we should not be surprised that they cannot adequately perform all that the ministry requires.

I suspect that at least part of the problem of pastoral burn out, is that a sizable proportion of these men are ill-equipped to be pastors in the first place. (Of course, it takes an unusually brave and honest soul to say to someone who says he's interested in pastoral work that he may not in fact possess the gifts required to be a pastor.) If the church pays pastors a "living," then she can also insist that they meet all of the pastoral requirements set down in places like Titus and Timothy.

Finally, that there are many, many competent pastors who dutifully perform their labor for the congregations they love for (relatively) low salaries is not an argument to keep it that way.

In any event, I don't think the sanctimoniousness about pastors and salaries benefits the gospel or the church.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Satan Usurps Adam's Vicegerency Over the Earth; Jesus Returns It

Over on the "Daylight" blog, there's a discussion of a whole bunch of things. I made a passing reference to Lk 4.5-7 meaning that "Adam ceded his authority as God’s vicegerent to Satan, so Satan does exercise (delegated) authority over the nations. Nonetheless, God is still ruler over all (Jn 19.11). Jesus reclaims this position for humanity."

Rick asked for a somewhat broader exposition (quite reasonably, I think). He ended by asking what verses I needed to "solidly prove it." So let me first say that I don't think I can "solidly" prove it. The nature of my argument is that the hypothesis makes sense of a lot of data in a way that no alternative hypothesis does (at least no alternative hypothesis of which I'm aware).

Let me also hasten to add that my hypothesis represents my arm-chair theologizing. While I like the hypothesis, I'm not wedded to it. It mainly just evolved incidentally as I thought about other things.

In any event, what prompted my thinking about this in the first place some years ago, was what was for me a puzzle raised by Luke 4.6, when Satan tempted Jesus. Satan tells Jesus that if Jesus will worship him, then

“I will give you all this domain and it glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.”

So here was the puzzle: Who “handed the world” (“this domain”) over to Satan? Possible answers included God, Adam, or someone else. The most plausible answer seemed to me that it was Adam who “handed the world over” to Satan. This occurred because of Adam's willing submission to Satan by believing Satan’s word in the garden rather than believing God’s word.

Let me sketch the overall story, then I'll point to the individual passages that seem to me to make the story plausible: God gave Adam dominion over the world as his vicegerent. (Adam’s authority was delegated to him by God, so it does not represent complete and absolute authority.) Adam “handed over” this authority over the world to Satan when Adam subjected himself to Satan. (He did this by believing Satan’s word rather than God’s word. By submitting to Satan's word, Satan becomes lord over Adam, and so inherits all that was Adam's.)

Jesus comes as the second Adam (Ro 5.14, 1 Co 15.22, 45, Lk 3.38), taking Satan’s dominion away from him and re-establishing the dominion that Adam was supposed to exercise as humanity's head. In his earthly ministry, Jesus exercised dominion over the earth (halting storms, feeding the crowds), over animals (the fish), over people (“come and follow me”), over demons (Lk 11.20), and over sickness and death (not that Adam would have needed to do that).

Importantly, godly dominion is exercised by service, not by “lording it over” others (Mt 20.24-26). Jesus initiates a new humanity and a new creation in the midst of the old. (This is nonetheless hidden; the argument does not entail an overrealized eschatology.)

Here are the texts I'd appeal to.

1. Adam is given dominion by God Gn 1.26-30.

2. Adam and Eve effectively confess Satan’s word as authoritative (i.e., they believe it rather than God’s word, Gn 3.4-6, cf., Gn 2.17).

Satan thereby has a "seed" (Gn 3.15, Jn 8.44). (Promise to Abraham is dominion reestablished, i.e., a seed covering the earth, being a blessing to the gentiles, rulership.)

3. We subsequently see Satan, not Adam or his seed, exercising dominion.

A. Satan has dominion: John 14.30, Acts 26.18, Col 1.13, Eph 6.12, Mt 12.26 (kingdom).

B. Satan appears in heaven before God along with the “sons of God,” Job 1.6-8, 2.1-2, Zech 3.1, 7 (in Zech 3.7, note that free access to God’s court appears to be something new for Joshua, while Satan’s appearance there seems non-problematic), Lk 10.18.

4. “Morning star” appears to be a designation for dominion over the earth (regarding stars as dominions -- think of the stars on the U.S. flag, which also represent dominions or authorities).

A satanic figure owns the "morning star" title at one time (Is 14.12), but then Jesus owns this title (Rev 22.17, Numbers 24.17), but then Jesus gives this title back to his people (Rev 2.28, 2 Peter 2.19, Job 38.7). (Note the extension of Psalm 2 to Jesus’ followers in Rev 2.26-27).

5. Jesus comes to destroy Satan’s dominion, Jn 12.31, 16.11, Ro 8.18-21, Rev 11.15, 1 Jn 3.8 (see again Acts 26.18, Col 1.13). We are recreated as new men in Christ, 2 Co 5.17, Col 3.10, a new creation having started, Gal 6.15, with a new heaven and a new earth revealed with the revealing of Christ when he returns on the last day, 2 Peter 3.13, Rev 21.1, Ro 8.19-22.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Luke 10 & Being Radically Indifferent for Christ

Back in September I criticized Gerhard O. Forde in his book, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, for arguing that Christians should be "indifferent" about whether to do good works for Christ.

While I think he's still mostly wrong, nonetheless, I think that there is an important sense in which he is right, particularly in contrast to the Christians who complain about Christians being too oriented toward salvation and heaven.

In some senses, I sympathize with the notion, as someone wrote of Brian McLaren's argument in, The Secret Message of Jesus, that "The church has focused on salvation as a means to 'heaven after you die' for too long, according to McLaren; we should take Jesus at his word when he says 'the kingdom of God is here now,' and work to assist that kingdom by being peacemakers and loving others."

I can sort of sympathize because, while I know that there are many Christians who are much more "radical for Christ" than I am, nonetheless, like the Pharisee at prayer, I go into prisons twice a week, I give to poor people, I tithe of all the money that I get (although I keep all the dill, mint and cummin for myself, contra Mt 23.23), and I teach Sunday school. (Well, I teach Sunday school half the year, then I need the other half of the year to work up what I want to teach in the other half.)

And I very much enjoy doing all of this, and it's a great blessing to me.

Nonetheless, I also think it's all hogwash.

So, ultimately, I have to disagree with McLaren.

In Luke 10, it seems to me that Jesus twice takes pains to reorient us toward what is truly important. And, God help me, what's important is not being "radical for Christ," at least not in the sense that Brian McLaren means it.

First, there's Jesus mild correction in Luke 10.17-20:

"The seventy returned with joy, saying, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.' And He said to them, 'I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven (emphasis added)."

The disciples return, and, man, the demons are subject to them! What a ministry! Very literally freeing people from the domain of Satan. Jesus even expressly identifies that ministry with the bringing of the Kingdom in the here and the now: "But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Lk 11.20).

Yet in Luke 10 Jesus acts as a "cold-water committee," stepping on the disciples' understandable joy at the demons being subject to them. He instead points them away from what they're doing, and instead points them toward their own salvation. "Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."

"Do not rejoice in this . . ."

Do not rejoice in being "radical for Christ." Rejoice instead that, just like the church lady down the pew -- who is the very epitome of not being "radical for Christ" -- that your name is recorded in heaven.

In response, can there be any prayer but this: "God help me to be indifferent to the fact that the demons are subject to me in Christ, but let me rejoice only in the fact that my name is recorded in heaven."

Later in the same chapter, there is the well-known story of Mary and Martha.

"Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, 'Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.' But the Lord answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her'" (Lk 10.38-42).

"She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word."

"'Only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.'"

Brian McLaren says, "We should take Jesus at his word when he says 'the kingdom of God is here now,' and work to assist that kingdom by being peacemakers and loving others."

Perhaps we should also take Jesus at his word when he says, "'Only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part -- sitting at Jesus' feet, listening to his word -- which shall not be taken away from her.'"

Jesus says that the old church lady sitting down the pew from me -- the very epitome of not being "radical for Christ" -- has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

I love what I do. I would love to do more. But no matter how much I love it, and no matter how much I want to rejoice in it, I believe that I have no choice but to receive what Jesus tells me in Luke 10, that I instead rejoice that my name is written in heaven, and that when I sit at his feet, listening to his words, that is when I have chosen the good part which shall not be taken away from me.

And in doing that, I rejoice with the church lady sitting down the pew, who also rejoices that her name is written in heaven, having also chosen the good part of sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to him, the part which will not be taken away from her.

Rough Side of the Mountain

Tuesday night at the Estelle Unit I had one of the most enjoyable "share" nights of all the time I've gone into prisons.

"Share nights" are nights at which the men get up and "share" (not my word for it) what they want to. A song, a poem, something about their personal history, a passage from the Bible, a message, whatever.

This night quite a few men shared a song. While I've been at share nights in which one or two men shared a song, this night four men individually sang songs, and the quality was unusally high.

First, there was a professional-quality performance of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." Absolutely incredible performance.

But the song that caught my attention, was an a capella rendition of "The Rough Side of the Mountain." You can hear a version of the song here

The man started singing by himself. Soon, a number of men (and volunteers) were standing, clapping in syncopated rhythm. A little while longer, and a few additional men who obviously knew the song were singing background, and joining in the chorus.

I had never heard the song before, and it was a great treat.

Heb 5.7 -- Did God the Father Actually say "Yes" to Jesus’ Gethsemane Prayer?

I discussed this question before, but it returns every year. The ordinary take is that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked to be spared the Cross, and God the Father either ignored Jesus’ prayer or said “no” to Jesus’ prayer.

There are several problems with this interpretation of what happened in Gethsemane. First, the author of Hebrews suggests that God granted Jesus’ prayer.

“In the days of his flesh, he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the one able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his piety” (Heb 5.7, emphasis added).

The author here says that God the Father heard Jesus’ prayer, he did not reject it. How could this be, particularly since Jesus did in fact die, as Hebrews’ author knows very well. So the Father did not save Jesus from death; he did not hear his prayer.

Or did he?

It depends what Hebrews’ author means by “death.” If he means that Jesus asked to be spared physical death on a cross, then Hebrews 5.7 is flat-out wrong. But if “save him from death” means that Jesus asked to be saved from eternal death – that is, Jesus’ prayer to the father was that he would resurrect him and spare him from eternal judgment – then the resurrection is proof that God the father in fact heard Jesus and granted Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer.

(Although consider this: If all of us fallen humans deserved eternal judgment, and if Jesus took our judgment upon himself, then wouldn’t justice require that Jesus be eternally separated from the father? I’m spit-balling here, but is it possible that Jesus’ prayer that the cup pass away is a prayer for mercy from the father – that is, Jesus asked that he not be eternally condemned as our substitute deserved to be.)

In any event, Jesus’ prayer that the cup pass away is not necessarily a prayer that he not drink of the cup at all, but that he not drink of the cup of judgment eternally – i.e., that he would be resurrected.

The cup is the cup of judgment (compare Rev 14.10). Consistent with Heb 5.7, that Jesus was not asking to avoid the cup altogether seems obvious from Mt 26.42, when Jesus prays, “My father, if this cannot pass away until I drink it, your will be done.”

Note here that Jesus contemplates that the cup “pass away” after he drinks it. Nonetheless, the “if” makes it sound as though Jesus is requesting that the cup pass away without his drinking it. But the Greek word “if” can also be translated as “since.” More consistently with Heb 5.7, perhaps Jesus is praying, “My father, since this cannot pass away until I drink it, your will be done.” That is, Jesus is willing to endure eternal judgment if it is the Father’s will. (This is consistent with the fact that Jesus went to the cross “for the joy set before him” in redeeming humanity, Heb 12.2).

Jesus’ first prayer in the Gospel of Matthew can be similarly translated, “My Father, since it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mat 26.39).

Two additional considerations here suggest a preference for allowing Heb 5.7 to control our approach to Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane. First, is that when Peter wished “blessing” on Jesus instead of the Cross, Jesus rebuked him saying, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” It just seems stretching it to me then to put Peter’s wish into Jesus' mouth in Gethsemane. Further, Jesus emphasizes the accord between the Father’s will and his own. Again, it seems odd then to posit a divergence between Jesus’ preferences and the Father’s preferences in the Garden.

Consistent with Heb 5.7, Jesus in Gethsemane asks the Father to spare him from eternal judgment and instead to bring him back to life. The prayer is fully in accord with the will of the Father, and God the Father grants Jesus his prayer. Following Heb 5.7 seems to avoid a lot of difficulties invited by the “traditional” approach to Jesus’ prayers.