Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What Do You Charge for Ministry?

Charging people money to be ministered to is a rather bizarre idea in itself when one considers the definition of ministry.  The essence of ministry is to give not to take.  When two agents exchange one thing for another, most accurately it is called business.  Ministry, on the other hand, is the sacrifice of one for the other.  One accepts the cost and the other receives the benefit.

This ministry dictum was expressed by our Lord, rather emphatically, when he instructed the Apostles in Matt 10:8 (NIV), "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep".  One might argue that if we apply this principle we must then apply the latter regarding our not being permitted to take money or extra clothing and paraphernalia.  However, the two commands while related in context, are differentiate themselves in focus.  One was a prohibition against charging for ministry, the other for establishing an incumbent principle regarding the work of the ministry and the response of its recipients as reflected in the latter comment, "the worker is worth his keep". And these were special conditions for this event that did not preclude the ownership of material wealth, rather that ministry is not about material wealth and such elements must be removed if they are the objective.  Calvinist teacher John MacArthur makes this observation:

"Since the gifts we have were freely given to us by God, we're to dispense them freely...Throughout the years I have been repeatedly asked about my fee for preaching. I have been preaching for over twenty years, yet never once in my ministry have I set a price on it, and I never will. The Bible says I received it freely, so I give it freely. Why should I set a price?...A faithful worker is worthy of his hire, and God will move through people to meet his need. If you never ask for anything, seek anything, or put a price on anything, then whatever comes your way you can accept as a gift from God."

So with regard to ministry and cost I ask, how much do you charge others for your ministry?  Or is it, in reality, a business?  One of my favorite contradictions that seems to be the elephant in the room is the musicians and singers who perform at events where people are charged money, either through their church budget or  personal fees at the door, in order to receive ministry.  It is as if I hear them saying, "I am here to minister to you with music but it is going to cost you thus and thus."  Odd.

Another is the arriving Teacher of Scripture who either charges a fee to the host organization or directly to those attending in order for him (or her if we are going to attempt to go around Scripture and have a female Teacher who is not ordained and is not claiming to be a minister of the Word but is in fact speaking, teaching and interpreting with the authority of such) to provide ministry.  Clearly these examples violate the terms of ministry.

The question is not whether business itself is valid but whether ministry may operate as a business.  It is quite clear that the bible does not forbid business, the question is whether the Lord's work may engage itself with the priorities of business interests.  Frankly I see no room for this and in the least, if this is their practice, let's not call it a ministry, let's call it what it is, a business.

Our greatest example (the divine example) of ministry and its true definition is our Lord Jesus.  At no point was his ministry of any cost to those receiving but of all cost to himself.  From the wisdom and instruction of his discipleship to our Lord’s sacrifice for sin, at no point did our Lord (nor his Apostles) charge any man, ever, for their spiritual care. 

There is no example in Scripture of our Lord or his Apostles charging anyone for their teaching.  There is no case where the cost Paul incurred in his travels was something for which he charged others in order for him to agree to arrive and teach.  Nor did John or Peter attempt to charge anyone before their ministering.  You will not find in any instance in Scripture, either from implication, description or instruction,  the concept of ministry being something for which its receivers must foot the bill.  

So how do ministries gain support?  You would think the answer to this question is obvious but to some it is not though as the text earlier taught,  "the worker is worthy of his keep".   That means those who are ministered to respond to the one ministering with material needs, just as Rom 15:27 and 1 Cor 9:11-12 reflects.  And if the response is tepid then one must examine both their ministry and its content and God's providence at the moment.  But as well, as the text also indicates, you must reflect on your audience.  Further, the order of ministry and support is also clear; your ministry is performed and their response is given in the way of support, in that order.  Thus, it is not appropriate to arrest the prescription for ministry and money and begin charging people for ministry simply because you need the funds and cannot afford to do so otherwise. Possibly my dear brother, God has not provided because what you wish to do is not his work!

Certainly every detail cannot be answered in such an essay but some fundamental question can be approached effectively.  And the most fundamental question is whether or not you are engaged in business or ministry, and whether or not you are charging people for your ministry?

1 comment:

Mercy from Christ said...

Thanks. I like the example of Paul, too. He never "charged" for ministry. Same with Titus, too. Like The Titus Mandate says, he had to move to the next town on Crete. There was no money in it doign that incredibly hard ministry.