Who Calls the Tune?
Mr. Donald L. Norbie, of Greeley, CO, the author of several books and numerous articles, serves the Lord in a Bible teaching, shepherding, and evangelistic ministry.
The pathway of faith trod by the Lord Jesus and His servants is not easy. Many today look longingly at the comfort of a salary and the prestige of a pastorate. Most of us are familiar with the proverb: The man who pays the piper calls the tune. This might be paraphrased: The employer directs the employee in his work.
So what is wrong with churches hiring preachers and paying them a regular salary?
First, it should be noted that there was no difference between home workers and foreign missionaries in the first century. All were supported the same way. Today some churches salary home workers but expect foreign workers to live on gifts from various churches and individuals.
It should also be noted that here we are not discussing a church employing persons for needed work. A chapel may need painting or janitorial work. Here an assembly can decide concerning its material needs.
The question concerns those who feel called to preach and teach the Word, leaving their regular employment. As the Apostle said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4, N.K.J.). What does the Scripture indicate was their means of support?
These were men who knew the unique call of God to this special work. It was not a self-chosen profession. The Lord Jesus said, “Did I not choose you, the twelve …?” (Jn. 6:70). Later He said, “You did not choose me but I chose you …” (Jn. 15:16).
This sense of the Divine call characterized the prophets of old. Amos was threatened and warned to stop his preaching by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. He answered defiantly:
I was no prophet,
Nor was I the son of a prophet,
But I was a herdsman
And a tender of sycamore fruit.
Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock,
And the Lord said to me,
Go, prophesy to my people Israel.
Hear the word of the Lord.
Since God had called He must direct His servants into the ministry He has appointed for them. Paul could write: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” (Gal. 1:15, 16). Paul had a ringing conviction of God’s call to him and to his ministry.
Since this is true the servant of the Lord is accountable to God for his service — and to Him alone. It is the master who takes up accounts with his servants (Mt. 25:19). Paul could write, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor. 4:3).
Of course, every Christian is accountable to other Christians for his moral and ethical conduct (1 Cor. 5:9-11). The Lord’s servants are not above moral scrutiny. And doctrinal purity must be upheld (Titus 1:9-11).
How then was the servant of God to be supported? The example of both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament servants of the Lord was a dependence upon God. The Lord could move a widow in Zarephath to provide Elijah with room and board. God said, “See, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you” (1 Kings 17:9). The God who commanded the prophet to preach could also command a widow to care for him.
Later a godly woman in Shunem had a room built on her house for Elisha, a prophet’s chamber. She furnished it with a bed, table, chair and lamp (2 Kings 4:10). He was “a holy man of God” and she desired to aid his ministry.
The New Testament pattern is the same. The Lord Jesus and the Apostles were cared for by the gifts of people whose hearts God had moved to give. Often it was “women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him” (Mt. 27:55). Later a Lydia opened her home to Paul and his company after she received Christ (Acts 16:15). Churches and individuals gave to meet the needs of God’s servants (Phil. 4:15, 16).
Can you imagine Jesus bargaining with the synagogue leaders for a fair salary? Or Peter offering his services in Joppa for a price (Acts 9:36)? Or Paul candidating to be the “pastor” in Antioch (Acts 12:26)?
These concepts are utterly foreign to Scripture, except in a negative sense. Christ belittled the attitude of the hireling (Jn. 10:12, 13). Paul writes heatedly, “For we are not, as many, peddling the Word of God …” (2 Cor. 2:17). To preach the Gospel for money is to prostitute the gift and calling of God.
What a contrast this is with current religious practice! Churches advertise for preachers. Preachers candidate and are hired. They leave small churches for larger ones with more lucrative salaries. The preacher has to please his deacons or he will be fired. He is anxious to have a good record of new baptisms and members added. It will enhance his opportunity to move up to a larger church.
There are many good men locked into a bad system. Some quit the pastorate and take up secular employment, utterly frustrated. The Holy Spirit is quenched and unable to move among God’s people as He desires (1 Thess. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 14:26). One man only is expected to be the voice of God.
The example found in Scripture requires deep exercise of soul. It means praying intensely for God’s servants and being concerned about where and how much to give. It requires a spirit of sacrifice on the part of all, a spirit of giving regularly and generously.
There is no better way to serve God and to support His work. It is both Scriptural and spiritual. Thousands of God’s servants who have followed this path can proclaim His faithfulness in meeting their needs. And if it is necessary it is quite honorable to take up employment for a time (Acts 20:34). Let us continue to pray that God will call His servants and make them men and women of faith.