Paid Pastors and 3 John

I suppose I should say, ministers or those who do God’s ministry…but “Paid Pastors” sounds better. That is to say, I think book applies to all of God’s workers/ministers

This post is a bit of a response to Alan Knox over at the The Assembling of the Church.

Well, its only part response. I say this because over the past several months I have greatly appreciated his writings and thoughts on ecclesiology. And he makes plenty of very good points in his three posts on ministers being paid, HERE, and that link takes you to the third post, but you can get to the rest from there.

But I disagree with Alan on his conclusion that pastors should not receive a salary. There are two reasons for this. One of them is based on 3 John and the other is based Alan’s own words in a comment HERE

Anyway, let’s look at 3 John (this is my translation by the way…rather functionally equivalent).

The elder, to Gaius the belove whom I love in truth.

I pray for you, dear friend, in everything that you would prosper and be healthy physically as much as you are spiritually. For I rejoiced exceedingly when the brothers came and testified of you in
truth, just as you walk in truth. I have no greater joy than this: that I hear of my children walking in truth.

My good friend, you demonstrate faithfulness whenever you serve the brothers (and foreigners at that!) They testified of you in love before the assembly. You will do well sending them off in a manner worthy of God. For on behalf of The Name they went out receiving nothing from the pagan. Therefore we ought to support such people as these, so that we might become fellow-workers in truth.

I wrote something to the church, but he who wanted to be first Diotrephes, refused to acknowledge us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he did slandering us with evil words. And because he is not being content with that, he himself continually refuses to welcome to the brothers and hinders those who wish to do so, rather he casts them out of the church. My dear Gaius, do not imitate that which is evil, but that which is good. The one who does good is from God; the one who does evil has not seen God.

As for Demetrius, the fact that he is of God has been testified by everyone here and by his life and character ; and we also testify on his behalf, and you know that our testimony is genuine. I have much to write to you, but I do not wish to write with ink and pen. Rather, I hope to see you soon and we will speak privately in person

Peace be with you. The friends with me greet you. Greet the friends there by name.

Now, let’s focus on verses 5-8. I think the key phrase in this section is in verse 8. “Therefore, we ought to support people such as these, so that we might become fellow workers in the truth.” The author of 1-3 John uses the word “truth” in his letters in a semi-technical sense (see 1 John 3.19 and its also clear here). Truth for the Elder is Gospel and this is what he was fighting in 1 John, particularly related to Christ’s humanity. The Elder says that Gaius (and by implication us) ought to support those who are doing the work of proclaiming the gospel. In this letter, believers who were doing such work received support and hospitality from Gaius, even in the fact of Diotrephes, who tried to prevent such support. The welcoming of verse 10, “continually refuses to welcome the brothers and hinders those who wish to do so,” goes well beyond the simple greeting of our western culture to acts of hospitality such as providing meals, lodging, and providing for their needs.

Now, I think that a person could easily say that this passage only applies to missionaries. But that would only be half correct. Missions work in the first century was focused in the Roman Empire. These itinerant Christian workers were traveling from city to city staying with the churches there and preaching the gospel. These Christian workers were not natives of the cities they were preaching in. And this is very similar to the way that western pastors today operate.

Pastors today in America work hard in their school and training and then often travel from church to church staying for often several years ministering to the believers and preaching the gospel. More often then not, they are not natives to the places where they preach.

Its also clear from Acts that such Christian workers in the 1st century would also stay for long periods of time ministering to the believers in a community. Paul stayed in Ephesus for three years and even though he often did not take it, he had the right to ask for the church’s support (cf. 1 Cor 9).

For this reason, I think that the American pastor more often than not is more closely related to such itinerant Christian workers than to the elder leadership of the church.

And this leads me into my second point.

In a comment Alan left responding to another comment on this post, he wrote:

When the church organizes, if they desire to hire someone with particular skills and talents (accounting, for example), then that is a separate issue from what I am discussing. However, the way I have usually seen it done, even the “accountant” is considered a “pastor” – a “business pastor” or “operations pastor”. This pastor is usually paid for pastoring as well as for using his other skills and talents. I am concerned about this, in light of this argument that I’m presenting.”

I think the normal American pastor easily fits this description (i.e. “someone [hired] with particular skills and talents…”).

Simply put, on top of the pastor functioning in his role of shepherding the church, the pastor also functions as the church historian. For in a sense, that is that exegesis is. We, as Christians, by definition have a historical faith, a faith grounded in history. And most of the pastor’s schooling in seminary deals with interpreting ancient texts, ancient historical texts. There is significant agreement in Evangelicalism that the original meaning of scripture is the meaning of scripture. This necessitates that the pastor also functions as a historian.

Secondly, the pastor is hired by the church and functions as the church theologian. Again, much of seminary training deals with how to do theology, that is what are the implications of the historical, original meaning of the text.

2000 thousand years after Christ’s death, having a church historian and having a church theologian is much more necessary than it was 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection. And you could say that this role was filled during those times with the eyewitnesses of Christ, the apostles and others. They were viewed as necessary for the church.

And it is those people who Paul says have a right to be supported in 1 Corinthians 9.

For these reasons, I think pastors should be paid.

10 thoughts on “Paid Pastors and 3 John

Add yours

  1. Mike,

    Thank you for interacting with my argument, or at least one of the counter-arguments concerning Paul’s “right” to compensation. I will actually deal with this counter-argument in a post that I will publish early this evening. In summary: Yes, I think the elder in 3 John is talking about Christians who are travelling away from their home. In 3 John we also see Christian leaders who stay at home, i.e. Diotrephes. I think there is a distinction made between the two, and I think Scripture treats support for the two types of leaders differently.

    If you check my comment, you will see that I said it may be permissible for a group of Christians to hire someone (such as an accountant) for their skills. However, from my previous posts, you will also see that think Paul separates this type of work (i.e. “working with your hands”) from work that elders do among believers such as teaching, admonishing, etc.

    I would love to see you interact with the main part of my argument, which is presented in parts 1 and 2 of this series. In those parts I point out that Paul distinguishes between “work with your hands”, which is mean to provide support, and work among believers such teaching, etc. Specifically, I show from Acts 20 that elders are required to do both: both shepherd the flock of God and follow Paul’s example by working with their hands in order to provide support for themselves.

    Thanks again for the response and the kind words about my blog. I certainly don’t condemn anyone for disagreeing with me, and I enjoy reading views that are different from my own. I look forward to hearing from you again.


  2. Alan, I suppose then, I don’t understand why you do not consider the doing historical work fitting into the category of skilled work.

    I also agree that there is a distinction between the Christian traveling away from home and the permanent elder. But I think that the American pastor fits more so into the former category. Most pastors are not in a church for more than seven years, which is also the average amount of time for a pastor to get settled and completely accepted by the congregation.

  3. Mike,

    Your question about not considering “doing historical work” as fitting into the category of skilled work is a fair enough question. I don’t know the answer to that because I don’t see where Scripture says the church needs an historian. Perhaps, if a group needs an historian, then they could agree to pay one. This is a separate issure from an elder. But, of course, most churches do not hire historians. They hire pastors. They use the biblical characteristics/qualification for job qualifications and the biblical functions for job descriptions. Most church hire pastors, not skilled workers.

    I’m not sure that the current trend in American pastors moving from church to church is a valid argument to say that they are the same as travelling Christians in Scripture. Instead, it would seem more likely that they are acting in ways that we don’t see elders acting in Scripture. I think perhaps it would be better to suggest that the current trend should change.

    Any thoughts on why Paul distinguished between “work” among believers and “work” in order to provide support?


  4. I’m not near my books and computer so I can’t presently comment on why Paul makes that distinction.

    Regarding the historian issue. I see the pastor functioning in that role. I don’t consider interpreting an ancient text part of the “shepherding” of the pastor.

    Its also hard for me to view pastors as not skilled when more often than not, they’ve put in an upwards of 6 years of school to be pastors.

    My father, finishing his Dmin in organizational structures is going on about 14 years of school (we all have our demons, my father just has to pay for his…).

    Its hard for me to imagine a pastor putting in even five years of school and then having a church tell him he needs to develop “real” work skills so that he can support himself while pastoring since learning two or more ancient languages and historical methodology do not count (not to mention classes in psychology and what not)

    Church leadership has become so complex that such specialization that such an amount of training is necessary. I think that the cultural gap is too large between the passages you’re using to argue your point and where we are today.

    That is not to say that we cannot apply these passages, rather that I don’t think they can be applied in the way you are arguing. I think pastoral training is as much of a skill as anything else, if not more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: