The conversation ended awkwardly. I never heard from the church again. I told Linda about the conversation. But I’ve waited a number of years before putting it all into print. And, no, I will not provide any hints or clues about the identity of the elder or the church.
As I muddled over the conversation over the next few days, I found myself increasingly offended by the whole idea. I was offended that the kind of conversation I had over the phone is not that rare. Most of all, I was offended that my own vocation, time after time, has demonstrated that we can, and often want to be, bought by high bidders.
While 19th-century churches constantly struggled against sheep stealing (getting people in some nearby church to change membership into your church), the modern church has replaced that with shepherd stealing. It is so widespread and tacitly accepted that it is often practiced right out in the open, like legalized prostitution.
“You like our worship pastor?” one excited young preacher once asked me at a CIY gathering. “We stole him from Second Baptist Church in Dallas.” I smiled and nodded, but cringed on the inside. I know I should have said how I felt. But, like you, I often compromise integrity in the name of avoiding awkward moments.
On the receiving end of this blatantly capitalist approach to ministry are the small and medium churches that have come to assume they are a stepping stone up a ladder of ministerial success. “He’s a great preacher. So we know we won’t be able to hang on to him for long … “
We have come to find it acceptable that some churches pay their senior pastor (or lead pastor or grand imperial pastor or whatever) more than four times what a full time secretary at the same church is paid (“Oh no, we’re not sexist. We have women serving Communion”). The only thing we lack to fully match the model are stock options and golden parachutes.
A Biblical Concept Tainted
Paid church leaders is a biblical concept. It’s good to pay ministers and staff well enough that they can exist beyond just barely getting by. It’s good for church leaders and workers to be economically within the norms of the general culture. It’s good for churches to go beyond minimums and be generous.
It’s not the amounts that are as offensive as the sheer audacity of using money as a key tool used to go after leaders the church wants. It’s like the worst stereotype of what goes on in the business world. I’m embarrassed that all this bolsters the assumption, all other things being equal, that we can all be bought, if the price is right.