The Bible has a lot to say about work all throughout the sweep of redemptive history recorded in Holy Scripture. Working and not being idle is lauded in the New Testament, especially in the context of the church and those who are called to lead by the example of their lives. While work is often used as a clumsy club to get the "laity" to trudge off to work during the week so they can show up, shut up and pay up on Sunday, the Bible sees work as something to be praised and more importantly for my point here something that our leaders should do if they are going to actually be leaders. Here are a couple of examples from Paul:
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. (Acts 20:32-36)
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. (1 Cor 4:9-16)
For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (1 Thess 2:9)
For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. (2 Thess 3:7-12)
Pretty powerful stuff. It is glaringly clear that the model for Church leaders in the New Testament, under the leadership of the apostles themselves and in the midst of a far more hostile climate than we face today, was one of elder self-sufficiency. They worked a job for a living rather than living off of donations to the church that should go to support the poor and needy, especially those in the church. I have written about this a lot over the years and my contention in a nutshell is that the practice of paying clerical professionals to minister in the church is not only not found in the New Testament, it is actually in direct contrast to what is shown and commanded. For more on this see The Thessalonian Road to Self-Support by Dave Black.
Today my focus is on the flip side, not why we should not pay those who lead us but why they should work. Alongside the obvious Scriptural issues of leaders being an example to those they lead, something hard to do when a guy sits in his office all week while expecting the rest of the church to go out and make money, there is something else I am seeing more and more of. There are just a lot of Christian leaders who have way too much time on their hands to sit around and think. Now thinking is a good thing. I am in no way calling for an ignorant Christianity. It is painfully clear that we have way too many people in our religious culture that have never given a seconds thought to any of the "big questions" of the faith. However that doesn't mean that Christian intellectualism can be divorced from a life of work or that "paid professional thinker" is something that we should have in the Body of Christ.
I see lots of prominent and not so prominent Christian "thinkers" who seem to sit around trying to come up with pithy but vacuous statements that are supposed to be deep but are really just empty rhetoric. For me a good rule of thumb is that the harder you try to sound really smart and deep the more likely that what you are saying is useless and contrived. Alongside this are guys who seem to be progressively (pun intended) wandering far afield doctrinally, apparently because they are bored with orthodoxy. No one wants to read the same old boring orthodox statements, you need something radical to spice it up and drive blog hits and book sales. Look at the best seller lists, heresy is always a hot seller.
Work is not only necessary to feed our families and to aid others, it is also a good way to keep our minds from the mischief of being idle. It is high time that a lot of the guys who sell so many books, speak at the big conferences and "pastor" the huge churches start to earn their own way. Get out of your office, get your nose out of your books and go out and do something. Quit pondering how many angels can dance on the head of a pin and start using your hands for something other than turning a page. Quit asking the old ladies on Social Security and the factory workers who work hard all week to subsidize you sitting around and thinking up stuff. The best leaders, the most Biblical leaders, really the only leaders, are those who lead by example and that means leading by example in the home and at work, not the pulpit on Sunday. The disconnect between "clergy" and "laity" is nowhere more clear than it is in the subject of work. That disconnect needs to be destroyed, torn down and burned to ashes, and a good place to start is to have those who claim to lead the church stop sitting around pondering and start getting out and working.
There has been enough intellectual mischief and ministerial malfeasance perpetrated on the church by guys who sit around and think all day. Maybe it is time to get more of our theology from men who punch a clock instead of flipping a page.