Sunday, August 07, 2016

Against Hessian Pastors.....Repost: Home Cookin'

Hessian mercenaries,
American Revolution Era
There are some posts I have written over the years that I keep being reminded of again and again. That doesn't mean they are particularly well written but rather that the issues that led to me writing them keep cropping up over and over. My post from 2009, Home Cookin', is one such post. My main beef in that post that still troubles me today has to do with the ubiquity of mercenary pastors, men who are largely unknown to their hiring church, often lured away from their current church with the promise of more prestige and more money.

Of all of the negatives that come from a professionalized clergy, few are more damaging than the practice of hiring mercenary pastors who come to a church based on a few interviews and some sermon samples, a pre-packaged, ready to plug in guy who usually doesn't know the city he is moving to or the people he is supposed to be serving as an elder and on the other hand has no real attachments to those people apart from getting a check every week. Sure they often come to love the people they are hired to pastor but it is amazing how often those same pastors feel "called" to go to yet another church that coincidentally offers them more money and prestige. 

During the American Revolution, the British hired mercenaries from Germany to fill out their ranks. These mercenaries, called Hessians, had no stake in the war. It didn't really matter to them if the British prevailed or if the colonials won their independence. They were being paid to fight for one side and that is what they did. I think most of the guys who are these mercenary pastors have a good heart and think they are doing the right thing but our model of professional clergy makes many guys think that is the only way, and ironically the Biblical way, of doing "ministry". 

What we see in the Bible are not mercenary pastors who are hired from outside because training men up from within the church is too time consuming and difficult. The church in the early days appointed men from within the body to serve as elders and leaders. These were men who presumably knew the rest of the church and that the rest of the church knew. They weren't called as elders based on a few interviews and a website, they were men who had been observed by their peers over time. This takes time and it doesn't lend itself to men being professional, paid clergy because presumably they have had jobs already. It does lend itself to men sharing the burden rather than hiring someone to take it all on. 

The fellowship we attend somewhat irregularly has a few men who share the leadership of the church. Each of them has a job outside of the church to provide for their family. Each of them has been in this fellowship for a substantial time. Certainly there are issues with having little exposure to the church outside of that one fellowship but I think the advantages of having men raised up from with rather than hired from without outweigh those concerns.


I was looking over Dave Black’s page and I read through an interesting post called Returning Biblical Education to the Local Church. He brings up something I have mulled over for some time: the inherent problem with hiring men from outside of the local body to lead that local body. That is not the primary thrust of his post but it really got me thinking afresh and asking the question: Why do we seek men who are strangers to come to our local body and lead us? Would we not be better served with men who led us because they came from us? Is a professional, prepackaged minister a better and more importantly a more Biblical man to be an elder? Dave obviously doesn’t think so and neither do I…

“Clergy” becomes a whole way of living, an ecclesiastical subculture. The church, however, predates the seminary and will outlast it. The book of Acts reminds us that the earliest church leaders were homegrown nobodies. They were not parachuted in from the outside with all of the proper credentials. They were already full participants in their congregations – they had homes, they had jobs, and they had solid reputations. If at all possible, I think we too would do well to train people for leadership in our local churches, equipping them for evangelism and other ministries, thus complementing the work of our seminaries and Bible colleges. The early church knew that leadership is best learned by on-the-job training, not by sending our most promising leaders off to sit behind a desk.

I think this phenomena of professional ministers is a product in large part of two factors. First, we are a country that by and large draws its identity from Europe and with her state sponsored churches, professional clergy is part of the fabric of the society. Second, and more importantly, we are Americans. We live in a prepackaged, processed, microwave age. Sure home cooked meals from scratch taste better and are better for you, but it is such a hassle! I can spend an hour or two cooking up a nice meal for my family (and even that requires pre-cut meat, canned veggies, boxed side dishes) or I can get some pizzas. In my family we get pizzas or something similar pretty often and in families where both spouses work it is even more common. We want it quick, easy and disposable.

The church seems to think the same way. Training and raising a man up within the local body who can grow in knowledge and maturity until he is ready to lead as an elder takes a long time and is hard work. It may not always work out, he may move, he may lack the aptitude for it, he may turn out to not be a very good elder. It is a whole lot easier and faster to find someone who already is “qualified”, i.e. has a seminary degree, who we can interview and “call” to ministry. Of course he will probably have to move and so to entice him we need to pay him. If he were already a part of the congregation, he would have a job and a home and ties to the community. He would know and be known by the local body because he is a part of that body. They would know him and his wife and his kids, and that would make it possible to know if he meets the qualifications for an elder listed in the Bible instead of meeting the resume credentials that are often the entry level for being considered to be a pastor. It makes more sense and it is more faithful to the Bible to raise leaders up internally but that just takes too long. So instead, church after church hires strangers to come in to lead and love people they have likely never met. It only adds to the separation between the clergy and the laity to have a paid professional come on the scene. Hard to believe with that great set-up that so many men leave the ministry, that churches have such high turnover in pastors and the men who stay are often frustrated and burned-out. When you view the pastor as a paid professional, someone hired and brought in from the outside, why not get rid of them? Paid, professional clergy are employees and as such they are disposable. A church can always find someone else to pay to lead them. On the flip side, when ministry is your job you can understand why men leave church A with 100 members for church B with 250 members. If you are from within the congregation and not getting paid, why would you leave? It is not a job, it is truly a calling.

Just because we live in a quick, easy and disposable society doesn’t mean that is how the church should operate. It is certainly harder, more time consuming and more sacrificial to raise up leaders in the church but I believe (and I think the Bible supports) the idea that a primary responsibility of the local body is in the training and support of men from within that body to lead that body. Seminary may be a part of that training, but it is only one part of an integrated development of leaders, not an end in and of itself. Hiring pastors like an old western gunslinger to come in and clean up the town before moving on is an injustice to the local body, to those men and their families. We need to take the time to look around the cupboards, find the ingredients and whip up some home grown elders.

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