Thursday, October 11, 2012

Get a Job, Minister!

Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk? For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our own sake? 

It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share of the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? ... Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. - 1 Corinthians 7-11, 12b

In the Quaker community, there is a huge amount of tension around the spiritual significance of money, paid work and ministry. The Quaker movement rose up in part as a reaction against the abuses of a privileged clergy that treated the Church as a source of revenue. In George Fox's day, the clergy represented an abusive, landed elite that lived in luxury and defended a corrupt political and economic system.

To this day, we harbor a deep reticence to financially support ministry. Our healthier communities are generally open to providing some sort of financial assistance - covering some of the direct costs of ministerial travel, for example. For many Friends, however, the idea of financially releasing an individual for full-time gospel ministry is almost unthinkable. In every other area of life, we understand that depth, quality and dedication in service requires a financial basis. But when it comes to ministry, we often insist that it remain strictly volunteer. Our livelihood must come from somewhere else.

Although the majority of Quakers today hire pastors, we still retain a deep skepticism of paid ministry. Even among Friends congregations with paid staff - whether they call them "Meeting secretaries," "pastors," "youth coordinators" or "Friends in residence" - the pay is very, very low. Frequently, our pastors and other released ministers are forced to live at a subsistence level, find additional employment, or rely on a spouse or loved ones to make ends meet. The wages of sin may be death, but the wages of ministry are often not much better!

Our refusal to financially support the gifts of ministry in our midst can be devastating. God gives spiritual gifts to our communities that are meant to strengthen and transform us into people who bless the world, but if we refuse to embrace and release the gifts that we receive, we cannot grow. Our unspoken dogma of spiritual bootstrapping - expecting each individual to make their own way in the world, never asking help from others - may be one reason for the present demographic and spiritual crisis that Quakers are facing.

Though many Quaker ministers would love to get a full-time paycheck for the vital work that God has called them to, most of us do not ask for that. We generally pay our own way, grateful for God's miraculous provision by other means. Finances are important, but we know from experience that the Lord will take care of these logistical details. The deeper question is one of solidarity. Do our Meetings truly embrace the ministry that arises in our midst - regardless of whether we ultimately feel led to financially release it?

In many of our Meetings, when someone experiences a transformative call to ministry, we simply do not know how to respond. As Friends, we have certain rather rigidly defined boxes that we use to organize our religious life. You can be a clerk, or serve on a committee. Perhaps you are feeling a leading to serve as a pastor or work as an employee for a Quaker non-profit. Wonderful. We can handle that. But what happens when God calls us to something really weird?

What do we do when a sister feels God is directing her to travel to visit other churches, without a pre-set agenda? What happens when one of our brothers comes to us and explains to us that God is leading him into full-time ministry as a prophetic musician? How about when someone is feeling called into a missionary effort right here in our own city? What is our posture towards the new things that Jesus is doing in our life together?

Money is an important symbol of our commitment. Our spending represents where we as individuals and communities are willing to put our limited resources. It represents our real priorities. When we examine how we spend our money, we get a better idea of what we truly value.

Queries for congregations:

  • Do we truly value gospel ministry?
  • Do we believe that God's work in the world is worth the cost?
  • Do we place our love for our brothers and sisters above our fear of not having enough?
  • How do we live in solidarity with those who are called into a ministry that demands their primary focus and makes paid employment challenging?

Queries for ministers: 

  • Do we trust that God will provide for our needs, even if this providence looks very different from what we would prefer?
  • Do we keep our hearts and minds rooted in the love that God has for his people, even when they disappoint us?
  • How do we avoid bitterness that can sour our ministry?
  • If God requires it of us, are we willing to work twice as hard, earning our own living while preaching the gospel?
  • Are we willing to "endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ?"


Anonymous said...

I found it odd to read that most Quaker meetings have pastors nowadays. Is that really the case? I thought unprogrammed meetings were still more common than programmed ones. Or were you counting things like, as you listed, the clerk or secretary in that? Balancing the budget and ministry are so far apart, I wouldn't count those as pastors at all.

Hireling ministers are definitely still frowned upon, at least in the unprogrammed traditions. Even recording ministers is no longer done in many of the "Hicksite" meetings. A Friend told me that he thought recording ministers would be discouraging to everyone else, saying that their ministry isn't Spirit-led, or that they're just not in touch with the Light if they don't talk much--that it'd be recreating the clergy/laity divide. I'm not sure how I feel about recorded ministers, but I don't think a minister on a Meeting's payroll is the way to go. (I also think a lot of other things on my Meeting's budget could go the way of the do-do, but that's for another time) We are all supposed to minister. And that ministry could be showing up with a casserole to the home of a Friend who's just returned from traveling ministry.

The disdain you express for the idea of subsistence living bothers me. As I commented on Jon's blog post, in Hicks or Woolman's time, recorded ministers were usually of marriage age, possibly with children to help out, and land was cheap, so you had a small farm and when you went traveling in the ministry, your spouse watched the homestead. When you grow your own food and don't owe anyone bills, that is subsistence living. That is traditional for recorded Friends ministers. It's also way more flexible than a 9-5 desk job.

Many Friends who would not call themselves Plain would pull out the phrase "live simply that others may simply live" when talking about some choice they've made, whether it's to have only enough clothes to do laundry weekly or to ride a bicycle instead of drive. To me, that phrase and that testimony really are a call to subsistence living. Subsistence living is taking from the Earth and the rest of humanity only what you need. And yes, I know I absolutely fail at it. Most Friends, despite our crunchy granola tendencies, haven't gone full circle in the back-to-the-land movement and started living like the Hutterites. But I'd really rather see plain living held up as our ideal than put down as something beneath our status.

The challenge today is finding a way to support oneself that is as flexible as "well I'll weed the garden tomorrow" or "I'll ask the neighbor to pick what's ripe and set it in the house then do him a favor in return" but works with the realities of today's economy (where everything requires money).

Unknown said...

This is so nice Micah. Thank you so much. THE QUERIES at the end are the stuff of 'weighty quaker-ness' that is so sorely needed.
Be sure that this work of yours will be shared far beyond your own circles.
I encourage you to check out the 'ministry of widows and virgins(single people)' tour of the early christian writings ( That impressed me deeply, that the ones who are the most 'hurt / burdened / misunderstood' were truly considered the 'front guard' of the gathered meetings. The primitive christianity writings on 'tithing and fasting' actually completes the picture of 'how they gave'. It was astonishing to me, truly changed my life. I now 'seek the truthspeaker' nearest to me to 'tithe' to, as well as direct access to the poorest of the poor.
May the steps of young quakers boldly follow the words and spirit that you present to us. In the name of Yehoshua, Adonai. David-Stephen.

Lilicita said...

I just want to express my appreciation for the Friends who are leaders within Quakerism at this time, especially those who have a somewhat public ministry. I have been blessed by the Lord working through you and the giftings He has given you. Your witness for Christ is compelling.

Marshall Massey said...

maco, there are about 55,000 unprogrammed Friends in the world today. But according to the latest estimates (passed on to me by Eden Grace, African Ministries Field Officer for Friends United Meeting, just last week), there are 300,000 to 500,000 pastoral Friends in Kenya. And there are roughly another 150,000 pastoral Friends elsewhere throughout the world. So pastoral Friends outnumber unprogrammed Friends by roughly ten to one!

You are also somewhat mistaken, maco, about provisions for recorded ministers in Woolman’s and Hicks’s times. If they did not come from wealthy stock, the entire meeting from which they came pitched in to help support their families while they were traveling in the ministry. This was called “releasing” the minister for his work, and the prevalence of the practice is amply attested to in the records of Friends meetings both here in North America and in Britain.

And such “releasing” was very necessary for ministers in rural areas, because subsistence farming is less flexible than a 9-5 job, not more so. Subsistence farmers must work from before dawn to sunset, and their animals must still be cared for, their crops planted and tended and harvested, their trees cut and chopped for fuel, and their lands and equipment maintained, even while they are away. And farmers’ wives in subsistence households had every bit as much work on their hands as the farmers themselves; they cooked and baked everything themselves from raw materials, washed clothes by hand, made their own clothes to a great degree, and oversaw their children themselves. They could not just drop those responsibilities to fill in for their husbands if their husbands were called to the ministry. Nor did the husbands have the necessary household skills, or the time on their hands, to fill in for their wives if their wives were called. Survival required both spouses working flat out, as Ivan Illich has amply documented in various of his writings. For either one to travel in the ministry meant serious hardship for the one left behind.

According to, ministers today with one to four years of experience typically make between $25,900 and $46,500 a year. If they have twenty or more years of experience, they typically make between $34,900 and $62,400. Many Quaker ministers make far less, as Micah says, and their lower incomes cripple their ability to serve in many ways.

On the other hand, I agree with you, maco, that hireling ministry is not the right way to go. Such is the nature of what we Friends call ministry that Friends should not attempt to minister if the Spirit of Christ does not directly move and inspire them. And as the early apostles found, and the early Quaker preachers also found, if you are genuinely inspired, if you have the genuine Gospel to preach, then people will support it out of love.

James Breiling said...

Early Quakers, e.g., John Wollman, were very ministerially active, presumably without financial support from a meeting. (Yes, Woolman had the hospitality of Friends when traveling, but that was the general rule at the time, as one can learn at Mt. Vernon.)

Today there are major denominations that appear to function quite well without a paid ministry, e.g., the LDS, JW, Amish. May this spread and flourish.

Micah Bales said...

Mackenzie: Marshall addressed a number of your points, and I thought that his response was generally on-point. However, I'll try to speak to the places that Marshall did not touch on.

Mostly, I think I need to clarify a few areas where you seem to have misunderstood my intent. For example, your sense that I "disdain... the idea of subsistence living." Far from it! I think all of us need to be living closer to a sustainable level, and that's going to mean a serious re-ordering for most of us in the United States - a lifestyle with far less stuff and rapid transport.

What I do take issue with is the fact that many Friends communities today live at a far higher standard of living than those who serve them. If we're all living simply together, that's one thing - but to impose "simplicity" on a minister simply for the fact of having a vocation to gospel ministry? That's very problematic to me.

I hold to simplicity and earthcare as values that are very important, and which I believe are rooted in the ongoing teaching of Jesus Christ. However, I also believe that these testimonies are a spiritual reality that should be experienced and yielded to by each of us - not imposed upon us.

The truth is, many of our Meetings could financially support a great deal of ministry if we were willing to lower our standard of living and live more simply and closer to the earth!

Stephen Daniel and Lily: Thanks for your encouraging words!

Marshall: I agree with most of what you said, and I'm very grateful for your clarifications!

One little thing that I would like to draw to your attention - and to Mackenzie's, and to a number of other folks who have commented on other forums - is the question of this word "hireling."

I find the use of the word "hireling" to refer to modern-day pastors and other released ministers to be extremely offensive - on the level of a racial slur. I suspect you know, Marshall, what George Fox was referring to when he used the word, hireling; namely, a portion of the Gospel of John in which Jesus contrasts himself (the Good Shepherd) with false leaders that abandon their people at the first sign of trouble.

Basically, by calling someone a hireling, you are implying not simply that they receive money for their ministerial labors. You are saying that they are not truly called to ministry and that they are using the ministry simply as a means to get money.

This is what George Fox meant when he used the word, and for many of the Anglican priests of his day, it was probably true! But it is the height of insult to use it to refer to our brothers and sisters who do have a call from God to labor in gospel ministry, and who care deeply for the communities that they shepherd.

Please, please, please, Friends. You don't have to agree with paid ministry. Feel free to decry the practice all you'd like. But call it "paid" or "released" or "hired" ministry. Please never called our dedicated ministers "hirelings" again.

Marshall Massey said...

Since you regard it as offensive, Micah, I will not discuss it again on this blog, which is after all your turf. But since it is a part both of Jesus’s gospel, and of the original Quaker gospel, I am not going to stop discussing it elsewhere — in the fields, in the marketplace, and in gatherings of those who sincerely wish to know what our tradition teaches.

Jones said...

i must agree with micah here re: the use of the word 'hireling'. it IS offensive to many of those outside of a very small piece of the quaker world for whom 'hireling' is understood in its historic context. i used to be an anglican youth, young adult, and children's minister. i was hired to do the work, and did it full time. i received a call to do the work, and the community elected to pay me enough to support my family on. the community dedicated some of their 'treasure' to the ministry, whilst many in the community also dedicated significant 'time' and 'talent' as well. i was entrusted with a sacred charge by the community, and they recognised it and supported me in it. i was not making enough to save extra money: i was earning enough to support my family, and that's it. i often worked 50 hours weeks, alongside other volunteers who worked 50 hour weeks at work as well as 10-20 hrs work/week w/the ministry. we all chipped in, but the community recognised the necessity of 'releasing' one minister to give all of his time to following god's call. this model had many, many challenges...but i also found that it was very effective for doing the 'work of the church'.

now, calling me a 'hireling' minister is offensive to me b/c it links me to the context that george fox was speaking in; that is, as micah said, anglican ministers who were granted a 'living' off of the rents and taxes that the families in the parish were legally required to give. in that specific context, hireling makes sense, as fox viewed them to be unhelpful leeches on the resources of the common people. that is simply not the case today. people give what they want to give in order to support the ministry of their meeting/congregation.

in modern protestant parlance, this is called 'stewardship', where christians are called upon to give of their time, talent and treasure in order for the community to thrive; this is not simply money. all are called upon to give in whatever way that they can, with money understood to be an essential, but not sole, way of giving. this is a comprehensive view of ministry support. i actually find the modern, liberal quaker practice of shying away from 'releasing' ministers to be unbalanced. it is yet another instance of people taking the lead from historic quakerism without fully considering the context.

Mackenzie said...

Could you recommend books to read about old-timey Quakers that would shed more light on how released ministry worked "back in the day"? I don't recall pay being mentioned as the way it was handled, though Marshall's description of "pitching in" rings true and as what I was trying to get at in referencing a neighbor's help.

That's about living in the "beloved community," that despite attempts to add "community" as a fifth testimony doesn't exist today.

Micah Bales said...

Marshall: Am I understanding you right that you believe that paid pastors are, across the board, false teachers who serve as ministers only for financial gain, not out of a genuine sense of calling? I have a hard time wrapping my head around that, since I have seen you work alongside paid ministers in Great Plains Yearly Meeting on a variety of occasions.

Mackenzie: I wonder whether Daughters of Light by Rebecca Larson might be a good resource for understanding better the conditions of traveling ministers during the Quietist Period.

Dan: Thanks.

Small Farmer in The City said...

A couple of thoughts here.

It is important to understand released ministers are NOT being paid to minister, rather, the minister is being compensated by their Meeting for the loss of livelihood which released ministry entails.

So the question then becomes, what is reasonable compensation for a released minister's time? Without getting into overly specific formulae, might I suggest looking at the Living Wage Calculator found at which provides living wage figures for various family configurations nationwide? Having determined the appropriate living wage for a meeting, the Meeting could then multiply by a factor reflecting the per centage of 1 full time person's time devoted to released ministry and compensate the minister accordingly.

Financially, I believe that bi-vocational ministry is and will continue to need to be the norm for most meetings. As an alternative, the Quarterly or Yearly Meeting might subsidize the Monthly Meetings compensation and make the released ministers available on a regular rota to all meetings in their community.

I believe there is some middle ground which leads to God's desire for both ministers and meetings...other thoughts?

Marshall Massey said...

Micah, you asked me, “Am I understanding you right that you believe that paid pastors are, across the board, false teachers who serve as ministers only for financial gain, not out of a genuine sense of calling?”

My friend, I am mindful of Matthew 10:8b, a text that George Fox invoked again and again. Here is Jesus sending his disciples out to travel in the ministry, and what he tells them is, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” The Greek for “freely” in this place is δωρεάν, which is a bit of wordplay: it carries the double meaning of “without pay” and “without deserving the teaching”. But the best scholars of our own time seem as certain as George Fox himself was that “without pay” was very much intended as part of the meaning. Thus, for example, Albright and Mann, in their Anchor Bible commentary on Matthew, render this passage, “You received without paying anything — give without payment.”

Jesus is not saying here to his disciples, do not preach for pay alone. He seems quite aware that the disciples are going as he sends them because they are moved by love of him and love of his new Message. What he is saying is simply, do not charge for your service.

George Fox also invoked Isaiah 55:1, where the prophet invites his hearers to share in the abundant life: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” In his Journal, in an entry for 1651, he wrote of how he challenged a “great high priest” who had the effrontery to preach on this passage: “...I was moved of the Lord God to say unto him, ‘Come down, thou deceiver and hireling, for dost thou bid people to come freely and take of the water of life freely, and yet thou takest three hundred pounds off them for preaching the Scriptures to them. Mayest thou not blush for shame?’”

The idea in Isaiah 55, again, is not that the hired preacher (in this case Deutero-Isaiah himself) is not called. Deutero-Isaiah is most definitely called! But the criticism rests on the idea that true ministry is received from God without charge, like sunshine and rain and life itself, and must be imparted to others in the same manner. As Christ said in another, parallel context, after speaking of how God sends life-giving rain to the fields of the just and the unjust alike: “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

And with Fox and among the early Friends generally, there is the added thought that, since this principle, of ministry without pay, was explicitly commanded by Christ, therefore asking pay for ministry is disobedience to Christ, no matter how much the minister may otherwise feel himself called. There were several cases in the first days of Quakerism, of ministers who were reached and convinced of Truth, and resigned from their paid positions in order to be faithful to the commandment of Christ, but continued to minister to their former parishioners because they did genuinely feel the calling.

None of this appears to mean that ministers may not accept gifts freely given. What it does mean is that they are not to hold back from giving if no one gives in return.