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The Fallacy of Non-Paid Lay Pastoring

Is Non-paid, Lay Pastoring Really God’s Will? (1 Tim 5:17-18)                  

            Due to common and widespread financial constraints, made worse by the recent economic downturn (a.k.a. The Great Recession” - see How We Got Here[Audio] (Lewis Walton, ASI 2009); see also this (illustrated) presentation by Australian evangelist Herb Kersten), lay pastoring has become more and more popular in some Local Conference policies. Current denominational statistics (p.6) show that as much as 24%-32% of “Evangelistic and Pastoral Employees” who are not “Ordained” or “Licensed”, but classified as “Other”, may be formally recognized/utilized “Lay” Workers.[1] Despite this stance of the Global Church on formal lay “utilization,” there really is no Biblical support for such a plan for the “corporal”/organized work of God. From the times of the Old Testament, the priesthood (i.e., the Levites) were to be “wholly” set apart for the work of ministry. (Num 18:20, 21) They were to be completely taken care of by the tithes and offerings given by the rest of God’s people. In the early days of the SDA Church,
the ministers were largely all self-supporting, and worked secular jobs to support their families. That is until financial downturns (typically enough, the “Panic of 1857") caused many of them to wholly devote themselves to secular work and their pastoring work greatly suffered, if not entirely abandoned. It is at this time, starting in 1858, that the Church leaders turned to the Bible by forming a study group under the leadership of J.N. Andrews to find a Biblical solution/model for the support of the ministry, and eventually tithing was introduced (as a part of the greater “Systematic Benevolence” which was based on 1 Cor 16:2) so that ministers can wholly focus their efforts the work of ministry. Tithing was later formally passed as a General Conference resolution in 1873, (interestingly enough, in the darkness of the “Panic of 1873"). [See Light Bearers to the Remnant (1979), 89, 178, 179].
            Therefore, if non-paid lay pastoring had always been God’s “ideal” plan for the ministry then, (a) it would, not only, have been implemented from the days of Ancient Israel, but (b) it would surely have been  “maintained,” by Divine, corrective, revelation through Ellen White if necessary, within early Adventists.
            Pastoring, when done as it should be, is in itself is a tremendous and demanding, physical and spiritual responsibility and task. In fact it is said that the public preaching of preachers is one of the most physically stressful tasks that one can undertake. How much more having to do this every week. Furthermore proper sermon preparation demands serious Bible Study in order to provide (1) fresh, (2) accurate, (3) relevant, (4) educational, (5) instructional/practical (5) inspiring and (6) interesting content. To do so without having had the quite beneficial 4-7 years of university and seminary education and training, as it is imposed on lay pastors, while being possible and  passable, it literally quadruples the burden upon the lay person. That is not to mention all of the other stressful responsibilities that a pastor, and even a lay pastor, has and is expected to meet (see the NAD Church Resource Consortium stipulations).  Moreover, and most significant is the fact that the lay pastor also has to support and provide for his family, and that by working 40+ hours a week at a physical draining job. Another 10+ hours could also be deducted for that person having to prepare for, and travel to and from that secular job. All of these extra stresses and demands is something that a regular, paid pastor does not have to deal with, and arguably, even on a ministerial salary, is more than likely making more money than a lay pastor at a secular job. All that is being done here is that lay pastors are doing 2-4+ times more the overall work of a paid pastor, with similar, and even, more stress, and receiving absolutely nothing for these efforts. Is that God’s plan and will for His Church? The Biblical answer is clearly No!
            ‘What about Paul and his tentmaking,’ it is commonly said. Well Paul was called by God to do, literally, an independent, itinerary work to the Gentiles. His work was controversial enough, even among Jewish Christian, that he evidently preferred to set out on his own and work to support his extra, itinerant, world travels, according to the special mission that God had given him. He also did not want to be an added burden to the then marginalized, and thus quite poor, Jerusalem Church, nor to the predominantly Gentile churches that he was establishing. Still Paul did not consider this self-supporting endeavor to be the Biblical mandate for God’s ministers (see 1 Cor 9:3-19; cf. 2 Cor 11:9); and even indirectly reproached the Churches who had not supported him as the Philippians did (Phil 4:14-19). Indeed, as the quality and fatigue problems, mentioned above, experienced by early SDA Ministers showed, it was also quite detrimental and impractical. Paul  mainly engaged in self-supporting work to not give an occasion for those who wanted to falsely use this as an excuse to deny his ministry or the Gospel. (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 6:3, 11:12). Therefore he himself would not prescribe, nor endorse, an individualistic, “fend-for-oneself” approach as the adopting of a Capitalistic mindset today dictates. Instead, for even the members Christian Church as a whole, Paul, in line with the blessed, Spirit-led model of the other Apostles (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-35), strongly encouraged a willful collective wealth sharing among believers, based upon the God-ordained equalizing example in the distribution/collection of manna (2 Cor 8:7-15; cf. CS 19.1-5). In the same way, the consistent principle and example of God in the Bible is that all ministers are to be paid for their wholly devoted work among God’s people, and that from tithes and offerings from the rest of the people, i.e., from those who are in a more favorable position to do so. (See the exegetical understanding of the related SOP statements on this issue of ‘Paul’s tentmaking’ made in AA 351.2-3 & AU Gleaner, June 16, 1909 par. 1-3 here). 
            Sure lay pastors are naturally “devoted” to God’s work, but should they literally have to “pay” for this genuine devotion by effectively being exploited? Shouldn’t all ministers be also so “devoted”, and do God’s work for no salary? Furthermore, is there no concern for the adverse and detrimental health effects that such added stress and physical fatigue does have upon these lay pastors, whether it is noticed and/or admitted by them? At the very least, solely as a Church that preaches a holistic, comprehensive Health Message, this should be taking into full, determinative consideration.
            Lay (i.e., non formally educated) Pastoring, in itself, is also not the ideal goal for a Global Church that operates over 111 colleges, universities and seminaries. A properly educated pastor is a necessity in order to be able to properly provide for a local congregation, and help them to efficiently and conclusively answer and resolve various questions and/or issues that they may have, or come across, once they have joined the Church. In fact, it may very well be the lack of adequate, properly trained and educated pastors throughout the Global Church, which currently is about 65% under the ideal goal of 1 qualified pastor per congregation,* that is responsible for, according to the most recent statistics, the Church losing & “missing” ca. 1300 members per day (not including deaths, of course). Furthermore, this is actually over 83% when the Church’s 62,430+ “Companies” are rightfully included in this calculation[2] as, having personally experienced a “Company” prior to it becoming recognized as a “Church,” it certainly does not equate a ‘small, insignificant congregation.’ This latter percentage of 83% is actually higher when the fact is factored in that many Churches have more than one ordained and/or licensed pastors on their staff, with these extra pastors functioning mainly, if not solely, in administrative capacities. Of course, yet quite ironically, if not betrayingly, enough, the reasoning here is that ‘the main (i.e., preaching) pastor cannot be “overburdened” with these variously demanding administrative tasks,’ especially in a large congregation. So, of course, a second Pastor is brought in to do this extra work. So... a pastor indeed should not be burdened with working up to an extra 40 hours per week??? (Or perhaps it is seen as more economic to hire a second pastor, rather than paying one time-and-a-half for overtime hours... or better yet, paid pastors just don’t work overtime hours!)[3]

* And this 1 qualified pastor per congregation ideal should actually be according to the functional/responsibility lines which were Biblically and Historically well substantiated and documented by Kameron DeVasher in this SEYC 2013 sermon, which is with them functioning as Evangelist in/for their assigned field and Educators/Teachers and Trainers to their congregation, thus, like Paul and his Church letters, actually responsible for Church Planting and, and as the need is, Biblical Instructing, but with the bulk of the Local Pastoral work, which is really merely rehashingly repetitive in most Churches and to most long-time members, being done by local Elders. Thus by time that a Pastor retires (some e.g., 40 years later), he/she potentially would have spent their entire ministry working their assigned field new Churches and as that Calculus would result in the overall world field thus being quickly all properly worked, the Gospel Work thus would have long been quickly done and the field ripe and ready for the Rev 18:1 Final Harvest under God’s wrapping up Latter Rain!!
            Indeed there then would most likely be no reason to try to figure out what to do with new pastors if/when the state of ecclesiastical affairs would come to be that their literally is an SDA Church in, e.g, every “ZIP/Postal Code”-sized area.

            Pastors are supposed to be there to satisfactorily shepherd the flock that is coming in. (Maybe a demonstrated endeavor to caring excellence by the Church’s leadership in this matter, which would also come to included the due default hiring of all ministerial graduates and not ‘passing them through the fire’, as it were, in the name of the revered, godlike economy, would motivate Church members to tithe as the 100% rate that they should be tithing (that is 100% of baptized members returning a faithful tithe), and thus cover these added disbursements here!)
            In the economic downturns that regularly occur in capitalistic economies and its greedily whimsical ways, local conferences may think that have hit a God-given “gold mine” with non-paid lay pastors, but all that is being done is the systematic abuse of them and their devotion in the name of God, solely for the purpose of ‘balancing books.’ Conferences should either pay all of the people they expect to pastor a church, or equally pay none of them. But certainly do not effectively “enslave” some in order to pay others their full salaries. Or even, better yet, (and why this is not done is quite puzzling in itself), reduce the salaries of currently paid pastors so lay pastors can also be paid with an equal salary. (This is done at times to retain pastors who are to be laid off because of financial constraints, but of course, non-professional, uneducated laymen, are not worthy of this professional consideration and courtesy.) Hopefully, the fact that lay pastors have not obtained a piece of paper from an accredited Adventist Institution of Higher Learning for Theological studies is not seen as a reason, or better, an excuse, for not paying them because that will only confirm the fact that they are indeed being quite intentionally, and with effective discrimination, exploited and enslaved. This whole, purely capitalistic, side system is only, inherently, purely self-serving for the Church.
            If the Church as a whole was living according to the Biblical and Spirit-led socio-economic model of the Early New Testament Church, then it would not be so dependent on the economy of the country where they are working and established. But the Church has wholly subscribed to Capitalistic philosophies and principles, both for the membership, and for the administration of God’s Work and its, suppose-to-be, supporting Institutions, that it is only natural that its financial well-being rises and falls with a country’s rollercoaster economy and stock market. Good Speculative Luck in such an unbiblically charted endtime course

[1] The percent range here is due to the skewing of the data by the statistics of the Northern-Asia Pacific Division (NSD) where the political situation in e.g., China and North Korea dictate that the work be of a underground nature, and thus defaulty involve non-paid workers. As much as 48% of Denominational Lay Evangelistic and Pastoral Employees may come from these two countries.

[2] (All data are from Church statistics documents available here. (Cf. ASR 2009)) Though the church is baptizing on average ca. 2900 people per day, according to normative stats is can be seen that ca. 40% of these baptisms are “faith confirming” vs. “faith converting” baptisms, i.e., from young children (ca . -15 years of age) who have grown up in the Church and are now, being of age, deciding to be baptized. So the church is really only “converting” ca. 429 more people per day (= 13X more) than are “deconverting.” (Thus in 2009 618,022 new converts vs. 476,603 “deconverts” = (net) +141,419). That is even more striking and perplexing when the main reason that convinced many of these “new converts” to join the Church was probably because of a prophecy seminar which was stressing that ‘the end of the world was very near, “even at the door.”’

[3] If fairness in dealings and Gospel ministry had been the foremost objectives of the conference leaders using lay pastoring, they would have assigned lay pastors to churches that have a need for such “administrative pastors” and assigned non-lay pastors, (i.e., those who have a pertinent diploma from an SDA University and/or the Seminary), to churches that only need one pastor. But of course, under the foundational capitalistic approach that is being used in SDA conferences, the main concern is still that a church is capable to afford paying for its pastors, even if indirectly. So the churches that contribute the most to the tithes are implicitly “entitled” to have even more than one paid pastor. If the aim of the church had been to further its Gospel mission, it indeed would have assigned its (presumably) “most qualified” (i.e., most formally educated) pastoral workers to congregations that have the most need, i.e., churches or companies that currently have a low membership, and thus a need to increase it; which is supposed to be something that these “educated” and “paid” “professional pastors” should be able to easily do, or else, why are they then being so highly prized!??


  1. I think I lean toward the "Paul did it" argument. It seems to me that his situation makes it clear that there might, at times, be reasons to have lay pastors. One of the most prominent being financial. Also, you make it sound as if these lay pastors are operating independently. This is hardly the truth. They are under the supervision of the Conference just like other pastors.

  2. I will expand upon the topic of ‘Paul and His tentmaking’ later, however I will briefly state here that for his utilized method to be Biblically, rightly applicable to the corporate SDA Church today would require that the Church’s situation/circumstances be the same as Paul. However, by God’s pioneering guidance and providence, it is not. In fact, as already stated, this was the very case in the early days of the Church, but that was properly corporately corrected. The global Church today is in full possession of all the needed resources to feasibly have one paid, educated and trained pastor per congregation and if the cherished dogma, principles and ideals of Capitalism, and its sidekick, Self-Serving Individualism, were not so ‘most prominently’ revered in the Church today, that achievable, and rightly due target would easily be the present state. And in terms of the fruitful and steady advancement of the Work, and not “finance”, that indeed would be much more beneficial and acceptable for the cause of God.

    You should actually point out and/or specify exactly where and/or why you think that ‘I make it sound as if these lay pastors are operating independent of Conferences’ because that is hardly the truth. I am closely familiar with SDA, Conference-recognized, lay pastoral work, and the supervision involved, and know for a fact that they are not “working independently.” Still, more to the point actually being made here, even such “supervision” does not lessen the actual work that is involved and formally, fully expected of this utilized pastoral function. In short here, asking these lay pastors to actually do the work of any formally educated and trained, paid pastor is synonymous with asking them to ‘make bricks without straw,’ and that through, effectively, “slave labor”!

  3. Excellent post... I am VERY interested in fulltime ministry in a position such as this and appealed to the Pastor of our church in which he appealed to the Conference (Indiana), they said they would get back to him about it. I preach once every month, hold bible studies some what regularly (would even more if I had more time but I have to work too), I went to ARISE I am young and want to serve the Lord as either the bible worker or associate/lay Pastor... We'll see what the Lord does here.

  4. That is great to hear. May God reward your desire to serve Him. A family member of mine is currently serving as a full-time lay pastor in the Florida Conference, unfortunately he also has to expend 40+ hours a week towards earning a living. It makes no Biblical sense to me why currently paid pastors do not accept to take a slight pay cut so that, especially, lay pastors who are given the same full time responsibilities as them, could also get fully paid as they are. The whole unpaid full-time lay pastoring thing only seems to me like a base, completely unbiblical, profiteering scheme by Conference administrators.

  5. I thought this article is very well written. I have also worked as a lay pastor and know the burden it can place on ones time. While I enjoy doing the 'volunteer' work, getting a small stipend would also be very much appreciated.

  6. Indeed I agree with you here Brett, in regards to a providing a “regular payment”, however as a “stipend” normally implies only ‘a regular payment, for solely a specific task’, I am stressing more in this post that people utilized as lay pastors should be paid the same salary as all pastor, for they are asked to function as any paid pastor has to. So the only difference between them and a regular pastor is that they are “lay” workers, which is understood to indicate that ‘they have not received a formal education or professional training. (I am however more willing to see that having a stipend for a lay evangelistic work is more acceptable, because evangelism is not only substantively less demanding than full time pastoral work, (i.e., (a) you do not have to ‘preach to the choir’ every week, and (b) you can preach the same set of sermons over and over), but it is also inherently part time work.

    (Interestingly enough, with the weekend training and seminars that some Conferences do in order to help educate these lay workers, they are actually making them less and less “lay” pastors, and therefore, according to the manifest and effective reasoning of their own “logic”, they should then be paying these workers, and that at an increasing scale, for each of these formal training sessions they attend.)

    So the main gist of this post is that a lay pastor need as much time as a paid pastor in order to properly, variously tend to their congregation, and this resource of (quality) time is only achieved by paying them a full salary so that they do not have to spend these quality hours in 40+ hours of secular work. Furthermore, it is additionally stressful for one to have to mentally and psychologically shift from the inevitably imposed divergent mindset for secular functions and then the spiritual, others-focused one for pastoral work. If this is not properly done, then one task is adversely affected, and for the lay pastor, that is most probably their pastoral work.


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