In Deuteronomy, you might pick up on a phrase that is repeated over and over, and in Deuteronomy 18, the chapter begins with it:
“18:1 Remember that the Levitical priests—that is, the whole of the tribe of Levi—will receive no allotment of land among the other tribes in Israel.”
Over and over in the book, Moses reminds the people that the tribe of Levi is different than the rest of the people. This tribe, serving as priests, are to help the people connect to God and in so doing the Bible tells us that the Levites special connection is God, not land. Now, maybe you might be saying…ok, so they don’t get land…but without land you don’t have livestock, crops, or the room to start your own business. So, the Levites are to live off of the offerings and gifts that the people bring to God. Moses says it this way in Deuteronomy 18:
“3 “These are the parts the priests may claim as their share from the cattle, sheep, and goats that the people bring as offerings: the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. 4 You must also give to the priests the first share of the grain, the new wine, the olive oil, and the wool at shearing time. 5 For the Lord your God chose the tribe of Levi out of all your tribes to minister in the Lord’s name forever.”
The priests functioned much like contemporary pastors and ministers. They were in charge of teaching the people about their relationship with God, taking care of the sanctuary and the volunteers, being an example of righteous living, and making sure the offerings given are used to God’s glory. So, for a moment let’s enter into the aged debate about ministers…
You see, there has always been some argument over whether ministers should be “of the people” meaning that the minister would work like everyone else and then stand to preach and teach as one of them each Sunday (or appropriated time), or whether ministers should be somewhat separated from the people (mostly by education and lifestyle) and then preach and teach as somewhat of an expert. So, while this dichotomy is somewhat simplistic and there are degrees of everything in the middle…here’s what I’m getting at.
Those who want a minister to work often look to Paul who was a tentmaker, but Paul was more of a church planter and missionary that moved around (hence the journeys).
Those who want ministers who are there to serve the congregation and are available to the people often go back to the Levitical priesthood, although we must admit there are differences that need to be explored (but not now, not here).
So, most congregations I am connected with want ministers who are available to them, show them how to live while teaching and preaching, and often they want a person who is CALLED by God to minister to and with their church. If this is your church, then what you want is not a Paul, but a Priest in the since of our comparison above. So, you have a family (or 8) working for your church, let’s get down to it now!
From the congregational perspective, the minister is dependent upon your support and care. It’s not just about a paycheck, but the local minister may have needs that you can help with and I think there is biblical proof that the congregation is required by God to help, support, and care for the one (or 8) called by God to minister among this people.
From the ministerial perspective, this text reminds me that I have sacrificed the land to have the Lord as a special possession, so while others work in the land I have the responsibility to be about the Lord’s work. And while I will call the congregation to help me in that, I should be leading through my example of being in service to the Lord in everything. (Yes, there are boundaries but again, not for today’s musings!) Ministers are dependent upon the Lord, and they are dependent upon the people to provide for them.
From this passage, I believe that ministers who have to work second jobs or sometimes third jobs to make ends meet are not given the opportunity to learn the dependence talked about in this passage. As Paul would say, “And when I was with you and didn’t have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone.” (2 Cor 11:9) Of course, if you read the passage Paul is rebuking the church for not being supportive and allowing other churches to give so that he could preach to them…Ouch! So, even Paul had some notion of the cost associated with ministry.
I think our doctrine of self-sufficiency sometimes gets in the way of God’s formation through community…which is found in both the Old and New Testaments. The role and care of our ministers, or divinely appointed servants, is a two way street…for they are there to nurture us, challenge us, and provide through crisis…and we are there for them. Ministers have sacrificed opportunities to serve your church, and so the congregation must realize and respond to them in gratitude for their service. That is the exchange God set up a long time ago…and we should continue to consider it worth preserving.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.