Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Honoring Elders

Lately I have been studying 1 Tim. 5:17-18 and other related passages. Paul instructs Timothy to consider the elders who lead well worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in word and teaching. There are two questions that I am still trying to answer about this instruction.

First, who is responsible to honor an elder? Is it the individual believer, the organization/institution, or something else I haven't thought of?

The second question is what is the best way to express that honor to an elder? Is the best way through a salary, through only respect, through individual gifts of time and material resources as the Holy Spirit leads? Are there other options?

I have some thoughts on these questions. But before I share them, how do you answer them?

22 comments:

Alan Knox said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Knox said...

Theron,

I believe this could be a very interesting discussion. I hope many people decide to take part. If they do, I'll jump in with my opinion.

- Alan

Steve Sensenig said...

Theron,

Good questions here. My thoughts, completely off the cuff are:

1. The one who benefits from the elder's leadership should honor that elder.

2. I personally think the best way to honor them, in addition to showing respect (and as outlined in Heb 13:17, giving that person's opinion quite a bit of weight, to allow yourself to be persuaded by them), is what you called "individual gifts of time and material resources as the Holy Spirit leads".

As more and more time goes by, I have growing concerns about salaries as it relates to elders/leaders. Not only are the salaries indirect (they are paid by the organization through giving of individuals, but it's very different from those individuals giving directly to the one whom they are honoring), but they tend to create a bondage situation for the one receiving the paycheck.

Just my thoughts...
steve :)

Theron said...

Steve,

Thank you for your comments. Those are some great thoughts to start our discussion.

One thing I noticed when looking at the way the term "honor" is used in 1 Timothy is that there seems to be a double meaning in 5:17. Paul already used the verbal form of the noun in 5:3 concerning widows. Some type of material support given to the widows appears to be a way of honoring them. He also uses the noun in 6:1 concerning slaves and masters. Here slaves are to honor their masters. However, it would be hard to conceive of a slave materially supporting their master. It appears that the respect aspect of honor is more in view here. All this to say that I think it is difficult to pin down Paul's use of "honor" in 5:17. I think carries both aspects of the word, both respect and some type of material support. I don't see a salary in view here for various reasons I will mention later.

What are some of your concerns about salaries?

Theron

Steve Sensenig said...

Well, like I stated before, the salary comes from the organization, not from the individuals. Yes, the individuals are the ones who give the money to the organization to give in the salary, but to me, it's not the same thing. There is a relational dynamic that can be very powerful when one is ministering and they know that someone is receiving from that ministry. Know what I mean? The formal salary becomes very impersonal.

Additionally, I have mentioned before on my blog that when a leader is receiving a regular and steady salary from a church, they are in bondage to the organization. Questions of "job security", etc. invariably come up in their minds, and they can't necessarily do all that God has called them to do because the organization "owns" them.

For example, if a pastor feels led by God to preach on a topic that he knows is going to step on people's toes, he may feel very hesitant to do so, because it could have a direct bearing on his income (i.e., he could be forced to resign, or giving may drop, etc.), or even on the financial condition of the organization as a whole (if giving drops). So, he may not feel like he can follow the prompting of the Spirit in that situation.

However, if that same pastor is not being fully supported by that "position" of pastor, he is more inclined (I think) to follow the Spirit's leading because his job doesn't ride on the line.

These are just my own thoughts, and not anything from Scripture. I think that Scripture is largely silent on this issue of salaried ministers. At the same time, however, I have trouble seeing how salaried ministers fit into the NT model.

Of course, the other aspect I haven't touched on here (I'm just showing all of my cards up front, I guess!) is that when someone is "paid" to do the work of ministry, those paying him (indirectly through giving to the organization) invariably feel like it is his "job" to do what they should be doing anyway.

I guess the way I see it is that a healthy, organic community of believers functioning together as a local expression of the body will be dividing up the work so much that no one person will need a "full-time" salary.

The exception would, I think, be apostolic (church-planting, missionary) types of ministries, in which case a body might choose to support that person fully so they can do the work they are called to do. However, Paul himself is an example that this need not be the case. He worked to support himself so that he would not be a burden to others.

I better quit there! Your thoughts in response?
steve :)

Theron said...

One benefit that I see from an individual being responsible for individually honoring an elder is that it encourages a deeper relationship between that individual and the elder. That person would have to get to know the elder in order to know how to best honor him. I don't think there is only one way to honor an elder, each one will be different. For example, I know an elder who is in the process of remodeling a house. It would be more honoring to him for me to give of my time to help in the remodeling rather than giving a financial gift.

One way that I see Scripture supporting this idea of an individual being responsible for honoring an elder is from 1 Timothy. The letter was originally written to Timothy as an individual. So Paul expected Timothy to be able to carry out the commands of the letter as an individual. This would include honoring elders. As far as a salary goes, it is unlikely that Timothy would have paid a salary to the elders in Ephesus.

I also see the distinction in Scripture of those with an apostolic type of ministry being supported. (Mt. 10, Lk. 10, 1 Cor. 9) I think this is because they traveled around a great deal which would make it difficult for them to maintain full time employment in one location. Though they do not have to receive support as you have noted about Paul.

Alan, are you ready to jump in yet? :)

Theron

Alan Knox said...

Theron,

Nope, not yet. You two are covering this topic well.

I would add 3 John to the passages that encourage believers to support those who are travelling away from how to spread the gospel / teach / prophesy.

-Alan

Steve Sensenig said...

We've both mentioned the relational aspect. I think this is a serious lack in most churches, in my opinion. The ones being supported don't know many of the ones they are "eldering", and the ones doing the supporting don't know the ones "eldering" them.

This is a problem which has deep ramifications, I think, and goes along with a lot of what I see as flawed in the conventional way of doing church.

C'mon, Alan. Give us something a bit more ;)

Alan Knox said...

Alan,

Well... I wrote a short post a few days (?) ago called something like "Representative Obedience". A salary give an organization the way to "obey" God's command representatively. In other words, we are to honor/support those who teach/lead us. Do we do that? Yes. How? Well, we put money in the offering plate and someone cuts them a check. Ah. Is that how God wants you to honor that person? Who knows... we don't think that way. We do it this way because that's the way its done.

Anything else is impractical... (sigh)

-Alan

Steve Sensenig said...

Alan started his comment with:

Alan,

Theron, I'm concerned about Alan. First he doesn't really want to participate in discussing this with us, and then when he does finally chime in, he starts talking to himself...

Theron said...

Steve,

I am beginning to wonder about Alan as well. He is acting quite reclusive and somewhat self absorbed. :)

Alan,

You don't have to talk with yourself brother...we really do want to be your friends.

Alan Knox said...

Alan,

Remember, brother, Theron and Steve are not really your friends. I am.

Theron and Steve,

I was not talking to you.

-Alan

Steve Sensenig said...

I am literally laughing out loud on this one. It's been a while since a comment made me laugh quite that much!!

Theron said...

Alan,

You mentioned putting money in an offering plate. I do see several times in Scripture where believers gathered their resources together to give to a particular need. Though there always seems to be the needs of a person or people in mind. Do we ever see believers taking up a collection just to store the money away or to provide for something other that the needs of a person? I know I am digressing from the original topic a little, but many of these issues are interrelated anyway.

Thoughts?

Alan Knox said...

Theron,

No, in Scripture I don't see an example of collecting / storing money to give to a person other than to cover a need. I don't see collecting money to give to a person for services rendered either. While it may be a digression, it is pertinent to the conversation.

-Alan

Steve Sensenig said...

Theron, I know you weren't addressing me in that comment (hehe), but I would wonder if the bringing of gifts to the apostle's feet would imply a storage of sorts...

However, when particular collections are taken, not only are they for specific needs/people, but they are for people outside the local church anyway. For example, the part where Paul talks about "let each one set aside", he is talking about a particular gift for the churches in Jerusalem.

Having said all that, I still think that the idea of giving directly to particular needs, when possible, is the best way all around in the context of our relationship to one another.

Giving regularly into an offering plate is definitely "representative" as Alan mentioned to himself. As such, I don't believe it should be "the norm"

Alan Knox said...

Steve,

You are right that Acts 4:35 ("bringing of gifts to the apostles' feet") seems to be some type of collection. However, the end of that verse specifies the purpose for this "collection": "then it was distributed to each as any had need" (ESV). So, even this "collection" was to meet peoples' needs.

-Alan

Maël said...

I wonder how many employees feel honored when they get their paycheck. I felt honored when I got an unexpected bonus or time off, but never once felt honored when I got my paycheck.

I also wonder how paying someone to "hold them accountable" is honoring. I seems that trusting them to do their job well without having to hold them accountable would be more honoring.

I also wonder how the salary of "those who rule well" honors them, while the salary of those who do not rule well does not honor them.

I also wonder how we ever expect to get the whole corporate mentality out of the ministry [sic] (maybe I should call it the 'professional ministry') if we pay salaries like a corporation.

Steve - good insight about the "bondage" concept - I'd take a step further and say that it has the potential of making the pastor go from being a servant like Christ, his example, to being a recruiter of people that can support his salary. I think this, in most cases, is unconscious, but still very much so alive. It is so easy to think: "wow, this family could do so much for our church" instead of "what can I do to serve them."

Also Steve - good insight about the "his job" perspective - I wonder if a pastor is a better example (1 Peter 5:3) when he shows people that he can hold a job and minister at the same time or when he shows them that if you are really serious about ministering you make it a profession.

Having said all of this ... I think that many good hearted believers are in the professional ministry for all the right reasons. Their heart is in the right place: they want to glorify God and serve people. The last thing I want to do is discourage them. So, if you find yourself in those shoes, let me encourage you to look at the above questions and comments, not as criticism, but as warnings of the possible pitfalls of professional ministry. Guard your heart against them.

Alan Knox said...

Theron,

Within a day or two, I am going to post a blog about being honored. I have recently been honored above and beyond anything that I expected. I agree with Maël that this was much more honoring that receiving a salary for a job well done.

-Alan

Maël said...

So what do y'all think of the quote I put up by Dargan?

Theron said...

Mael,

That's an interesting quote. Based on a quick word study, there are a couple of things I noticed. 1 Pet. 5:2 is the only place where that adjective is found in the New Testament. The noun form of the word is found in 1 Tim. 3:8 in relation to deacons/servants and in Titus 1:7 in relation to overseers. I don't think anyone would say that deacons were being paid/salaried for their service. The temptation for a deacon would have been in the handling of material gifts or finances to minister to those in need. Maybe this was the same temptation for an elder/overseer as well. Could it be that they were just distributing gifts or finances to minister to those in need? (Acts 11:30?, Acts 20:35?) As I said, this was a quick word study. I would like to hear others' thoughts as well.

Theron

Steve Sensenig said...

I think that many good hearted believers are in the professional ministry for all the right reasons. Their heart is in the right place: they want to glorify God and serve people. The last thing I want to do is discourage them.

Maël, I couldn't agree more. I find this tightrope when dealing with these issues because I don't want to beat somebody up, just for doing what they believe is the right thing to do.

On the other hand, I don't want to just pat somebody on the back and merely affirm them in that work, if it seems that there are things that are detracting from what they really want to see happen.

I believe that the motives of most in the ministry are very good, at least when they first start out. Some get poisoned by power, but many stay pure. They just don't know what is tradition, and what is actually spelled out in Scripture.

I see myself as one who is coming alongside some of these people and encouraging them, while at the same time challenging them to think in a different way.

To God's glory alone.