By Mark A. Taylor
Just as most Americans don’t think they’re wealthy, most American Christians don’t think affluence has affected their faith. And American church workers likewise don’t see how money influences the way they approach ministry.
A realistic look at the issue comes only with time and distance. Perhaps that is why LeRoy Lawson needs to be heard when he talks about our ministry and our stuff. Having served in ministry for more than 50 years, he remembers an America not as accustomed to comfort as most in the middle class today. Having served with Christian Missionary Fellowship, he has made more than one visit to the Two Thirds World where starvation is staved only by hard work.
Lawson touched on the subject in his “Beyond the Standard” audio interview July 18*. When I asked him to comment on young leaders today, I was surprised by his answer.
He continued, “We simply have too much stuff, and we place too much importance on the stuff. That has contributed to our tendency to see ourselves as professional instead of as servants of the Lord. It has taught us to measure our success in numbers and dollars rather than fulfilling our call.”
Indeed, we wonder how many ministerial interviews center on the person’s sense of calling as compared with time spent negotiating salary packages. “When I was ordained, I really did think I was taking vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity,” Lawson said. “I never expected that I ever would have any money, because I was going into the ministry. That was the understanding.”
He hastened to add that he’s not defending such a viewpoint. “But it unnerves me,” he said, “to hear the kind of financial negotiation that happens whenever a minister is considering moving to a different church. That kind of talk is possible only in an affluent society. You can’t imagine that kind of talk from an African minister working in the bush.”
Yes, we all agree that a worker is worthy of adequate pay. We concede that a minister evangelizing affluent people should not live as a pauper among them. And he should not be forced into a standard of living well below that experienced by most of his church members.
But I wonder if I would hear a call from God to accomplish greater good but at a lesser pay. And Lawson’s comments push me to ponder how our stuff, as he puts it, stymies spiritual growth and impact in many circles.
*Hear Lawson’s “Beyond the Standard” interview, along with several others, at www.blogtalkradio.com/standardpublishing.