I was quite troubled recently upon reading an article about a church in downtown Washington, DC experiencing financial crisis because, among other reasons, the payroll was usurping the church’s budget. How did we come to the point that nobody wants to serve their community of faith unless a financial transaction comes along with it. Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages” (I Timothy 5:18). It has become common practice for pastors to draw a salary and benefits package even in modest congregations. However, that was not always the case nor is it required. Jesus and the disciples had jobs.
Now, everyone wants to get paid from the collection plate. Musicians in large churches command six-figure salaries, although they hold outside employment and serve on their own terms. It is not uncommon for singers in the choir to likewise be compensated. Callista Gingrich, wife of presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, was recently profiled for her participation in a church choir for which she is paid $80 per service. Can that reasonably be considered sacrificial worship? Not anymore than her conversion from mistress to wife can be considered honorable.
I have even heard of Sunday School teachers without any investment of formal training trying to shake down churches for compensation. If a gift has been given to one freely from above, can it be commoditized and billed in good conscience? I’ll bet the old ladies of yore are turning in their graves. The church is spending so much having church that it does not have much left to be the church through outreach and missions.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). The gospel is free. There is no requirement for receiving it and certainly not an incumbent financial burden. The converse is that upon accepting the grace so freely given to you, all that you are and all that you own are at the disposal of the kingdom. So if no one ever pays you to do what God has endowed you to do, do it anyway.
Erotic love has been reduced to sexuality in the modern era. Its true essence lies in receiving some form of gratification in return for what one offers. Forget “a good deed is its own reward.” Like Lucy in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “I want what I’ve got coming to me; I want my fair share.”
Benevolence, or agape, is the highest form of love. It does not expect anything in return. It is no respector of persons. It will give itself even to those who do not deserve it. Sound familiar? That’s how God loves and requires us to do the same.
So when you leave the family gathering today, don’t calculate how much you spent on others and got shortchanged in return. You have no idea how much your sacrifice meant to the recipients or the generosity it will consequently inspire are. It may not come back to you, but it will make the world better.
In the same manner, think of ways you can give of yourself to your community of faith without considering it an investment in anything except eternity. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). The aforementioned church was able to execute its mission more effectively after members forfeit their so-called right to market-rate compensation and offered their service sacrificially. Imagine what the church could be if we all did the same.