“I’m brassed off with the church. I feel like resigning and walking away from them all” – these were the words of a fellow minister, absolutely fed up with his church.
The cause of my friend’s out burst was the unreasonable behaviour of his church treasurer – who refused to agree to an expense claim, and instead said that he would bring the matter up at the next church meeting. As I talked to my friend I discovered that the claim was for less than £200 – and was furthermore totally valid – it was for an expense which ministers regularly claim. But what made the church treasurer’s behaviour so unreasonable, was his determination to bring the claim to the next church meeting, with a view to ‘shaming’ the minister. Not only is such an action improper, the motivation for it shows no respect either.
The reality is that in a case where there is a dispute of this kind, the matter should be brought to the deacons and sorted out there. Indeed, if the church secretary had any gump, the matter could have been resolved without even reaching the deacons’ meeting. The church meeting is not the place for dealing with ‘nuts and bolts’ issues. The church meeting is the place where Baptists gather together to discern the mind of Christ with regard to the major issues of mission and ministry.
But sadly, the church treasurer appears to be wanting to humiliate his minister. It will involve the minister having to leave the meeting while the church debate his claim. And that is humiliating. As a minister I hate having to leave a meeting while others talk about me. I remember how I felt when I was a young minister and every year I had to leave the church meeting while the members debated whether I was due for a rise. It felt so demeaning. Thank God when I arrived in my present church, I discofe4ed that the church had agreed a formula for my stipend, which means that my worth is no longer discussed on an annual basis.
Although I did once have a church secretary who told me in all seriousness that he believed that my role was to set an example of holy poverty, my experience of church treasurers has almost always been positive. The one exception was my very first treasurer, who was so concerned at the amount of money we were proposing to spend on evangelism, that he fiddled the books with a view to demonstrating that the church was in financial trouble and so could not afford the things which I and the other deacons were proposing – needless to say, the poor man had to stand down!
Yet sadly in some churches – and not least in my friend’s church – there is little respect for ministers. There appears to be little recognition that ministers are a gift of Christ to the church (see Ephesians 4.11) and should be treated accordingly. The teaching of Paul to “pay proper respect” to those who “guide and instruct you in the Christian life” (see 1 Thess 5.12) appears not to have ever featured on the radar of my friend’s treasurer – let alone Paul’s proposal that “the elders who do good work as leaders should be considered worthy of receiving double pay, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5.17)!
So how did I counsel my friend? While empathising with his pain and frustration, I reminded him of the privilege of ministry. Yes, it is an amazing privilege to be paid to serve God in this way. I told my friend that some of our members would give their right arm to do the same. Yes, there are drawbacks in the Baptist system where you are paid by those you serve – as a result some people feel they ‘own’ their ministers and therefore have a ‘right’ to determine how their minister’s time and energies are to be used. Yet, there is also something heart-warming about being paid by the local church – I see it as an incredible act of love toward me. I thank God that my church does not just treat me fairly – but kindly too. Would that were true of every church!