[Please remember as this series proceeds that I’ve been involved in church leadership for a very long time and get calls and emails from churches all over the place. Please don’t take any of my comments as being pointed at my church’s current staff.]
I agree with all that, if the minister is working as hard as most, there’s no issue. In fact, many ministers work far too hard.
If the minister is hard working, then it’s just a question of setting fair pay — which is a tough question in its own right. Most ministers are underpaid, in my view, but that trend is reversing among the more progressive churches, at least. Good. Some think ministers should accept starvation pay, but I disagree and disagree strongly. (Post on compensation is coming.)
On the other hand, if a minister is not accountable for how he spends his time, I don’t know how he expects his elders and congregation to appreciate his hard work. If I was a minister, I’d do the following:
1. Provide time logs to the elders without being asked. I wouldn’t do it every week, because I expect I’d be too busy, but I’d do it on a regular, recurring basis. Not just once. And this is how some senior ministers I know do it.
2. I’d never leave the office without telling the receptionist where I’m going — but I’d only hire a receptionist who can keep a confidence. I’d teach her how to respond to questions about where I am without revealing confidences — “He’s in a meeting out of the office” rather than “He’s helping Jane and John avoid a divorce.”
I tell my wife where I’m going when I leave the house, and I tell my secretary where I’m going when I leave the office. Secrets aren’t good for relationships, you know. Why would I want my wife wondering why I’m out of the house?
3. I’d have a calendar that my secretary keeps so people can make appointments — rather than hearing, “Oh, I have no idea when he’ll be back in the office. I’ll have him call back and set up an appointment if he comes back today.” Modern software makes it easy to have a coordinated calendar.
4. Sometimes a minister has to leave the building to have uninterrupted time to prepare lessons. If so, he needs to train the receptionist on what to tell members when they inevitably ask where he is. “I don’t know” will always make him look lazy. I’m for the truth: “He’s working on his sermon and can’t be disturbed, but I’ll be glad to get a message to him later today. He always calls in for his messages and will return them as soon as he can” or “He can’t be interrrupted, but I can make an appointment for you.” Something like that.
None of these are “secular” or “business” habits. They are simply the practices of someone who understands that perceptions are the other person’s reality.
And they are the habits of a man who knows himself to be flawed and easily tempted — which is unquestionably true of me. The more accountable I am for my time, the more likely I am to use that time well. Accountability is spiritually healthy. Non-accountability is not good for us — and may well be one reason 30% or more of our ministers get caught in sexual sin. Yes, really.
(Heb 13:17) Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
I’m going to stand by two principles I think are incontrovertible —
1. Ministers should work hard — every bit as hard as the people they minister to.
2. Ministers should be accountable for how they spend their days.
It’s a mistake to characterize 2 as an issue of trust or distrust. Rather, it’s a recognition that we are all fallen creatures, and we all do better in our struggles with sin when we’re accountable to someone.
Now, none of this is about “business” or being “secular.” Rather, the Bible plainly teaches that those who labor in the Kingdom are entitled to be paid, and the Bible plainly teaches accountability to each other.
I would add a third —
3. Elders shouldn’t be jackasses, but should model their oversight on the oversight of the Great Overseer.
We cannot define ministerial accountability on the assumption that we’ll always have bad elders. It’s sad (but true) that many minister’s attitudes toward accountability and work ethic are driven by painful experiences with former elders — and so we have many ministers looking for protection from abuse, even from elders who are not abusive. Hence, just to mention “accountability” inspires negative reactions.
So, accountability is good. Abusive elders should be retrained or else removed from office. Ministers should be able to trust that the men they are accountable to will be men of godly discernment and want nothing but what’s best for them and the congregation.
I admit that the Churches of Christ have a problem with bad elders — so much so that good elders often have to cope with the perception they are bad elders just because they’re elders. It’s true. Why is that?
Well, it’s largely because we’ve done a very poor job of teaching our churches how to pick elders. I blame us. You see, an ungracious theology leads to ungracious leaders. The more unforgiving, demanding, and nitpicking you teach that God is, the more unforgiving, demanding, and nitpicking the elders are going to be. They’re going to model themselves on whatever kind of God is preached from the pulpit.
And in transitional churches — churches moving away from legalism — the elders may struggle to get over bad mental habits learned when they had a more legalistic spirituality. The preacher and other teachers should help them see how God’s forgiving, serving, self-emptying nature models how they should do their ministry as elders.
It’s all tied together.