“Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1Cor 9:14).
“Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake” (Titus 1:11).
It is a fact, it must be admitted, that the current culture of our community frowns on any idea of a paid ministry. It is so ingrained that, for example, when the group known as the CGAF was in talks (still ongoing) to join with the Central Christadelphians, the very fact they had a “paid” minister fifty years ago was quite a problem to some, although it was not ultimately addressed in the doctrinal agreements that were made. It must also be admitted that John Thomas was very fond of citing the passage from Titus above, as he inveigled against his contemporary ministerial colleagues, accusing them of putting the importance of maintaining an income over searching for the Truth. And when ministers of one denomination or another joined the Christadelphians in the nineteenth century, it was hard for them to find employment, and impossible to employ them in their previous profession. So much so that Robert Roberts employed some of them as assistant editors.
However, John Carter said many years ago “As a community we have no paid ministry in order that we may be free from the evils that Titus had to contend with. But we should remember that we have no right to demand unpaid service. The Lord did demand service from the great, but those who were served had a responsibility. Paul said, ‘The Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel’ (1Cor 9:14), and so to the Galatians he commanded that ‘those who are taught must share all the blessings of life with those who teach them the Word’ (Gal 6:6, Moffatt). Just as a Master provides the keep for his slave, so the brethren ought to provide for their servants.”1
There are many passages that talk about the rights of those who spend their time preaching to be compensated for the effort, and very few that warn against the danger. For example:
“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1Tim 5:17-18).
Another quotation from Paul is perhaps appropriate: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2Thess 3:10). The converse was true: where work for the truth demanded a great deal of time which could not then be spent on remunerative employment, it had to be paid for by someone in the first century community — either by the ecclesia, by a rich brother or sister whose contributions Paul valued, or by the worker himself, who then spent time, energy and substance. The principle is as true today as it was then: if a brother (or sister) is asked to spend time in work for the Truth, and by so doing deprive themselves of gainful employment, consideration ought to be given for recompensing them. Much work in our community is, of course, quite voluntary, but we cannot really expect someone to reduce themselves to penury on our behalf.
In fact, our community provides for the employment, or at least covers the living expenses, of quite a number of its members in one capacity or another, including a large number of those in the mission field.
In most of our ecclesias, the vast bulk of the work required is freely performed by its members. Whether it is speaking from the platform, presiding, cleaning the hall, preparing the meals, rarely are our members compensated. Thus the work of the ecclesia is spread quite widely, and we indeed are thereby knit together into the one body. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1Cor 12:12). In most of our ecclesias, the passive seat occupier is quite rare, and all contribute according to their abilities, with their time being given quite freely, and many of the minor expenses of the ecclesias being taken care of also.
Given the typical size of our ecclesias, this is almost a necessity. Very few ecclesias in North America number in excess of a hundred or so, and so for the most part we would be unable to afford a paid minister even if we wanted the same. Thus the needed work is spread around, and many perform Bible Study that they would not perhaps otherwise engage in, if they did not have to give regular exhortations, Bible study classes, and lectures.
Service that ought to be recompensed
Commonly in the UK, ecclesias will invite visiting speakers for a Sunday, to deliver exhortations, lectures, or both. And in the areas with the greater density of ecclesias, it is very common to invited speakers to deliver the mid-week Bible classes also. This results in many ecclesias having more than half their appointments covered by outside speakers — while their own brethren are away speaking. Many such brethren find they are away at least one Sunday in two from their own ecclesias, with three in four sometimes being the case. All this use of invited speakers has caused much discussion in the pages of The Christadelphian, and there is a clear consensus that when visitors travel any significant distance, their expenses ought to be covered. Not only that, but the recommended way this is to be handled is to give the speaker his expenses, without either waiting to be asked or asking about the expenses. If the speaker feels comfortable paying his own expenses, he can put the re-imbursement into the collection, or contribute them to a Christadelphian charity he supports if he feels the ecclesia has no difficulty affording the amount of money involved.
It might be that and ecclesia finds it difficult to afford such expenses, but would still like to be able to hear outside speakers. They should, in these circumstances, broadcast a general request for such help, explaining the circumstances — but not invite someone and say “by the way, I am sorry we cannot pay your expenses”. In such cases, you are relying on the fact many brethren, even if they can ill afford such expenses, will be too embarrassed to acknowledge it.
I believe such a practice ought to be universal in this continent also, although it is much less common to invite brethren to travel significant distances to speak at regular meetings of the ecclesia.
Bible Schools and other special gatherings
Such occasions are usually noted, at least in North America, by the presence of speaking brethren from other areas, sometimes from quite a distance. After all, “A prophet [speaker] is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (Mark 6:4). Some Bible Schools even seem to have a tradition of inviting speakers from three different continents — North America, the UK, and a brother from the Southern Hemisphere. So it is not surprising that the travel of those brethren from other continents is almost always reimbursed, often with several Bible Schools sharing the expenses. And of course the cost of the Bible Schools is also covered, and commonly the costs of a spouse are covered also.
This is not surprising, as the preparation work required to be able to deliver up to twelve high class talks (adults and teens) and usually at least two other addresses is enormous. The time required can easily run into several hundred hours, all of which quite willingly and freely given. But it is sometimes the case that domestic speakers, although having the costs of the Bible School covered, have many other expenses that are overlooked. Whether it be the costs of copying, the incidental expenses in gathering material, or the costs of travel to and from the Bible School, sometimes none of these are considered by the inviting school or weekend. This ought not to be. If a speaker has to come any distance (and this is almost always the case), at least the cost of the car mileage should be automatically given to the speaker — and not just the cost of gas, but some approximation to the Federal mileage rate. Air fares, hotels, it is the least we can do. And he should at least be asked about any other costs consequential to his efforts, and this in a matter that invites an honest response.
If the organizers cannot afford such costs, perhaps they should consider the rational in inviting speakers from a distance. We all like to hear fresh voices, or those who are well known among the community, but to do so should neither beggar the organizers nor the speakers.
Of course this does not prevent the speaker from refusing to accept the expenses, or returning them in the collection. However, care must be taken to ensure that the one giving the service does not feel obligated in any way to meet his own costs, for any gift to the ecclesia, or other gathering, must be given “not grudgingly, or of necessity” (2Cor 9:7).
“Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? Who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? Or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?” (1Cor 9:7)
1. The Christadelphian: 1943, p 62.