Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Strong words to weak shepherds

A friend gave me one of those Bibles that's broken up into daily readings. The idea is that you can read through the Bible about 15 minutes a day and have the whole thing done in a year. (I presume you then repeat the cycle rather than simply saying, "Well, I've read that! Now to move on!" ;-) ) Nice idea. I'm looking forward to this helping me grow in my spiritual discipline.

Today's reading struck me. It was from Ezekiel--that wildest and wierdest of prophets--and the Lord was speaking to Ezekiel in chapter thirty-four regarding the shepherds of Israel. Not the regular shepherds, but the spiritual ones. In the Old Testament they were called priests, and today we might call them a pastor.

One of the most notable features, in my mind, of the OT priests is that they were to subsist entirely off of what the Israelites brought for offerings. The priests would get a portion of the sacrifice and be allowed to eat it, and the Lord would get His portion. In this fashion the Lord ensured that the people would always have their priests (no distractions of having to earn a living, so the priests could always be there to do their priestly duty) and that the priests would always be cared for. I kind of like that concept, and generally look to it as God's structural model for ministry among His people.

But the spiritual shepherds of Ezekiel's day abused that privilege--they were doing ministry just to get the metaphorical wool and the meat and the curds of the sheep. They were doing it for the perqs, not for the ministry.

It's a heart-check moment for me. People have always said things to me like, "Oh, I know you'd do ministry for nothing." . . . and I always wonder if I truly would. Now, I have plenty of good reasons for not doing ministry for free; just add up the kids around the table and you can see what I mean. Kids need food, they need clothes, they need a place to live, and it's my responsibility to give that to them. To do that, I do NEED money, and so it would be irresponsible to take no salary at all for my work at the church.

Yet I also need to keep the Lord's warning to Ezekiel in mind. Why? Well, frankly, because I'm a greedy old so-and-so. Just like anyone else, I want to get the most I can. But I'm not called to this church to serve myself, but others. So I have to be on the prowl, looking out for my greed to sneak back in and get me wanting more.

So in the end, should I do ministry for nothing? No--God has also given me financial responsibilities as a parent and husband, and I do need a salary for them. But should I do ministry as though I would do it for nothing? Should that, in effect, be my attitude? It seems the answer is yes!

I don't do ministry to get things, but to give Christ. But neither do I refuse what God has established as being rightfully mine simply because I'm in a spiritual occupation. But it is--as always--a matter of priorities. Who's on top? Who's first? God is, and I follow His leading. And along the way, I receive with thanksgiving the gifts He has chosen to give me.

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