Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pastor Appreciation or Promotion?

A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from a Bible college I'd once attended.  It was "Pastor Appreciation Month" and they were offering free tuition to the first 450 Senior Pastors who signed up.  But in order to receive the free tuition, you had to be a Senior Pastor and you had to provide the college with the names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of five potential students (what they referred to as "5 solid prospects").  And if one of the prospects enrolled, they'd receive 30% off their own tuition.  Not a bad deal, it would seem.  But then I started thinking....

With Eph. 4:11-16 in mind, what about the evangelists, teachers, prophets, and apostles?  What about "Junior Pastors" and others involved in the ministry, such as military, hospital, and correctional chaplains?  Their title isn't that of "Senior Pastor," but their work is no less demanding.  What about them?  I wonder how they felt about being excluded - especially if they were former graduates!  

They limited the offer to the first 450 Senior Pastors, which is okay, but why not offer it to the first 450 ministers of any kind?  And of all people, why the Senior Pastor?  He needs the continuing education less than any other because he's already in a senior role!  But for them, it's (Senior) Pastor Appreciation Month and so I guess that's why no one else was included - but it sets a bad tone.  

But did you notice that their "appreciation" was conditional, or limited?  If you provide them with 5 solid prospects, they'll appreciate you and give you free tuition.  But if you don't provide them with 5 solid prospects, then they won't appreciate you and you won't get the free tuition, even if you are a Senior Pastor.  (And they wondered why I thought this came across as a shallow marketing technique!)  Seems to me that if you wanted to show true appreciation you wouldn't require anything of them at all!  So is this pastor appreciation or just creative marketing?  

But what really bothers me is the doctrine behind the promotion.

Most evangelicals believe that churches should be led by one man called a "pastor," or similar, even though there is no biblical evidence of this.  In fact, the Bible teaches the exact opposite (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17 etc.).  It teaches that pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists are of EQUAL authority and that they're to be involved in EVERY body of believers. But through our tradition, we've elevated the pastor and then placed everyone at his feet.  (Protestants still languishing under Rome's influence...)  And so the reason for providing free tuition to Senior Pastors at the expense of all others is because their church tradition has conditioned them to believe that pastors are the most important; or do you really believe they're going to have an Apostles' Appreciation Month, Evangelists' Appreciation Month, etc.?

The college responded, "...we wanted to bless those we believe could best benefit from the training we provide. Statistically, more churches from every denomination are served by a single staff member, the pastor or senior pastor.  That is why we chose to focus on that person."

Well, why do you think that more churches are being led by a single staff member?  It's because that's what they want because that's the way it's been for centuries; it's what they've done all along.  But for anyone who properly understands the "5-fold ministry" and it's function in the church, this is anathema.  Therefore, the college's decision to make it "pastor only" is but a by-product or reflection of their tradition and not the Word of God.  Their church tradition doesn't value the other four offices and so neither does their promotion.  Want further proof?  Visit their churches and see if any of these other four offices are on the payroll.  Or even better, see what's going on in your church.    

From a marketing perspective, this is a conditional offer based on Senior Pastors providing them with potential customers...I mean, students, which reduces them to being little more than commissioned salesman.  In response, the college said that their offer was never intended to come across as a secular marketing ploy, and I believe them.  These are saved men who put together what they thought was a generous offer, and it is.  But we can do things with the right motive and still be completely wrong. But true Christian charity (or appreciation) is love that gives without expecting anything in return (1 Cor. 13:5; Rom. 5:8), but this isn't what they did - they expected something in return, and so their "appreciation" is based on worldly wisdom and not God's love.  This is love as the world gives, but not God.

Needless to say, they took my comments as a personal insult and practically faulted me for bringing it to their attention.  They said the promotion had been enthusiastically received.  But, duh!  Ya think!? Most believe exactly as they do and so of course they're going to think it's great!  Besides, they're too focused on the savings to give it any serious thought.  But the real insult here is against God and his Word.  For it was God who established all five offices, gave them equal authority, and taught that every church needed them.  But in their wisdom, they deny this.  They had an opportunity to reverse the "Protestant pope" mentality but instead chose to further its appeal.  But this isn't an isolated case. All churches routinely fall under the same influences which is one reason why the church is in such a dreadful state.

But what could they have done differently, you ask?

For an Appreciation, open it up to the first 450 full-time ministers of any sort with no stipulations and call it "Minister Appreciation."  Or, for a promotion, open it up to the first 450 full-time ministers of any sort and then require the names - just don't call it an "Appreciation."  Either is fine, but don't mix the two.

But what's the lesson?  There are several, but the main point I wanted to get across is that our personal doctrine(s) will always be reflected in the decisions we make.  The college believes that churches should be led by one man and that it's okay to offer conditional love (grace + works), and so they offered a promotion that reflected those very ideals.  Intellectually they'd deny this.  But as they say, actions speak a lot louder than words.  Selah.