Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk? For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our own sake?
It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share of the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? … Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 7-11, 12b
In the Quaker community, there is a huge amount of tension around the spiritual significance of money, paid work and ministry. The Quaker movement rose up in part as a reaction against the abuses of a privileged clergy that treated the Church as a source of revenue. In George Fox‘s day, the clergy represented an abusive, landed elite that lived in luxury and defended a corrupt political and economic system.
To this day, we harbor a deep reticence to financially support ministry. Our healthier communities are generally open to providing some sort of financial assistance – covering some of the direct costs of ministerial travel, for example. For many Friends, however, the idea of financially releasing an individual for full-time gospel ministry is almost unthinkable. In every other area of life, we understand that depth, quality and dedication in service requires a financial basis. But when it comes to ministry, we often insist that it remain strictly volunteer. Our livelihood must come from somewhere else.
Although the majority of Quakers today hire pastors, we still retain a deep skepticism of paid ministry. Even among Friends congregations with paid staff – whether they call them “Meeting secretaries,” “pastors,” “youth coordinators” or “Friends in residence” – the pay is very, very low. Frequently, our pastors and other released ministers are forced to live at a subsistence level, find additional employment, or rely on a spouse or loved ones to make ends meet. The wages of sin may be death, but the wages of ministry are often not much better!
Our refusal to financially support the gifts of ministry in our midst can be devastating. God gives spiritual gifts to our communities that are meant to strengthen and transform us into people who bless the world, but if we refuse to embrace and release the gifts that we receive, we cannot grow. Our unspoken dogma of spiritual bootstrapping – expecting each individual to make their own way in the world, never asking help from others – may be one reason for the present demographic and spiritual crisis that Quakers are facing.
Though many Quaker ministers would love to get a full-time paycheck for the vital work that God has called them to, most of us do not ask for that. We generally pay our own way, grateful for God’s miraculous provision by other means. Finances are important, but we know from experience that the Lord will take care of these logistical details. The deeper question is one of solidarity. Do our Meetings truly embrace the ministry that arises in our midst – regardless of whether we ultimately feel led to financially release it?
In many of our Meetings, when someone experiences a transformative call to ministry, we simply do not know how to respond. As Friends, we have certain rather rigidly defined boxes that we use to organize our religious life. You can be a clerk, or serve on a committee. Perhaps you are feeling a leading to serve as a pastor or work as an employee for a Quaker non-profit. Wonderful. We can handle that. But what happens when God calls us to something really weird?
Money is an important symbol of our commitment. Our spending represents where we as individuals and communities are willing to put our limited resources. It represents our real priorities. When we examine how we spend our money, we get a better idea of what we truly value.
Queries for congregations:
- Do we truly value gospel ministry?
- Do we believe that God’s work in the world is worth the cost?
- Do we place our love for our brothers and sisters above our fear of not having enough?
- How do we live in solidarity with those who are called into a ministry that demands their primary focus and makes paid employment challenging?
Queries for ministers:
- Do we trust that God will provide for our needs, even if this providence looks very different from what we would prefer?
- Do we keep our hearts and minds rooted in the love that God has for his people, even when they disappoint us?
- How do we avoid bitterness that can sour our ministry?
If God requires it of us, are we willing to work twice as hard, earning our own living whilepreaching the gospel?
- Are we willing to “endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ?”