Saturday, May 10, 2008

tentmaking and paid ministry


Len must be wrestled with on tentmaking and paid ministry:

And he quotes Mark Strom:

“Professionalism, even elitism, marks the sermon and the service and distinguishes clergy from congregation. Paul faced something similar at Corinth. The strong had transferred to themselves certain social and religious marks of rank and status: education, eloquence, a leader”s style, even clothing. They had also come to regard the fruits of Christ’s work by the Spirit and the evidences of his presence as further marks of status, even ”spiritual” status. Paul would not tolerate this creation of new rank within the assembly. He urged the Corinthians to see what they had as gifts of grace. They must honour the least honourable. This was not conventional. This was not moral. This was not theology. This was not about words. This was the meaning of grace.

“Little in modern Christian experience matches this. Academic, congregational and denominational life functions along clear lines of rank, status and honour. We preach that the gospel has ended elitism, but we rarely allow the implications to go beyond ideas. Paul, however, actually stepped down in the world. His inversions of status were social realities, not intellectualized reforms.

“Paul urged leaders to imitate his personal example of how the message of Jesus inverted status. He was at pains to dissociate himself from the sophists, those traveling orator-teacher-lawyers of his day (1 Cor 2:1-5). Though undoubtedly educated and skilled, he did not imitate the sophists” eloquence and persona. In so doing, Paul set himself on a collision course with the contemporary conventions of personal honour and with his potential patrons. He refused to show favouritism towards individuals or ekklesiai. The gospel offered him rights, but he refused them. Christ was not a means to a career. Yet the agendas and processes of maintaining and reforming evangelical life and thought remain the domain of professional scholars and clergy. Their ministry is their career.

“Dying and rising with Christ meant status reversal. In Paul”s case, he deliberately stepped down in the world. We must not romanticize this choice. He felt the shame of it amongst his peers and potential patrons, yet held it as the mark of his sincerity. Moreover, it played a critical role in the interplay of his life and thought. Tentmaking was critical, even central, to his life and message. His labour and ministry were mutually explanatory. Yet, for most of us, ”tent-making” belongs in the realms of missionary journals and far-flung shores. As a model for ministry in the USA, Britain or Australia, it remains as unseemly to most of us as it did to the Corinthians. At best it is second best.

“Evangelicalism will not shake its abstraction, idealism and elitism until theologians and clergy are prepared to step down in their worlds. Some might argue that since the world often shows contempt for the pastoral role, then professional ministry is a step back. But that is to ignore the more pertinent set of social realities. Evangelicalism has its own ranks, careers, financial security, marks of prestige, and rewards. Within that world, professional ministry is rank and status.”

Mark Strom

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!