the weblog of Alan Knox


Have you left “vocational ministry”?

Posted by on Jul 26, 2013 in elders, office | 17 comments

A few days ago, I published a post called “The non-vocational option.” In that post, I explained that a few years ago, when I felt God leading me to more consistent service to his people, I was given two options: vocational pastor or vocational missionary.

So, back in 2002, my family moved to North Carolina so that I could attend seminary and get a job with a church as a vocational pastor. During my time in seminary – primarily through studying Scripture – I decided that the New Testament presents another option: the non-vocational option.

In response to that post, a reader named Scott left the following comment:

I think it would be helpful for some to share stories of people who made the transition from vocation to non-vocation and how they did it. Perhaps you could share stories of how you’ve helped in this regard and have others write up their stories of how they did it.

I believe this would be very helpful to many out there. It would also make for fascinating reading.

Now, I have never been a “vocational minister.” I have never been paid by a church. Although that was the direction that I was heading in 2002, God changed my plans over the next few years.

However, like Scott, I think it would be extremely helpful to hear the stories of people who have left “vocational ministry.” I know that some quit to find a “secular job” for many different reasons. Others are forced out, being fired by their church for different reasons and decide to never return.

The only person who I know (personally) who has “left the ministry” is Eric from “A Pilgrim’s Progress.” You can read his story on a page of his blog called “Why I resigned.”

I would love to hear your story too. Why did you leave “vocational ministry”? How did you support yourself and your family immediately after the job change? How do you support your family now? How do you serve your brothers and sisters in Christ now? What advice do you have for people who are considering leaving “vocational ministry”?

You can either leave a comment here, or send me an email at alan [at] alanknox [dot] net. I will not publish your story without your consent.

The non-vocational option

Posted by on Jul 23, 2013 in discipleship, elders, personal | 23 comments

A few years ago, my family was part of a megachurch in our area. We were involved in many of the programs offered by the church organization, and we had many good friends who were part of the church. There came a time when I sensed (somehow) that God wanted something different… something more…

I talked to a few church leaders, and I was given two options: God was either calling me to be a vocational pastor or a vocational missionary. Obviously, there were different jobs (“callings”) within those two options, but everything fell within those two divisions.

After much prayer and counsel – and deciding that God was not calling me to go overseas – I decided to go to seminary to prepare to become a vocational pastor. I’m glad that I made that decision, even though the outcome is not what I expected. I am not a vocational pastor, and I do not intend to become a vocational pastor. Instead, one thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that there is another option: the non-vocational option.

More and more people are beginning to understand both the scriptural precedence for and the practical benefits of serving others in a “non-vocational” manner – that is, serving others without being a vocational pastor or minister.

For example, see the Washington Post article from May 2013 titled “Seminary graduates not always ministering from the pulpit.” By the way, I’m not suggesting that you must be a seminary graduate to serve others. This article simply shows that even many people attending seminary are beginning to recognize the benefit of “non-vocational” service.

Recently, while speaking with a friend, he reminded me about a conversation that he had with a mutual friend a few years ago. Our friend was a seminary student, and had plans to become a vocational pastor. He was beginning to understand this different view of serving others, but didn’t know what he was going to do. He only had Bible school training and didn’t know how he was going to support himself and his family if he did not have a job with a church.

Lately, not only have I learned that God can use someone who works a “full-time secular job,” I’ve also been able to help others who want to transition away from a “full-time vocational ministry job.” Through this, we’re all learning that there are many benefits both to the individual and the church from serving others while also working a full time job (that is not a church job).

Hopefully, God will continue to provide opportunities for me to encourage others into this non-vocational option, and even continue to help them find jobs that provide for themselves, their families, and others – much like Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders to do in Acts 20:33-35.

What benefits do you see for individuals in being non-vocational servants instead of vocational pastors/ministers? What benefits do you see for the church? Are there any disadvantages?

Do elders manage or care for the church?

Posted by on Jul 1, 2013 in elders, scripture | 35 comments

When Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, he either left a letter with him or sent a letter to him in order to help his young apostolic coworker. (1 Timothy) In part of that letter, Paul wrote to help his friend understand who should be recognized (or appointed) as elders among the church. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

In this section, Paul describes what kind of person should be an elder. There are many different descriptions within this short passage. But, for this post, I want to focus on one sentence (in two verses):

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5 ESV)

This passage is often presented as an indication that elders are “managers” over the church. However, the verbs used indicate something different.

To begin with, there are two important verbs used in this passage: “manage” (in vs. 4 & 5) and “care for” (in vs. 5).

First, the verb translated “manage” comes from the Greek verb προΐστημι (prohistemi). This verb has a wide range of meanings, including “be over,” “superintend,” and “managed” and also “aid,” “care for,” and “give attention to.” So, as the ESV translates it above, this verb can definitely mean “manage.”

In the passage above, the verb προΐστημι (prohistemi – “manage”) demonstrates the relationship between the elders and their families, especially their children. Again, in that context, “manage” would work.

Next, the verb translated “care for” comes from the Greek verb ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai). Unlike the verb above, this verb has a much more narrow range of meaning: “to take care of a person or thing.” This verb cannot mean “manage.”

The verb ἐπιμελέομαι (epimeleomai – “take care of”) is only used in one other passage in the New Testament – in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan:

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” (Luke 10:34-35 ESV)

It’s clear from the context above what “take care of” means. It means “to render aid” or “offer support”… it does not mean “manage.”

Now, remember, Paul is making a comparison. He’s comparing a person’s relationship to their family and suggesting that the familiar relationship will be an indication of their relationship with the church. Paul describes the familial relationship with a verb that could mean either “manage” or “care for.” But, he describes the church relationship with a verb that could only mean “care for.”

Regardless of what Paul is saying about the elders’ relationship with their family, he is definitely not saying that the elders are to “manage” the church. Instead, he is saying that elders are to “care for” the church, much like the “good samaritan” took care of the wounded traveler.

By the way, there is another Greek verb that falls within the same semantic domain (meaning) as the verb “care for” (ἐπιμελέομαιepimeleomai). Which verb is that? The verb that is usually translated “shepherd,” which is also often used to describe elders.

[I wrote a similar post about 3 1/2 years ago called “Manage his own household?” However, the Greek fonts became corrupted during a database upgrade, so I decided to rewrite the post here.]

Who chooses bishops/elders/pastors among the church?

Posted by on Jun 18, 2013 in church history, elders, scripture | 11 comments

Before you jump on me for my title, I’m using the traditional nomenclature. I’d prefer to simply use the term “elders,” which is the normal term in Scripture. However, for many among the church today, “elders” are different than “bishops” and both of those are different than “pastors.” So, if you feel they are different, then you can assume that I’m talking about all three in this post.

In Scripture, there are only two passages related to “choosing/appointing” bishops/elders/pastors:

When they [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:21-23 ESV)

This is why I [Paul] left you [Titus] in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you… (Titus 1:5 ESV)

On the surface, it looks like Paul and Barnabas personally chose “elders” among the churches of Galatia (in Acts 14:23) and that Paul instructed Titus to personally choose “elders” among the churches (in each town) in Crete. And, that would definitely be a valid interpretation.

When we turn to later Christian writings, the interpretations become muddled:

Therefore, choose for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord… (Didache 15:1)

Those [elders] therefore who were appointed by them [apostles], or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole church… (1 Clement 44:3)

In the Didache, the author(s) definitely expected the church to choose “bishops” for themselves. There is no mention of bishops, elders, or deacons being appointed by others for the church.

Clement, meanwhile, seems to say that apostles and then later others appointed “elders.” However, he adds that little phrase “with the consent of the whole church,” which again muddles the answer. Was the just the apostles who chose “elders”? Was it later just “other men of repute” who chose elders? What does it mean that the whole church consented?

(Interestingly, while Ignatius has alot to say about “the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons,” he does not mention who appointed or chose them. Likewise, Polycarp mentions “elders,” but he does not say who chose them.)

Of the four texts above (Acts, Titus, Didache, and 1 Clement) written by four different authors, is there any way that all four authors related the same way of choosing “bishops” and “elders” (or “pastors” if you prefer, although that term wasn’t used until much later).

If Acts 14:26 and Titus 1:5 indicate that ONLY Paul and Barnabas and ONLY Titus picked people to be “elders,” then we have to conclude that the Didache strays from that position.

Is it possible, though, that Luke did not intend to indicate that ONLY Paul and Barnabas were involved in appointing elders for the churches of Galatia? Is it possible that Paul did not intend to indicate that ONLY Titus was to appoint elders for the churches of Crete?

(By the way, within about 100 years of the texts listed here, the standard practice was for ONLY bishops to appoint bishops and elders, a practice which became known as successionism. But, as you can see, it was not that clear in the earliest Christian texts.)

Five Secrets (and more) Pastors MUST Tell

Posted by on Dec 10, 2012 in blog links, discipleship, elders | 5 comments

Last week, Adrian Warnock linked to a post from last June written by Thom Rainer called “Five Secrets Pastors Refuse to Tell.” The point of the original post is that pastors are often told secrets by other people and must keep those secrets in confidence. Similarly, pastors have secrets of their own – related to themselves and their families – that they do not tell others. As Rainer states, “These spiritual leaders refuse to share their thoughts or pains for fear that their own ministries will be damaged.”

What kinds of things are on Rainer’s lists of secrets kept by many (most?) pastors?

  1. “My marriage is struggling.”
  2. “I fear my kids will grow up hating the church.”
  3. “I let a handful of critics control me.”
  4. “I often have anger toward the supportive church members who don’t defend me to my critics.”
  5. “I’ve thought about quitting several times.”

I have a huge concern with this list and with similar lists. Now, I understand that there is a context to this list. When Rainer (and others) use the term “pastor” in contexts like this, they are referring to the leader(s) of a religious organization. This person may or may not be spiritually gifted at pastoring. This person may or may not be actually pastoring anyone. The title refers to a position within the organization.

When Rainer states, “These spiritual leaders refuse to share their thoughts or pains for fear that their own ministries will be damaged,” he’s referring to their position within the organization being damaged. And, keeping the kinds of secrets that Rainer lists (and other similar secrets) is a good way for someone to protect themselves and their positions within these organizations.

But, the problem is that when it comes to actually pastoring – actually shepherding other people in order to help them follow Jesus Christ and grow in maturity – keeping these kinds of secrets is antithetical to the desired goal.

You cannot help people learn to interact with their spouses in the Lord while at the same time keeping your own struggles a secret. You cannot teach people who to live with, love, and be at peace with those who oppose them or disagree with them by keeping secrets about those who oppose or disagree with you. You cannot show people what it means to follow Jesus Christ if you see your own role as something that can be “quit.”

How do we move away from the kind of life that believes it’s necessary to keep these kinds of secrets from brothers and sisters in Christ? I think it’s fairly simply… because I’ve been through it. It requires moving away from positional ministry among the church. It requires moving away from using and understanding terms like “pastor,” “evangelist,” etc. as positions and instead see and live them as ways to serve others. It requires refusing to see the “church” as an organization and instead to live with the people themselves as the church.

Are we willing to move away from these positional ways of thinking and more toward relational ways of thinking and living? If not, then it will be necessary to continue to keep these kinds of secrets from others in order to maintain our positions in the organization.

But, if we’re truly interested in pastoring – not in title, but in service in the Lord – then we will seek to open up our lives to others – warts and all – in order to help them follow Jesus Christ – even if it means we lose our positions among the organizations.

Consensus among the church… just wishful thinking?

Posted by on Sep 21, 2012 in church life, discipleship, elders, office | 18 comments

A couple of year ago, I wrote a series on the topic of Church Polity. You can see the links to the posts in that series above.

In almost every instance, the question of polity arises in the context of making decisions as a church. Occasionally, the concept of polity is also seen as overlapping the issue of authority among the church. In that series, I first stepped through the definitions, scriptural evidences, and scriptural problems with the concepts of Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational polities (governments).

I suggested that when turning to Scripture to support any of these polities, there are problems:

So far, in order to support any type of church polity, we must ignore the fact that there is no direct evidence, ignore passages that indicate indirectly other forms of church polity, and ignore the fact that polity is not important in any of the writings of the New Testament.

But, there is one more thing that we must ignore exegetically. We must ignore what Scripture says about all believers; things like the fact that all believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit or all believers have the mind of Christ. We must ignore the fact that believers are to submit to one another. (I would assume this includes leaders? Even bishops? Even the presbyters?) We must ignore that believers are to consider others (and the opinions and desires of others) as more important than themselves. (I would assume this would include the majority versus the minority.)

Then, I suggested that there is another way forward, a way that does not include episcopal, presbyterian, or congregational polity: consensus. I admitted that seeking consensus among a group of believers can be impractical and often time consuming. But, still, I believe that consensus – the entire church working together to come to a decision – best describes what we read about the church in Scripture.

Recently, I noticed that the series above gets quite a few hits (through various search engines). People reach that series by searching for “episcopal church polity,” or “presbyterian church polity,” or “congregational church polity.” Sometimes, combined search strings such as “episcopal presbyterian congregational” hit that series.

But, you know what I haven’t noticed? Very few people are searching for information about consensus. I thought there may be a few reasons for this:

1) People are using a different term other than “consensus.”
2) People interested in consensus are not searching for information.
3) People don’t think consensus is a viable option.

(Perhaps there are other reasons as well…)

But, I wonder, what do you think about consensus? Is it possible that a group of Christians can come together and make decisions by consensus? Or, is this just wishful thinking… idealism… too impractical?

Replay: Follow the Leader or Simon Says?

Posted by on Sep 8, 2012 in elders, service | 12 comments

Five years ago, I wrote a post called “Follow the leader or Simon says?” In the post, I compared the two children’s games “Follow the leader” and “Simon says.” Believe it or not, both children’s games have leaders, but the leader in one game functions quite differently than the leader in the other game. I one of these games is a good example of how “leaders” should function among the church, while the other game is a good example of how “leaders” often function today among the church… unfortunately.


Follow the leader or Simon says?

I’m working on a series about the role and function of elders among a community of believers. I’ve discussed leadership on this blog before, and those posts usually generate great discussions both online and off-line. I hope to begin publishing that series next week, but I may have to push it back another week. As I study, the series keeps expanding.

As I was thinking about the relationship between elders and leading, I thought about two children’s games: “Follow the leader” and “Simon says”.

In the game “Follow the leader”, children follow the actions of a “leader”. If the “leader” walks, then the others walk. If the “leader” runs, the the others run. The “leader” is doing everything as an example for others to “follow”. But, the important point here is that the “leader” is doing – he or she is active. The other children in line follow the example of the “leader’s” actions.

In the game “Simon says”, children follow the directions of a “leader”. If the “leader” says, “Walk”, then the others walk. If the “leader” says, “Run”, then the others run. The “leader” is not active. Instead, the “leader” tells the others what to do. The other children do not follow the example of the “leader’s” actions. Instead, the other children are supposed to follow the commands of the “leader”.

I think many churches are built around “Simon says” type leadership, while Jesus points to “Follow the leader” type leadership. In fact, there is only one “Simon” for the follower of Jesus Christ. And, while Jesus alone possesses the authority to command, he chose to come as a “Follow the leader” type leader.

We need more examples to follow, and less Simons to obey.

Most Read Post of 2010: Should pastors/elders be paid a salary?

Posted by on Jun 21, 2012 in elders | 1 comment

I’m out of town this week, so I’m linking to the most read posts on my blog from each year from 2007 to 2011.

The most read post on my blog from 2010 was “Should pastors/elders be paid a salary?

Please take the time to read that post and the comments from my readers.

Thank you, and I’ll “see” you again soon.

Most Read Post of 2007: The Church or The Organization

Posted by on Jun 18, 2012 in elders, missional, office | Comments Off on Most Read Post of 2007: The Church or The Organization

I’m out of town this week, so I’m linking to the most read posts on my blog from each year from 2007 to 2011.

The most read post on my blog from 2007 was “The Church or The Organization.”

Please take the time to read that post and the comments from my readers.

Thank you, and I’ll “see” you again soon.

The Vocational Pastor: examine all the evidence

Posted by on Jun 8, 2012 in elders | 3 comments

I’m working through a few posts on the topic of discussing the “vocational pastor” – that is, I’m looking at the connection between elders/pastors and salaries in Scripture. In the first two posts (“The Vocational Pastor: an interesting discussion” and “The Vocational Pastor: keeping on topic“), I primarily wrote about why this is a difficult topic to discuss. The topic is personal and emotional for almost everyone involved. In the third post (“The Vocational Pastor: the definitions I use“), I explained what I mean by the phrase “vocational pastor.” Then, in the previous post (“The Vocational Pastor: tradition, background, and perspective“), I suggested that it is important to know a person’s background in order to better understand their perspective on this topic (or any other topic, for that matter).

So, what’s next? If we’ve carefully considered how to approach the topic, we’ve defined our terms, and we understand each other’s perspective, what do we do next? Well, we examine the evidence – all of the evidence. Since my desire is to examine the connection between salaries and elders/pastors in Scripture, then my evidence would primarily come from Scripture. Secondary sources, experiences, etc. would only be helpful in explaining Scripture. (Now, it might be beneficial to examine this topic based on other evidence besides Scripture, but that’s not my goal here.)

The difficulty is that there is no specific passage in Scripture that either commands or forbids salaries for elders/pastors. There is no “smoking gun,” if you will. (Someone could disagree with me on this point, of course.) Thus, any position that someone might hold on this topic would be derived from many different passages. And, that’s why it is important to study all of the evidence.

Plus, each passage would have to be studied in context to determine if and/or how it might relate to this specific topic. Is the passage related to salaries or some other type of benefit (financial or otherwise)? Is the passage related to elders? If either salaries or elders is not directly addressed in the passage, then an argument must be made to connect the passage to salaries and/or elders in spite of their direct absence. Furthermore, once you have determined that a passage of Scripture does (or does not) connect salaries with elders/pastors, you still need to figure out how the topics are (or are not) connected within that passage.

Finally, it’s important to understand the argument and position of those who disagree with you. At what point do they disagree? What evidence do they use? Are you examining the same evidence (even if you come to different conclusions)? If not, then you will probably end up talking past one another.

So, when discussing a topic like this, it is not generally helpful to throw your favorite Bible verse – even if you feel it is the lynch pin in your argument. Instead, it’s much more helpful to carefully consider and examine all of the available evidence, and carefully and thoughtfully consider the positions of those who disagree with you.

So, this is the end of my series on how to discuss the topic of the connection between elders/pastors and salaries in Scripture. The point of this series was NOT to present my position (although I do have a position, which is that Scripture does not support the practice of paying someone a salary in order for that person to be an elder/pastor). Instead, the point of this series was to help us all discuss this topic.

What would you add to this? What can we do to make this a topic that is easier to discuss, especially between those who disagree?