I recently brought together our entire staff and a small number of core volunteer leaders to teach about our leadership DNA. One of the first questions I asked was this: Why do we pay certain people to do things that most Christians are called to do for free?

As I explained in part 1, I don’t think there is a whole lot of biblical support for paying gospel workers who are not directly connected to the burden of primary leadership (shepherding and management) or preaching and teaching within the local church. As I posed the above question to a couple dozen people in the room who receive a paycheck from our local church, more than a few eyebrows went up. My answer to that question:

We pay a staff to disciple a people…who will disciple more people.

When I say “disciple,” I mean developing people as followers of Jesus. We believe salvation is of the Lord, that God is sovereign in salvation, and that He saves His people by His grace and for His glory. We don’t think a person captains his or her own spiritual journey. We’re not working to manufacture decisions or manipulate behaviors. But we do think you can recognize the work of God’s Spirit in a person. We think gospel roots produce gospel fruit. To massively oversimplify it; we recognize a disciple in our local church context as someone who…

Gathers → Grows → Gives → Goes (to make more disciples)

Shows up → Grows up → Shares → Serves (to make more disciples)

Connects → Is Cultivated → Contributes → Distributes[1] (to make more disciples)

Generally speaking, these four things are indications of fruit in a person’s life, fruit that speaks to their rootedness in Christ and the gospel.

  • They show up.
  • They have a growing and developing spiritual life (prayer, Word, character, gifts).
  • They mature from a taker/consumer to a giver/contributor.
  • They begin to ‘get it,’ which manifests in a passion and spirit-empowerment to engage mission—to make more disciples.

We try to keep our eye on the discipleship ball when we’re talking about paying a church staff. We don’t pay people to run programs, but to equip people. A paid staff member must be a disciple-making disciple.

We don’t pay people to run programs, but to equip people. Click To Tweet

That being said—every single person on our church staff plays one of these two roles:

1) Carry the burden
2) Lighten the load for those carrying the burden

“The burden”
Oversight of the church (which is the biblical charge of elders) involves shepherding and management. There is a weight of responsibility on the shoulders of those called to this kind of oversight that is not shared (by Christ) with those who are not called to eldership. The specific weight of that burden is probably a good post for another day. The job description of carrying that burden has two parts to it:

1) Shepherding through the ministry of the Word
2) Managing the discipleship of God’s people

As part 1 explained, the Bible prescribes that a ‘laborer is worth his wages.’ There are two practical ways that those carrying the burden can receive compensation from a local church:

Paying them directly, so they can focus on the work part-time or full-time.
Paying others to help them, so they can focus on the work more fully.

Lightening the load for those carrying the burden:

In the first several months of the NT church, the load of ministry and discipleship outgrew the Apostle’s personal capacity.[2] The Holy Spirit led them to create a new role in church ministry and leadership. This role allowed the apostles to ‘devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.’ The role would eventually develop into a service-focused ministry known as “deacon.”

Lightening the load has two parts to it:

1) Assist in the shepherding and ministry of the word
2) Assist in the management of the discipleship of God’s people

In a very real way, since the non-elder vocational (paid) roles are not a Scriptural prescription, the #ONEJOB of these staff roles is to assist pastors by lightening the load, so that carrying the burden is less burdensome.

In a very frustrating way, church staffs can often become more of a burden than they lift. I say this from personal experience in large church settings. I don’t say this as a shot at any single person or group of individuals, but professional personnel management is not actually a biblical role of local church elders. Note the word professional. This means, local churches really shouldn’t be paying people who need a ton of management. Churches also shouldn’t be paying people who have to spend a ton of time in managing other people who are paid.

Management is a cottage industry in the American business world because people need to be managed. However, there is a key difference between the business of the business world and the business of the church. What is the difference? The church is not in the business business; the church is in the disciple business. Meaning, the actual product is people.[3] Christ is doing the building of his people, but he has given human leaders to the church as a primary means of accomplishing this task.[4] This means that nearly every single ounce of management bandwidth must be targeted toward the actual mission of the church—which is equipping people to be the church. Local church leaders don’t have time, energy, or resource to spend on excessive or continual management of people who are paid by the church.  

This means that everyone who gets a paycheck from a local church should not only be engaging in a biblically valid leadership role within the ministry of the church, but they should be either carrying the burden of an elder (prayer, word ministry) or significantly lightening the load for elders by serving the mission of the church in tremendously productive, low-maintenance, and drama-free ways.

By all means pay a church staff. But make sure that the people who are paid are employed in the work of discipleship. The mission is too important, resources are too valuable, stewardship is too necessary, to get sidetracked.

[1] 1 Peter 4:10

[2] Acts 6:1ff

[3] Ephesians 2:18-22

[4] Ephesians 4:7-16