Missionary for Hire

Being a missionary is both a divine calling and a professional vocation. These two truths exist in constant tension with each other. This is true of other forms of ministry as well.

Micah’s Idol

Take the story of Micah and the Levite in Judges 17-18. The two main characters are Micah, an Israelite living in Laish, and a Levite from Bethlehem, but looking for a new place to live and work. You can read the story yourself. Micah was a syncretized Israelite. He believed in the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. He was also a pious person desiring to have his own special place to worship God. However, much of the way he understood God and worshiped him was in line with regional pagan understandings. He set up an idol (“graven image”) in his own house (along with already having little “house gods” already there) and he set up one of his sons as a priest of God. This all was in violation of Mosaic Law. As the writer said in the book of Judges, people did whatever was seen as right in their own eyes.

When a Levite from Bethlehem came by, Micah offered to make him a priest. This was also in violation of Mosaic Law, but since the man was a Levite, he was tied to the ministry work of God. Clearly, having a Levite as a priest would be more presitious than having his own son. Micah offered a really sweet deal of position and wealth. The Levite accepted. However, later on the Danites (a tribe of Israel) found the place, stole the idol of Micah, and offered the Levite a promotion… being priest of the whole tribe.

In the story we see a minister (the Levite) looking for work. It appears that his decision-making process was primarily guided by pay, position, and prestige. He worked for Micah, because of good pay and the title of priest. He then switched to working for the Danites since he retained the good stuff of before but was added the prestige of being the religious professional for a whole tribe.

Yet, the story also shows the Levite giving up a lot as well. He had to violate Mosaic moral law. He had to worship and serve a graven image (an idol) in violation of the Decalogue. He violated Mosaic ceremonial law. A Levite (who was not of the Aaronic line) could not serve as a priest. Finally, he served money and people rather than God. His decision-making was based on pay, position, and prestige, rather than on what God wanted.

The story of Micah and the Levite is pretty straightforward, and sometimes things are pretty straightforward today. I have seen ministers who follow the money. Heterodox groups come in (here in the Philippines, this is quite common) and offer money to ministers if they will change allegiances. Again, pay, position, and prestige are used to lure the person to serving a god that is somewhat similar to the one they were trained to serve, but is somewhat different now.

The story of Micah and the Levite is pretty straightforward, but sometimes things are NOT straightforward today. Serving God in ministry often results in opportunities to serve in different places in different roles. This is not inherently bad.

There are some who assume that a divine calling to ministry is either tied to a specific role, or to a specific location. This does not appear to be correct. First, there appears to be little evidence of such a calling in the Bible (especially, the New Testament). Second, the church fathers appeared not to follow that either. Take, for example, John Mark. John Mark began ministry as a helper of Barnabbas. Later on, he served as a helper of Paul and of Peter. This type of work is apostolic (missionary role).  However, later in life he changed role and location, becoming bishop (pastor) of the church of Alexandria. Another example appears to be St. John. He served as an apostle for many years. But what about later in life? It depends on who you ask. The church fathers note a person called John the Elder who served in Ephesus. Some church fathers show John the Apostle as the same person as John the Elder, but some disagree. I would like to suggest that the confusion that people had in later centuries was based on confusion as to what an apostle was. An apostle was a missionary, a church-planter. It is a role outside of the local church. I believe that John did the same thing as John Mark. As he got older, he “retired” from the travel and responsibilities of the apostolic role, and moved to serving in a local church (Ephesus) as an elder.

There are other examples as well. The challenge then is this:

1.  Maturity and opportunities may mean that it is needed, appropriate, or desirable to change ministerial role or location.

2.  It is not wrong in and of itself to change role or location.

3.  I believe that we have a certain amount of freedom in this, but not total freedom. Paul appeared to have a great deal of freedom to go where he wanted to go, yet God did step in to guide him away from one area to send him to Macedonia.

4.  The freedom God gives is limited by God’s will. Serving a ministry that violates God’s Word and will.

5.  Pay, Position, and Prestige are not bad of themselves, but one must be sure that these are not used to rationalize serving in the wrong role, the wrong place, or the wrong person (or god).

6.  I don’t believe that making a wrong choice, leads necessarily to failure. I do believe that Paul made a mistake in not recognizing divine warning from church leaders about going to Jerusalem. However, regardless, God used him. We can make mistakes, and correct later if necessary.

7.  I believe that the guiding principle is the Great Commandment. Our priorities are love of God and love of man (rather than pay, position, and prestige).

Anyway, that is the way I see it now. But I am learning and growing as well.

One thought on “Missionary for Hire

  1. Pingback: Seeing Many Worlds 052212 « Mennonite Preacher

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