In the 90s I overdosed on all things John Maxwell (that's shorthand for applying business and leadership principles to the church's affairs). So when I first picked up Mark L. Russell's book The Missional Entrepreneur to review for Missiology (a journal), I cringed.
Admittedly, the first few chapters dragged a bit as Russell explains BAM (business as mission). Don't get me wrong, the chapters were good, but I wondered where he was going with it all. Was this John Maxwell part 2 or was it something genuinely relevant and insightful? Once I hit the book's second section, "Learning from the Apostle Paul," I conceded; this guy's got something to say.
Summarizing, Russell explores why the Apostle Paul chooses to preach the gospel free of charge. In a new take on "follow the money," Russell explains, in a no-nonsense way, why issues surrounding money have thwarted Kingdom expansion and caused good men and women to feel inferior as ministers of the gospel.
Paul Chooses to Preach the Gospel Free of Charge
Excerpted from The Missional Entrepreneur by Mark L. Russell
In order to accept patronage, Paul would have had to give up a substantial amount of personal liberty, which he felt was necessary in order to accomplish his God-given task of planting new churches in previously untouched territories. Essentially he would have had to do what he was told by his patron. This is something he was unwilling to do, especially given the obvious spiritual immaturity of the wealthy in [the Corinthian] congregation.
In Corinth, Paul rebuffs attempts by the social elite to offer their patronage. The situation is amplified because he works a "lowly trade." He wants to offer the gospel free of charge and asserts his "right" to refuse patronage. Paul used tentmaking in Corinth and other places because it was useful to the gospel. Patronage would have isolated him from the outside world and caused him to be consumed by the social network of patrons and clients. He preferred to have ready access to average people who would frequent the market.
Another problem related to patronage is that it tends to create an atmosphere conducive to greed and/or compromise. In seminary, a professor told me that he once had an offer to serve as a theological consultant to a wealthy businessman. The man would pay the professor a monthly stipend for the right to call him up and pose a question whenever he so desired. The professor wanted to accept this job as he could have used the funds. However, he refused and instead offered his services for free to the would-be benefactor. He explained his reason for refusing by simply stating he was too weak to do it: He knew that he would be unable to say whatever he truly believed once money was integrated in the process. There are many accounts in the Old Testament of professed prophets who simply said what their benefactors wanted them to say (2010:112).
When I entered professional ministry, I was pummeled by a litany of Christian battle cries. Perhaps you'll recognize a few. "Christians aren't supposed to retire." "Christianity isn't safe." "We serve a dangerous God." "Carry your cross." Well, call it naivete, I took it all seriously. I thought the whole "reckless abandon" thing was how we were supposed to do it.
Was I ever wrong. As time passed, I learned there was often little substance behind the rhetoric. Some of my "colleagues" were earning some pretty fat salaries and enjoying rather substantial gains on either their 401k or 403b plans. I'll never forget a rather awkward moment when I shared with two fellow ministers that I had no health insurance for my family (the risks I had taken to advance the gospel wouldn't allow for it). I was met with that deafening silence only those who've "been there" can understand.
Sometimes I watch Paul Washer's preaching videos (just do a google search - pick a fiery one) to remind myself I'm (relatively) sane. And I thank God for insights like this one. "Paul [the Apostle] was probably a textbook case of what sociologists now call status inconsistency, a term used when a person's social position have both positive and negative influences on her or his social status. For example, in many countries teachers have a positive societal image coming from respect and prestige for the position. This increases their status. But, teachers also frequently earn relatively little money, which simultaneously lowers their status" (Russell 2010:92).
Call me delusional, but I still buy into the battle cries. Call me reckless, but I'm fundamentally a barbarian. I am in chains for the gospel and, frankly, the dungeon is sometimes wet and cold. I share all this because it's important that we soberly discern what God, in fact, is "blessing." We simply cannot let the allure of safety and what's "growing" dictate how we minister. Remember, we serve a dangerous God.