After many years, an old friend reached out to me out of the blue to see if he could come by my house, see my family and catch up. We arranged some time and about 30 minutes into our conversation, that uncomfortable shift happened: “So the real reason I wanted to catch up was…” Usually these words are followed by some kind of critique on my pastoring, which can be painful, but this was somehow worse. “I work for an insurance company…”
He had been trained well, but I already knew the pitch and immediately tried to shut it down. This was not the reason I had invited him over. But he persisted until they found the magic bullet: “Jamin, you want your family to be taken care of, don’t you?” That was the moment he won my money, but lost my trust. With that statement I no longer felt like a person, but like dollar signs.
Congregants sometimes feel like church leaders do the same thing to them. Even in the least-money-hungry churches, the longest prayer of the service is reserved for the offering. And in the most-money-hungry churches, the name of the Lord gets sinfully taken in vain to incur riches upon riches. But the Apostle Paul, who had all the right in the world to make big bucks off the church, didn’t do so. While he was, of course, open to the generosity of the church, he did not do so at the cost of turning people into dollar signs. Indeed, he spoke against church leaders who did such things, saying that a qualification of ministry was that the minister was not “greedy” or “a lover of money.” He taught that money was the root of all evils and gave the same kind of severe warnings about money that Jesus himself did.
To further prove the genuineness of his love and concern for the church in Ephesus, he made a living off another job and qualified doing so by saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” He lived in a world where philosophers sought out financial gain through fees and leeching off the rich, doing all they could to avoid manual labor. But Paul embraced labor while serving the church nonstop, showing them how deep his heart was for them. They were not just an exchange of goods to him—they were the chosen people of God that he invested in with generosity and tears.
And that’s perhaps another lessons pastors could learn here. So many pastors today are afraid of burnout and set strict rules in place to keep them from giving “too much” of themselves. Some might be completely opposed to helping anyone on a specific day every week. Others might intentionally buy a house far away from their community so they’re less likely to have any extra interaction with their members. While all pastors need to be able to say “no,” sometimes the limits we set up are antithetical to our roles as pastors. All pastors will burnout at some point whether or not you protect your time—that just comes with the territory of pastoral work. If you stay grounded in Jesus, you’ll get over the mandatory cycle of burnout and learn what the best practices are to protect your time and energy wisely. But if we are not generous givers with our time and energy, like Paul was, then we will miss out on the blessedness that comes with such giving.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 20:17-38 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.