Moving Toward a Fulltime Ministry

Nehemiah 13:3 – 14 “Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude. 4 And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: 5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. 6 But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: 7 And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8 And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense. 10 And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. 11 Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place. 12 Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries. 13 And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.”

There are three salient points in this passage that relate to the ministry and secular work:

1. “Tobiah is in the Treasury.”
2. “The Levite is in the field.”
3. “The House of God is forsaken.”

Tobiah was an Ammonite servant, who apparently had been freed, and even rose to a position of some political prominence in his society. He had managed to form an alliance with Eliashib, the Hebrew high priest in Jerusalem, a perfect example of an unequal yoking. He was one of the two conspirators who hired a man to warn Nehemiah of death threats and tempt him into entering the Holy Place to save himself. Their intent was either to discredit him in the eyes of the influential priests, or to result in his death, as the Hebrews might expect for one who trespassed into the Holy Place.  Just as Nehemiah had no privilege to enter into the Holy Place, neither did Tobiah have any right to have lodgings in the Treasury. His presence there was a contributing factor in the decline of the material support for the Levites, which forced them to secure their own livelihoods by farming. The Levites’ need to provide for themselves, and their families, resulted in a general diminishing of their service in the House of God.  This is the situation in view when the Lord challenged the people with having “corrupted the covenant of Levi” in Malachi 2:8. It is manifest that Almighty God intended the priests and Levites to be supported through the various tithes and even some of the specified offerings of the people. He expected them to be completely free to attend to preparation and service in the House of God. It is equally manifest that the presence of Tobiah in the Treasury was an obstacle to the  fulfillment of this plan.

Nehemiah asked God to remember him because he removed Tobiah from the Treasury, brought the Levites in from the field, and restored to the House of God and to the people the full-time ministry God had ordained. There are not many things influential laymen can do that should make them bold enough to commend themselves to the Lord, but making sure that the ministry receives that measure of financial support which enables them to give their full attention to the ministry God has given them is certainly one of them.

There are any number of “Tobiahs” that have been allowed to take residence in the House of God these days. There is one related to this topic that needs to be specifically addressed. It is a manner of sacrificing that is easy for a dedicated man of God to adopt, and even easier for the people of God to allow. It has all the appearance of nobility, finds acceptability in the sight of men, and insures that the Lord will be less than pleased. It was a course chosen by the Apostle Paul in his early dealings with the Corinthian church, and one for which he asked forgiveness of them when he was nearing the end of his ministry. “For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. “ 2 Corinthians 12:13.

What is this particular “Tobiah”? It is the mindset that causes the pastor to hesitate to ask the people to carry their share of the financial sacrifices to support the ministry as it ought to be supported. Ministers seem more than willing to continue in secular work to support not only their own families, but also provide for the needs of their churches. Additionally, the people seem to be content with this easing of their own responsibilities. This thinking is a Tobiah, and it needs to be put out of the House of God. This thinking guarantees that the victim congregation will be inferior to other churches, and the ministry’s energy diverted away from the more important service to God and His people.

It is not the intent of this article to condemn any pastor or minister who must engage in secular employment to provide for his family. There was no condemnation to the Levites who were forced into the fields. Rather, it is the contention of this article that both minister and layman must work together to get the minister into a full-time ministry as soon as it is possible, even if it is burdensome for the congregation, even if it forces ministers into a vulnerability that they would like to avoid. None of us want to be accused of greed, or of devouring widow’s houses (and this article condones neither). But, the fact exists, that while proper support of the ministry will be burdensome to both congregation and minister for a time, properly bearing that burden will also provoke God into making that burden light. The congregation will prosper, and grow as the Lord adds to it.  With these things in mind, please consider the following eight suggestions as a method for moving toward a full-time pastoral ministry.

1. Reassert the principle that it is more important to do it right than it is to merely get it done.
Remember, the foolish man did build a house. He expended all of the labor and resources needed to get a work done that was satisfactory to all outward appearances as long as the sun was shining. It is possible to labor, but to labor in vain. It is more important that you and your work be of God than it is that it solves the apparent and temporary need and desire, or garners the accolades of men. Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, but God sent sustenance to only one widow. Many  lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, but only Naaman the Syrian was cleansed. Fulfilling His purpose His way ought to be more important to us than anything else.

2. Redefine the paradigm to fit the need rather than simply accepting the dominant example.
You might discover that the existing church model does not fit either your congregation’s need, or the scriptural example. Do not be afraid to follow the leading of the Lord to change how you define “church.” Perhaps a centralized house of worship is not the model you need to follow. Do not follow your own understanding!

3. Remap the course to take you where you need to be rather than to get to the more distant goal.
Do you need a church building (see item 1. above)? If so, consider it the more distant goal. A full-time ministry is the more urgent need, so you can spend your time more effectively in the work of that ministry. Financial freedom, for yourself and the congregation is much more important than a building. Remember, in the Book of Acts they had revival without buildings. In spite of what you have been trained to believe, buildings do not build congregations. Congregations build buildings, and they do it when the Lord directs them to do so, or when an overeager leader demands it. Patience, preacher, is still a virtue.

4. Refine your sacrifice rather than surrendering to “spiritual superiority.”
It is sometimes easier for the minister to be the leading giver in the congregation than it is to encourage the people to carry their share of the load. Sometimes we take a special pride in the measure of our dedication and sacrifice, especially if it is greater than that of those we lead. You will eventually have to ask forgiveness for allowing such motives to direct your actions, just as Paul did. It is far better to encourage your congregation to do right, taking the more difficult road, and let them experience the provision of the Lord. You may have to sacrifice that part of your reputation in order to build righteousness into the financial lives of your people.

5. Reeducate the people of the congregation rather than assigning blame for what is lacking.
God’s people do not need to be condemned for failure, but encouraged to succeed. Certainly there are some who will not do right, but that part of the congregation who are being led by the Holy Spirit will be saved by the preaching of what is right. They will learn the truth, and follow its directions, and become what God intends them to be. It was not their idea to put Tobiah in the Treasury, and they will follow a leader who teaches them what is right, and is determined to do it. If you need a third party to do this teaching, obtain one, even if it is simply a qualified lay leader (Nehemiah was neither a Levite or a priest).

6. Reassure your heart and that of the people, that you are part of the LORD’s church.
He knows your needs before you ask Him, and it is His good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Every good gift and every perfect gift is coming down from Him, and He will freely give you all things along with the gift of His Son. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

7. Reestablish “Leadership Stewardship” rather than imposing sacrifice on the next leader.
Most pastors have trouble with this one. Let it be plainly stated: do not obligate the tithe for any other purpose other than the support of the ministers of the church. If you obligate some portion of the tithes to pay a mortgage, or rent, or any other expense of the facility of worship, you must have some provision to pay off that obligation before you leave that pastorate. The tithe does not belong to you, but to God, and He has designated it to provide a full-time income for the ministry in that congregation. It would be better if you did not obligate the next pastor’s income for any other purpose than being his income. The need for the next man will probably arrive sooner than you expect, and almost certainly sooner than you plan.

8. Reapply the resources.
If the pastor and the congregation obey God’s plan for the finances,  the tithes of ten faithful wage earning families provide an average full-time wage for one minister and his family. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the senior pastor shouldn’t receive the average income of most well-paid families in the congregation. An associate pastor might receive the average of the second ten, and so on, until the full ministerial staff is working full time in edifying the body of Christ and reaching the lost.

This course may be a means of revitalizing the commitment of the congregation, and enduing them with a fresh anointing of the power of God. This will result in them taking responsibility for the proper care of the facilities of worship, of their brothers and sisters in The Lord, and of the welfare of their leaders. In addition, that will result in an environment of Expectation and evangelization in which the character of Christ can be reproduced into the lives of the redeemed.  Finally, please remember that this article does not criticize any minister who is forced to Engage in secular employment to provide for his family (1Timothy 5:8). There are few Circumstances which will allow for a church to be birthed without the minister going through a time of personal “tent making” to provide for his own family. Each minister who must make that sacrifice is to be commended for endurance and diligence. This is also true for those who pastor churches that are presently too small to support them in full-time ministry. Do not let Tobiah into the Treasury, and if he is there already, kick him out. All of God’s people will be glad when both of you are put in the right place.

Written by Cliff Readout