You might say that St. Paul made a career out of church. I wouldn’t deny it. I think he did. I would say St. James did too. St. John might have. Not sure who else we know from the Bible who really made a career of it. But there probably are others.
And sure enough, St. Paul defends the idea of paying evangelists for their work, but he denied it to himself. So, even though it seems complicated, there is nothing wrong with receiving compensation for the work done serving a church.
I want to say there is a difference between vocation and career. If you answer a call to serve the church as a full-time minister and receive compensation for it, then surely that is a vocation. But to my way of thinking, the word career carries other baggage with it.
It seems to me that a vocation to serve the church in ministry should be a different category of livelihood than all the others. And there are some noble professions out there, but this is different from those too. Serving a church should be a matter of humility, but the bigger the paycheck, the less humble it is.
And the thing is that in any profession, noble or not, those building careers in them work very hard at self-advancement and development. They seek, not only more responsibility, but advancement up the ranks, better pay, retirement plans, and all the perks. St. Paul worked himself in and out of jail until they finally beheaded him for all his trouble, and this is a minister who refused to accept a paycheck. Martyrdom was common among the Apostles and many of the early church leaders. But you don’t find in any career counseling sessions or brochures.
All the ministers I know, even those of a rather humble nature, expect a paycheck commensurate with their advancement in career. They might live in modest dwellings, at least a few of them, but they live quite comfortably and respectably, it seems to me. And that is not mentioning the great ones! Book tours, seminars, private jets… this stuff is not at all unheard of amid career ministers. But martyrdom sure is.
I think our colleges and seminaries are putting our budding ministers in hopes of, and often enough on track with, career plans with all the bells and whistles of most all the others. And I think this both reflects the mentality of the church and helps shape it. Churches are now trying to be respectable places that fit in the community and accessorize the culture rather than hold it to account, critique it, challenge it, and counter it with humility and sacrifice.
Thus the church doesn’t look like the Body of Christ I see on the pages of the Bible. And I think this is confusing for those inside the church and those outside it. And I think those making careers of it are adding to the problem, no matter how noble their service is otherwise.