You have received without paying, so give without being paid. Do not carry any gold, silver, or copper money in your pockets; do not carry a beggar’s bag for the trip or an extra shirt or shoes or a walking stick. A worker should be given what he needs.
[Jesus’ 12 disciples are sent out on a mission trip with these instructions. For background see Days 83-84.]
OK, Jesus. You are sending your disciples off on a mission trip where their success is solely dependent on the supernatural power of God (see Day 84). In this next instruction you also tell them that they must also rely solely on God and the kindness of strangers for all of their material needs. No money for food or water or housing or other necessities. You send them out with no help, no backup plan, no safety net. No crutches – literally; you even takes away their walking sticks! Not only is it possible that they may make total fools of themselves if those expected healings don’t occur; they could starve.
Can you really imagine going on a trip with no money? We’re not talking about a little money, or a shoestring budget. We are talking about NO money – no credit cards, no checkbooks, no pennies. Nothing. No money. Now that’s walking by faith and not by sight for sure (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Again, Jesus wasn’t just fooling around when he gave the Sermon on the Mount. He doesn’t want agreement in principle; he expects total commitment from his followers. In the Sermon on the Mount he asserts that we need not worry about physical needs (Days 49-53) and that God will provide those who believe in him with everything they need (Days 57-58). So, if one believes in what Jesus says, then of course one would not need to take any money on a mission trip. Why would a person need money? God will provide.
Further, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that you can’t serve both God and money (Day 47), so of course the disciples cannot be paid for their services. I can relate to this one. I think there’s a real danger when you mix spiritual leadership with salaries. In my experience things can go bad very quickly.
Soon after I married John, I started getting involved in music ministry at the church. After a couple of years they hired me to be the music director and organist. I quickly learned what it meant to be a paid church musician in an aging church. You are, for all intent and purposes, a human jukebox. They put a quarter in the slot and you are required to provide whatever music the most assertive people in the church want to hear. I was forced to set aside what I thought the Holy Spirit wanted me to do in favor of keeping the people of the church happy. I remember the first time one of the elders of the church said they wanted to hear Chopin. Chopin, really? Dark, melancholy, moody, godless Chopin? I mean, I like Chopin as much as the next person, and I also like the Rolling Stones, but that doesn’t mean that I think either one is appropriate for an inspirational church experience.
Eventually the church started to change and it was clear that the music was going to have to change as well. There was a lot of disagreement in the congregation, and I decided that it was time to stop listening to what everyone else wanted and start doing what I felt was right in my heart. So, I said I would continue under the condition that I did it as a volunteer. After that it was a whole new ballgame. I felt free, I was treated with respect, and I was able to put the music together in a way that actually ministered to people who were seeking more of God. I opened up the music program to everyone and gave them freedom to express their spirituality through their own music. They were free to share whatever they wanted – even Chopin – but I refused to do it for them. They had to do it for themselves.
In 2001 I heard Ralph Neighbor, the church “cell group” guru, talk about his experience as a pastor. After decades of ministry there was an incident that made him realize that the people of his church, whom he loved deeply, didn’t look at him as a fellow Christian. He realized that they looked at him as a hired hand, a paid employee. He was emotionally devastated by this epiphany. He made the decision to retire from professional ministry and promote the creation of church structures that don’t require paid professionals. He said that it was bad for both the paid pastor and the congregations that felt entitled to enslave them.
Money easily corrupts ministry. When you are paid, you are inherently subject to the control of others. It’s easy to set aside your better judgment and do only those things which are safe and noncontroversial. You find yourself so busy trying to make people happy that you ignore the voice of God. At least that’s what happens to people like me and Ralph Neighbor. The disease to please. And certainly this doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus. He never worried about pleasing anyone. He didn’t believe in money, he was unruly, he was absolutely uncompromising. On the other hand my sister has always been a paid church musician and she has never felt compromised. She doesn’t turn into a slave. I work a few hours a week in a church office and I don’t have trouble feeling compromised in that position, but I guess that’s because it’s not a ministry position – it’s strictly administrative with very limited responsibility.
So Jesus says that if you want to have an effective ministry you need to travel light. Dangerously light, relying solely on God. It’s a hard sell to 21st century Americans. Churches are addicted to money – pastors, congregations, and musicians alike. And people wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do if society got rid of money. But Jesus says that if you want to deliver his message effectively, you need to give up your money addiction and go cold turkey. Unless you’re like my sister; she doesn’t seem to take it too seriously. Despite the fact that she doesn’t have much, she gives a lot away. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t turn into a slave like I do.
What does this scripture say to you?