“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.”  1 Timothy 5.17

Yesterday was the graduation of the class of 2013 for Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary.  This is a special class because it’s the only class I’ve taught from the beginning of their seminary, from beginning biblical criticism to advanced preaching.  If I were to give a graduation speech to them, this is what I would’ve said.

I have noticed a phenomenon of our generation of pastors.  Ministry has become the platform for big business.  Of course, this does not apply everyone but some of the most influential and successful pastors are platform builders.  Imagine this conversation.

Elder of the church: So, the expense on this other trip that piggybacks off a church conference  should not be billed to the church.

Pastor: But I was promoting our church, and this is kingdom work.

Elder: But you were networking.  We’re going to deny your expense request.

Yes, this kind of conversation actually happens more often than you imagine.

Let me put the matter in less spiritual terms.  Fame and networking are two main causes of church growth for many churches. Once a church gets to a certain size, the pastor will gain some fame. In order to have a bigger church, he has to network with other “associations” not only for resources but also contacts in order to look good AND get bigger.  Soon enough, his new-found network of “friends” will begin inviting him to speak.  Very soon, his schedule will fill up with podcasts, interviews, Youtube informercials, and other promotions.  Finally, he’ll get to write his own book.  In order to promote that book, he’ll need to build bigger network, complete with publicists and agents.  Yes, that’s how the game is played.  Obviously, it is more fun and glamorous to stay in fancy hotels, sign books, talk to adoring fans, have audiences hang on to your every word whether the word is heretical or offensive and get paid for all that than to visit dying cancer patients or counseling couples whose marriages are on the rocks.  Many of my students see this.  Many secretly admire this.  Some of them even articulate openly that they WANT this.  A few shamelessly lust after this.  They will also play the game.

Now, all of us only have 7 days and 24 hours.  Most of us have families.  Adding church responsibilities, something has to give.  Many big church pastors no longer manage or pastor their own churches. Instead, they’re mostly on the road during the week to speak to all the people in their network.  The world becomes their parish. After all, if the associates can pastor the church, why does the lead pastor have to?  Well, the answer is simple.  It is because that’s what the pastor is hired to do, to pastor.

Imagine C. Ronaldo the soccer star giving clinics and shooting commercials.  Imagine if he gets paid so much that he just flies around all week without practicing with Real Madrid.  Since he’s so good, he can just play on Sunday with no practice or conditioning during the week. I don’t think his manager will approve.  See? This is the stranger thing about religion. Whatever that is not acceptable in the professional world can still find its place among the religion’s biggest stars because big business is good business.  I call this the anti-shepherding model.

If anyone wants to do the speaking circuit and networking platform thing, I would advice him or her to quit the pastoral work and go full-time speaking (like me) so that neither the family nor the church suffers from the absentee leader.  However, the risk is big because without the full-time salary of the church and the fancy title, the freelance person might be left naked with no cool business cards.  I would hope none of my students ever aspire to be that kind of minister because the author of 2 Timothy clearly advised, “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” (2 Timothy 2.4-5) The pleasure of the commanding officer and the rules involve caring for the flock and prioritizing the management of one’s family.  You can’t pastor the world and everyone else’s family.  You can however pastor your local church and manage your own family.

When the business side of ministry takes over, less and less real ministry will get done.  Soon enough, ministry will be ALL business.  Then, ministry is dead!