Entitlement

I’ve been thinking about posture. My posture. The Church’s posture. I hear the call of Jesus to live humbly, graciously, thankfully, servant-like – no more than servant-like – as servants. I am trying to attend to my posture.

I don’t think anyone owes me anything. I am not entitled to anything. This isn’t about me – life, the day dawning, my ministry, even my salvation. This is all gift. No one owes me a living – not society, not the Church, not God. The Church does not exist to support me as a minister (sometimes I see behaviours that suggest otherwise). For goodness sake, if one day I need to go and get a job that provides me with an income so that I can minister in the Church, that’s fine! The Church does not owe me a living. That they do provide it baffles me. How come these good people set aside a portion of their life that I might live? I operate and survive in a daily rhythm of the sacrifice of others. I cannot do enough to repay their generosity. The best I can do is not take it for granted, and not behave as if I am owed anything. I owe them. For that, I will work hard, honestly, and humbly. I will try, anyway. These people are living treasures, how can I serve them and honour them? The idea of stipend is not inscribed in scripture – even Paul, who talked of fair-pay for a person for her/his labour, had no expectation of full-time living allowance. The Church owes me nothing, but gives me everything. How amazing!

I am learning to live in a rhythm of gratitude. I have noticed that it can be infectious. Oh, and I don’t know everything. I am not the fount of all knowledge. I, like the rest of my colleagues, and every single one of the people I serve, only get to see through a glass dimly. I might know enough to know, but I don’t know a hang of a lot more, and, to quote Bono, “the more I see, the less I know and the more I find out as I go”. So I am becoming more careful in the pulpit – that place where the power can be intoxicating, and become for some, a pedestal.

I wonder too about the Church’s posture. I do not think the Church is entitled to anything. It too operates in the circle of gift – in the wake of the giving up of life by the Lord of the Church, in the wake of the death-defying power of resurrection, in the promise of eternal presence, in the power of the Spirit who whispers and blows inside and outside the fences (thanks JKB). But the Church’s behaviour over the centuries has reflected postures other than humility. Lording over, demanding, manipulating, threatening, judging, withholding, hoarding, murdering, ostracising, ignoring… Maybe we Presbyterians think that we have not got caught up in this stuff as much as some of our sister Churches, but some of our behaviours suggest we also operate “over and at” people rather than “with and for”. How many thumps of the pulpit have diminished people over the years? How often has the toxic “saved by works” reflex destroyed people’s hope? Some of our language is revealing… saved/unsaved – as if we really know the workings of God; churched/unchurched – who really wants to be churched?

I wonder about the Church’s expectation that society needs to fit into it. One way or another people around us have voted with their feet. Increasingly they do not buy the package. Well, maybe they do not buy the packaging, and why should they? They do not care to fit the Sunday hour expressed in a building with a pointy roofline. Does the Gospel with its life and spark and refusal to be bound by religion fit the packaging we demand of it either? I wonder what would happen if we stopped demanding that people fit with us, and we took the Gospel with all its stories and its humble Lord who washes feet and lives and breathes grace, out into the life of the community. What would Church begin to look like if a step like that was taken? But we love our buildings… this is Church…we even call the building a church… Oh dear! I wonder what the community outside the church is entitled to? More, I reckon, but less as well – less of us and our stuff.

Rev Martin Stewart

Martin is currently the minister at Village Presbyterian Church. He has served the church in various capacities at local, presbytery and national levels and will be one of our regular Candour Blog columnists.

5 thoughts on “Entitlement

  1. Pingback: Candour | seeing and believing

  2. “For goodness sake, if one day I need to go and get a job that provides me with an income so that I can minister in the Church, that’s fine!”

    Thought provoking words Martin. Re: your quote above, and acknowledging that this was not the main point of your article, I worked part time for 12 years in order to continuie in ministry amongst and with the people God had placed me with. In fact, I had 4 jobs for 12 years. Due to my wife not having the health to work, I was and still am the sole breadwinner. The people of Trinity were super flexiable, and together, we made it work great. Nelson Presbytery learned to be very flexiable. Head office (back then) were as ridgid as one expected them to be in those days and were of no help what so ever. They were simply vandalous.

    Even today, a Minister, family and Parish facing a reduction in Stipend, and all concerned trying to discern the way forward, making it work in the here and now is only one of the issues. It is currently impossible for a part time Minister to responsibly save towards retirment in the Beneficary fund becausec the fund will only award the perecentage of the Stipend that you are on. Even if the Minister is prepared to pay the same rate as a full time Minister. Therefore, responsibly preparing for retirement is one of the considerations when deciding whether or not to take a pay cut

    The Church places rules around Study Leave with no thought as to who pays the balance of a part-time Minister on study Leave. Study leave becomes limited to taking the parish time off, keep working the other job(s) to make ends meet and studying at home. The only study leave I ever could afford was 6 weeks on the Specialaist Officer Induction Course where I was on Army pay.

    There certinally many other issues that are unique to part-time Ministry. Half the parishes in the PCANZ will be part time within a few years. It is long over due for the Church to look long and hard as to how they can add to the mission momentum of part time ministers and the experience of parish life for their families. Too much of part time Minister’s efforts are chewed up by servicing head office overheads.

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  3. Hi Martin
    Thanks. The expeerience was a priveledge and a pleasure most days. It just would have been helpful if the PCANZ took a bit more concern with the nuts and bolts of part timers. They genuinely think that we are not in full time ministry because the parish only pays part stipend. Says it all really!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Mart. Entitlement , I believe , is something very important . Without it our life in the Church and in the world would be very different ; unbearable even . You say : “No one owes me anything – not society , not the Church , not God ” I find that statement chilling . Afterall , Society , Church and God are, for so many of us family in one way or another .Society in the sense that we live together with a multitude of other families . The Church in that we live together as a family in fellowship with our Lord and as regards God we are “His people” a family in covenant relationships with entitlements and obligations . Entitlements with boomerang affect from which we benefit and to which we , in one way and another , respond acknowledging the entitlement Society , Church and God expect of us .You say that the “Gospel…. refused to be bound by religion and ask :is religion in which we have packaged it legitimate .”Well , when we look at the life and times of Jesus , we discover that he was very much part and parcel of the Temple/Synagogue environment .At the age of 12 sittting in the Temple to which He referred to as “My Father’s House.”(Lk.2:45-50) In time he qualified as a Rabbi and was acknowledged as such by Peter(Mk.9:5) and by the disciples(Jn4:31). and as a Rabbi , He went round the whole of Gallilee teaching and preaching in the Synagogues . (Matt.4:23) . So the Gospel message grew out of a traditional and well respected religious environment . In addition , you say that “The Church does not exist to support you as a minister ; nor does it owe you a living ; that the idea of stipend in not inscribed in Scripture .”Certainly Stipend in not inscribed in Scripture but the world in which Jesus lived was very different from our world and He was a Rabbi supported by the Rabbinical fraternity and when He and His disciples were on the road they were supported by”women””supplying them with all their needs”(Lk.8:1-4). So the people with whom Jesus walked and worked , the Rabbinical fraternity and the people who supported Him on His hourneys , believed He was “entitled” to be looked after in all the ways necessary for Him to stay healthy day by day .So , for services rendered , both in the secular and religios realms , “entitlements”are legitimate and very much a feature in the Gospel narrative and in the “Church” traditions that promote the Gospel narrative to this day .Indeed , the narrative in the Gospels was formulated by this man Jusus and it was formulated from within the religious environment of Judaism . His teaching was often reference to the Tanack (Matt.12:18(24:27 and Lk.17:26) and as a Rabbi He had access to the Temple and the Synagogues . He worshipped in them . He sat and spoke in them and He sat and spoke in them as a member of a large religious family with a focus on the :Our Father , the expectation of the comming Messiah and the end times . He sat and spoke to this family He belonged to in buildings set apart for fellowship , worship and support . ; buildings sacred in their sight and in their function .Buildings with liturgical beauty and significance . Buildings resounding with voices of praise and adoration . Buildings set apart by the religious tradition of Judaism in which Jesus lived and worked and copied and set apart similalry by the Christian Churches since . Buildings that not only have a physical structure in our communities , but also have in their congregants ,a physical presence to the emerging Kingdom of heaven to which we are committed as He was .And certainly some of our buildings are rather drab and unsafe but we shouldn’t abandon them and seek refuge in the sterility of halls No , we should demolish these old buildings and build new ones , architecturallty designed to display all the sacred and liturgical beauty of our tradition so that our younger generation can be inspired by them and take ownership of them with pride and thnksgiving .You say , also , that the Church has acted with little humility over the centuries ; Protestants not as much and other sister churches and by this I take it you mean the Catholic tradition .Yes it’s a shocking history and both traditions , Protestant and Catholic have played a major role in their murderous campaigns against each other during the 100 year war in Britain and in the murderous subjugation of the Albigensians in Southern France .In addition , Catholicism and Protestantism , and society world wide fueled a prejudice against our Jewish brethren that initiated the senseless barbaric brutality of the Crudades , numerous pogroms throughut the centuries that ended in the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust . . A prejudice that is being fueled again throughout the Middle East , Europe , America and Britain ; unfortunatley . Catholicism has sought reconcilliation and forgiveness for their part in it ; Protestants , so far , are hesitant to make the same overtures ; to our shame. A senility prophesied by Jesus Himself (Matt. 10:34 & Lk.22:35). Lastly , you ask what is “The communigty outside the Church entitled to : less of us and our stuff” you say .Well , I would want to say that the community outside the Church is entitled to hear Jesus’s messages of salvation ; His understanding of equality .His concern for the dispossed and His invitation to be with us and with Him in the Church and in the world , severally , as His body and blood; living , as He did , in the present moment ‘doing’ and ‘dying’ to manifest the Kingdom of heaven . Thankyou for the opportunity to respond Mart . Yours cheerfully . Ivan .

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