Summary: Paying people to do ministry centralizes the open system that God designed the Church to be and creates divisions in His Body that He never intended to be there.
In the previous post in this series, I talked about how peer-to-peer file-sharing networks give us a glimpse into the decentralized nature of the Church according to God’s design. They give us a current cultural example of a system without a human leader, no headquarters, distributed power, and many other characteristics that turn the world’s system of organization (which was conceived by God’s enemy) upside-down and inside-out.
But one characteristic of this example of a decentralized system stands out above the rest when it comes to being an obstacle for individuals and churches that consider making the transition…
There’s no money in it.
Open systems involve everyone
For the P2P networks to decentralize, they had to create an environment where there was no founder/president/leader, and there was no centralized server from which the system ran from. Both of these were prerequisites to surviving and thriving.
This creates an open system where power is distributed, resources are shared, and participation is collaborative. Everyone has the power, autonomy and freedom to contribute to the group for the good of the whole. There’s a funny thing that happens when you put people into an open system. Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom point out the following principle of decentralized networks in their book The Starfish and The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations…
Put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contribute.
Because they’re an open system, P2P networks can’t be a place where people get paid static salaries that result in being a more important piece of the group, doing more of the work, inheriting more of the control, and taking on the responsibilities that others should be taking on.
As soon as you do that, you create two distinct groups (those that get paid and those that don’t), and a closed system. When the work is being done by the community as a whole, why would the community pay someone to do what they’re doing themselves? You wouldn’t, because as soon as someone gets paid permanently, the system changes. Expectations are built from both sides. The payer expects the payee to do more of the work. The payee expects the payer to make the decisions and hold the responsibility for the health of the group. As soon as someone gets paid permanently, the power becomes centralized.
Paychecks create distinctions
This same cause and effect happens in churches that are centralized organizations.
When people get paid permanently to “do ministry,” a distinction is created between those who get paid and those who don’t. Those who get paid make decisions because, well…it’s their job. Those contributing to their salary let decisions be made because they don’t hold the power to do so (because it’s not their job). Then of course, they typically just leave if they don’t agree with the decisions they’re conveniently avoiding responsibility for.
But in decentralized open system churches, everyone wants to and is expected to contribute. There are no distinctions, so you really wouldn’t be able to decide who to pay anyway. Paying someone to do their part is really a slap in the face to all the others who do their part as well. I mean, why should I volunteer when someone else is getting paid permanently?
Now you can see why early church apostles didn’t stick around at churches they planted. Their goal wasn’t to create a centralized system built around them so they’d keep their apostolic position. Their goal was to create a decentralized body of people with an invisible Leader inside each member where everyone took over the functions of ministry to one another together. Their primary goal was to work themselves OUT of a job. That’s why there are 58 “one anothers” in the New Testament.
Answers to biblical scenarios
Don’t those in ministry who get paid permanently make decisions because they’re considered to be more mature and have been called by God to lead a church?
This is centralized, worldly system thinking. The New Testament clearly teaches everyone is called by God to participate in the leading of the church (I Corinthians 12:7). No gift, or person is to be elevated above another. Contrary to what many would teach, there are no such thing as “leadership” gifts. Every gift is a leadership gift; for there is one Leader. There are gifts conceived by God to equip, oversee, shepherd, etc. but those are a different concept altogether. They’re functions, not statuses.
Paying someone permanently for ministry makes the execution of this Kingdom principle virtually impossible. God designed church leadership to be revolving, not static. Those that lead in given seasons are those that have the manifestation of the Spirit for whatever the function is that the church needs to accomplish its mission.
When a church is learning the principles of the Kingdom together, those with the gifts of wisdom and knowledge should be leading the way. When a church goes through a season of prayer and fasting, those with gifts of faith should be leading the way. When a church needs compassion to be extended to those in need of it, those with the gifts of mercy should be leading the way. The church experience was never meant to consist of constant exposure to a few people and gifts. But this is the situation paying people permanently creates; and it severely stunts growth to the point where churches become groups of overgrown spiritual babies.
When we pay people permanently to do ministry, we lock leadership in all areas and during all seasons into one person and position because this is the expectation their paycheck brings with them. If we didn’t do this, there simply wouldn’t be any justification for the paychecks.
Doesn’t the Bible say that certain gifts are more important than others; like in I Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11?
Nope. You must read your Bible through a decentralized lens to understand its meaning. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, etc. are all special functions for equipping, but they’re not positions of importance. In fact, Paul makes a special point in I Corinthians 12 to say “…those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its part should have equal concern for each other.”
Didn’t Paul take a collection for the church in Jerusalem?
Yes, but that wasn’t a mechanical, centralized practice. It was an organic, decentralized occurrence based on a seasonal need.
Didn’t the early church support apostles like Paul and Peter to go and plant churches?
Yes, but there’s a canyon-wide distinction between paying someone a permanent salary and supporting someone for specific work a church or church network deems necessary to establish and expand the Church at a given point in time.
Typically, these situations arose for the very special purpose of church planting and equipping. The money was not paid to a centralized position. It was gifted as temporary support to specific individuals to perform a special function of traveling to plant churches. It was very difficult back then to hold down a steady paycheck when you’re moving from city to city. But even then, Paul did whatever he could to keep from receiving money from churches even though he had every right to do so (2 Corinthians 11:9).
Also, because the apostles didn’t stay at the churches they planted, they avoided the centralizing effect that giving money to someone for ministry can have on a group of people (and the person receiving the money).
In the end, it’s incredibly difficult for a group to make the transition from centralized to decentralized because of the total deconstruction and reconstruction of mindsets that has to take place. The problem isn’t found in the money, or even in the transfer of the money. It’s found in the relational system through which the money is working.
In the case of a permanent salary, it’s positional, static and based on holding the gears of an organization together. In the case of support for the work of the church, it’s based on work deemed necessary at given points in time and given to workers who’ve earned relational trust over time within the network of relationships they’re working with.
Supporting people financially if the Spirit sets them apart for a specific task of planting or equipping a church or church network is healthy. Paying people permanent salaries that shift more responsibility and control to one or a few people is not healthy.
The rest of the posts in the A Decentralized Network series are here.