The Pastors Workshop
The Danger of "Clergyism"
This is the ninth installment of Dr. Roberts' "Master Class for Pastors." The first parts are the Introduction, "Who Are Your Partners?" "The Impact of Thanksgiving," "How Do You Talk About Your Church?" "Understanding Your Cultural Context," "Nine Stereotypes for Pastors," "Pastoring is Always Personal," "Pastoring in Always Personal: Is This Good News or Bad News?"
My fellow Protestants and I tend to think of the Apostle Paul mainly as a theologian. He is, after all, the human author of the bedrock upon which our theology rests. From Paul we get salvation by grace through faith and justification by faith. So, when we picture Paul at work, he is poring over one of his letters, deep in thought and prayer.
Increasingly, however, Christians from a wide variety of theological traditions are seeing Paul from new points of view. Yes, he is a theologian. But his theology emerges from his work as a church planter and pastor. His letters are not primarily theological treatises, but rather pastoral tools by which Paul sought to shepherd his churches. So, when we envision Paul at work, we see him preaching the Gospel, teaching converts, and shepherding his churches. From this perspective, Paul is doing the sorts of things pastors do today, though without pulpits, pews, cell phones, and the Internet.
Yet, as we read Paul's own letters carefully, another image of Paul emerges, one in which he is a worker. In 1 Thessalonians 2:9, for example, we read, "You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." This "labor and toil" included that which Paul did as a church planter. But this verse makes it clear that his "labor and toil" had mainly to do with the work Paul did "so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." The language of burdening here refers to the weight of financial support. Because Paul worked at a "real job," he was able to support himself and not depend on charity from the Thessalonians.
We know from the Book of Acts that Paul's day job was as a tentmaker (skenopoios, Acts 18:3). He made tents by sewing together large pieces of leather. Thus, you'll find some commentators who refer to Paul as a leather-worker. This was hard work and it occupied the majority of Paul's waking hours. Thus, in 1 Corinthians 4:12, Paul writes, "we grow weary from the work of our own hands." And in 2 Corinthians 11:27, he includes "toil and hardship" among the dangers he faced as an apostle.
Mark D. Roberts is Senior Director and Scholar-in-Residence for Laity Lodge, a retreat and renewal ministry in Texas. He blogs at Patheos and writes daily devotionals at www.thehighcalling.org, and he can also be followed through Twitter and Facebook.