A Holy Conspiracy of Joy

A Holy Conspiracy of Joy

The pastors, who have been aiming all along at the holy and enduring joy of their people, have their own joy made complete in seeing the advantage and gain of the flock. So it is, in the apostles’ complementary callings on the pastors and their people, a kind of holy conspiracy of joy: the leaders aspire to the work and joyfully do it; the people “let them do this with joy,” striving to not give their pastors reasons to groan; and that joyful labor by the pastors then brings about the greater joy, advantage, and benefit of the whole church.

Money and joy. Across the passages in the New Testament that speak to Christian leadership, these are the two most repeated themes. And we might see them as two sides of one motivational coin. That is, what gain are pastor-elders to seek (and not seek) in becoming and enduring as local-church leaders? Why pastors serve really matters.

What Makes a Pastor Happy?

The apostle Paul worked with his own hands, making and mending tents — which made him a good man to make the case for “double honor” (respect and remuneration) for pastor-elders who give themselves to church-work as their breadwinning vocation. However, necessary and good as it is for staff pastors to receive pay, Paul would not have greedy men (paid or unpaid) in either the pastoral or diaconal office. “Not a lover of money,” he specifies in 1 Timothy 3:3 (memorable in the King James as “not greedy of filthy lucre”). For deacons, in 1 Timothy 3:8: “not greedy for dishonest gain.”

So too, the final chapter of Hebrews moves seamlessly from “keep your life free from love of money” (Hebrews 13:5–6) to “remember your leaders” (Hebrews 13:7), and it’s no wonder. The one should go hand in hand with the other — as they do right at the heart of Peter’s passage for elders: “Shepherd the flock . . . , not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2). The apostles would have us speak, in the same breath, of lives free from love of money and local-church leaders who exemplify that lifestyle.

The other side of the coin, then, is the positive motivation: joy. Paul begins 1 Timothy 3 by not only condoning but requiring the holy pursuit of joy in ministry: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Pastor-elders must aspire to the work, that is, want it, desire it, anticipating that it will, in some important sense, make them happy. They should not have their arms twisted to serve, but genuinely desire such work from the heart — as Peter says, “not under compulsion, but willingly.” Even though prospective church leaders hear (and may have observed or even experienced) that this line of labor can be especially taxing emotionally and spiritually, they can’t seem to shake a settled desire and aspiration for the work. They desire it, from and for joy.

Gain That Matches the Work

Peter succinctly captures the two sides (not money but joy) of our motivation coin: “not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” Notice he doesn’t say “not for gain.” Rather, he says “not for shameful gain,” meaning that there is a gain without shame that he is not excluding. And in fact, he requires it. “Eagerly” presumes some motivation to gain — just that this gain is not “shameful.”

What, then, might be honorable gain in Christian leadership? We wouldn’t be right to rule out any financial remuneration (which would require ignoring Paul’s case). But we would be correct to rule out money as the driving motivation. What gain, then, are pastors to seek? We might say it like this: honorable gain in Christian ministry is benefit that befits the work. Or we might say: gain that is commensurate with the work.

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