Mailbag #82: How to Confront Those Who Rarely Attend Church . . . How Does 1 Timothy 5:17’s “Double Honor” Apply to Non-Staff Elders?
How should pastors confront members or regular attenders who are mere consumers or whose attendance is inconsistent? »
How do you apply 1 Timothy 5:17’s “double honor” to non-paid elders? Is it even right to use this passage when determining paid elder compensation? »
Effective confrontation is usually done within the context of a strong relationship, but how should pastors navigate confronting members or regular attenders who refuse to be more than consumers or whose attendance is inconsistent? What if nobody has a strong relationship with them and they reject relational efforts?
Let’s start by distinguishing between members and non-members, because I think the answer to your question differs significantly depending on the status of the person in question.
In the case of a fellow church member, the grounds for confronting sporadic attendance (or any other potential sin issue) is the covenant of church membership itself. If you and I are members of the same church, then you have a ground or right to confront me over perceived sin issues, even if you and I have never had a prior conversation. Would it be easier to confront me if you and I golfed together regularly? Maybe. Probably. But regardless of our level of friendship, you still have the right to confront me because we have covenanted together to be spiritually responsible for one another as fellow church members. (Click here for a sample church covenant.)
Think of church membership like an arranged marriage. Arranged marriages seem strange to Americans, but they’re common in my context. In an arranged marriage, you covenant in marriage with someone you usually don’t know well. The relational love and intimacy (ideally) grows over time after marriage. The marriage covenant is the basis for building the relationship, not the other way around. Likewise, when we become church members, we typically covenant with a community of people we don’t know well. The relationships follow.
So, as a pastor, don’t feel that you have to wait to address issues until you’ve had coffee with someone ten times. Be sensitive, prayerful, and wise, of course, but still pursue them in any way you can. You might even encourage them to find another church where they think could attend and engage more diligently. The point isn’t that they need to be engaged in your church; the point is that they need to be engaged in some church–for their own spiritual livelihood. In the meantime, these sheep belong to the flock for whom you and the other elders must give an account. Go after that straying sheep even if they, or you, are new to the flock. If despite all efforts they won’t meet or engage, then you’re potentially moving into a situation of church discipline because they are forsaking the assembly (Hebrews 10:24–25).
In the case of non-members who are Christians, you as a pastor don’t have a shepherding responsibility for them before God, nor do you share the mutual responsibility of church members. Your basis to confront them would be the same as if you sat next to stranger on a plane who happened to be a brother or sister in Christ.
Does that mean you ignore non-members? Of course not. We’re called to make disciples, which includes teaching professing Christians the importance of committing to a local church. But if non-members only attend sporadically and won’t meet with you, there’s not much you can do. You don’t have any ecclesiastical “leverage” beyond public teaching.
Our church is in the process of calling a plurality of elders to lead our church. We have three full time pastors already and are looking to add “lay elders” to their rank to help lead/shepherd our congregation. First Timothy 5:17 talks about “double honor” and is used a lot when trying to determine compensation for paid staff elders/pastors. How do you apply this to non-paid elders? Is it right to use this passage when determining paid elder compensation?
Let me begin by saying that because you already have three vocational pastors at your church, you’ve already got a plurality of elders. The New Testament uses the terms “pastor,” “elder,” and “overseer/bishop” interchangeably. Having said that, I believe there is wisdom in recognizing elders whom the church does not plan to compensate.
Now to your question: the verse you mentioned reads, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Paul seems to be implying that all elders rule, because he is highlighting those who do it “well.” And we know from 1 Timothy 3:2 that all elders must be able to teach, though there are some who will “labor” at it, implying hard work filled with challenges.
Therefore, I think the key to understanding the verse in question is the two words “well” and “labor.” The elders who rule “well,” especially those who “labor” in preaching and teaching are worthy of “double honor.” What does Paul mean by that? The next verse (1 Tim. 5:18) removes any ambiguity. He begins with the conjunction “for” (clearly connecting its content to the previous verse) and then writes, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Paul is teaching that any elder—whether vocational or volunteer—who rules well, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching, should be considered worthy of double honor, or financial compensation. That’s not to say that elders must be paid for their work, but that they should be considered worthy of it if they’re doing a good job and giving a lot of time and energy to preaching and teaching. I would encourage churches who may not be able to give each elder—or any elder—a full-time or part-time salary to at least consider compensating every elder when he preaches, and perhaps when he teaches as well. The compensation may not be much, but that’s okay. A church can honor God and the elders by being as generous as they are able to be.
Let us remember that every elder is disqualified from the office if he is characterized by a love of money. Jesus will not have hirelings pastoring his flock. And we must remember that the office and work of an elder is a “noble” thing (1 Tim. 3:1), whether or not an elder is financially compensated for it.
But financially compensating some of your church’s elders is a biblical practice that will ensure at least some of your elders can devote their full-time energy and attention to shepherding the flock through their faithful preaching and teaching. Any church that can afford to pay one or more of its pastors would be wise to do so.