Monday, August 30, 2004

Conference Congregationalism

I've noticed a disturbing trend over recent years. I'm not certain how widespread it is, but I do know that it is in at least four conferences. It is a form of conference-sponsored congregationalism.

An Adventist church grows beyond what one normal pastor can handle. The conference is secretly pleased with the success, but claims they have no money to add staff. After much begging and negotiation, the conference decides to hire half a pastor (we're never sure which half), with the local church paying for the other half. You can find an example of this here.

Another thing I have seen is a conference offering to pay some of a Bible-worker's salary, while the local church pays for the rest.

How is this a form of conference-sponsored congregationalism? When half of a pastor's salary comes out of the local church budget, it is not long before the smart people of the local church start to realize that tithe is intended to pay for the work of the ministry. And so people quietly start putting some of their tithe into the church budget. Because, after all, tithe is supposed to pay for the work of the ministry. Since the work of the ministry is being paid partially out of the local church budget, it just makes sense to start paying some of tithe into the local church budget.

Now I realize that this is not what the conference intends. In fact, I think the conference believes it is being helpful. But the question is, Is ministry being done? And if we determine that it is, then the question should be, Shouldn't tithe pay for it?

When the conference decides it doesn't have enough tithe to pay the full salary of a full-time pastor, I wonder how the conference decides it has enough tithe to continue paying a secretary in the conference office. Or to continue buying janitorial supplies for the conference office.

If the tithe is really supposed to be used for the work of the ministry, why is it allowed to be used for other things? Or is the work of the ministry more inclusive than just paying the pastor? If it is, why can't local churches use tithe for secretaries or janitorial supplies?