What, No Paycheck?
You can serve God even when you don’t work for Him.
The first Sunday we met, I explained the class plan — study Scripture together, pray for each other and reach out to the community. I didn’t even have a chance to schedule an outreach event before Zane called me about an opportunity in his neighborhood. A few weeks later, we found ourselves cleaning up a natural grove near their home that passersby had trashed over the years. Zane and Marsha led us out on a Saturday morning to tend to God’s creation; we pulled out paper trash, rotting carpet, an old sewing machine, dozens of tires and even a small boat!
I soon learned how active Zane and Marsha were in the church. Sunday after Sunday, Marsha stands in the atrium, welcoming attendees with a warm smile and helping new visitors find the nursery or a cup of coffee. And every week Zane leads a group of ushers who pass out bulletins, collect the offering, distribute communion and keep attendance records.
What Zane and Marsha really love doing are special ministry events. Every year they help organize Compassion Sunday, a day that encourages church members to provide basic assistance and Christian education for impoverished children around the world. And each spring they devote an entire weekend to coordinating the church yard sale, raising hundreds of dollars for the church to further the Gospel.
In addition to all of these events, they now help organize and lead the couples class, spending weekly time ministering to and living out the Christian life with other couples in the church.
Zane and Marsha are initiators. They aren’t afraid to take on low-profile, behind-the-scenes projects. They’re eager servants, and this kind of commitment stands out among young people in my noncommittal generation. Yes, my generation includes me, a seminary graduate who sometimes gets frustrated about how much of my time the church wants.
But what really stands out is that they are not on church staff. Zane and Marsha work at their local church but not for it. They’re not on the payroll. They hold jobs in real estate and civil government, yet hours of each week — and sometimes large chunks at a time — are devoted to serving God without any expectation of monetary remuneration.
You Don’t Need a Paycheck
There’s a mentality out there that says, “That’s not in my job description.” We don’t want to do any more than we have to, and in our capitalist environment, we’re trained not to do anything unless we’re certain we’ll get something back in return.
Most of us don’t express such direct resistance to God’s work. It sounds unspiritual to say, “I’m not going to watch the newborns during the Sunday service because the church won’t pay me.” But we say that very thing in more subtle ways.
One example is the “that’s the pastor’s job” excuse. The pastor’s job description includes visiting sick and grieving church members, but does that mean the pastor is the only one who does visitation? When another member of the body of Christ is in pain, God commands us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15, ESV) — and that call goes not just to pastors, but to every Christian.
Another subtle excuse is “I don’t have time!” But this notion often ignores our freedom of choice. Not everyone can devote the same level of commitment as Zane and Marsha, but everyone can give something. When I make the choice to devote my time to pursuing more cash or a better position, or when I spend all my spare change catching movies or taking an exotic trip to Europe, I express my deepest values about life — that it’s most of all about me and my pleasure, that I need to get something back in return for my time, if not a paycheck then at least something that makes me feel good.
A look back at the upper room on the night prior to Jesus’ crucifixion gives another picture of what Christianity was founded on. Jesus, the Son of God and Creator of humankind, rose from supper with His disciples that night and wrapped a towel around His waist. He stooped down on His knees, washed His followers’ feet with water, and used His own hands to wipe away the dirt between their toes. It was not beneath Him to take the role of a servant, not just in this moment, but throughout His entire life and most notably in His death.
When He finished washing their feet, Jesus asked His disciples, “Do you understand what I have done to you?” (John 13:12). Because they probably didn’t quite get it, He explained it to them: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am” (v. 13). Yet even as Lord He washed their feet.
Here’s the implication: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (vv. 14–15). Just as Christ, the sovereign Lord over all creation, got on His knees to serve, so must we, followers of Christ, live out our lives in service to God by serving other people.
In America where Christians make excuses like “I want to keep my weekends free” or “I don’t have the theological training to tell others about Christ’s love,” have we lost Christ’s spirit of service? His example of humility provides the model for how we can identify with Him in His life, death and resurrection. Serving God and people is a basic mark of a Christian.
Devoted to God
Zane and Marsha’s activity reveals the kind of devotion to God that shows Christ has changed the values of their heart. That devotion gives up the pursuit of money and pleasure for eternal treasure. And I submit that a Christian truly devoted to God will sacrifice some modern desires — perhaps a new iPhone, flat-screen TV or dinner at Applebee’s (or the extra time spent making the money to buy them) — so they can instead spend time and money serving God.
The forms of service will vary. Like Marsha, you might welcome people on Sunday mornings. But you don’t even need to be at church to serve. Zane and Marsha were serving God when they sacrificed a Saturday morning to provide lunch to the homeless at the local rescue mission.
What matters most is that we who call ourselves Christians take seriously the challenge from Christ to wash each others’ feet, to sacrifice our pride and our wants to serve God, and to serve people around us.
Harvest Bible Chapel, home of well-known preacher James MacDonald, puts the following core value on the front of their Sunday morning bulletin:
“We believe the disciples of Jesus Christ should minister to one another in the local church, rather than one or a small number of professional pastors bearing total responsibility of care.”
The blurb concludes with some service suggestions and sets forth this challenge: “Are you shouldering weekly kingdom responsibilities?”Harvest Bible Chapel Bulletin, Rolling Meadows Campus (August 18 & 19, 2007). Emphasis added.
It’s easy in a busy world with all kinds of pressures telling us to spend our time and money on ourselves to let service to Christ get shoved to the bottom of our to-do lists. But service was never meant just for pastors on the payroll. Like Zane and Marsha, you can serve God even when you don’t work for Him. That’s the kind of sacrificial heart that reflects the humble Christ we call Lord.
Copyright 2007 David Barshinger. All rights reserved.
About the Author
David Barshinger has a Ph.D. in Church History/Theological Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), where he wrote on Jonathan Edwards’ engagement with the book of Psalms. He has served with the Jonathan Edwards Center at TEDS and Christ on Campus Initiative, and he is currently teaching as an adjunct professor. David lives in Illinois with his wife, Allison, and their four children.