Do lay-elders have it worse than paid-elders?

Last week I posted a blog titled “Does the Pastor Have it Worse?” I was pondering this question after being asked about it in a conversation I was having with someone on the radio. In the interview Chloe asked if people generally think that the pastor has it worse than the assistant pastor. Generally speaking, I think people do think the pastor has it worse, but as I said, depending on the context that isn’t always the case. But I’ve been thinking about this for another week, and I’ve had a few more conversations kicking around…

First of all let me reiterate, the office of elder and pastor are the same. Normally, at least in the UK context, pastors are those who are paid staff or a ‘leading/ruling elder’ and elders are lay leaders who have been deemed fit according to 1 Tim. 3:1-7 (and other passages). Both paid and non-paid elders should be measured by 1 Tim. 3:1-7. I would be in favour of scrapping the two terms (pastor and elder) and either sticking with elder or pastor for everyone, whether they’re paid or not for their work in the church.

My reasoning is that the distinction, or different terms used, can make church members feel that the pastor is more influential than the other elders, or that the attention of the paid-elders is more valuable than that of the lay-elders. This simply is not true. The paid elders/pastors will have more time, because their work for the church is also their job, than the other elders so it makes sense that they carry a bit more of a load than the lay-elders.

So, let’s ask the question; Do lay-elders have it worse than the paid-elders?

I think that they do, let me explain. A paid-elder gives his working hours to the church; to teach, to care for, to disciple and to train the Lord’s people, etc. A lay-elder, should do all of the same work as a paid-elder, but they do it on their own time, often on top of employment and maybe even family commitments. So in that sense they have it worse, because their time is even tighter than that of a paid-elder.

This is quite normal. But the work of an elder is the same for every single one, regardless of who pays their salary. A lay-elders should be doing the same work as a paid-elder. The only difference should be the quantity of the work, the paid-elder is paid to do it for a living and the lay-elder isn’t. Therefore, the lay-elder will naturally not be able to do as much as someone who is employed to do the work for a living.

The difference should be quantity, but not quality. A lay-elder should be investing in his training and development in godliness, in his knowledge of the Word and His love for the Lord and His people as the paid-elder should be. The lay-elder should be investing just as many hours into preparing to preach and teach than the paid-elder, but the timings of that will be different because of their different circumstances. The work of the paid-elder and lay-elder should be the same in quality, but not in quantity.

This is not an excuse for a paid-elder to do all the work by himself. We should not fuel the lone-wolf, old boys club, culture that is toxic and sadly rife in the church today. Instead, it means creating and allowing space for the lay-elders to do the work that Scripture calls them to do in a way that glorifies God and builds up the church.

Many different factors play into this; church size, denominational context, history of the local church, etc. But both lay and paid elders should be doing the same work. Changing the title from elder to pastor might make churches be more serious about who they appoint to be an elder and the process that they go through. But, in response to the question “Do lay-elders have it worse than the paid-elders?”, I think I would have to say yes. Because of time constraints, lack of formal training (for many), limited experience (because the paid-elder might be the first contact for many), etc.

Welcome to the goings-on of my brain over the last few days. There’s plenty more where this all came from. But that’s all for now 🙂

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