In Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” in Matthew, particularly chapter 6, He speaks of those who have traded the approval of God and His wages for those of mere humans. We normally think first of those who “give to charity” for show, or to reduce their taxes, or like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), to give a false impression of piety. Others are told that they should give to get something back from God, which is not giving at all but investing. All of those people have forfeited the rewards they could have gotten in eternity for that which “moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal” (Mt. 6:19).
But probably the biggest group of those who have received all the reward they will ever get are the paid clergy. They are already being compensated for their careers, and I don’t hesitate to call them careers either. What else is it when you go to seminary, put out resumes, and apply for a management position like any other job? While missionaries have no guarantee of support and trust God for provision, these clerics expect a regular salary and benefits. They see this as fair and necessary because of all their business responsibilities: overseeing committees, preparing speeches, performing rituals and ceremonies, etc. It is an executive position in a corporate entity or nonprofit club.
Sure, they do “spiritual” things too, but what true believer doesn’t? Do other believers get pay or recognition for visiting the sick, giving their time and talents to community service, spreading the gospel, studying the Bible, or anything else every believer is to do? How about the Sunday School teachers, are they paid? Are the nursery workers paid? Why is it that most believers are expected to support themselves, support others, and exercise their spiritual gifts as well, while “shepherds” are supported by the “sheep” and think their particular spiritual activities are somehow superior or more demanding?
As an egalitarian I have long recognized the inherent flaw in hierarchy, but many who recognize this between male and female still do not see the inconsistency of accepting the clergy/laity class distinction. They argue for allowing female clergy, but a better argument would be to disallow male clergy; no believer is to rule over other believers.
In the NT’s head/body analogies for the community of believers, never is any individual likened to the head. Jesus is the Head and we are His Body. Just as the OT says that a husband joins to his wife, so also Jesus joined to His Bride. And no body part is superior to another (1 Cor. 12:4-29). Although in this analogy the Head does not represent rule but unity, the point I’m making here is that there is no believer through whom all other believers must go; there is no spiritual gift above other spiritual gifts, for they are all on the same level. Paul does mention “the greater gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31) but defines them as whatever builds up the Body (1 Cor. 14:1-12). Of course those whose gift is to teach truth and guard against error are building up the body, but so also are those who heal, who prophesy (which clearly includes women), and who encourage (Rom. 12:3-8). And who would deny that those we refer to as “prayer warriors” build up the Body?
It is these lowly volunteers who have the greater reward; in fact, only volunteers will get a heavenly reward at all, for those who have been compensated in this life have already received theirs.
If any of you reading this are currently employed as “pastors”, let me strongly encourage you to find some other means of employment and put yourself on the same level as your spiritual equals, who serve voluntarily. Give up your office, figuratively and literally. Give up your privileges and your title. If you truly are gifted to lead, others will see Jesus in you and follow naturally, without any external cues. True believers know who resembles the Chief Shepherd, but they will run from the “hired hand” (John 10:12-13).