Many churches in China expect pastors to receive low salaries and compensation because it is the “spiritual” thing to do. This issue is especially pertinent today while pastors are facing the coronavirus pandemic. In this online Christian “Dear Abby” type column from the Three-Self Patriotic Movement WeChat account, Pastor Yuan Sheng answers a question about pastor compensation.
Pastor Yuan Sheng is a pastor in the Three-Self church and an editor for its journal Tianfeng. This series of “What Should I Do?” posts comes from the book by Yuan Sheng called, Pastor Answers 100 “What Should I Do’s.”
What Should I Do?
Some People Say that Preachers Shouldn’t Have Social Insurance?
From a young servant:
I have just graduated from seminary; I haven’t been working in my rural village church for long. Recently, I have been troubled by something. The China Christian Committee and the Three-Self Church Committee passed a notice to us, requesting that the church buy government social insurance1 for young church workers. But there are a group of people within the church who think that since preachers are God’s servants, they should look to God alone and have faith in his provision; thinking about retirement when still so young is displaying a lack of faith. God even cares for the birds of the air, how could he let a retired preacher starve to death? Therefore, I have been feeling very puzzled and dejected. Is it a sign of unbelief for a preacher to have social insurance?
Dearest young preacher—hello!
Your question sheds light on a current and very important problem. Whether or not to buy social insurance isn’t even thought of as a serious question in general society. But, unexpectedly, in the church, it has become something that makes people “very puzzled and dejected.” I think the reasons for this discrepancy might perhaps be:
- Some brothers and sisters within the church have a mistaken view of holiness. They believe that all people within a church must solve all their problems or issues in a way that is totally different from the surrounding society, before the church can truly embody being “set apart as holy”.
- They also believe that preachers, in the course of their life, must be a model of faith. If they have set aside provisions for themselves in advance, then where is the suffering of carrying the cross? Furthermore, the Bible does teach that we should not worry about what we will eat tomorrow.
- Because of the financial pressures experienced by rural churches, even paying the pastor a salary will leave the church strapped for cash. If a church lets you participate in the government social insurance scheme, it will undoubtedly add to their expenses.
- The vast majority of believers in rural villages will themselves not be able to participate in the government social insurance scheme. Some of them will only have the village’s subsistence insurance. And so if a preacher is the first person to participate in the social insurance scheme, naturally it will make them, in their hearts, feel unsettled.
However, if you think about it with a cool head, purchasing social insurance for a preacher is actually rational, fair, and in line with the national law. Firstly, purchasing social insurance is in accordance with the requirements of national employment law. Although the church is a body of faith it is also a societal organization, and the conscientious thing to do is to follow the requirements of the law.
Next, although preachers are God’s children, in life people with different faiths are required to do many things that are the same. You cannot, just because someone is God’s servant, neglect to provide them with life’s necessities. On the contrary—the Bible, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, has a consistent teaching: churches must be responsible for providing for God’s servants, no matter what that looks like in practice. To provide for God’s servants in double portion is the responsibility of the church. During Old Testament times, God chose the Levites to be set apart to serve him. They didn’t engage in productive labor; the other tribes had the obligation to provide for them and safeguard the Levites for their whole lives. In the New Testament, the church was taught to care for orphans and widows; supporting retired preachers is the church’s irrevocable duty.
Furthermore, a preacher might serve in several different churches during their lifetime. If they do not pay into social insurance, then when they are old and physically weak, which church is going to be left responsible for looking after them? Should it be the last church that hired them to serve that is held responsible? Is that fair to that church? If this becomes the case, then some spiritually experienced, older pastors will very likely be rejected by churches who dare not appoint them; and it will deprive the churches where the pastor served when younger of the blessing of caring for a retired pastor.
We thank God that he has given us a good era to live in, where a social insurance system has been established, enabling the elderly who have added to it to have money to live on, and a reliable income. If a church sets up social insurance for a preacher when they are young, and the social insurance goes with the preacher wherever they go, then wherever the preacher serves they can keep adding to the social insurance until they retire. It finally resolves the difficulty of which church is responsible for supporting them, relieves them of worrying about future consequences, and allows them to spend their retirement well and in dignity.
Another point to consider is that, if churches consider the welfare of preachers over their whole lifetimes, it is very helpful for encouraging young people to give their lives for kingdom work.
Therefore, the new revision of the Religious Affairs Regulations says, in article 39, “Religious workers must, according to the law, sign up for social insurance, and enjoy its related privileges. Religious organizations must, in accordance with the law, provide social insurance registration for religious workers.” So this is a legal requirement—it is something every work unit that employs people must take full responsibility for. This is not a question of whether or not anyone likes to provide social insurance!
The Bible says: “Do not worry about tomorrow”, but this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make fair and rational plans for tomorrow. Signing up for social insurance is not “worrying about tomorrow”, it is being like the ant, preparing food for the winter while it is still summer. Of course, as a preacher, you must certainly be resolved to suffer—however much God has prepared for you—that much you must receive—and not be overly worried about the concerns of the flesh. But as for the church, they should take good care of their preachers, thus supporting them in their undivided devotion to prayer and preaching!
So, young preacher, you should not be overly distressed about this. Believe that God will certainly be at work, and will provide for your entire life!
Original Article: 【怎么办】有人说传道人用不着买社保by 天风 (WeChat ID: ccctspm_tianfeng)
Image credit: Let Ideas Compete via Flickr.
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