Serving God and Making a Living

One of the main things I was told about Jewish believers in Yeshua as I was growing up, was that Jews who followed Yeshua did so because they were paid or bribed to believe. When I was taught that, it made sense to me because, after all, why would anyone change their religion and stop being a Jew? When people were telling me about Yeshua, I accused them of telling me this because they would get some financial reward for converting a Jew. They laughed because there was no truth to it. Later, when I became a follower of Yeshua, I discovered that nobody gave you money to believe. There were no financial incentives whatsoever. This didn’t bother me because I embraced Yeshua because I genuinely believe He is the Mashiach, not out of financial motivation.

Over time, I went to Grad school and earned a Master’s degree as well as a Doctoral degree, to prepare me to serve God teaching and ministering to His people. Higher education cost a great deal of money as well as the time and energy invested, and throughout my ministry, in spite of higher education, I have never earned more than a manager of a McDonalds. I didn’t go into ministry to get rich, but I didn’t take a vow of poverty either.

I am not writing this to complain about poor salaries, but make the point that most Messianic leaders live on the salary they get from their congregations, and supporting the congregation is the responsibility of congregation members. If a congregation does not adequately pay its leader, he has an obligation to support his family, which means he may have to go out and get a second job. When one of my former congregations was unable to pay my full salary, I told them I might have to go out and drive a cab to make enough to live on. I said if they need me, I’ll be available, but the meter will be running. If people want their leader to be available to them, they need to support them adequately. Its not just a question of whether you like his sermons or not. A leader needs to be available to visit the sick, and stay in touch with those in need. Being a leader means putting up with a lot of guff from people too. Its a tough job, and usually underpaid.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:17, “For we are not as so many, peddling the word of God. But as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God, we speak in Messiah.” There are many out there that indeed do peddle the word of God. They are on television and radio and people send money and they spend with no accountability except for the IRS. What bothers me is that people give to televangelists, but don’t support the ones who are there for them. Jewish people are not dumb. They look at televangelists and see con men. When I became a believer, my grandfather asked me if I was sending any of those people money. I told him I wasn’t. He didn’t want me to get scammed.

There are many ministries worthy of support, and if they are not supported, frankly, they will disappear. The Benny Hinn’s of the world will be around. So will others like him. But the local congregations could fold if they are not supported, and they are the ones who will be there for you when you need them. Benny won’t be flying in when you have a life crisis. The local congregation will be there, if enough people support it. They need financial support, and they need you to be there. Leaders need words of encouragement too. The most encouraging things are people showing up faithfully to services, and people supporting the congregation.

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7 thoughts on “Serving God and Making a Living

  1. Michael,

    Great post! Yes, too often people in congregations believe the Rabbi should live near poverty because that is their sacrifice for serving G-d and He will bless them. They have money to spend on cigarettes, cable TV, movies, vacations, etc. but they don’t tithe because they “don’t have enough money” or “have too many bills”. The rule of thumb that I expect in my life and the life of the members of the congregation is tithes go to the congregations. Once you have tithed, then if you want to give to other organizations do so by all means.

    However, there are congregations that can’t afford a full-time Rabbi. They are small and the tithes of their members may not be able to afford it. Smaller congregations may only be able to afford a stipend. However then they don’t have the right to expect the rabbi to jump at every request and to forgo their paying job to help the congregation. The rabbi needs to serve the congregation and the congregation needs to respect the rabbi.

    I have been on the board of a congregation for several years. I know the battle that goes on regarding paying the rabbi. You have the rabbi’s desires and vision vs. the board’s desire and visions. I am glad to say this brings up much respectable decision and I don’t think the rabbi has felt slighted during this time regarding his pay. Our goal has been paying the rabbi a good salary and making sure he is taken care of without hindering the goals of the congregation. It is my hope that congregations will rise to the occasion and pay their rabbis a good wage. I’m not saying they need to be paid the millions BH or Osteen or Long make- but they need to be able to live. Congregants who put their own wants and entertainment above the command to tithe are selfish.

    Keep up the good posts Michael.

  2. Perhaps membership fees (based on income level) and selling of aliyahs during high-holidays, seats, plaques, and other things that synagogues normally do will help alleviate the problem? The problem, of course, is that most “messianic” places are basically Evangelical outfits with very few Jews in them, and those who are Jewish are thoroughly “Christian” – which means that they have same mindset: support must be strictly voluntary and an almost spontaneous “G-d led” decision (unless one doesn’t count the guilt preaching about robbing G-d through not tithing).

    The problem with tithing-based giving is that percentage-wise VERY FEW people who attend churches/mj places (and most MJ places operate in exactly the same way as churches) actually tithe – last time I read it was under 15% on average of “professed believers”.

    Supporting one’s JEWISH congregation means supporting that Jewish community, supporting future generations of Jews, etc. In any case, whoever heard of compulsory membership fees in synagogue? Are not all membership fees voluntary by default? After all, no one is being forced to attend a particular congregation and become a member – every one is there voluntarily!

    Perhaps MJ places should start being like “real” synagogues for a change, set up an income-sensitive membership fee system and do other things to make sure their leaders are compensated as they should be?

    • Gene, knocking Messianic Judaism really doesn’t prove anything other than your bias. All “real” synagogues as you call them, aren’t the same. I served on the board of a traditional synagogue for several years, and they met their budget by holding bingo several nights a week. I hardly find that a superior way of doing things. Secondly, people don’t like having their income levels checked by the synagogue board. Its an invasion of privacy. Almost no synagogues up north, do that. Its a flat fee per family or individual. They also tack on building fund fees and charge for High Holy day seats. Its not a better system. Either way, people should gladly support their local community either through regular giving or through membership dues, fees, tzedaka etc, so their Rabbis can make a decent living, and they don’t have to resort to bingo to pay the bills.

      • Thanks, Dr. Not knocking “Messianic Judaism” – just working to help move it from its Hebrew Christian/Evangelical moorings. BTW, if you noticed, I put “real” in quotes.

        By saying “based on income” level, I didn’t mean to suggest that we should request W2 forms, but rather that folks who CAN’T afford the standard flat membership fee could request a lower fee, whatever they could afford (by speaking to the membership committee person or rabbi) – most non-MJ/traditional places do that as well. As far as people being uncomfortable with revealing their income (and as I noted above, this is not what I advocate), I’ve set on financial boards – it was easy to tell who made what if you knew that person practiced tithing.

        Blessings…

  3. I am not writing this to complain about poor salaries, but make the point that most Messianic leaders live on the salary they get from their congregations, and supporting the congregation is the responsibility of congregation members.

    I suppose I couldn’t be considered, depending on your perspective, to be a “leader” of a “Messianic community”, but I do my bit at my wee little congregation…but as a volunteer. I have a “day job” as a technical writer for a software company and write books at night and on Sundays, so I don’t draw a salary for anything I do at my congregation. No one does.

    I’m not saying this is good or bad. It’s just the way it is for us. As far as “contributing to the community”, there are lots of ways of doing that and only some of them are contributing financially to the congregation. I’m probably more emphatic about asking people to donate to our collection for the local foodbank than in donating financially so we can pay our rent.

    As far as tzedaka to the Jewish people is concerned (and although we have some Jewish members, I can’t say we are a “Jewish” congregation), there are any number of ways to do that, both within and outside the local community. As a congregation, we donate to organizations such as Magen David Adom, but the world is full of needs. Given the fact that we’re relatively small as a group and most of our members are “less than wealthy”, I’ll err on the side of trying to provide for those needs I’m most immediately aware of.

    In John 15, Yeshua commanded us to love one another. Maybe that’s where we should start devoting our resources, including money, goods, time, and compassion.

    Good blog post. Thanks.

  4. Great post.

    Rabbis work around the clock to serve their congregants and sink small fortunes into student loans to secure the qualifications and specialized training to do it. They are expected to buy a home within the Jewish community that is sufficiently large and well-appointed to host congregants for Shabbat dinners and other events. And they aren’t treated with much respect until they are married with children … all of these things cost money.

    A rabbi with a graduate degree and smikha should be paid at the same level as any other white collar professional in the area. In Montana, that’s quite a bit cheaper than it is in San Francisco, New York, or Miami.

    If a congregation can’t afford to pay a professional salary, then it shouldn’t expect to get much out of the guy who scrambles each month to pay his bills.

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