Is a full-time, itinerant, “faith-supported” ministry biblical or relevant?
Such a ministry is biblical and therefore relevant, since the God-breathed Word fully equips us for every age and circumstance (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The Spirit separated Barnabas and Saul to a distinct work (Acts 13:1-4). While Paul had reasons for doing secular work in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18:3; 20:34; 1 Corinthians 9:12, 15; 2 Corinthians 11:12), the norm is “that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14). It was therefore appropriate that he and Barnabas would forbear from secular work (verse 6). The gospel was their full-time work. Their’s was an itinerant ministry. Likewise, Timothy and other young men traveled with Paul (Acts 20:4). Although the work had progressed for several decades, there were still itinerant preachers whom Gaius faithfully helped (3 John 5-8). Such men – then and now – consolidate, unify, and further the work of God by moving among existing assemblies and into new work. Timothy and Titus stayed for extended periods in locations that needed assistance. These were temporary assiguments in which they served along with other local men.
The New Testament pattern is that such work received support through the voluntary offerings of assemblies (2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:14-16) and individual believers (1 Corinthians 16:17). To reduce support to a contractual basis lowers the spiritual character of Christian giving and robs the worker of a singular dependence on His Master for all his needs.
Does 1 Timothy 5:17, 18 suggest a paid pastorate?
A few obvious details in 1 Timothy make it clear that neither Timothy nor any Ephesian elder was the paid pastor. No New Testament passage supports such a practice, no matter how convenient or prevalent it may be.
All the overseers in Ephesus, where Timothy was, were to assist in teaching the saints (1 Timothy 3:2). Paul had taught these men to labor with their hands in doing their work with the flock (Acts 20:34, 35). In addition, in 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul is not speaking about one man, but about “elders that rule well.” These elders received honor for the responsibility entrusted to them. They were also to be honored in another way. The law taught that an ox was allowed to eat in order to satisfy the necessity (his hunger) caused by his work. Thus, elders that ruled well were to receive financial assistance in cases where their labors caused them to lack the necessities of life. This is quite different from a contractual arrangement where one man is paid to do the preaching.
Is it right for a full-time preacher to also be an assembly elder?
The answer is no and yes. The five men listed in Acts 13:1 not only taught the assembly, but also guided it in sending out Barnabas and Saul. They functioned as overseers. Barnabas and Saul were separated from them for the work to which the Spirit called them (verse 2). The Spirit who gave Barnabas and Saul their work had likewise given these their work of feeding the flock (Acts 20:28). In an established assembly, such as Antioch, the evangelist is distinct from the pastor-teacher (Ephesians 4:11). The sphere of responsibility for each is different. Timothy and Titus provide an instructive contrast. Timothy was working in an established assembly, Ephesus. He employed the Word of God so as to correct existing problems, perhaps even including wrongs among those taking the place of overseers. He taught side by side with others, but there is no hint of his being an overseer. Titus worked among fledgling assemblies without recognized elders (Titus 1:4-9). He guided these assemblies in recognizing the elders that God had raised up. In that sense, he served like an elder and had direct input into the care of the assembly. This was a temporary responsibility until the assemblies were consolidated from within. Thus a man who sees an assembly work begin is responsible to guide the new assembly until the Spirit clearly identifies the shepherds He has raised up. When these men are able to function on their own, a Titus assumes the same role as a Timothy in Ephesus.
What is the relationship of a full-time worker to his home assembly?
He is one of the brothers in the assembly. While he is a servant of Christ and not of men (Galatians 1:10), he is as accountable to the assembly’s elders as are any others in the assembly (Hebrews 13:17). Epaphras, a “servant of Christ” was “one of you,” identified with all the believers in the Colossian assembly (Colossians 4:12). The worker’s labors are an extension of that assembly’s interests, not merely his own private enterprise. Because of this, the assembly shares a prayerful interest in his work. He may have a good knowledge of the Word and may therefore be a helpful resource for the overseers, but their work has not been entrusted to him. The ideal is that elders and full-time workers esteem one another highly for their work’s sake (1 Thessalonians 5:13).