Don't Muzzle The Ox.

Posted on Dec 06, 2021 by Mark Muehl - Best Practices - Christian Leadership - Lutheran Spirit - Quality Education

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’ 1 Timothy 5 17-18

I’ve never been fond of these words from Paul to his young pastor friend. Comparing a church worker to an ox?! As a teen, I remember being rather clumsy while going through growth spurts. I will even confess of stumbling through a lesson that wasn’t prepared well. HOWEVER, to compare an adult, a church worker, to an ox?! Considering the price a male bovine pays to be a docile, hardworking replica of the aggressive bull it once was, well, an ox isn’t a comparison that this hardworking American wants to be compared to.

However, you and I both know the ox is not the point of these verses. The point is simply a matter of demonstrating respect and honor to those who preach and teach the Gospel. In many of his letters, the apostle teaches about the relationship between congregation and pastor (which in our circles includes church workers).

Respect is a term often used and rarely lived these days. Yet respect is the theme of much of Paul’s teaching about care for workers. To the church in Thessalonica, Paul shares, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Respect- because...? The writer of Hebrews explains, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” When pastors and commissioned workers enter the ministry, they enter understanding they are taking on a God-given responsibility- the teaching and preaching of the Gospel. This includes shepherding those entrusted to their care. Be it teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments, disciplining, or leading, those who hold such offices in the Church have a heavy responsibility. They serve with faithful hearts and hold fast to the promises of Christ.

Out of love for God and by His command, owners of our churches and schools owe much to their pastors and teachers. What does this look like?

1- Attitude of gratitude. I’ve been in council meetings and voters meetings where the mood was tense and terse. Unfortunately, very responsible individuals frequently take on the duress of the budget with little support and understanding. The mission of the ministry is lost to a “bottom line” focus. As Thanksgiving is not that far in our memory, one wonders how many of our fiscal issues would go away when we, individually and corporately, recognize and focus on the Giver of every Good and Perfect Gift and respond in kind. It sure works at home!

2- Compensation. In fiscal year 22/23, public schools will be obligated to have a base pay for teachers of $45000. No Lutheran school teacher or pastor worth their salt entered the ministry to be rich. Nor has there ever been an expectation to match the compensation of brothers and sisters in the public schools. However, there need not be gross differences in such compensation. It is imperative that each school and congregation dig deep into their study of compensation using the Concordia Plan Services Compensation Tool and address how compensation supports the security and joy of workers. Another reality is the economics of the pool of workers; my days in econ classes reminds me that with high demand and a small supply comes bigger dollar signs. The challenge is real.

3- Prayer. How many times the phrase is used, “All I can do is pray.” Often this statement is said in a lamenting way, as if it’s a last resort option. However, over and over, the Bible teaches that prayer is a Christian’s number one tool. Our lack of praying is a sure sign that we individually think we individually have the answer. Uh, no! Our first action should be prayer and then action....and then more prayer...and then more action. Pray and act, pray and act.