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Reflections: The Baptist dog

The pastor was insulted but tried to be measured in response.

A parishioner asked if he’d be willing to conduct a funeral for her beloved dog. He politely declined, and suggested he’d call a colleague to do the deed. Then the lady asked a second question.

“Pastor, do you think $500 is enough to offer your friend for conducting the funeral?”

“Wait,” the pastor replied. “Why didn’t you tell me your dog was Baptist?!”

I thought about this old story recently when our Sunday morning Bible study was about the good shepherd in John 10. Jesus distinguished between the good shepherd and what he called “the hireling.” The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. For the hireling, shepherding is just a job and he’s concerned most of all about his paycheck.

We had a pastor when I was a boy who often talked about how poor he was. He couldn’t afford to buy his wife a new dress, he insisted.

My mother chided me.

“If you’re ever a pastor, don’t do that!” she said.

Later, a mentor suggested a good practice is to have a “wallet-to-wallet” talk with the finance team once a year, in private, and then hush. I’ve found that to be good advice.

Sometimes I’ve found after inviting me to conduct a funeral or a wedding people will ask, “What do I owe you, pastor?” My response is “Nothing at all. God bless your family.”

If people offer a reimbursement for time and travel, I’ve tried to be gracious. I’ve made some foolish decisions over the years, but I hope I’ve never walked about with my hand out for money.

A ministry watchdog group recently published a story about the “top 50” ministries that own jet planes. One ministry had six. Then the article revealed the hourly cost of private aircraft – a staggering amount in my judgment. When pressed about this, one evangelist suggested demons are on commercial flights and he was protecting himself.

Most of us, according to his logic, have exposed ourselves to demons and have survived, by God’s grace!

Several moral issues have challenged the church from its beginning, and money is one of them.

Billy Graham was wise when he began his ministry to submit himself to a board who put him on salary, and his salary was always public record. Contrast this with one pastor I knew who took all cash offerings home with him and never gave the church an accounting.

Come to think of it, I wonder if he ever gave the IRS an accounting?

Ministers should strive to be good shepherds who lay down their lives for the sheep, not hirelings credibly accused of fleecing the sheep.

“Reflections” is a weekly faith column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church’s website is siluriabaptist.com.

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