Linear Programming Dressed in Bible Verses

A Biblical Perspective on Faithfulness to a People and a Ministry

by J. R. Cuevas

“Do not keep moving from house to house.” (Luke 10:7)

I’ve been serving in the Christian school ministry for over ten years. It’s been a joyous vocational extension to what I do as a pastor and consistent with what I’m called to do as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But that first year was an interesting one, to say the least. Not only did I have to adjust to teaching students in the classroom, but I had to adjust to the comments and feedback I was receiving outside of the classroom. No, not from the administrators. No, not from the parents. The strangest feedback from those outside of the school community. To my surprise, even within Christian circles, not a single person asked me how the kids were being impacted by my presence in the school. Instead, within just a few months of my first year teaching, the most common question I received from people was:  “So when are you going to transfer schools?”

These folks knew that I was working in a small Christian K-12 school. I hadn’t mentioned anything about how things were developing there, yet I was asked the question about changing schools as if it was just the natural process for a career in education. Apparently, moving to another school after just a year of teaching is a common occurrence. But before the end of my first year, other schools began to contact me asking me if I was interested in working for them. And for the next eight years, people would continue to ask me if I was interested in jumping ship and serving at another school, usually one that they themselves were somehow affiliated with—no matter how fruitful my ministry was at my current school.

“Competing” for Gospel Ministers
The turnover rate at Christian schools for personnel is alarmingly high. The same is true for local churches. And from what I’ve seen, it’s not usually because someone’s getting fired; it’s because people are trying to “optimize.” They want the best possible situation that they can find, even if the situation that they are presently in is just fine. At some point, when they start comparing themselves with other fellow educators in different contexts, they begin to wonder if there are “better opportunities” out in the world. That’s the very reason people would ask me when I was thinking about moving schools that first year. Nothing bad was happening. They just wanted to know when I would be moving to a “bigger school” with “more pay” and that had “more credibility” where I could do what “I wanted to do.” Whether it’s for a better teaching setup, a more suitable schedule, a more efficient work space, or a larger compensation package, there has developed a migratory trend amongst workers of the gospel in churches, Christian schools, and other gospel-ministering institutions. It’s linear programming dressed in Bible verses. 

Christian institutions, just like secular corporations, feel the need to compete for personnel.

As a result, Christian institutions now know that they can lure workers away from their ministries by offering them a more optimal situation. Show them that your grass is greener, and they’ll choose to graze there—at least, that’s how things operate nowadays. Promise them a more prolific ministry. Promise them a ministry that’s more suitable to their gifts and passions. Promise them a better compensation package.

Christian institutions, just like secular corporations, feel the need to compete for personnel. I wish I could say that Christian institutions—whether churches or schools or parachurch ministries—always operated out of fellowship with one another with respect for their ministries. But the reality is, they often don’t. Churches and schools have a competitive bent, whether they admit it or not. Whether this is recent or long-standing, I’m not sure. But these institutes often compete for workers and laborers and ministers. And they know that the only way to gain an edge in the competition for such workers is not to present the true need, but to lure potential ministers with a better scenario. It is, after all, what corporations and companies do.

And it’s not necessarily wrong in a corporate setting. 

It’s just not what gospel ministers should do, according to Jesus.

Stay Where You Are At
The apostle Paul quotes Luke 10:7a when instructing a church how to care financially for their pastors, showing its timeless implications for present-day ministry (1 Tim 5:18). But this chapter in Luke also gives principles concerning the philosophy of how ministers should approach their ministries and the people to whom they minister. And in verse 7, Jesus gives the following explicit command:

Do not move from house to house.

Luke 10:7b

The instruction to the apostles: If a household receives you and is willing to listen to what you have to teach—and provides for your monetary needs—stay in that house and continue ministering to them for the time being. Don’t move from house to house, just because another house has better lodging, tastier food, or more people. In other words, your job isn’t to look for the best possible household to stay in. Go to the household and, if they receive you both spiritually and physically, remain there and minister to them. 

To move from house to house and from ministry to ministry for no real reason outside of “I’ve been offered a better opportunity” is simply not consistent with a biblical methodology of how to minister the gospel. Such may be fitting for worldly corporations, but not for the gospel ministry. In the same way that corporate leadership and spiritual leadership don’t go hand in hand in every respect, so also corporate practice for snagging potential employees shouldn’t be transferred over to how one approaches New Covenant ministry. 

Yes, there are real and legitimate reasons to leave a ministry. Jesus Himself said so, in the following verses. If a household or city does not receive you, the minister must not remain there. If they are no longer receptive to your teaching or refuse to provide for your means to the best of their ability, let the minister leave and wipe the dust off of his feet as a testimony of judgment against them (Luke 10:11). There are perhaps many ministers who have likely been guilty of staying longer in a ministry than perhaps they should. Maybe they did (or do) in the name of endurance. But the point of shaking the dust off of one’s feet in situations like this is not for the purpose of getting personal reprieve, but rather for protecting and communicating the dignity and value of the gospel. And indeed there are times when, even when one is thriving in a ministry setting, God may still call him to leave. Jesus left Capernaum to preach elsewhere, because of His calling to do so (Mark 1:38). Paul left his ministry in Ephesus to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20), because of his calling to do so. There is no biblical mandate for ministers to permanently remain in a particular ministry.

But there is a biblical mandate to faithfulness to a people and a ministry. In other words, to keep moving from ministry to ministry in order to find the optimal ministry setting is not consistent with how Christ said to fulfill the gospel ministry. That’s not the philosophy he gave his disciples, and that isn’t the philosophy he expects for us as his present-day ambassadors and ministers, whatever the setting. 

Application to Gospel Ministers
There is first the application to the minister of the gospel himself—whether he be a local church pastor, an international missionary, a Christian school teacher, a seminary professor, or whatever else. The bondservant of the Lord needs to be known as a man of integrity in this respect. He cannot be someone who claims that God is calling him to a different ministry, when what he is really moving for is a promise of a better salary package, a bigger office space, or a more optimal ministry setting. While rigidity in ministry is not good, the minister still needs to be a reputably faithful man, one who sticks to the people he is serving until the day God really does call him away for biblical reasons. For me personally, I realize that churches and schools need to know me as someone who can’t be lured away by greener grass, but as a man who will remain with his people and his ministry context for as long as I am able and for as long as I am received— that I won’t be lured away by another house that is trying to “out-receive” the one I am currently in. 

Christian institutions need to quit attempting to lure quality ministers away from their current ministries (where they could be thriving and having a real impact for the gospel) by promising them more optimal circumstances.

Application to Christian Institutions
There is, second, the application to all Christian institutions. For these institutions and organizations, we need to maintain integrity by refusing to gain all of the best gospel laborers from the institutions in which they are serving in an effort to optimize our own ministries. Christian institutions need to quit attempting to lure quality ministers away from their current ministries (where they could be thriving and having a real impact for the gospel) by promising them more optimal circumstances. If a place has received a person, let that person remain there and support them as they remain there. Is there ever a place and time for Christian institutions to dialogue fairly and forthrightly with one another with respect to their laborers, and perhaps engage in some sanctified swapping? Of course. Is it ever appropriate for one institutions to ask another if the latter would be willing to “give up” one of their workers to help out with their particular ministry? Indeed so. There were times when Paul wanted Timothy by his side, and there were other times when Paul dispatched Timothy from him to serve at another ministry. At the end of the day, it’s the needs of the people that take priority. But don’t attempt to lure someone away from a ministry with promises of better homes and food, as Jesus pointed out in Luke 10:7—even if you are able to fulfill these promises. For once churches and schools start competing for their personnel resources, fellowship is broken. 

Jesus Christ is himself the good news. It is he and his message that we proclaim. He has not only mandated us with what to proclaim (the gospel), and to whom to proclaim it (all people), he also also instructed us how to go about it. It’s not just about being wary of a watered-down gospel. It’s about being wary of linear programming coated in Bible verses. 

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