Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Sumptuous Dinner and the Chef - a Parable

Just like to share with you a brilliant parable written by my fellow blogger friend Stanley Wong. Enjoy! : )


originally published in Stanley's blog.

Last night, to celebrate April Fool's Day, I took my family out for dinner at a very nice restaurant in the city. The waitress led us to a table and we sat down and waited for her to hand us the menu. However after some time, we still did not receive the menu. I managed to catch the attention of the waitress and asked her for the menu. She replied,"I am sorry, sir. In honour of April Fool's Day, our restaurant is serving only the Chef's Special Set Dinner today. Your dinner will be served shortly."

True enough, while the waitress was still explaining to us, the first dish arrived. All in all, we were served a seven course dinner plus dessert (mango pudding). Man, was the dinner good! We thoroughly enjoyed the food and my kids were pestering me to come again soon, even though we still haven't left the restaurant yet!

Then suddenly, something caught my mind: I had not asked about the price of the dinner! I quickly signaled to the waitress for the bill and crossed my fingers that I have enough money in my wallet to pay for it. To my surprise, the waitress walked over empty-handed and said,"We have no fixed price for our set dinner, sir. You just pay us whatever you want."

My surprise turned into shock. I thought this was too good to be true. Could this be an April Fool's Day joke? I asked,"Is it ok even if I pay $2?" "Yes, sir. Any amount you pay is fine with us." came the smiling reply. Of course, I didn't pay $2 but I did give what I thought was an appropriate amount.

I asked the waitress,"I am curious. Since the customer can pay any amount he wants, how much does your chef actually earn a year?" She replied, "$500,000". I was flabbergasted; "What? $500,000 just to cook food? This is too much! I am never coming to this restaurant again!"

My dear wife (God bless her) said to me,"Darling, we really enjoyed the dinner just now, didn't we? How much did you pay for it? Just $20, not $500,000! For a seven course dinner plus dessert! Why should you be concerned about how much the chef earns?"


eekpil said...

A valiant attempt to put a different perspective into the debate, but in my humble opinion, is still missing the crux of the issue. In my own unworthy opinion, the crux of the issue boils down to the following:

Is religious leadership just another profession? When one is not feeling well, one goes to see a doctor. Does one have any problem with a smoking, obese doctor telling you the way to good health is to quit smoking and exercise more? I personally don't. The doctor is just dispensing his professional advice - he's definitely free to do what he want in his private life! How the doctor charges for this advice is also immaterial.

Even without empirical evidence, I'd be so daring to say that maybe everyone has spiritual needs, no different from other needs, such as physical, plumbing, electrical, etc etc. And whatever your needs are, there are professionals around that addresses these needs. These professionals make a living solving these problems - how they charge is immaterial to the fact that they make a living solving problems that they are good at. Many people, including myself, don't impose a moral standards on these professionals. For a long time, the implicit assumption is that politicians command high moral standards, because they are a bunch of individuals demonstrating altruistic and self-sacrificing acts to serve the common good of the public . Singapore government has just shown that politicians are just another group of professionals - they want good pay, without which no one wants to do the job. I have no problem with that, and I don't measure politicians against a higher moral standard - just enough to be honest in discharging their duties, not unlike any other professionals. In many parts of the world, they are even implicitly assumed to have a lower one.

So if religious leadership is just another one of these professions, why should anyone feel bitter about their pay? Many people are green with envy with Brad Pitt's good looks and pay, but few would feel bitter about it. Let it be decided by the free market!

Ok, then maybe some people are not treating religious leadership as just another profession? Or maybe they don't realize that it can be treated as one.

The second issue is that if one feels strongly that religious leadership is more than just another profession, and comes with a higher morale expectation, then the question to ask is perhaps not how much the leaders are paid - but how the money are spent. No one really cares if a doctor or lawyer lives an opulent lifestyle. But there are always some people that treat religious leaders differently. Perhaps that's why many well known religious leaders in history has wisely sidestep the sticking issue by choosing a humble lifestyle - not knowing that in so doing, they have made lives a lot harder for those that claimed to follow their teaching.

In summary, in my unworthy opinion - for those who really care about this issue, they are not asking the right question. For those that ask the question, they might not know if they should really care.

NOTE: the original comment was posted in my Multiply blogsite:

eekpil said...

Thanks Losheng. You raised good points. Little wonder that you were consistently rated as one of the best speakers in our JC's debate team. (Oh, how I miss our JC days!)

After walking on this Earth for more than three decades, and encountering enough people to shock me out of my idealist mindset about how people SHOULD BE, I have learned to acknowledge that human beings (myself included) don't always act consciously or rationally.

Some people really don't care, they just like to complain. :)

Some people claim that they care, but they are just reacting to their feelings and thoughts that arise in them because of what they perceive with their physical senses.

But when you ask them to explain what really concerns them (like you did with your comment), you find that they couldn't give you any coherent answer - they cannot explain what is it that they "care" about and why they "care".

If we truly know and are in tune with our values, we will know how not to just REACT to our feelings and thoughts, but to ACT in line with our values. We will take meaningful and effective actions to address the issues we care about.

I value integrity and fairness. I value happiness and joy. I value being a source of help to others. So when I have feelings and thoughts that bother me, I take them as indicators for me to take some meaningful actions, in a reasonable and responsible way that is in line with my values, so that my personal well-being and my enjoyment of life would be enhanced.

Honestly, what on Earth is the point of being bitter, being angry, being unhappy, AND complaining and obsessing about things and issues?

I know it is a fact that we cannot control our feelings and thoughts. But I also know for a fact that I am not just my feelings and my thoughts. I need not react to the feelings and thoughts I have. So, rather than REACT to my feelings and thoughts that arise in me due what I perceive through my physical senses, I can choose and decide to ACT in a way that effectively enhances my life according to the values I live by.

In my humble opinion, I think it makes no sense to go down the path of complaining and whining about things and issues, and in the process make myself and other people miserable.

But of course, I am not complaining and whining about people who are complainers and whiners here. I am just spelling out what I believe will help such people live a more fulfilling and joyful life.

If my "words of wisdom" were not heeded or appreciated, so be it. I will not complain and I will not whine.

I have more valuable and meaningful things to do with my life. :)

eekpil said...

"Is religious leadership just another profession?"

Some will say "yes" and others "no". And some will say "yes and no" or "I don't know, why don't you tell me?".

There are different types of profession. Certain types are generally considered to be more "noble" (e.g. doctors and teachers) and others less so (e.g. prostitutes and tax collectors).

Also, there are different types of religions/faiths, and in each, there are different types of leaders. Some religions/faiths and their leaders believe that they should be fully involved with and engaged in the world and its affairs, whilst others believe they should be segregated and isolated from the world and all of its affairs.

So, in view of the complexities involved, I don't think I am able answer that question. To give a response, I will need to change the question and make it more specific to myself, i.e., "What kind of a senior pastor do I want to be leading my church - one who treats his role as a profession, or one who truly sees himself as a servant of God?"

For me, I want my senior pastor to be NOT a professional pastor. I don't want to be under a senior pastor who leads a church just because it is a job he happens to be good at and it helps him put bread on the table at home. I want him to be leading the church because serving God and building the church are his life purposes.

As to how much salary such a leader should get from a church, I believe that will depend on the policy and practice of the church concerned. Again, we should not assume that every church is the same and that there is a one-size-fit-all solution to the matter.

How each church benchmarks the salary of its staff - whether it believes that personnel engaged in "spiritual" work should be rewarded in the same way as those in engaged in "secular" work or otherwise, I believe, should be left entirely to the church to decide.

If I were to disagree with the staff remuneration policy or practices of the church, I could either become the chairman of the remuneration committee of the church and change things, or I could choose not to contribute to the church, or I could choose to join another church which policy and practices I could agree with.

And if I could not find such a church, then I guess I would have start one myself. ;P

But of course, this is just my personal approach to the matter. I don't claim to represent all Christians, much less so all of humanity. :)

Stanley Wong said...

I believe, in my not so humble opinion, the crux of the issue is: how do you value the work of a pastor?

All the noise generated so far points to one thing: the work of a pastor is not valued highly.

For example, nobody will bat an eyelid if the newspapers report that a top brain surgeon earns more than $1 million a year. This is because we recognize and highly value the surgeon's years of training and expertise gained in what is widely acknowledged as a highly complex field of medicine.

In contrast, not many people value the work of a pastor because it deals with spiritual well being rather than physical well being. The results of the brain surgeon's operations are obvious and easily appraised while the results of the pastor's sermons are not obvious and most of the time cannot be immediately or easily appraised.

The work of the brain surgeon in the operating theatre is perceived to require considerably higher skill levels compared to the pastor. The pastor just stands on the stage and talk.

High moral standards, altruism, self-sacrifice, etc are all smokescreens used to cover up the fact that many Christians do not think that the work of the pastor is valuable.

1 Tim 5:17 says "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." Sadly, many Christians do not even find the pastor worthy of honour, let alone double honour.

In fact, I dare say,in my not so humble opinion, that many Christians think that they are giving the pastor a livelihood, that the pastor probably cannot make a living outside the church. They think that the job of a pastor is lowly compared to secular jobs and therefore do not deserve a high salary. Hence they are shocked that the salary of a pastor can be comparable to that of a CEO.

Steven Gerrard earns more than 100,000 pounds a week for his ability a kick a ball around. The people at Liverpool FC (as well as many others outside) find that the "work" he does is extremely valuable and pays him accordingly.

So then it all boils down to the question I asked in the beginning: how do you value the work of your pastor?

Thy Word Is Truth said...

Lip Kee,

1) The chef is NOT the owner of the restaurant.

2) The chef is merely a servant of the OWNER.

3) Everything from that restaurant rightly belong to the Owner.

4) Everything that the patrons of the restaurant (may give or pay as per your "parable") and what they may still have remaining in their pockets or wallets belong to the OWNER of the restaurant.

5) Everything that the chef and fellow workers of the restaurant receive is taken from what rightly belong to the OWNER of the restaurant.

So ....does it matter HOW the chef and fellow workers spend what rightly belong to the OWNER ? The answer is obvious.


eekpil said...


1) Agreed. The pastor is NOT the owner of the church.

2) Agreed. The pastor is merely a servant of GOD.

3) Agreed. Everything from the church rightly belongs to the GOD.

4) Agreed. Everything that the people who attend the church may give and what they may still have remaining in their pockets or wallets belong to God. (note: I did not write the parable. It was written by my blogger friend Stanley Wong, as acknowledged at the beginning of this posting.)

5) Agreed. Everything that the pastor and his fellow servers in the church receives is taken from what rightly belong to God.

I am so glad I am in total agreement with you, my brother (except for the part about the authorship of the parable ;-P

All that I have rightly belongs to God. And how I spend all that I have, be it my financial resources, my time, my energy etc, is a matter between God and me, right?

Therefore, I believe how my pastor and his fellow workers spend what rightly belong to God, is also a matter between them and God. :)

Lip Kee