Paying our Pastors

“This one moreover shall be supported of the church which has chosen him, wherein he may be in need, so that he who serves the Gospel may live of the Gospel as the Lord has ordained.”
Schleitheim Confession, Article 51

A Clear Command of Scripture

Until recently, the whole idea of paying one’s pastor was foreign to me. My church lifts an offering for the ministers, but a salary? It has never been discussed. I even thought that churches that paid their pastors were somehow less spiritual, as if salaried pastors were tainted with the love of money. Reasons have been given, but Scripture is clear.  Consider the words of I Corinthians 9:13-14:

“Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings?  In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”2

Consider also Paul’s instructions to Timothy: “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.’”3  

This is not an obscure teaching, found only in some nook or cranny of the Bible.  Paul lays out this teaching with clarity, with reason, and with directness.  In all our beliefs, Scripture must be our basis, not personal preference.  I believe that as Biblicists, we must reexamine our position.  Perhaps we are ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture.  

Common Arguments

I was always under the impression that paying a pastor would make him greedy.  Paul, however, has a different approach. He does not say that money causes greed, therefore don’t give money.  Instead, he says that greed is sin; therefore choose a man who is not greedy.  Notice how Paul deals with the heart.  If a man is greedy, his love for money will show whether or not he has any.  As R.C. Sproul quipped, “You don’t avoid hirelings by paying little, but by paying attention.”4

Another well-worn argument is that Paul himself did not accept money so that he would not be accused of selling the gospel.  Note that the Pauline exception comes from I Corinthians 9, the same chapter where Paul explains the pastor’s right to payment.  Also note that the Pauline exception is, like the term implies, not the norm.  When we apply it to all pastors, we are guilty of ignoring the context.  

Notice that Paul did not refuse support from believers; we have record of other churches sending him support. Rather, Paul refused support from unbelievers, so that no one could accuse him of selling the gospel.  Therefore, in context, we see that the Pauline exception refers to missionaries – those evangelizing unbelievers – not to pastors.

A Real Job

Perhaps our oversight in this area stems from an improper view of pastors.  We tend to view pastoring as a secondary responsibility, not a real job.  Think about it: our pastors work full-time jobs, and in every way carry normal responsibilities, but on top of that, they also carry the weight of pastoral duty.  

A pastor is called to great responsibilities, but poverty should not be one of them.  Instead of discouraging those who are in it for the money, our lack of financial support might actually discourage men who are gifted to lead, but cannot afford the financial burden. A lay pastor is placed in the impossible position of full-time provider, full-time family man, and full-time minister. Something must give. Either some of these areas will be neglected, or the pastor will burn out while struggling to fulfill them.

Could it be that our churches suffer because our pastors do not have the time or energy to preach well?  Could it be that pastors’ families are neglected because our pastors are too stressed to be good husbands and fathers?

Not A Career

To be clear, there are a few ditches that we must avoid.  First, while a pastor deserves payment, this does not mean that pastoring is a career.  “[The pastor is not] selling his services to the highest bidder. His calling is distinct from the marketplace.”5 I believe strongly in using lay pastors, men chosen from the church, who are called by the local body. When the greater evangelical movement hires pastors because they have an M.Div., they do themselves a disservice.

Seminary is helpful, but it should train those who are called, not call those who are trained.  Along the same lines, paying one’s pastor does not “buy a share” in his ministry.  We must not try to control a pastor by putting the squeeze on his finances when we disapprove.

It makes sense that if a pastor is paid by the church, he should be expected to give up his other jobs in order to focus on ministry.  However, financially support will not look the same in all cases.  In some instances, a church, because of its size or the ability of it’s members, may not be able to fully support a pastor.  

In other cases, a pastor may choose full support in order to focus on full-time ministry.  Or, perhaps the pastor could work part time in exchange for a partial salary.  The specifics of financial support must be worked out by the local church.  

Let’s Get Started

So where do we begin?  After all, this will require a big change, a reversal of our current opinion.  Yet it is what the Bible teaches.  

It must start with us.

First, we must recognize and appreciate the work our pastors do.  They work hard; let’s come alongside of them and honor them. Second, while we should not seek to make our pastors rich, we should give generously.  Let’s not force our pastors to just scrape by; let’s give them some dignity.  Finally, we must check our own attitudes.  Are we giving cheerfully or grudgingly?  

The Bible commands us to honor our leaders: financially, yes, but also with our respect and encouragement.  Perhaps this is an area where we need to improve.  I suspect that change will not come quickly.  It will require discussion, Scripture-searching and time.  Yet I believe that by obeying the teaching of Scripture, our churches will be blessed.   

Question: In what ways could paying our pastors benefit our churches?  How does your church approach this? Please share your comments below!

Bryce Bryce Wenger lives and works on a small farm near Dalton, Ohio. He has a love for music, literature, and learning. His free time is usually spent backpacking, canoeing, or otherwise enjoying nature. He is passionate about knowing God’s Word and living life to the fullest.

Endnotes:

1. Wenger, J.C “Schleitheim Confession of Faith, 1527” Web. 01-26-2016.
2. The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.
3. I Tim. 17-18. Ibid.
4. Sproul, R. C., Jr. “How Well Should Pastors Be Paid?” Ligonier Ministries. N.p., 29 Mar. 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
5. Ibid.

27 thoughts on “Paying our Pastors

  1. Thank you so much for being forthright. We cease to grow when we cease to repent, and our churches certainly need to grow in this area.

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  2. I really appreciate this timely article. I believe that the Anabaptist church has greatly benefited from a plural ministry and this has relieved the duties of a pastor. Most churches probably cannot support several men in the ministry but by spreading the work load and spreading the support between 2 or more men, we reap the blessings of a supported, plural ministry.
    As a young minister, maybe it is a lack of faith on my part to be willing to give up my other work to be available to serve more. As Anabaptist have gotten farther away from an agrarian lifestyle, it is harder for a man to have the flexibility in his work to be able to visit, study, attend training or preach in other churches.
    Where do we start? I think articles like this are a good way to get people thinking about a long held tradition that may not be very biblical. Most pastors will not preach this in their home congregation for fear of appearing greedy. I believe churches and ministry need to open this conversation together in order to retain the benefits of a lay ministry who labors among his brethren and not “hired servant” mentality.
    Blessings

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What of the objection that, like Paul, it is the Church’s position that any who are ordained should take the “Pauline Exception.” The argument states that, while it is biblical to pay pastors, there is also biblical precedent for pastors to decline payment for the reasons stated above, etc. Thus, it is not the negligence of the congregations but rather, the will of the pastoral council conference wide? Leastwise it may have started as such.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughts! While writing this article, I wondered how we as Anabaptists moved from the position of the Schleitheim to the exact opposite position. I’m still not sure how it happened. That being said, I hate to suggest that our traditional positon on this issue is due to “negligence of the congregations”. Rather, I think that specific exceptions for genuine reasons in the past lead to our current tradition of unpaid pastors. I think that our churches today are simply following a longstanding tradition which, in my opinion, is in error.

      If the Pauline exception is applied to all pastors, it ceases to be an exception. Furthermore, Paul himself would not recommend that all pastors take this exception. The very purpose of paying pastors is to enable them to better serve in the work of ministry. As I described in the artice, the context shows us that the exception applies to missionaries. That is, the missionary will be self-supported or supported by an established church, rather than by the people group being reached.

      Where we go wrong is when we view the Pauline exception as more spiritual than a paid positon. Instead, we should view the exception as a concession from the norm for certain unique circumstances. The only way we would come to the conclusion that all pastors should be unpaid is if we begin with the belief that it is more spiritual to be unpaid. It is a circular argument, i.e. we must assume our conclusion to reach our conclusion.

      We do our churches a disservice when we try to improve on a biblical teaching. We must take scripture at it’s word and humbly evaluate our current tradition. Paying our pastors should, when done biblically, enable our pastors to serve better. On the flip side, not paying our pastors, for whatever reason we construct, may distract them from ministry and decrease their effectiveness.

      Sorry for the long winded response. Hopefully this is helpful! Thanks for reading!

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    2. The Catholics enforce Paul’s other preference and exception — that all ordained leaders live like Paul a life of celibacy….

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      1. Hi, welcome to the party.

        I’m not sure if you’re saying that
        a. the Catholics do it (enforce a ‘non-mandated’ Pauline suggestion) therefore it is evil, or
        b. why, if enforcing one, we don’t enforce them all.

        to the 1st: things similar in some of their parts may not be similar in all of their parts. Something being catholic doesn’t make it something to be avoided.
        to the 2nd: In following one you may not follow them all, unless your reason for following them comes from the fact that it was said by Paul, which it doesn’t. You can make a decent case, as did Paul (on marriage and $$), from the wisdom of present day situations.
        My thoughts.

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      2. Sorry, my response was cryptic.
        – in both cases, Paul personally takes a position that he acknowledges isn’t for everyone.
        – in both cases, it can be appropriate and good to follow his example.
        – in neither case is it appropriate to enforce it as a mandate for everyone.
        We react strongly against the Catholic insistence on celibacy, but our lack of support is just as unbiblical.

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      3. I think BMA would agree with your first three points. I don’t know BMA’s official position. I don’t think they’d say it’s a mandate for everyone. But merely that we here now will not pay our pastors for this and that reason. Pastoral assent (I assume) is assumed at ordination. BMA does support their pastors, just not as intrinsically as some would prefer.
        (p.s. I don’t know if your BMA or not. That’s my conference and I don’t feel comfortable speaking beyond that. I might be wrong speaking for them.
        Open to correction.)

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  4. I appreciate this well written article. As was mentioned in a previous comment, this is not a subject that is preached much about because to do so puts a minister in an awkward position. But it is a Biblical teaching that many are unaware of. And even a plural ministry still falls within these principles. If the work is divided, the monetary gift could be divided also. There are some conservative churches that have already begun to do this. Praying more will.

    Thanks for writing this well thought through article.

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  5. Well written, Bryce, on a subject that is neglected to the detriment of our churches. I agree heartily! May the Lord grant broad circulation to your article.

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  6. As a pastor with an adequate income and some flexibility, I’ve been fortunate to be able to take time off to focus on responsibilities such as sermon preparation. However, I do resonate deeply with what you’ve written. We should be teaching on this, but it’s quite awkward for the pastor to be doing that…

    I personally prefer a supported model with plural leadership where the church contributes to free up the pastors to serve, but the pastors (often) has an additional source of income. I think this tends to reduce the divide between laity and clergy, allows for plural leadership, and is a model that is reproducible, especially in smaller congregations. For many of us, being able to do other work part of the time can actually be a stress reliever.

    I’ve also been advocating that pastors have their regular business meetings during the working day instead of taking an evening every week away from the family. The bulk of sermon prep should also probably happen during the work week, though that will vary from situation to situation. We need to help provide time so that our pastors can also pastor their family well….

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    1. Thank you for your comment! It’s good to get a pastor’s point of view. I like the idea of doing pastoral work during the week so that it doesn’t take away from family time. Pastoral work shouldn’t be tacked on top of regular work, but instead replace some of the regular work. Compensation, whether full or partial, removes some of the other responsibilities a pastor has. Too often, the pastor’s family takes the brunt of neglect when a pastor is stretched too thin.

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  7. Thanks, Bryce, for the well-written article.

    First, I commend our little congregation, Faith Community Fellowship, for their regular, monthly offerings for myself and my co-pastor.

    Though I’ve only been a pastor for about 5 years, I’ve been involved in the ministry of Heralds of Hope for more than 20 years. To this day, when I tell people about my work, I sometimes get the question “is that all you do?” The implication is clear; ministry is NOT a REAL job.

    Many years ago (in my 20s) I was assigned to lead a Bible study through the book of Galatians in my home church. What I discovered in Galatians 6:6-10 reinforces the Scriptures you cited in providing remuneration for pastors. I grew up hearing verses 7 and 8 quoted “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. For he who sows to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” But I never heard them quoted in connection with verse six! “Let the one who is taught in the Word communicate (go shares with) the one who teaches.” This context is very important!

    I believe we, as a sub-culture, have suffered “corruption” as a result of ignoring this command.
    Finally, I’ve shared this teaching when I’ve been invited to preach in other congregations. I don’t ask any questions before sharing it. Some of our congregations do well; many others do not.

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    1. Thanks for reading! I appreciate the pastoral perspective. I like what you brought out from Gal. 6. I had never heard that before in that context. I hope that we as Anabaptists can see financially supporting our pastors as a benefit to our churches, not a drudgery or a detriment.

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  8. I certainly agree. I think that if we want to back up our claim to be biblicists we should back up that claim with fallowing biblical instructions on supporting our pastors. I would like to hear further discussion on how the Mennonite church came to adopt symbolic rather than supportive pay for our pastors. Understanding the history of something can do much to help us correct our missteps.

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  9. Bryce, well stated. I find it noteworthy that the churches that ignore the 1 Corinthians 9 instructions, are strong on practicing 1 Corinthians 11, and those who promote 9 generally don’t practice 11. What do we make of that? Which one is in greater error?

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  10. I really enjoyed you thought but as I thought about it and my position in missions now and how I was sent told to go in faith and trust God to provide my need, I was taught all the advantages to this approach to funding mission and I have to say that I like it but I wonder if more of our pastors shouldn’t leave there work and take a faith biased approach to there ministry. Would this have the same or better results as they see God providing for them?

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  11. This is a totally new thought to me. I grew up in a very conservative setting where ministry was not paid, for fear they would only preach what their people wanted to hear.

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  12. Bryce: I’ve read your article several times now. Excellent writing on a very touchy subject. What you may not know is that it has been discussed before, long before your time. 🙂 Evidently the timing was not right for some reason. Who knows maybe your article will stimulate more thinking on the matter. It will take more committed giving on our part to make something like this happen. Glad you sowed the seed for thought. It is something we need to seriously be thinking about as we pray about additional leadership in our small congregation.

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    1. Neal,
      I was pretty young at the time but I do remember a time when supporting our pastors was discussed. I few thoughts I have are: Giving rarely exceeds the current need. People, including me, are unlikely to give more until we are actually doing something with the gift. Secondly, I think that this kind of decision should be made based on whether it is the right thing to do or not. If it is right we can decide to do if as long as the funds are there. Having a sound financial plan is needed but waiting to plan until the money is there means it probably won’t happen.

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  13. Hi Bryce. I appreciate your article. This is something that our church in Iowa has worked through in the past couple of years and they have decided that the best way forward is to have a full-time paid pastor (that would be me). It is interesting to note that this discussion was started quite a number of years ago by the now older, “traditional”, bi-vocational pastors, who keenly felt the frustration of trying to care for a church while making a living. They regret the times when the church was neglected for the sake of their families or when their families were neglected for the sake of the church. This is a conflict that can never be resolved 100% but considering the workload that I have as a full-time pastor, and feeling that even now I don’t have enough time for everything, I can’t imagine what the bi-vocational pastors go through. I appreciate your dad greatly and I’m sure he worked hard to keep his life and priorities balanced.
    As for the financial aspect, I agree with Jeremy. Our church didn’t think they afford a salaried pastor and in many ways they went forward on faith. So far, the money has always been there!

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