“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.
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 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.
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.