What The Bible Says About Paying Your Pastor
April 1, 1981
Because I'm not a pastor, the question of a pastor's pay doesn't affect me directly. But as a college teacher, I have an opportunity to talk with students considering seminary, and I hear them ask, "Will I be able to earn enough to support my family?" I also know that some of my former seminary classmates who are now pastors often wonder if they'll ever earn enough to give their wives the freedom to choose not to work.
These facts began to trouble me enough that I decided to try to answer the question, "How much should a pastor be paid?"
People often disagree about this question, largely because they're not sure just what the Bible teaches about it. In fact, the Bible does not give us a simple formula to arrive at the proper amount. But when I examined the two key New Testament passages on this subject, I found they taught a principle of abundant generosity that was far greater than I had imagined.
The first passage is I Timothy 5:17, 18:
"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
"For the Scripture says, 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages.' "
The connection of verses 17 and 18 shows us how highly Paul valued the ministry of the gospel. He says, in effect, "So if even these deserve a fair wage, then how much is deserved by the one who works all the time in the highest and most important calling God gives? Certainly, his work is worth at least twice what other people get!"
Perhaps we would not have used the word "double," but there it stands in Scripture, showing us how highly we ought to regard this important work. When I think how much it means to me to listen to the Word preached week after week, then I realize that the word "double" is not so extreme after all. Paul did not specify exactly whose salary the pastor's was to be the double of, but it probably was not necessary in a society where the wage structure was much less complex than ours.
Isn't the Bible saying to us that we should compare a pastor's job with the most important jobs in society? Rather than comparing our pastor's salary with the salaries of other pastors, shouldn't we compare it with the salaries of doctors or lawyers or business executives, people who often earn "double" what ordinary working people earn? The Bible tells us the pastor's job is at least as important as these and he deserves ("is worthy of") pay similar to the pay these jobs receive.
Now it must be made clear the Bible does not tell us to pay our pastor a double salary. Rather, it says he is "worthy" of it. How wise Scripture is! Perhaps there are some churches so small they can't pay a pastor much at all. God does not command them to pay their pastor twice as much as the average pay in their community. He just says the pastor deserves that much, and that is something the church should remember as it plans and grows. Or perhaps a pastor will simply refuse to accept that much. He and his family might even decide they should have a simpler lifestyle below their present income, as a witness against the excessive materialism of our society.
Paul's own practice is instructive here. Sometimes he took payment for his ministry, sometimes he did not. I Corinthians 9:1-18 and II Corinthians 11:7 show he found work instead of accepting money from the Corinthians, but II Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:15-18 make it clear he did accept support from other churches, and in I Corinthians 9:14 he stoutly defends that right. In fact, in II Corinthians 12:13 he tells the Corinthians they were less favored than the other churches, because they did not enjoy the privilege of giving to his needs!
Of course people will object that offering a high salary will entice some to enter the ministry for the money. In reply, three points need to be mentioned:
1. The Bible has many other provisions for being sure that only the right people enter and stay in the ministry. (For example, the personal qualifications listed in I Timothy 3:1-7, 5:19-22 and Titus 1:5-9.) Low pay, however, is simply not a requisite. Anyone who wants to argue that low pay is good for pastors must do so both without any clear scriptural support and in direct opposition to I Timothy 5:17.
2. Sadly, the opposite result of low pastoral salaries has come about too often. Some of our most gifted young men are not entering the ministry. There may be other factors, but one is certainly the fact that a young man contemplating the ministry must not only ask himself, "Am I willing to devote my life to the exceedingly demanding task of the faithful ministry of God's Word?" (a scriptural requirement), but also, "Am I willing to devote myself and my family to a life of relative poverty?" (a manifestly unscriptural requirement).
3. There are some large churches that pay their pastors very generously, and they have in their pulpits outstandingly gifted men, dedicated, humble servants of God who are simply being paid what they deserve. They are not "lovers of money." Indeed, no sensible person who wanted to become a millionaire would enter this occupation! But these pastors have rightly allowed their churches to pay them at a level that makes a fair provision for their families, for retirement years (house and pension), for carrying on the kind of ministry in study, entertaining, and correspondence that is expected of them, and for allowing them to experience the great privilege of giving generously from their own money to other aspects of the Lord's work.
Whenever a practice of low pay continues, it is inevitable that the most brilliant and gifted, those who could have made tremendous contributions as preachers of the gospel, will frequently drift away into other careers. Of course they won't do this simply because of the money; they'll also be influenced by an intuitive realization that low salary levels betray a deeper attitude among many Christians, an attitude that attaches relatively low importance to the ministry as a career. So the decision not to enter the ministry because of the prospect of low pay might not even be a conscious one on the part of many young people, but I think it's a decision that takes place far more often than we suppose.
Following the principle of I Timothy 5:17-18, we can see that Scripture doesn't caution us against paying our minister too much, but it does caution against paying him too little. If we want to know how much to pay a pastor, the Bible seems to be telling us that anything up to double an ordinary wage is not too much and is pleasing to God.
The second important New Testament passage is Galatians 6:6:
"Let him who is taught the Word share all good things with him who teaches."
The phrase "all good things" again includes more than money and possessions, but it does include at least that. Here is Paul's provision for the spontaneous expression of the love that believers have for their pastor, a love that will show itself in a natural and free sharing of whatever blessings the Lord gives us.
One day I received some money unexpectedly, and I went to the bookstore to buy some books. While I was there, the Lord brought this verse to mind, I think, to show me I had been lax in obeying this principle of Scripture. Why should I spend all the money on books for myself? Shouldn't I also get some books for my pastor and thereby "share all good things with him who teaches"? Then as I thought more, I began applying this to other areas of life. Shouldn't we apply this verse to everything the Lord has given us?
If I take my wife out to dinner (using money that the Lord, in whatever way, has made it possible for me to have), shouldn't I be sure that my pastor has enough money to take his wife out to dinner occasionally as well? If I buy some new clothes, shouldn't I be sure my pastor has enough money to buy some new clothes too? If I take my family on a special vacation, shouldn't I be sure my pastor is able to take his family on a special vacation too? When we begin to think about all the gifts the Lord has given us, our list of "all good things" begins to get very long indeed.
These two New Testament passages-one emphasizing the responsibility of the entire church, the other emphasizing an individual responsibility- should encourage us in an abundant kind of generosity toward those who sustain our spiritual lives by feeding us week by week on the Word of God.
Copyright © 1981 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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