Should Pastors be Paid?
My first vocational ministry position paid $14,000 per year. I was the Director of Children and Youth Ministries at a small Baptist church in Indiana. I can assure you, the church got their money’s worth out of me.
My second job was at another small church nearby, but this time I was the lead pastor. Starting pay was $400 per week. That came out to about $21,000 a year after a generous Christmas bonus. I was technically bi-vocational (meaning, I worked a second job). Some would call it part-time. Most weeks, I earned minimum wage.
I am not sharing those stories to complain. Both churches paid me what they could at the time and increased my salary when they were able. For that I am grateful. Plus, I didn’t get into ministry for the pay. I don’t know anyone who does.
The purpose of this article is to show from Scripture that ministers of the gospel deserve to be paid for their work. Though it may be a fringe position and small minority, there are some who don’t agree that this is the case. Certain groups believe that no one should make their living from the church. But I believe Scripture is not on their side. In fact, my contention is that the Bible commands the people of God to pay ministers of the gospel when they’re able to do so.
The key text supporting my thesis comes from 1st Corinthians 9:7-14.
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 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.
It doesn’t cost soldiers money to serve their country. They earn money for their service. A farmer doesn’t plant a vineyard without enjoying the fruit for himself. A shepherd doesn’t tend a flock without benefiting from his sheep. In the same way, those who devote their lives to the work of the gospel should make their living from their ministry. Paul expected ministers of gospel, who sow “spiritual things”, to “reap material things” in return. Those “material things” equal financial compensation. This biblical principle dates back to the Levitical priesthood (V.13). The priests served full time in the temple. How else would they provide for themselves and their families if the people of God didn’t support them financially? Paul makes his point explicit in verse 14—"those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” In other words, if one is devoted to preaching the gospel and shepherding God’s people, making a full time job impossible to maintain, he should be paid a salary to support his basic needs.
Another pertinent passage comes from 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-10.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.
The point Paul is making is that Christians should work for their money. Anyone who is able, but unwilling, to work should be avoided and should not even eat. Paul practiced what he preached. When he was ministering to the Thessalonians, he worked as a tentmaker, so he didn’t put financial stress upon the congregation. Nevertheless, he had the authority to collect a salary from them. He had that right (V.9), but he was trying to be an example to particular people who clearly had individuals among them who ceased working (probably because they believed the return of Christ was near). To say it another way, Paul had the right to take a salary from the church for his work as a minister, but he chose not to for reasons pertaining to the Thessalonian context.
Scripture is replete with testimony that ministers of the gospel should be paid for their work. Jesus told the seventy-two preachers He commissioned that when they enter a home to minister to people, they should “remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). The apostles and disciples provided a service, and Jesus said they deserved to be paid for it. When someone provides a service for us, like fixing our pipes or serving our food, we have no problem giving them money in exchange for their work. So, why would we have a problem paying ministers of the gospel when they serve us living water and the bread of life?
I understand why this is a touchy subject. We have been worn out and made to become skeptical by all the televangelists who constantly grasp for our wallets in the name of Jesus. Also, many Christians have been to churches where it seems like all they do is ask for money. So, I see the hesitancy.
But it would be unwise to let a few bad examples blind us to Scripture’s clear teaching. Our pastors and ministry leaders care for our souls and provide an invaluable service to our families. Not only should we obey Scripture’s mandate to pay them, but we should also desire to be as generous as possible to make their job a joy, because that is to our advantage in the end (Hebrews 13:17). Furthermore, if a pastor is free to devote his full-time attention to the church, His people are the ones who reap the benefits. It’s when pastors are overrun and unpaid that they can’t maximize their gifts for the Lord and His people.
Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the TJC RE:GENERATION ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.
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