Pastors, on the whole, are doing as well financially as they ever have. That—of course—isn’t true of all. Nor does it mean that they are doing well—the average salary is still far below par. And in many cases it is the prime source of hindering their effectiveness in the ministry. Can anything be done about it? More specifically, what can the pastor himself do about it—or should he do anything? Yes! and Yes, again!
First, you must recognize that God expects you to earn a living wage. In part, pastors themselves (by their failure to teach this, failure to speak with their elders and deacons, and failure to take action) have perpetuated the popular laymen’s myth that ministers are atypical creatures who propagate children in some other way than engaging in sexual relations and—in line with this—can feed them on transcendental pudding, fluff-duff, and air! It is time to demythologize this widespread—but heretical—article of faith!
Next, consider this: “The worker is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). If you aren’t working, then this article doesn’t apply. In that verse, Paul alludes to Christ’s words (Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:17). Some people in your congregation may subscribe to the unscriptural philosophy, “Keep a preacher hungry and you’ll keep him humble.” More likely, as you know, that’s the way to keep him ineffective. This contra-scriptural viewpoint is usually offered as a rationalization for stinginess.
The ox passage is quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:9–14 also. But verse 14 in that chapter is especially apropos: “The Lord gave orders that those who announce the good news should live by announcing the good news.”
If you—as their official expounder of the Word—(1) allow your people to rationalize their way out of a proper understanding and application of Scripture, (2) cater to selfishness in the congregation, and (3) thereby fail not only to explain and insist upon the Lord Christ’s orders,1 but fail to heed them yourself, you are unfaithful both to Christ and to His church.
“But Paul often made tents,” you say. Yes, but (1) Paul was a missionary (not a pastor), (2) clearly claimed a salary as a “right” that he didn’t use (vss. 6, 12, 15), and (3) was a single man.2 Paul allowed churches to support him (cf. Phil. 4:15; but especially 2 Cor. 11:8, where he seems to have sought funds from other churches to carry on the work in Corinth).
It is true that when funds were not forthcoming, he would work hard with his hands (cf. 2 Thess. 3:8, “night and day”) to raise funds so he could carry on his work. If your congregation can’t (won’t?) support you—you too have the same right (Paul didn’t starve! You can’t neglect your family—1 Tim. 5:8). But if you do, it will mean curtailing your ministry somewhat as Paul’s tent-making must have done. Your congregation must recognize and accept this.
Thirdly, note that the Scriptures teach that you may earn a living wage—i.e., a good wage; one that enables you to live without great care or concern over finances. “Where?” you ask. Paul says that he often prospered greatly; his word for this is that he “abounded” in money (Phil. 4:11–13). So it is clearly not wrong for a pastor to “abound.” Paul was able to rent a house for two years in Rome while not working (Acts 28:30). This gives additional evidence of the possession of substantial funds.
The only biblical warning about money is against trying to become rich in the ministry as a lover of money (1 Tim. 3:3; 6:5–10). These verses probably refer to unscrupulous practices associated with such desire. Most ministers, with the writer of Proverbs 30:8, 9, will settle for a living wage.
“Well, what should my salary be? Suppose I muster the courage to sit down with my elders and deacons to talk over the salary problem—what should I ask for? There isn’t a scriptural guideline, is there?” Yes, there is—and you’d better be aware of it. “Well, tell me quickly; what is it?”
Your salary should be on a par with those to whom you minister. Galatians 6:6 commands your congregation, “Let him who is instructed in the Word share everything good that he has with the one who instructs him.” Pastor, you should live on the level of the community (at least the Christian community to which you minister—not far below it, as so often is the case). An average of congregational salaries should set the base (minimum) level for your salary.3
You should not be ashamed, therefore, to ask for this figure since (1) God requires it; (2) it is so easy for the congregation to give (10 families, giving a tenth, can support an eleventh family on the average level of their salaries); (3) your people need to learn the biblical teaching about this and receive God’s blessing for following it.
This base salary is a minimum, I said. The Scriptures speak of giving a substantial bonus to those pastors who do an especially good job.
The elders who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay; especially those who labor at preaching and teaching. 1 Timothy 5:17
Finally, you ask, “How do I go about obtaining a salary like this? Where do I begin?” Let me simply list some suggestions; you may flesh them out:
- Pray about it: Ask and you will receive.
- Lend this article to your elders and deacons to read.
- Talk to your elders and deacons about it and present a plan for moving them from where your church now is to the adoption of a scriptural salary scale.
- Don’t grow bitter.
- When candidating, discuss salary scripturally.
- Make it clear that salary must not be based on (a) tradition, (b) needs, etc., but (3) on the standard set in Galatians 6:6: The pastor should share and share alike.
- Teach your elders, your congregation, and your wealthy members. (1 Tim. 6:17–19 encourages you to teach them how to give.)
This article is not written simply to make pastors and their wives happy. It is designed to help pastors become more effective servants of Christ, not continually hampered by financial needs. There is plenty of money in the church for this sort of salary; pastor, it is your job to earn it and get it!
1 Christ’s orders are not only (in fact not even primarily) to the congregation; rather, they are orders to a pastor about how he is to earn his living. The verse reads (lit.), “… ordered those who announce the good news to live by announcing the good news.”
2 The other apostles, who took a salary, were married (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5).
3 We shall see later that these are times for far more salary, when we discuss 1 Timothy 5:17.