What About a Minister’s Salary?

There are ministers all over the country suffering from a lack of financial support from their congregations.  Whose fault is it?  “Congregations,” you answer!  Well, often that is the reason for the inadequate compensation given to those who preach the Word.  A significant share of the blame lies at the feet of niggardly board members and penurious members.  But deficient salaries are not caused merely by parsimonious parishioners.  Preachers, themselves, are guilty in the matter.  They are responsible to instruct their members about providing support for themselves as much as for instructing them about anything else.  And many have failed to assume that responsibility.

“It’s too sensitive,” they say (when their wives tell them they ought to ask for a raise).  “I don’t want them to think that I am complaining,” is another common response.  And, one more: “I’ll pray about it; God will have to provide an answer.”  But such responses will not do.  Basic instruction (and exhortation) is necessary.

Many members (even some board members) may be perplexed, confused about the standard for payment.  It is time to proclaim the biblical standard from pulpits rather than whisper about it behind closed doors.  “But God didn’t speak on that subject,” you say.  Oh?  Do you think that He would have left so important a matter to sinners to determine?  No.  In the Scriptures He has very clearly set forth His standard for the payment of ministerial services.  Indeed, He reveals the basic requirement as well as that which is appropriate in exceptional cases.  Let’s take a look at both.

First, listen to Paul as he sets for the base salary for a minister: “Now let him who is instructed in the Word share everything good that he has with the one who instructs him” (Galatians 6: 6).  In that command (note, it is not optional for congregations to do or not do so) you find the fundamental principle of payment – the minister of the Word is to receive a salary commensurate with that of the members of his congregation.  He is not to live on less than they do.  Put positively, as Paul does, he is to enjoy all the good things that they do. While, as we shall see, he may be paid more than the average of his members’ earnings, congregations must not pay him less — without sin.  And, until they consider this question as an issue of sin, some Christians will go on disobeying God’s command.

Now, I will not go into the matter deeply but notice the two verses that follow Galatians 6:6: “Don’t be deceived, God isn’t snubbed; whatever a person sows, that is exactly what he will reap” (Galatians 6:7).  There are congregations who try to snub God in the matter; they think that they can get by without living up to the base salary that God has set.  But it can’t be done.  He will not be turned off so easily.  He declares that He will respond negatively to their negative response to Him.  If they give sparingly, He says, they will receive sparingly.

Now, what does that mean?  Paul goes on: “The one who sows for his flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows for the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (v. 8).  If one spends the money that he owes his pastor on fleshly things, that is what he will reap rather than the things at pertain to eternal life – just like those unbelievers who ignore God and ultimately receive eternal death rather than eternal life.  In other words, the fundamental principle of sowing that has to do with salvation is mentioned here to demonstrate how this principle also relates to accepting or rejecting God’s standard for  one’s giving.  Congregations that will not obey Galatians 6:6 will lose the spiritual blessings that they might otherwise have had.  How this will happen in each case is hard to say.  Perhaps the way in which the reaping takes place will differ from place to place.  God may call a fine minister of the Word away from a congregation to a place where his work will be recompensed properly.  Thus, the congregation will be impoverished spiritually.  He may harden hearts so that people fail to appropriate the spiritual blessings that they might otherwise receive from their minister.  There is any number of ways in which God may do so.  If a congregation can’t – or won’t – pay a minister a good living wage according to God’s scale for giving, it should not call a minister until it is able to.

So, pastor, what can you do?  Well, you must instruct your congregation about this matter.  If you fail to do so both you and they will suffer.

But there is also more to be learned about payment.  In I Timothy 5: 17 Paul wrote: “The elders who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay, especially those who are laboring at preaching and teaching.”  Now, in that verse another problem appears: all elders (not just the preachers) should be paid.  I’ll leave that discussion to another time because it might take us too far afield.  “Whoa!” someone says.  “It says ‘honor’ in my version.”  Well, that’s a shame; there is no excuse for obscuring Paul’s meaning.  The original Greek word, time can mean both “honor” and “pay.”  That the second rendering must be given to the term in this context is clear from verse 18, in which Paul buttresses his command (note, again, this is not an optional matter) with a quotation that has to do with earning one’s living by his work (just as the ox earns his food).

Now, all elders manage the congregation, but some, in addition to this task, also preach and teach.  They are the ministers of the church.  Note what Paul commands.  The elders who manage well ought to be given double pay, starting with those who minister God’s Word.

From time to time, I have asked groups of ministers what the Bible says about the salary that they ought to receive only to get blank stares in return.  Evidently, teaching about this is not widespread.  It is about time, then, that we begin remedying the situation.  How?  Well, it must begin with you, pastor.  Are you afraid to tackle the matter?  That’s unworthy of you!  How best to do it?  That’s a worthy question.  Let me give you three or four suggestions:

  1. Preach through Galatians and when you come to the sixth chapter nail the subject emphatically! “That would take too long,” you say, “I’d probably starve by the fifth chapter!” Well, then, preach chapters 5 and 6, which form a very practical unit.
  2. Another suggestion. Sit down with your board (authority bunch) and instruct them in the matter. Try to enlist them in beginning to see and follow God’s provision for His servants. If they come along, then have them request you to preach on Galatians 6 and I Timothy 5 (and make that fact known in the church bulletin).
  3. If, after all sorts of efforts have been made over a sufficient period of time you are able to effect no change (notice I didn’t say right away), consider changing pastorates. When you decide to do so, explain to the congregation the reason why you are leaving. Perhaps God will use that to awaken them to their sin. But, on the other hand, make sure that the congregation to which you move isn’t also as ignorant of (or resistant to) the matter as the previous one. In candidating, therefore, make a point of discussing the question with the elders.
  4. You may find it helpful to hand a copy of this editorial to your board of elders to get the discussion going. You may find that this is a good way to break the ice.

Well, blessings to you.  If more of you would preach the whole counsel of God – which includes his provisions for His servants — then the church would be greatly edified.  Consider becoming one who will do so and enjoy the blessings.

Traveling on a plane in Europe, the flight attendant offered me a choice of newspapers in various languages.  I chose the Greek one.  There, hitting me right in the face on the masthead was the word Time, which was followed by a specified number of drachmas.  Even today, then, the word carries the idea of payment or cost.