Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 10:10c “. . .for the workman is worthy of his meat.”
This of course refers to ministers and their pay, a subject always delicate for pastors to broach, but still needing to be discussed. The average USA pastor compensation package–salary, housing, and benefits–is $38,214. Two-thirds of senior pastors have post-graduate degrees. Other professionals with similar levels of education have an annual income of $60,000. We still have catching up to do.
I am obviously biased on this issue, but at the same time I certainly have no axe to grind. I make a great salary. Second pays me extremely well. Nevertheless, even for me this is a subject to approach with humility, fear, and trepidation.
This first short-term mission trip scenario teaches at least three principles that still apply to the ministry and money. First, the Lord never fails His laborers.
We ministers are to take consolation in knowing we are not our own. We belong to Another, to Jesus. We are servants on His payroll. He is our provider.
God took upon Himself the obligation to sustain the Twelve. He proved dependable. Referring to this first short-term mission trip, Jesus later asked the Twelve, “When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing?” And they said, “Nothing” (LK 22:35). Jesus provides for His own.
In seminary Ruth and I once lived a week on bologna and bread. We also received a statement one month telling us we had one penny in the bank. But it was okay. We had Jesus and each other. God has blessed us. As Dad often says, “Jesus is the best boss I ever served.” Amen. The Lord never fails His laborers.
Second, the Lord’s laborers must prove their main interest is spiritual, not material. Jesus up front sent a loud and clear signal to His followers, no greed, no desire for wealth. But in our era we preachers are often known for loving money.
I have two favorite jokes in this regard. First, the handwriting on the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin” (DN 5:25) is not Hebrew for “Money, money, tickles the parson.” Second, a man stranded on an island, when asked why he was so confident of being rescued, replied, “I make a million dollars a week, and tithe to my local church. My pastor will find me.” I fear the humor conveys much truth.
The Twelve learned early on that money was not to be a priority in their lives. Greed has been the ruin of many a servant of God. Preachers who fall are usually tripped by one or more of the troubling triumvirate: sex, power, money.
In all three of these areas we must seek to be above suspicion. We are to obey the admonition of Peter, who said we are to be pastors “not for filthy lucre” (1 P 5:2). Our task is to win the respect of the people we are trying to win. We are to stay focused on the mission and the message, but money often becomes a huge diversion. The world and its stuff are alluring. Even preachers want them.
St. Francis said, “Money to the servants of God is nothing else than a devil and a poisonous snake.” St. Antony, seeing a big, beautiful piece of gold, let it tantalize him a moment, but then ran away as fast as he could, as if fleeing a fire.
In my first years of preaching, having begun at age 15, Dad was my only mentor. He taught me all the basics–how to baptize, administer the Lord’s Supper, perform weddings and funerals, lead deacons meetings, etc. He also taught me to never charge a fee for anything, whether it be revivals, funerals, weddings, or any other speaking engagements. He felt forcing someone to pay a certain amount for a specific deed made us mercenaries, not ministers. He deemed it okay to receive a gift, but not to traffic in holy things. I’ve learned Dad was wise. It’s good to do things free of charge often. It reminds us we’re not in the ministry for the money.
Unfortunately, many ministers are careless with their money. In my early years of marriage, I handled the money and our accounts were always in a mess. In reading Proverbs 31, which speaks of the woman being in charge of household finances, I decided to turn our money over to Ruth. I’ve not endorsed a paycheck in years, and all has gone well with our finances. Interestingly, this issue caused the only huge fight Grandpa and Grandma Hill ever had. When he left to serve as a chaplain in World War II, he turned all finances over to her. When he returned, he took back the checkbook. This highly insulted my Grandma, who was still chafed at it 55 years later at age 95. Be careful with your money. Whether wife or husband, decide who handles money best, and turn over all accounts to him or her.
Third, the Lord’s people are to pay the Lord’s laborers (LK 10:7, 1 Cor. 9:11-14, GL 6:6, 1 TM 5:17-18). On their first short-term mission trip, the Twelve had to trust not only God, but also people, for their unsolicited hospitality. God prodded the people’s giving–only Jesus can kindle a giver’s heart–but people had to be willing to respond to the Lord’s inner prompting and do the actual giving.
If we give our lives to God’s work we must give our livelihoods to God’s people. Depending solely on the Lord as He provides through His people can be painfully humbling. When someone offers a minister a gift, it can be embarrassing. Pride can cause one to want to refuse the offer. Dr. Truett, Southern Baptist’s most revered pastor, advised, “Accept a gift and say thank you. Don’t hurt a giver’s feelings. Ultimately, the gift is from the Lord and given as to the Lord.”
To say a minister must not worry about money is the same as saying a local church must see to it that her ministers never have need to worry about money. Churches have an obligation to fulfill with regard to their ministers’ remuneration.
Jesus said, “The laborer is worthy of his hire” (LK 10:7). Offerings provided to ministers are not charity or generosity, but payment owed for work done.
“The Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). The message and maintenance are not to be severed.
They who minister spiritual things unto others should be ministered unto in material things (1 Cor. 9:11). The beneficiaries of the Gospel are to care for the carriers of the Gospel. In the context of compensation for ministers, Paul commanded, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 TM 5:17 NAS).
Some people have enough means to serve the Lord totally free of charge. Second Baptist would be far behind where it is had it not been for extremely gifted people who volunteered to serve on our staff without ever receiving pay for it.
Many ministers receive part-time pay for part-time (often full-time) work. The Southern Baptist Convention was built on men like my two grandfathers, part-time (often full-time) preachers who served congregations too small to pay a full-time salary. To me these bi-vocational ministers are the true heroes of our faith.
Many of us are privileged to serve full-time for full-time pay, the ministry being our sole support. All my material possessions have come from preaching.
Ministers and their pay is always a difficult issue. Churches usually try to do right, but the possibility of offending people is ever a reality. When I resigned my seminary pastorate, before I left, the church voted to raise the pastor’s salary by 27%. Crushed, I asked why I had not been paid that amount, and was told, “We know we can’t replace you for what we pay you.” Somehow that did not comfort me. The struggle to do right is non-ending. For instance, this year our church will give our staff only a 2% raise because our medical insurance premium rose 22.9%.
When I was a boy, Dad struggled with a low pastor’s salary, trying to support a family of five. He decided to consult L. F. Bain, maybe the greatest pulpiteer southeast Missouri ever produced. When he preached, we sat up and took notice. He was bi-vocational, full-time postmaster, part-time pastor. Due to Pastor Bain’s renown, Dad discussed with him the possibility of trying secular employment. Brother Bain strongly discouraged Dad from doing so, saying he had often regretted having a secular job and wished he had given himself to ministry full-time. Bro. Bain told Dad to preach only. Dad took the advice. Over the years, Dad dabbled in things to make a little extra–substitute teach, sell guns, trade old cars–but kept his focus on ministry. He always lived in a parsonage, and at age 50, began asking, “Where will I live when I retire?” He consulted other preachers, who said rental property would his only hope to build up enough equity to have a house to live in when he retired. Dad spent 20 years as a landlord in order to have his own house. Our text was given to make sure pastors don’t have to talk with Bro. Bains about taking a secular job, talk with pastors about where to live on retiring, or spend 20 years as a landlord. Thanks, Second, for your good care of me.