educate equip enable
A number of years ago, someone made an innocent comment about my salary in front of another church member. The church member looked at me in surprise.
“Do you get paid?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Why?”
She said, “I thought you lived by faith.”
I must admit that it was my turn to be surprised. However, her remark reflects a common attitude among Christians about a church’s responsibility towards its pastors as well as what it means to live by faith.
So many seem to think that a pastor "should" shepherd the flock without pay. I prefer to get my doctrine from the Bible, and that view is definitely not a Biblical view. The pastor may choose not to be paid if he (or she) wishes, but no one has the right to put that on him. It is between him and God.
Paul, at times, elected not to receive pay. But this was not always the case. In 2 Corinthians 11:8, he says, "I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you." Paul explains in that chapter his reasons for not taking pay from the Corinthians. However, he was still paid by other churches.
In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul says, "Let the elders [who were doing the pastoring - see 1 Peter 5:1-2] who rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in the word and doctrine." And just in case anyone might suggest that this means merely to show them a bit of extra respect, Paul spells it out in the next verse: For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The labourer is worthy of his hire."
In 1 Corinthians 9:14, Paul says, "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel." Apparently, this is not just Paul's opinion, but a direct command from the Lord. Read from the beginning of that chapter to see how Paul reasons that he has the right to be paid. In vs 6, he also says, "Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working?", implying that that's exactly what others did.
So, while it sounds very spiritual to expect a pastor not to be paid and be satisfied with that, that position is unscriptural and unreasonable. In my view, it is nothing more than super-spiritual rubbish. As I said, a pastor can lay down that right if he wishes, but no one has the right to expect that he does.
But aren’t pastors supposed to live by faith? Absolutely! But pastors aren’t the only ones called to live by faith. According to Romans 1:17, “The just shall live by faith.”
In other words, all believers are to live by faith. This does not mean that they are to work without pay. It means that their entire life is to be a walk of faith in Christ. Every minute, every hour, every day, leaning on Him, trusting in Him.
But what about the congregation that can’t afford a pastor? What about the church who is financially challenged each week just to keep their doors open? What about the congregations who are just starting out, understand their responsibility, but have no means to fulfil their financial responsibilities?
Those are great questions, and it's not easy to answer them as each situation might call for a different solution. But here are some other questions that might have a bearing on each situation:
How many people attend the church that can't afford to pay a pastor? Do they tithe? If not, why not, and are they really serious about having a pastor? If it is a new church, does the planter of the church have backing from somewhere? For instance, his home church or denomination? If not, why not? Why does a congregation that knows their responsibilities not have the means to be able to fulfil those responsibilities? Again, are they tithing?
Is the church that's in financial crisis in that position because of financial mismanagement? If so, what steps are they taking to rectify their situation and ensure that the new pastor isn't paying the price for their bad decisions?
If a church has drastically shrunk in size, what are the attitudinal reasons that got them to that point? Are they willing to address those attitudes? If not, is that church really interested in staying alive? Would it be better for them to merge with another nearby church?
These are just some of the questions that could be asked. There could be many more if the details of the circumstances are known. But on the question of how much should a pastor be paid, it is disappointing that many churches subscribe to the saying, “Lord, you keep him humble and we’ll keep him poor.”
That is very sad, given Paul’s expectation that a shepherd be paid double. This might well be beyond the means of many churches and most pastors don’t even expect to get paid like that.
But every church should aim to pay their pastor a minimum of the average salary in their country. If they can’t, then they should figure out why. If it’s because people aren’t willing to support the work of the Kingdom through tithing, then they need to get serious about discipleship.
It’s a congregation’s responsibility to support their pastor financially.