Of all the issues that church leaders face, the question of pastoral staff salary can be a minefield. Few other issues can be as divisive to a congregation.
I recall early in my pastoral ministry, when the time came to discuss salary, the tempers would fly. Some felt the pastor needed a raise. Others felt he was paid enough. Comparisons were made to other occupations or to one’s own earnings. For me, it was like my children arguing over how they would celebrate my birthday. Though I needed the money, I sure didn’t want it to come at the expense of the animosity of my friends. We settled on a policy that eliminated discussion. Salary increases were based on years of experience, education degree, and ministry oversight.
I don’t think the Apostle Paul had to deal with this kind of experience. However, he did talk about wages when he wrote to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul recognized that it was okay for the believers to eat meat that had been offered to idols. However, if it would cause a weaker Christian to sin against his conscience, love should compel a believer to not eat the meat. Then in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul presented an illustration of this principle from his own life. He refused a salary from the Corinthians, even though he had the right to expect it because he didn’t want it to harm his ministry. He would rather go without than hurt others. But he did explain that as an apostle, he had the right to receive financial compensation though he chose not to exercise that right.
Paul’s explanation and principles can help us gain some insight on the salary for a pastor. Though Paul is arguing from the viewpoint of an apostle, I think the principles can be adapted for a pastor. I discovered 5 reasons a pastor should be paid by his congregation.
1 – The Responsibilities of the Pastor.
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? (1 Corinthians 9:1-6)
As an apostle, Paul had the right to be devoted full-time to ministry as any of the other apostles (Acts 6:3-4). The workload of a pastor can be tremendous. Visitation, sermon preparation, counseling and many other duties take much time. It’s not a 9-5 job. It’s on-call, 24-7. However, what most Christians don’t realize is the maintenance of the spiritual health of a pastor through prayer and personal Bible study. All this adds up to a full-time occupation.
2 – Human Experience.
Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk? (1 Corinthians 9:7)
Soldiers are paid to fight in a war. Farmers eat the produce and drink the milk from their crops and herds . Ministers are like soldiers, gardeners, and shepherds. They should be able to receive financial assistance for the service they provide for God’s people.
3 – The Old Testament Law.
Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”[b] Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. (1 Corinthians 9:8-12)
The Old Testament law commanded to allow an ox to eat food as it was threshing grain. Don’t muzzle the ox. It wasn’t fair to keep it from eating if it was working. Similarly, a good minister will plow (soul winning) and thresh (discipleship) and should be able to receive material blessings from all the work. How much? The ox would eat what it needed to continue to work. A pastor should be paid enough to meet his needs. Try determining what the pastor needs, not just what the church can afford. Paul mentions in another Scripture that a good pastor is worth twice what he needs (1 Timothy 5:17).
4 – The Old Testament Priests.
Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? (1 Corinthians 9:13)
The priests in the Old Testament were taken care of by the offerings of the people. They had no outside job. They ate what was brought to them. In reality, a church does not pay its minister; rather, it should provide resources so he can serve freely. The pastor should never be considered as a hired employee. The pastor is God’s chosen servant and the church is expected to care for his material needs as he cares for their spiritual needs.
5 – Jesus’ teaching.
In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:14)
When Jesus sent out 70 disciples, he told them to take no money but live off what was given to them. In other words, the laborer is worthy of his hire (Luke 10:7,8; Matt. 10:10). If a pastor is doing God’s work he should be financially compensated by his congregation.
In a ‘perfect’ world the church will pay the pastor more than he needs and a pastor will never ask for more than he needs. But we don’t live in a perfect world. So we will need to guard against greed and selfishness in both pastor and congregation.
However, if we should err in one direction, the congregation would be blessed if they paid their pastor too much. I think God would bless them for their generosity. And I think the pastor should ask for less than he needs and trust God to take care of the rest. I think God would bless him for his humility.