The Support of Preachers


     There is no small amount of ignorance when it comes to the financial support of faithful preachers. In a sense, the local church is an employer (I Cor. 9: 3-6, 14). Both "employees" and "employers" have biblical principles governing them (cp. Col. 3: 23 - 4: 1)Since the local church is comprised of Christians, one would expect the local church to set the example relative to the "employer" and "employee" relationship. However, on occasion such is far from the case. Rather, too many local churches when it comes to matters being discussed are such in attitude and practice that if applied to the secular realm of employment, very few would desire to enter into such an "employer" and "employee" circumstance. In forty years of preaching and being supported by local churches, I have observed some exemplary practices. However, I would be dishonest if I did not also say that I have witnessed some disgusting and shameful practices and treatment of preachers. It is my aim in this material to educate elders and Christians in general pertaining to the subject of the financial support of preachers.

     It is of preliminary concern that we inquire as to why there are so many abuses characteristic of some churches and why ignorance too often prevails on this subject. In all honesty, I must say that we preachers are often responsible. I say this because most preachers had rather take a physical beating and often continue to endure the mistreatment and abuse than say anything about the support of preachers. In the first place, when the subject is taught on, many view the preacher thus teaching as having ulterior and selfish motives, he wants a pay raise. Let me say that an unfaithful preacher is not worth one penny in terms of church support, but a capable man who has dedicated his life to living and preaching the gospel is doing the greatest work on earth and has the right to expect to be adequately supported (Rom. 10: 15). However, due to the sensitivity of this subject, many preachers are remiss and neglect the subject. Notwithstanding such sensitivity, "Öall the counsel of God" must be declared by the faithful man of God (cf. Acts 20: 20, 27). Based on my observations and application of the scriptures, I believe the souls of a sizeable number of brethren are in jeopardy due to their attitudes about the matter of financially providing for the preacher.

     The Vow of Poverty. Another impetus behind the ignorance and abuse is the "Vow of poverty" that even has influenced the thinking of some Christians. We read:

     "Religious priests take a vow of poverty and are supported by their religious order. Any personal earnings are given to the order. Their vow of poverty is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service, which exempts them from paying Federal income tax."

     Hence, too many view the preacher as bound by the "Vow of Poverty." This thinking even precedes Catholicism and their priesthood, being observed in many ascetic and monastic orders even contemporary with First Century Christianity, but removed from it (cp. Col. 2: 20-23). Some based their ideas of the financial condition of preachers today on the Aaronic and Levitical Priesthoods. It is true that they (these priests) had "no inheritance" among the people (Num. 18: 24). Yet, we are also told that there was financial provision, even in terms of "land" (we shall examine this more in the following).

     To illustrate the attitude and thinking of some, which is often based on even a misunderstanding of the Levitical Priesthood, I want to quote from a brief exchange that I had on this subject with a member of the church of Christ whom I shall call "Mark." I shared an answer that I provided in our Bible Questions work with an Internet list to which Mark responded. The question asked if there is any Bible authority for a preacher owning a house. I answered in part:

     "Biblical authority, to some a dirty concept, is established in various, legitimate ways.  Paul teaches that a preacher should expect and receive the same financial remuneration as others who expend efforts (I Cor. 9: 1-14)."

     Mark challenged my answer by posting:

     "I am sure there is no biblical reference for ministers to buy houses."

     Mark continued his dialogue by offering a little compromise:

     "I don't believe pastors and ministers should have luxury homes like mansions or such, just what they need to have there studies and living quarters that are average and even humble, not being too materialistic Ö.I don't think pastors or ministers should accept wages for their ministry I came across that scripture that minister missionaries should not ask for wages from the congregation it is up to the church board to decide that as well."

     I am sure Mark acquired the agreement of some on list members when he targets "luxury homes like mansions." I do believe that the excessive life styles of some of the "televangelists" is disgusting and indicative of how they are making merchandise of people (cp. 2 Pet. 2: 3). However, are not churches out of their bounds in general when they attempt to bind on the preacher their opinions as to where he should live and the type of house? I am afraid that Mark reflected his monastic concept of preacher support when he wrote: "Öand even humble."

     Mark reveals his lack of knowledge when he said: "I came across that scripture that minister missionaries should not ask for wages from the congregationÖ."

     Mark appears to have misunderstood such verses as 3 John 7. "Taking nothing from the Gentiles" (pay) is reinforcing the responsibility of God's people financially taking care of God's servants.  As to "church board," what is that?  Godly elders will make sure that preachers are adequately treated.

     A Bible principle. There are a number of statements resident in the Bible that are succinct and, yet, contain powerful, governing truths. Regarding our subject of preacher support, here is such a statement:

     "4: Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn" (Deut. 25).

     One might inject, "This law pertained to animals, not preachers!" I am not shocked when I hear such rationale. I say this because I have seen the distain some have for faithful preachers and their support, viewing them lower than the brute beast. Consider the following scriptures wherein this principle is both exemplified and applied to men (preachers) and in this dispensation:

     "7: And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house." "17: Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. 18: For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward" (I Tim. 5).

     When I left secular employment and entered full-time preaching, I was appalled at the views I often incurred. Many, even some preachers, I came to realize justified preacher support under benevolence. I, having left a good career, resented "depending on charity and benevolence." Notice that we have already learned and established that preacher support is not benevolence, but rather, "Öthe laborer is worthy of his hire." God is not selfish or a freeloader, expecting something for nothing. Yet, too often brethren who control the decisions of local churches expect something for nothing and then when they do issue out, they want the preacher to feel like a "charity case."

     The priesthood. The Levitical Priesthood is a matter of relevance in our study of preacher support due to Paul using it as one of his examples to argue for church support of preachers (I Cor. 9: 3-14). Consider Paulís teaching:

     3: Mine answer to them that do examine me is this, 4: Have we not power to eat and to drink? 5: Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? 6: Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? 7: Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? 8: Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? 9: For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? 10: Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. 11: If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? 12: If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. 13: Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?" (I Cor. 9.)

     Paul had the right to: eat and drink; be married; and forgo secular work and be supported by the church (vs. 4, 5, 6). Paul then adduced several examples all of which had the expectation of financial remuneration, the soldier, farmer, and the priest (vs. 7; 13). Paul reasoned thus:

     "11: If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?" (I Cor. 9.)

     Let us take the matter of the priest as an example of how God provided specific financial arrangements. Smith lists some of the provisions for priests under the Mosaic order. Rather than having taken the "vow of poverty," I think we shall see that they were to have a comparable and comfortable living:

     "1. Of one tenth of the tithes which the people paid to the Levites, i.e. one per cent on the whole produce of the country. (Numbers 18: 26-28)                      

  2. Of a special tithe every third year. (Num. 14: 28; 26:12)

  3. Of the redemption money, paid at the fixed rate of five shekels a head, for the first-born of man or beast. (Numbers 18: 14-19)

  4. Of the redemption money paid in like manner for men or things specially dedicated to the Lord. (Leviticus 27: 5)

  5. Of spoil, captives, cattle and the like, taken in war. (Numbers 31: 25-47)

  6. Of the shew-bread, the flesh of the burnt offerings, peace offerings, trespass offerings, (Leviticus 6: 26, 29; 7: 6-10; Numbers 18: 8-14) and in
particular the heave-shoulder and the wave-breast. (Leviticus 10:12-15)

  7. Of an undefined amount of the firstfruits of corn, wine and oil. (Exodus 23: 19; Leviticus 2: 14; 26:1-10)" (Smithís Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pg. 2582).

     In view of Godís financial arrangements for His priesthood, Smith remarks:

     "These provisions were obviously intended to secure the religion of Israel against the dangers of a caste of pauper priests, needy and dependent, and unable to bear their witness to the true faithÖ" (Ibid.).

     It might be a challenge to the thinking of some, but these priests while not recipients of the land promise as such, were also provided many cities and adjoining land in which to comfortably reside (cp. Josh. 21: 13f.). While not normally among the elite rich of the day, the priests were to be above the average working Jew, I believe one can say based on all the provisions.

     Since Paul used the example of the soldier and his pay, let us briefly consider the case of the soldier (I Cor. 9: 7). First, the soldiers received pay (cp. Luke 3: 14). Paul reasoned that it would be foolish to think of soldiers not being financially supported. Yet, some think preachers should not receive regular support. Remember Markís assertion?

     "I don't think pastors or ministers should accept wages for their ministry."

     The Greek word for "wages" in Luke 3: 14 (ophonion) provides some insight. This same word is used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 11: 8 regarding his support. Notice how Paul used it:

     "8: I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service" (2 Cor. 11).

     Paul used the strong word "robbed" (esulasa) because while Paul preached at Corinth, he refused support from the Corinthian church, but accepted it from other churches (cp. Phili. 4: 14f.). Paul had refused pay from the church at Corinth due to their ungodly attitudes about supporting him (I Cor. 9). It even appears that they manifested such attitudes toward Paulís support, a man who taught, lived, and stood for truth, while supporting other men (cp. I Cor. 9: 6, 3). "Wages" not only stands for pay, but it also suggests the idea of regular or agreed on pay, such as was the case with the soldiers.

     Regarding the example of Paul, he even did what many today would say is automatically a sin: He preached and was supported and at the same time, he also labored in secular pursuits for financial gain (Acts 18: 1-4, cp. 2 Cor. 11: 8). In performing this secular work, it is evident that he did not neglect his work of preaching and he was not abusing the support he was receiving from churches. Yet, in addition to church support, Paul also had secular income from his tent construction business. Again, many brethren today had they been present in the circumstance of Acts 18, would have condemned Paul. Such illustrates how opinions and prejudices are being bound and used as the standard of judgment rather than Godís word!

     The determination of the preacherís pay. I believe that we have biblically established the right and even the obligation of preacher support, all things understood and equal. The question is, how much should a preacher be supported and how can such amount be determined?

     While I am not qualified to offer universally specific amounts, there are some things that urgently need to be said and challenged. I shall insert at this point criterion that I have observed used by churches: The preacherís pay is determined by what the widows in the local church draw from their various chartable incomes; it is to be determined by taking an average of the amount of the members on fixed income, others explain. Some more fairly suggest that the amount of the preacherís salary is to be determined by arriving at an average income of the members in the aggregate.

     Before we say more, it needs to be pointed out that most preachers are in an often unique situation. Most preachers lack the common fringe benefits of the average worker. Most companies match social security, the preacher is considered by IRS as self-employed; hence, he must pay double (see addendum). Most companies provide health insurance and contribute to a retirement fund (in addition to social security). When the maintenance of an office and the use of a car are involved, it is almost automatic that the employer provide financial remuneration for these expenses. The last secular employment that I had before entering preaching, I received a cost of living consideration every three months and a raise in pay was usually given every six months. The company believed in showing their appreciation for the work and dedication of their employees.

     One might object as many do by saying: "You cannot compare preaching to secular pursuits and vocations!" Paul did (I Cor. 9). Due to logistics, I do not personally advocate that the local church provide all these benefits that the average member often takes for granted, but I do think the church should pay the preacher enough so that he can provide these matters for himself. The preacher has the responsibility of being a good steward with the monies paid him. Based on Bible teaching, examples, and the principle, "Öthe laborer is worthy of his hire," as well as what we just considered in the immediately above, I think it is perfectly scriptural to say that the preacher should be paid more than the average or even upper class (financially speaking) member makes. Do you agree? If not, on what are you basing your disagreement? Please be honest and I think you will find that you are disagreeing either as a result of ignorance (now you know so you cannot plead ignorance), prejudice (back to the "vow of poverty" mentality), or personally competitive envy and resentment. I recall one member in a business meeting in which the motion was made (the church did not have elders) that the preacher have a raise in his support strongly objecting: "This preacher is making as much as I am!" The member worked at a relatively unskilled job; yet, he presented himself as the standard. Such shallow and inconsiderate thinking should not be tolerated.

     I believe it would be good if elderships and churches asked themselves the question, "How do we measure up as employers?" One way to probe the question would be for these to also ask, "Would I want to be the employee of the church of Christ?" Can you imagine applying for employment at a company and the company asking you, "Do you have other income besides what we will pay you?" and then being told, "If you do, we shall subtract that amount from the salary that we offer." I say this because there are churches that do this. I knew one preacher who took early retirement from his secular job and the church told him, "We must consider your other income and adjust what we offer accordingly." I ask, what kind of thinking is this? Some churches are very up-set if the preacher, perhaps a man who has preached for many years, asks for a three week vacation. Yet, they all have their vacation time, usually considerably more than three weeks. Would they be interested in working for a company with such an attitude and employment practices? You and I both know that such a company would be the laughing stock of the city. After a true comparison, too many local churches have such an employment, if you will, mentality. "Get the preacher for as little as we can and save the Lordís money," is their miserly thinking. However, as seen, God does not so think. Some so called "conservative churches" should rather be called stingy churches. Such members are going to be held accountable by God for the mistreatment they inflict.

     In closing, it appears from such verses as I Timothy 6: 5 that preaching in the First Century was sometimes monetarily attractive. Paul taught preachers about the "love of money" (I Tim. 6: 10f.). Such would not have been the case had preacher support commonly been such as it is too often today. "Brother Martin, I would not dare consider subjecting myself and family to the financial treatment that I have observed rendered by churches toward preachers," I have had many young and intelligent men to tell me, men who had planned to devote their lives to full-time preaching. You may think, "These men have a bad attitude and we do not need them." In view of what we have studied, please stop and re-evaluate your response. Do they really have a bad attitude or does their attitude reflect on the condition and practice of not a few churches? Preachers must also support their families, you know (cp. I Tim. 5: 8).

     Brethren need to repent of the miserly practices they have had and start using the Lordís treasury as He intends. Preachers also need to educate brethren and expect them to do what is right. As acknowledged, one penny spent on an unfaithful preacher is too much. However, a good man will never be over supported, all things considered.

     I want to close this article by saying that I am very grateful for the churches that have been considerate of my family and me. I have had my share of abuses, but I also have been very blessed. I have learned how to be "abased" and how to "abound" and I hope that I have learned contentment in either case (see Phili. 4: 11, 12). While it should not be necessary, I am one of those preachers who would preach without any financial provision, as long as I could do so and still have a way to provide for those in my immediate care. Therefore, I commit the material in this article to you not out of bitterness, but out of a desire to enlighten. Even though there continues to be much abuse, the support of preachers is so much improved over what it was when I started preaching forty years ago.

     Addendum: There are local churches that refuse to help the preacher legally set up allowed tax provisions such as a housing allowance. Some appear to have such resentment that they do not want to see the preacher legally (conformity to IRS protocol) be able to have some taxation relief.