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5 Ways the Pastor’s Pay Is a Gospel Issue

In an earlier article I made a claim that how you pay your pastor says how you value the gospel. Now I want to give you five reasons why I make this claim.

Jesus commanded that his disciples expect payment from the people they teach.

In Luke 10:3-7, as Jesus sends out his disciples, he teaches them they are to be dependent on God through the generosity of people. In verse 4 he tells them they are not to make provision for themselves. They are to carry no money, no bags, no extra shoes, and they are not to ask for help along the way. Instead, they are to enter the home of someone who will accept them and stay in that home. They are to eat and drink what the homeowner provides because “the laborer deserves his wages” (see Luke 10:7; also Matthew 10:10 and 1 Timothy 5:18). In this passage Jesus may be referencing 1 Samuel 25:6 where David offers peace to Nabal who is a fool and refuses to support David. So, too, the community that doesn’t provide for a teacher of the gospel is foolish.

The apostle Paul continues this theme in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14. Here Paul is defending himself by showing that he didn’t ask for support from the Corinthian church even though it was his right. As a missionary, Paul didn’t want his needs to become “an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.” He shows that it is normal among other churches to support the apostles and that this custom is derived from the Law of Moses. He quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” as an illustration that he had the right to expect payment. Paul closes his argument by saying, “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

The pastor has a right to ask the church to pay him.

The previous passages make the claim that the teacher of the gospel (pastor or missionary) has the right to expect payment for his teaching. On three occasions Paul did not exercise this right in order to establish the gospel. However, he taught these same people to provide for the pastors who followed him. In 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 he again states that he had the right to ask for payment even though he chose not to. It seems that Paul did take payment from other churches (see Philippians 4:18). So he did exercise this right at times – perhaps most of the time.

Each time Paul refused to ask for payment for his teaching, he was working as a missionary to establish the gospel in a new city. After establishing the gospel, he appointed elders to teach the church. It is reasonable to assume, based on Paul’s teachings, that these elders would be paid by the church.

Some missionaries may need to raise their own support, but it may hurt the church if they don’t pay their pastor.

In 2 Corinthians 11:7-9 Paul seems to second-guess himself. He wonders if he did the Corinthian church a disservice by preaching the gospel “free of charge.” He asks “did I commit a sin in humbling myself”; he may be asking a rhetorical question to defend himself, or he may be wondering if he did something wrong. Paul says, “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.” This suggests that the Corinthian church should now be supporting their own pastor and even supplying the needs of other missionaries (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-15).

A church that is dependent on others to pay their pastor will not have the same gospel effectiveness as a church that pays him well. This pastor may not be able to give himself fully to the work of the gospel because he has to be responsible to his supporters. We see this in missionaries who have to return home to meet with their supporting churches. They lose weeks and months of time that could be spent in ministry, and the church suffers.

The pastor’s pay should not cause a burden for him.

One of the greatest hindrances to small church pastors is that many are not paid enough to support their family. I’m not talking about those who are irresponsible with money. I’m referring to those who are under constant stress to pay the bills even though they are good stewards of God’s resources. The church should do everything it can to make sure their pastor has no financial burdens. This does not mean the pastor should live in luxury. Rather there should be no additional financial stresses that would take energy away from ministry. There are three biblical principles that support this claim:

1. Do not muzzle an ox.

“You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” This means the pastor should be free to enjoy the material blessings of his church (see Galatians 6:6). He should not be hindered by any physical needs. Some churches have the attitude that keeping the pastor’s pay low will keep him humble. This is wrong. How many of these people would go to their employer and ask for lower pay to learn humility? Rather than making the pastor humble, it will make him resentful because he is not being paid as the Lord commanded. This practice will hinder his ability to faithfully proclaim the gospel.

2. “Full payment and more”

In Philippians 4:18 Paul says, “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied.” He blesses the Philippian church for providing for his needs and more. He calls these gifts “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Not only that, but he says that because of their generosity God will supply all their needs according to his riches in glory. He repeats this principle in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, showing that how the church gives to God to supply the ministry of the pastor may influence how God blesses the church. It is entirely possible that the church who pays their pastor little will see little influence within their community.

3. Double honor

Paul teaches Timothy that “elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17-18). Here “double honor” is referring to payment for their work. Notice he uses the word “double” to refer to their payment. Earlier in the chapter, widows are to receive honor, which is in part, provision by the church for their needs. A pastor (preaching and teaching elder) is to receive twice the honor as widows – this is enough to supply their need and more. By paying the pastor more than he needs, the church is giving him the freedom to be extra generous within the church and community.

How you pay your pastor will impact the fruitfulness of the church.

This is the principle of sowing and reaping from Galatians 6:6-8. Here Paul teaches the church, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” He then shows that this is a gift to God. When a church pays a pastor, they are giving to God. Not that the pastor is God but that he is sent by God to the church (he is no mere employee).

I heard of one pastor who was told by a church member, “Remember, my giving pays your salary.” This church member was trying to control and intimidate the pastor into doing what he wanted. Thankfully, the pastor wasn’t intimidated (though he was deeply hurt). This pastor said, “It hurts to see this person put himself in the place of God.”

The church gives to God by paying their pastor so that the pastor can see his provision as coming from God (not the church). This allows the pastor to focus on God’s will, and it helps the church remember that both they and the pastor are serving God first. When a church gets this backward (like the church member above), it’s like mocking God.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Galatians 6:6-8

In a future article we will cover the following questions:

  • How much should you pay your pastor?
  • What if we can’t afford to pay a pastor enough to fully supply his needs?
  • What are some ways we can be generous with our pastor that don’t cost the church too much?

For now, ask your church these questions:

  1. Do we pay our pastor enough so that he is well supplied?
  2. Do we honor God in how generously we pay our pastor?
  3. Does our pastor have financial stress that would hinder his work?

Pastors, are you teaching the whole counsel of God? Are you humbly teaching your church these principles so that they can be effective and blessed by God? Or are you proudly avoiding them so that you won’t be seen as self-serving?

Additional material:

How Much Should You Pay Your Pastors?

A recent Pastors’ Talk podcast on pastoral pay asks the question “Should you pay your pastor?” In this episode, Mark Dever says that the pastor’s pay is a gospel issue:

The great commission has and is basically being fulfilled in part by local Christians setting aside part of their money to pay someone to teach them God’s word, full-time when possible.

– Mark Dever

This is talking about whether the gospel goes forward with quality men giving quality time to quality study to produce quality teaching. That’s gonna take resources and it’s gonna take skill, and those skills will often take money, very practically, to amass and to train and to be able to hone. And if we’re going to be stingy as Christians on that, we are cursing our children and grandchildren and the world they’re going to inherit. We want to be generous with pastors who have the character to withstand and profit by and use appropriately our generosity.

– Mark Dever


(M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet, and freelance book editor. Together, they have one son.

7 comments on “5 Ways the Pastor’s Pay Is a Gospel Issue

  1. Pingback: 10 Great Ways to Encourage Your Pastor — The Pastor's Soul

  2. Pingback: How Much Should You Pay Your Pastor? — The Pastor's Soul

  3. Rev. Dr. Leo D. Christian

    Good article, Thank you

  4. Some smaller, independent churches may struggle financially to properly meet the pastor’s basic needs.

  5. Well said on a very important issue.

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