Due to the massive abuses of the Televangelists in the 1980s and the gross extravagances of the Prosperity Preachers in the present day, it has become almost impossible to have a biblical conversation about ministry, money and vocation. The New Testament however has a great deal to say on the topic.
Jesus told his disciples:
You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. (Matthew 10:8–10 ESV)
That paragraph as a whole – give without pay, don’t take any money with you, don’t take any extra supplies, the labourer deserves his food – seems to indicate that Gospel ministers mustn’t look at their calling as a “job” or as a means of getting rich, but they should expect to be supported with what they need for life and ministry.
The Apostle Paul took it that way. He said:
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17–18 ESV)
He also insisted that:
an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain (Titus 1:7 ESV)
The consistent testimony of the New Testament appears to be that Gospel ministers should make their living from Gospel work. Preaching is no man’s hobby. It deserves the largest share of our time and attention and therefore it ought to be the means by which a Gospel worker supports himself and his family.
But it must not be viewed as a means of gain.
A pastor should expect those who are benefiting from his ministry to supply his bodily needs and by extension those of his family, and to supply that which is needed for effective ministry. That would include books, computer, study space and the ability to host people in his home. Beyond that he should harbor no ambition or greed.
Furthermore, the counsel of the New Testament appears to be that if the people receiving the ministry will not provide those things, that should be taken as an indication of their low esteem for the Gospel and should be received by the pastor as an invitation to move on. Jesus said:
if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. (Matthew 10:13–14 ESV)
People who properly esteem the Gospel properly support Gospel ministry. If they don’t, then they don’t and the pastor should hear that as an invitation to move on.
While there may be certain exceptions to the general rule – an economic slow down in the community, demographic shifts, a season of persecution – in general if a church is too small to support a pastor properly then they should join with another congregation. Denominations should be very cautious about transferring money to churches that are struggling to pay a pastor. Pastors should be very cautious about allowing denominations to subsidize their pay or benefits.
It tells you whether or not the people in your church actually value Gospel ministry. If they don’t then your labours would be better spent elsewhere.
But guard your heart.
Monitor your own expectations.
You have the right to expect daily bread and seed for sowing but beyond that a pastor must be prepared to die to the world.
Even still, come Lord Jesus!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.