Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Should Pastors Be Paid Full-Time? (A Continuing Discussion)


A podcast listener recently sent me a great e-mail (responding to something I said on the podcast) with some thoughts regarding pastors who are employed full-time. His e-mail resulted in my critical analysis of my own thoughts on the matter and a great time of study as I looked for answers in the Bible.

I'll try to summarize the points he made first:

1. Having full-time clergy undermines the basic premise that we are all ministers of the Gospel and should all be doing God's work here on earth. This results in congregations where the staff are the only people involved in furthering God's kingdom while the congregation, at best, gives some money out of unwilling obligation.

2. When the sole source of income for a pastor is his church's membership, he is at their mercy in terms of his financial well being. This can leave the pastor in a difficult position.

3. Pastors with other employment are more in-touch with what is going on in the world and can be more relevant and just as effective teachers and preachers. Although there might be seasons for both working in a church and outside of it for most pastors. Even Paul made tents at times.

He suggested that we not throw the whole system out, but that we re-evaluate it. So that's what I set out to do and would love for you to join the discussion while we use scripture as the judge for this issue. Here's what I've found so far:

(Scripture quoted from the NASB translation of the Bible.)

1 Timothy 5:17-18

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle the Ox while he is threshing," and "The laborer is worthy of his wages."

The Greek word used for "honor" is "time" (pronounced tee-may'). It can be used to imply wages/payment or reverence. It could mean simply reverence here, but I wouldn't rule out financial compensation. The metaphors used in verse 18 deal with practical needs being met. The Ox should be allowed to eat while he's working. And the Greek word for "reward" here, "misthos", is also translate to "wages", though not always. Because of these verses alone, I don't think we can call financial compensation for Pastors and church workers wrong by nature. But I still wanted to dig deeper.

1 Corinthians chapter 9 has some compelling material to examine. Paul is communicating to the Corinthians that he has been more kind and giving than they should expect. He lists a number of rights that he has that he has given up for their sake. One of these rights seems to be the right to be otherwise unemployed while he teaches. (Verse 6) According to Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, editor of the New American Standard Bible, the Greek word for "working" in verse 6, "Ergazomai", refers to being employed in this context. To me, this appears to support the idea of full-time Bible teachers.

Verse 7- Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock?

Paul again quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, and gives some God-inspired commentary on it.

Verses 8-10

I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle the Ox while he is threshing." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher {to thresh} in hope of sharing {the crops.}

He points out that this law isn't just about oxen. It's for humans, too. And although words of thanks and appreciation are important for our church leaders, Paul makes it clear that our leaders should be able to expect material compensation.

Verse 11- If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?

The Greek word for "material", sarkikos, is used only 11 times in the New Testament. It means, "things pertaining to the flesh". It can have a negative connotation, but Thayer's Greek Lexicon indicates that in this instance it's referring to "things needed for the sustenance of the body".

In Paul's case, he believed that his ministry would be more effective if he didn't demand these things of those he taught.

Verse 12- If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.

Paul also validates the Old Testament material compensation of church workers, treating it as though it is still in effect.

Verse 13- Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the {food} of the temple, {and} those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar?

He then makes a comparison and says that God designed things for teachers of the Gospel to earn a living from it.

Verse 14- So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word here as referring to "getting a living from a thing", in this case, from proclaiming the Gospel.

Although Paul does not demand payment, he does still refer to payment as a "right in the Gospel". (Verse 19)

So from this passage, I come to a few conclusions. Payment for those who regularly teach the Gospel is not only okay, it's honoring to God and in line with his expressed will. Payment for Gospel teachers is meant to meet their physical needs, but there is no indication that it should make them financially wealthy. In some situations, it may be advantageous for teachers to refuse payment, but this decision seems to be up to the teacher. (Unless, of course, no one is willing to give payment. In this case the teacher obviously has no choice. Some new churches today start out like this, with the church staff working other jobs to meet their needs.)

This system may result in abuse by the teachers of the Gospel. We could all probably list examples of this happening. I also agree that we are all meant to share the Gospel. However, each one of us, though responsible for making disciples, will serve in different ways with different gifts. 1st Corinthians 12 discusses the importance of our differences, while emphasizing unity and equality. We associate financial success and fame with self-worth, so the fact that a teaching pastor is paid and seen by many, can prey upon this distorted value system and can make us think that the pastor is somehow more important to the Kingdom of God than the person sitting in the 11th row, 4 seats in. 1st Corinthians 12 smashes this idea to bits and validates diversity, unity and equality in the Kingdom, all at once.

Many churches have ignored issues of corruption and congregational responsibility, resulting in a church that has lost all effectiveness. But I don't believe paying the pastors full-time is to blame. The leadership of the church should be promoting accountability both ways. The leaders holding members accountable for involvement, service and purposeful, biblical living, and the congregation holding the leaders accountable to passages like 1 Timothy 3. (Money is among the issues mentioned in this passage. If a pastor seems to be hording his money, he may love it too much to continue being a pastor!) This can be done in a variety of ways. Our church uses an Elder Board system, composed of non-staff , non-paid Elders approved and held accountable by the congregation. Our board actually has a leadership role over our head pastor, and he is accountable to them.

So if the leadership isn't effective in motivating the congregation to serve, I'd say that payment isn't the problem, but WHO they are paying may be. (In other words, ineffective leadership should be replaced with effective leadership.)

As for the pastor being financially at the mercy of the congregation, this is unfortunate, but "part of the job". I think God is concerned for the teacher's financial well-being too, and so included passages like 1 Corinthians 9 in the Bible.

At some point in a podcast or web post, I think I may have said: "A pastor who works outside of the church is
less effective than one who is employed by it."

I apologize for that wording. What I SHOULD have said is that "I believe a pastor who has to work a regular job in addition to his role as pastor, will be less effective than he would be if he were employed by the church full-time." I'll also say that this is my personal belief. I find no direct support in scripture. I would definately agree that there are plenty of pastors who are not paid that teach the Bible much more effectively than other pastors who are paid. But if a full-time pastor is hard-working, he'll have more time to accurately and deeply study scripture(teaching more accurately and deeply as a result), more time to mentor people one-on-one, more time to visit the sick, more time to dedicate himself to prayer (and the list goes on) than he would with an additional part-time job.

There may be seasons where pastors work outside the church. This can be an advantage in connecting with "normal" folks. Then again, it may make little or no difference. I guess I'd have to look at some data to decide one way or the other. Our pastor was a farmer in Nevada for a number of years both before and during his leadership of a church there. He's literally been "in the trenches" and it shows. So it may be that in his case, working the farm made the difference. I can't know for sure.

My unverified estimate is that we live in a world where there are a lot of corrupt, or at best "dead" leaders and leadership structures in American churches. There's no accountability and as a result all the concerns expressed in the summarized points 1 and 2 become real. Finding a church that is even attempting to break out of that mold can be hard or impossible, depending on where you live.

I agree that we can't just tear down all churches and start over. But we can be used by God to make a difference in the churches we attend. If you suspect corruption, laziness, or any unchecked failures to the 1 Timothy 3 standards in the leaders of your church, I'd recommend opening dialogue with them on it. While I don't think there's a case to be made from the Bible for cancelling payment of teachers, a case can clearly be made for accountability. Eventually(and I stress eventually), it may be the right move to find another church, but hopefully God would use you to bring positive change that will trickle down and effect your entire church community without you leaving.

So that's where I'm at in the absence of more scriptural application. If you've got something to add to the conversation, don't hesitate to leave a comment. All of your thoughts and questions motivate me to study and find answers, which is really important to my growth. Hopefully we can all grow together!

See ya!

-Paeter Frandsen

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I would like to support your point of view. I believe also from the bible that pastors ought to be paid, to meet their needs obviously and not for financial gain. I also know from first hand that sometimes pastors have to wave their right to wages because of being in small town churches etc. My husband is a pastor and has worked for the last 11 years full time as well as pastoring the church. He has worked outside of the church to help the church and not burden the people - they were under a lot of financial burden when we came here. However, I have to say this also has a huge strain on the pastor over time, it can be exhausting trying to do 2 jobs and be a good husband and father etc. After 11 years my husband is burnt out, I'm not complaining, I am trying to keep trusting the Lord and praying for wisdom and strength for my husband and the church but it is very difficult sometimes to see your loved one drained and struggling to keep going. So I would say that if a church can afford to pay their pastor, they ought to, as it might prevent him become weary in serving them but also they will be blessed as they sow into the Kingdom of God.
    Thanks for your careful and biblical insight.