What Should We Pay Our Pastor? : Part 1 – A Biblical Perspective


Pastoral compensation is an issue that faces most churches, however most pastors never teach on the subject because they fear such teaching will appear self-serving.  The result is that pastoral salaries are rarely based on Biblical principles.  This clearly will not do.  What we need to do is start with the teachings of Scripture, recognize the Biblical principles within, and then move to a contemporary application.

1 Corinthians 9:4-14

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 must work for a living?

Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?  Do I say this merely from a human point of view? 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.”  Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought 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.  Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel

I think that it is very fair to say that Paul is teaching that it is a pastor’s right to be paid a wage that is large enough to support both him and his family.  The other side of the coin is that the church is Biblically obligated to do this.  To go further, Paul tells Timothy (I Tim. 5:8) that one who fails to adequately provide for his family “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”  While pastors often make material sacrifices for the sake of the gospel (as Paul did), Paul makes it very clear that churches do not have the right to demand this of their pastors – in fact, the reverse is true – pastors have the right to insist upon adequate compensation from their churches.

There is only one part of this particular passage that seems to give any guideline as to how much pastors should be paid.  In verses 11 and 12 Paul says:

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?

What I see here is a comparison between “Others” who, by implication, plant a material seed and have the right to reap a material benefit, and pastors who plant a spiritual seed.  The “others” are evidently the typical merchants and trades men (butchers, bakers, farmers, doctors, etc.) who provide material goods and services and are rightly paid.  Notice that Paul doesn’t say that “we” (pastors), who provide spiritual service, should be compensated half as much as those who provide material service.  Paul does not say that pastors should be compensated the same.  Paul says that pastors should be compensated more.

This is in perfect harmony with the rest of Biblical teaching that the spiritual is more valuable than the material.  Sure we need material blessing, and material service has real value and dignity and should rightfully be compensated.  But as Jesus said, “Man should not live by bread alone” and that we should “store up treasures in heaven”.  Material service is important, but spiritual service is more important.

Galatians 6:6-10

Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them.  Do not be deceived—God will not be mocked. You will reap what you sow. Those who live only to satisfy their own selfish nature will harvest decay and death from that nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.  So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Once again Paul points out the obligation of the church to compensate their pastors.  However, there seems to be something else here as well.  In “sharing all good things” there is a subtle implication that as the Lord blesses you, you should bless others.  Much like the Old Testament tithe – the more you are blessed, the more you should bless others.  This principle gives relief to the poor and a greater obligation to the rich.  If a church is small and its members are poor they should share with their pastor in proportion to the modest blessing the Lord has given them.  But as the Lord blesses them more and more they should return more and more to their pastor.

It’s also important to see what great value Scripture places on the “where your heart is there you treasure will be” principle.  We need to take a serious heart check here.  If we are stingy and selfish towards our pastors we are mocking God.  If we are generous we will receive God’s blessing.  Whether you wish to experience God’s hand of blessing, or God’s hand of discipline is up to you.  I know which one *I* would prefer!

1 Timothy 5:17-18

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

Paul uses the terms pastor and elder interchangeably.  While we tend to use a very modern definition of “elder” to refer to a lay-leader,  it is evident by the job description of preaching, teaching, and directing the affairs of the church that Paul is clearly talking about pastors here.  I think that it is also clear within the context of this passage that the term “double honour” refers to material compensation.  One translation simply says “Church leaders…deserve to be paid twice as much.”  Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t specify “double” or “twice as much” as what.  Twice as much as a secular elementary school teacher?  Double that of a secular corporate administrator?  Both of these are possible, neither of them are certain.  What is clear is that pastors should not receive “average” treatment, but should be treated with extra generosity.

I believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that pastors should be paid, and paid well.  The use of the words “more” and “double”/”twice as much” seems to indicate that we are to err on the side of generosity.  While pastors, at various times of their ministries, may voluntarily make great material sacrifices for the sake of the gospel, the church is clearly not to take advantage of their pastors’ zeal.  Instead of looking for ways to pay their pastors less, the church should be looking for ways to pay their pastors more.

Unfortunately the Bible gives us general principles, but we still have to find concrete applications for those timeless principles today.  I think that it is prudent to take a look at church history next to see both how these texts have been understood and applied by our spiritual forefathers, as well as, to understand the historic trends that have brought us to where we are today.

Proceed to Part 2


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