Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Should Pastors be paid a Salary

I recognize the divisive nature of this question. And I struggle with even asking it. But I want to highlight this question as it relates to my 7th point in my 95 Thesis series - the use of the Bible as a magic 8 ball. We don't look to the Bible to debate if workers at Christian radio stations, bookstores, or publishing companies should receive wages. So maybe we can discuss whether paying pastors a salary is good practice using other sources to guide the discussion?

What concerns me here is how people attempt to prove a position by finding a few verses yet overlook context and and skip other related passages.

Let's look at some verses used to support the position that pastors should be paid a salary. For example this link here uses two passages to support their 'yes' position to this question:

1 Timothy 5:17-18
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, 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." (NIV)
I first note that Paul is talking about elders here. I'm not certain elder means pastor, and I haven't been in a 'church' where all elders where paid a salary.

I'm also not sure that double honor should be interpreted as a salary (or double salary???). Timothy could have used the word wages here, but he chose the word honor. Honor as we are to honor our parents.

Yes it says "The worker deserves his wages". But it also says "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain". These are two sayings that are not literal things we are to do to elders or pastors. Is it literally saying to not muzzle the elder/pastor? I think it is saying something like this: "Just like you wouldn't keep an ox that is working from eating, or hold back wages from your workers, you should also not hold back on giving honor to elders who direct the affairs and teach and preach."

Another passage used to support paying a salary to pastors is 1 Corinthians 9:14
In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. (NIV)
"so also did the Lord direct to those proclaiming the good news: of the good news to live." (Youngs Literal Translation)

Yes, this verse does at first glance look like strong support for paying a salary to a pastor.

Yet what sayings of Jesus was Paul referring to? When did Jesus say that those proclaiming the good news should live of the good news?

Was Paul referring to this? Luke 10:1-11
"After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
"When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' (NIV)
Or similar in Matthew 10:5-12
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. (ESV)
So here it seems "the worker deserves his wages" means staying in someone's home and getting fed while they are in town. Notice they took no purse, and were to give without pay. Now I agree this would get complicated if we were to try to apply this passage to our common roles of pastor. These verses were for someone travelling from town to town with the good news of the kingdom of God. It may  also work for a travelling evangelist today, but not so workable for a pastor with a family who stays in a local congregation for a number of years.

OK, that's a summary of some verses that are used to support paying a pastor a salary. What about some other verses that are often overlooked.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (NIV)
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (NIV)

Here Paul makes it clear that we are to follow his example, to work with our hands, and not be dependent on anyone. Yes he says he had the right to request help, he was a travelling evangelist and Luke 10:1-11 would have applied to him - he could have received free shelter and food if needed.

Similar in Acts 20:32-35
"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' " (NIV)
What was Paul showing here, and why?

In summary I think there is strong Scriptural support for someone travelling from town to town sharing the gospel (like an evangelist), to be given free shelter and food while he is in town. However, I don't see strong Scriptural support for the same being applied to a local elder or pastor.

Yes, times have changed. The way we have organized 'church' is different than the way it was structured in the days of the early church.

I'm not at a point where I'm certain the way we do things is all wrong.

My concern here is how some people feel the need to prove every point with Scripture. When you approach Scripture with an agenda it is often easy to find a few verses to twist to support your position.

Our 'church' structures are different than what the early church had. So should our pastors be paid a salary? Should clerks at Christian bookstores, Bible College professors, workers at Christian radio stations, workers at Christian publishing companies, and authors of Christian books be paid a salary? I'm not sure if we need to go looking for a verses from the Bible to answer these questions.

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Anonymous said...

Jon, trust my response doesn't come across as self-serving or self-preservation, but I would encourage you to do a word study/cross reference and the interchange between these words: episkopos, poimaino, and presbuteros in the NT. What you will find is that they are used as synonyms in several texts and I think would conclude that an elder is an overseer is a shepherd/pastor... therefore, if you are paying a pastor you are paying an elder - food for thought.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Steve for the feedback. I held back posting this one for months. I don't intend any dishonor towards you (or my parents, or others). But I think it's fair to try to determine what church practices are based on scripture, and which ones are traditions picked up along the way.

And if it's a tradition, it doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong.

As for elder/shepherd/pastor, my limited understanding has been that they are often used interchangeably in the NT. I may look further in the future at episkopos, poimaino, and presbuteros... thanks.

If 1 Timothy 5:17-18 said pastor, I'm not sure it would be much clearer though. I think "The worker deserves his wages." refers to Luke 10:7 which in context does not give support to current practices.

Another look with Young's Literal Translation:
1 Timothy 5:17
"The well-leading elders of double honour let them be counted worthy, especially those labouring in word and teaching,for the Writing saith, `An ox treading out thou shalt not muzzle,' and `Worthy [is] the workman of his reward.'"

As I write, I'm torn. I pray I've shown no dis-honor to any older wiser respected leaders of Christ's church... because that is the part of these verses that is clear to me. I need to be careful to show honor to elders.

Jonathan said...

I'll try to add some honor here... :) I have no doubt you put in more hours than I do. I do think that most larger institutions need staff to manage/facilitate/lead. I also do know that pastors put in many hours with the many roles they have in the body.

Jim said...

Good article. I have been in the IC (Institutional Church) for most of my life and in the HC (House Church) for 1 1/2 years. While the Bible does seem to indicate both side of this issue (2 side to a coin). I feel that in our modern time (crazy paced life) it is often very hard to "shepherd" (rarely translated pastor) God's people in the Word, counsel, wedding, funerals, etc., and still carry on a full-time job. Every situation should be individually examined.
Thanks again for sharing.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Jim. Yes, it may depend on how much we expect one person to do for the rest of the group. I am not convinced one man was expected to do all these things in the early church. There may be a simpler way of being the church. However my life experiences are mostly with the IC, so many of my thoughts here simply my beliefs that I am working through.

Thanks for the comment.