I tried to post a sound-byte on Facebook, but it raised a ton of questions, so I’m going to try to address some of them here. This was my post:
“My opinion: Many pastors would more boldly confront important issues if their salary wasn’t being paid by the congregation.”
1. First of all, I said, “Many,” not “All.” There are certainly plenty of pastors who preach faithfully without compromise who are salaried preachers paid by their congregation. So, it can be done.
2. On what do I base my concerns? Several things:
2a. First, I have often heard pastors tell me, “I would love to address that to my congregation, but I can’t, because that wouldn’t go over.” It is clear they know they will be fired, or some important people will either leave the church or stop giving if they cross certain lines. So many pastors have told me in their own words that they don’t say things they want to because their job would be adversely impacted, or they would eventually lose it entirely.
2b. I am an itinerant speaker and am frequently told (usually by pastors, but sometimes deacons or elder boards), “Do not say anything in the pulpit about x, y, or z. We have many people in the congregation who disagree on these issues, so don’t mention them. If I’m being told not to say something, as a guest speaker, because it will ruffle some people’s feathers, I guarantee you the pastors feel that same weight (and in many cases, the pastors tell me straight up that my speaking on certain issues will adversely impact their life/career). So, I know there is a strong pull to stay within certain lines in the pulpit and not cross the people who pay the bills in the church.
2c. I have heard, in extreme circumstances, overt efforts on the part of people in the congregation bullying their preachers and using money to coerce them into silence. In one case, a major donor in the church met the pastor in his office and slid a large check across his desk. He said, “If you want to keep seeing checks like that in the offering plate, you are going to need to stop mentioning x, y and z.” That isn’t the norm, but it happens.
3. For clarity, I do NOT believe it is morally wrong for someone who teaches a congregation to receive funds from that same congregation. Scripture is clear on this. The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 9 addresses this: “14In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
3a. At the same time, the Apostle Paul said that while he had a right to be paid, he chose to work a job so that he could be “free from all” (v. 19).
4. I’ve talked about this in other places, and don’t have time to lay out an entire explanation of Biblical Ecclesiology here, but the model practiced by most churches for church leadership isn’t what we find in the Bible.
4a. As far as I can see, there are only two “offices” in the New Testament: Elders and Deacons (see Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3). Many Fundamentalist churches don’t even have Elders, and the Deacons don’t function in the role of Biblical deacons. In my view, the role of “Pastor” acts more like a verb than a noun. The word, “Pastor” only appears one time in the entire New Testament (Eph. 4:11) and there is absolutely no description given about what such a person is or does. Yet, we’ve built a multi-million dollar industry around the concept, complete with a myriad of titles that are found nowhere in Scripture:
Senior Pastor, Associate Pastor, Assistant Pastor, Youth Pastor, Worship Pastor, Children’s Ministry Pastor…and I’ve even seen: “Recreation Pastor,” and “Information Technology Pastor.”
All of this has been spawned not from Scripture, but from seminaries who have turned church into a corporate model complete with a vocabulary drawn from the corporate world: Treasurers, Secretaries, Board of Directors, etc.
The word, “Pastor,” simply means, “from the pasture,” and means “to shepherd,” so it’s something a person does (in the same way that he also, “cares,” and “comforts” and “teaches.” It’s a role or function, not a job title he puts on his business card.
5. From what I can see in Scripture, the Deacons (which simply means, “servant”) do not teach and just help with the logistical issues on serving within the church. The Elders lead and “pastor,” and some of them have gifts of teaching, some of administration (see 1 Cor. 12:28), etc. The teaching elders deserve to be financially recompensed by the congregation, but in many cases, they wouldn’t need to be fully supported if they shared teaching duties as the Biblical model of a plurality of church elders seems to suggest.
5a. Many congregants view paying a pastor as a means of excusing them from doing ministry themselves. They see the role of the Pastor/Elder as needing to be on hand to visit their sick aunt in the hospital (for example) when nothing in the Scripture indicates this is their role. Ephesians 4:11 indicates the role of pastoral leadership is NOT to do the work of ministry so the saints don’t have to. It is for them to build up and equip the saints to do the work of ministry themselves. The shepherd should not be seen as an employee who is on call to work for the people who write the checks. The logistical issues of serving the body needs to be done primarily by those in the Body, and if special care is needed, there are deacons to handle many of those practical matters so the teaching elders can stay focused on prayer and teaching (Acts 6:2).
5b. Church leadership was never supposed to be a “one-man band.” In John 10, Jesus speaks of leaders who are not true shepherds, but are “hirelings.” It’s a job to them, not a calling. These are kinds of men who will be compromised by a paycheck. But let’s be honest, even good men feel pressure when what they say will impact whether or not they can afford to keep buying food for their children. I don’t believe God ever intended church leadership models to look like that. If two or three men in a church share teaching duties on a rotational basis, it is quite easy for all of them to share that workload without needing to be fully salaried by a local church. They may all be compensated financially, but perhaps are not solely dependent on the church for their sustenance (and are not full-time in their service because the congregation and deacons have been trained to do the work they are supposed to do for themselves). This gives them more time for other forms of pastoral work, including study and sermon prep.
6. This is a side-note, but I also believe a great way to overcome the pressure from a congregation regarding what a church leader may say or not say is to utilize expository preaching (verse-by-verse) through the Bible. It’s not a Biblical mandate, but practically there are many benefits. One of them is that a pastor doesn’t get to just ride the horse of his favorite pet doctrines to the exclusion of many neglected ones in the text. Another is that he can’t ignore certain subjects when they come up. If the text is talking about a controversial issue this week, he needs to address it head on. That avoids the problem of people feeling singled out or targeted by the preacher. The preacher teaches through the entire Bible and covers it all over time.
7. It has been mentioned that seminary is expensive and it requires a paid salary to justify it. I’m not against seminaries, but it should be remembered they are not Biblically required for church leadership. It concerns me that most churches completely overlook the strict Biblical criteria laid out in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 for elders while making a non-Biblical standard (seminary) all-important. We have that backward.
Bottom-line (recap): There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Bible teachers receiving compensation (even a full living) from teaching the Word. The Bible allows for it and even says it is their “right.” But Paul’s example, and practical considerations, should give us reason to consider whether this is always a necessary (or even ultimately desirable) situation for all Bible teachers. A shared workload held by Biblically qualified men who help support each other can provide a context where the congregation (or Baptist Deacon Board) can never get their hands around the neck of one man they can completely own and control with a paycheck.
Israel Wayne is an author and conference speaker and founder of Family Renewal. He is also Site Editor for www.ChristianWorldview.net.