Should pastors be paid a full-time salary for their job? Is it Biblical for them to take an income from the congregation (sheep) to whom they minister? Are pastors who desire an income nothing more than a bunch of greedy crooks? That’s a great question. Pastor salary amounts can be a very controversial issue in some churches.
Some people will suggest that pastors should never take a salary for preaching God’s word—they should do it out of the kindness of their hearts. Others suggest that pastors should be paid some money but should work at a “real” job, while still others suggest that it is okay for pastors to have $60 million dollar private jets and live in mansions. What’s the right answer, according to the Bible?
Should Pastors Be Paid a Salary, Wage, or Income?
I can remember chatting with a Jehovah Witness (a cult religion) one time, and he boasted about how their leaders/teachers didn’t take salaries. “We do it from our own desire to teach God’s word,” he pridefully said, as if to pat himself on the back. That’s great, but I wonder if this poor soul has ever read God’s word to see what He had to say about the matter?
Old Testament References to Salary/Wages for a Priest
First, we see that Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, King of Salem. Why? This mysterious Melchizedek figure ministered to Abraham. Abraham was spiritually blessed by him, so Abraham rightfully wanted to bless Melchizedek with his finances. Therefore, Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe, which literally means tenth:
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all” (Genesis 14:18-20; emphasis mine).
“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace” (Hebrews 7:1-2; emphasis mine).
That’s the first mention of tithing in the Bible, and it predates the Mosaic law. It reveals to us a principle that is reiterated throughout scriptures: Those who minister to you should receive some form of compensation from you.
Next, we see that God made provisions in the Mosaic Law for the priests to be supported financially by the nation Israel. The Levites (priestly tribe) were given no inheritance of land among the twelve tribes of Israel. Instead, they were allotted 48 cities that they could dwell in:
“All the cities of the Levites within the possession of the children of Israel were forty and eight cities with their suburbs” (Joshua 21:41).
Furthermore, God provided for the priests by allowing them to partake of some of the sacrifices and tithes offered by the nation Israel, rather than obtaining a land inheritance:
“And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 18:21).
“But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance” (Numbers 18:24).
“The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel: they shall eat the offerings of the LORD made by fire, and his inheritance. Therefore shall they have no inheritance among their brethren: the LORD is their inheritance, as he hath said unto them. And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep; and they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw. The firstfruit also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him. For the LORD thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes, to stand to minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for ever” (Deuteronomy 18:1-5).
“The trespass money and sin money was not brought into the house of the LORD: it was the priests’ ” (2 Kings 12:16).
As we can see, God clearly provided a means for the priests (Levites) to have their food and shelter as they ministered unto Israel. But does the New Testament say anything about the Christian pastor or ministry worker in today’s age? Should those working in full-time ministry today have a salary and financial provisions?
New Testament References to Ministry/Pastoral Compensation
Just as you might expect, God also gave us several scriptures that show us, without any doubt whatsoever, that individuals working in full-time ministry should be compensated. That doesn’t mean they MUST take money. Some people run ministries on the side, and they do not accept money. Perhaps some in the ministry might come from a wealthy family or they became multi-millionaires in business prior to entering ministry, and there is no need for them to take an income. But the New Testament clearly shows that it is Biblical to pay a pastor or full-time ministry worker.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we should pay pastors exorbitant salaries. No one needs $500,000 per year to live on as of 2015! Here are some passages that clearly reveal this truth of how full-time ministry workers should be paid:
When Jesus sent out his disciples, He told them not to even take a “purse” with them, because He gave them clear instructions that they should receive compensation and care for their labors of preaching from those to whom they preached:
“And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house” (Luke 10:7; emphasis mine).
The Apostle Paul also clearly tells us that whatever labor you do in life, you should be paid for that labor:
“Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope” (1 Corinthians 9:7-10).
Paul begins by showing the Corinthians that it is normal to receive wages for your labor. No one, Paul argues, plants a vineyard and then deprives himself of the fruit thereof. No one goes to war for free. People expect to be PAID for their labors.
He then quotes an Old Testament passage about muzzling the ox as it treads out the corn. Isn’t that a beautiful illustration? What farmer would make an ox labor all day in a field, yet put a muzzle on its mouth to prevent it from bending down and taking a bite of corn when it’s hungry? It would be wicked.
Yet God told Moses to put this passage in the Old Testament laws so that the poor ox could get a bite of corn when it’s hungry, but especially so that we would know that those working should receive payment for work. If God wants the ox to be fed as it works, do you not also think God wants to feed the ministry worker laboring in the gospel? That’s what Paul is saying.
Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14; emphasis mine).
In other words, just as the priests in the Old Testament were partakers of the altar, so should the pastor, preacher, or full-time ministry worker be paid. Those who preach the gospel should earn their living of the gospel. And believe me, writing articles, making videos, preparing sermons, visiting people, etc. takes work. Hard work.
What’s important to note is that Paul himself did not take a salary. During this period of the early formation of the church, Paul didn’t want to be a hindrance to the gospel. He didn’t want them to accuse him of taking their money for money’s sake. Nevertheless, he still makes it very plain to the church in Corinth that churches should be structured in a way so as to provide a living for the full-time ministry workers.
In addition, Paul very clearly and unambiguously reiterates this same point in his letter to Timothy:
“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
Again he used the illustration that a “laborer is worthy of his reward,” and that they should not “muzzle an ox that treadeth out the corn.” He’s saying that those who work hard in the gospel should earn their living by it. Just as police officers, teachers, mechanics, nurses, doctors, lawyers, retail workers, and others should be paid for their labor.
“Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (Galatians 6:6)
In the passage above, Paul again advocates that those who are “teaching you” should receive blessings from you.
After considering both the New and Old Testament passages, it becomes undeniable that God has ordained that those who teach, preach, and labor in full-time ministry should receive financial compensation.
Skeptics love to mock and scoff at a preacher who takes a salary, but I find “donate” buttons on most skeptic websites, too. If there is a preacher or ministry out there shaking up the world for Jesus, we should make sure they have funds to continue shaking up the world for Jesus. I make sure to tithe to the local church, and I also set aside a sum for parachurch ministries that boldly proclaim God’s truth.
What About Greedy Pastors or Charlatans?
Although God’s word clearly calls for us to support those who labor diligently in spreading the Gospel, it also has some bold warnings for those who would take advantage of their position in order to enrich themselves financially. God clearly says that those who seek the office of a pastor (also called elder, overseer, or bishop) should not love money:
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity” (1 Timothy 3:2-4; emphasis mine).
“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (1 Peter 5:2).
Some scandalous “ministries” have been found to have elaborate luxuries, such as golden toilets, private jets, multiple “Israel” trips, richly decorated buildings and offices, mansions, and so forth. This is obviously an abuse of the stewardship God has ordained, and it makes me want to vomit.
However, I’d also point out that this is certainly not the norm for most ministries. I’ve known pastors who were so poor that they could not afford a new car or their own home, yet they were faithful in preaching and teaching. They weren’t fakes at all.
I’ve also heard of other pastors who earned a nice living, yet they were worth every penny because they were faithful workers in the gospel. In fact, I don’t have a problem with a pastor taking $150,000+ per year if God is using him to shake up the entire world, and he has a thriving local church, radio, television, and website ministry.
In contrast, I knew of a local “pastor” who drove a very sleek, new Cadillac car. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t think it’s a sin to have material possessions or even some luxuries. However, I always thought that was a foolish move for a man in his position. What kind of message does it send for a pastor to flaunt possessions that are known as luxurious or wealthy status symbols, especially when so many people are already going to be sensitive about money issues?
In fact, this same pastor took a very substantial salary from the church (reportedly well over $100,000), and his wife also took a full-time salary for her ‘children’s ministry’ work, on top of freelance writing that she apparently had time to do. The church only had about 300 members attending (30 on Wednesday nights), had gone through a split a few years back, and numbers were dwindling each year.
To make matters worse, this was a very low income area. In other words, they were probably pulling in $120,000-150,000 per year from the church alone, when the median household income in this area was around $33,000 per year. For what? Laziness?
It might have been different if this man had a thriving television, radio, and website ministry, or if he was breaking his back to win souls to Jesus. But it was just a simple church with bland sermons read in front of his 300 (mostly elderly) fans, and they were posted on an outdated website that got very few visitors, and very few converts per year. It’s pretty obvious that this pastor had a love for the things of this world.
We should all remember the example of Eli’s sons, who served as priests in the tabernacle. They took advantage of the offerings and even threatened to take them by force:
And if any man said unto him, Let them not fail to burn the fat presently, and then take as much as thy soul desireth; then he would answer him, Nay; but thou shalt give it me now: and if not, I will take it by force. Wherefore the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD: for men abhorred the offering of the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:16-17).
God put Eli’s sons to death for their money-grubbing ways. They abused their positions and tried to enrich themselves with the finest cuts of meat. Sadly, some pastors try to “fleece” their sheep out of their money so they can drive luxury cars, wear $2,000 suits, eat out regularly, take 5 Israel trips a year (at a cost of about $3-4K a trip), and other gaudy displays of wealth and worldliness.
Finally, God’s word says that those who labor in the ministry should feed and care for the “sheep” continually. Pastors should not neglect proper sermon preparation, proper prayer, and so forth. The problem with some pastors is that they neglect to prepare for sermons. Some will recycle the same old sermon, or buy sermons online. That’s sheer laziness. Pastors who are lazy have no place in the ministry, and God will not hold them guiltless:
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:1 1).
Conclusion: God Ordains Ministry Workers to Be Paid
God has ordained that pastors and full-time ministry workers who labor in teaching and preaching the Word should be financially supported so that they can continue to spread the Gospel and equip the saints. Anyone suggesting that a pastor shouldn’t be paid is doing the work of the Devil, and they clearly don’t respect God’s direct teaching on the subject.
Oh, wouldn’t Satan love for all those in full-time ministry to have to stop and get other jobs, and thus, not be able to devote their lives to winning souls to Jesus? Of course Satan would love that!
Nevertheless, those in ministry have an obligation to work diligently; to feed, care, and pray for their sheep; and to avoid the love of money and worldliness. Those who have an eye for luxury, the desire to be rich, or a lazy habit of not wanting to work should leave the ministry (or be fired!). God wants no part of a charlatan preacher, friends.