Thoughts on Pastoral Compensation

As someone who has been the pastor of several churches, and candidated to be the pastor of several others, I can attest that the matter of financial compensation to a pastor is a matter of debate and concern for pastors, their families and church boards at large. And for pastors who may be looking to plant a new church and be supported by their denomination in the process, this becomes a matter of discussion between the pastor and denominational officials. Then again, many pastors who go to plant churches in another culture are officially missionaries, and they usually discuss and pray about this before going into that venture. So, here are my thoughts on the matter.

For a pastor or missionary, accept love gifts which are given from a righteous motive, and do not put any pressure or guilt trips on people for them for any reason. The example of the apostle Paul himself in Philippians 4:10-19 is the scriptural guide here.

For a church, denominational official or mission board: make no promises of financial support without some kind of written documentation. For a pastor or missionary, do not accept a promise of financial support without some kind of written agreement. This is not to have a document on which a lawsuit would be based if one party failed to deliver, which is contrary to I Corinthians 6:1-11, but rather to deliver clarity on what was actually promised, and so that false promises will not be made or received. Unfortunately there are those who profess to be believers who will promise someone else anything to get that person to do something that they want that person to do, and this is a way of helping to make sure that the promise which is being made is sincere, and that the person making the promise does intend to fulfill it and has the authority and ability to fulfill it. This kind of defrauding by false promise is something that I plan to write about later, God permitting.

Out of a desire to have all things appear righteous in the sight of all men (II Corinthians 8:21), I would advise the development a faith covenant for financial support in ministry for a pastor or a missionary between their church or denomination. I believe that too often this matter is treated like a matter of secular employment, and not a reliance on God for wisdom, guidance and provision by both the pastor and missionary and the denomination and local church. My impression is that sometimes this comes from people who want to appear to be with-it business people rather than people of faith relying upon the grace of God.

The first principle behind the faith covenant would be that the church or denomination agrees to full time support for full time ministry work. The scriptural principle behind this is that the laborer is worthy of his hire (I Corinthians 8:3-12, II Timothy 5:17-18). Usually the minimum for this is ten or eleven tithing families, and this comes from the history of Israel, where the tribe of Levi was supported by the tithes of the other eleven tribes. Churches with less than this number are usually expecting the pastor to live on a salary much less often than they would accept for the same demands in terms of work and hours, and this often results in pastors needing to leave for larger churches not only out of a sense of spiritual leading but also out of a need for adequate financial support.

The second principle behind the faith covenant would be the permission for part time or even full time secular employment where necessary. Again, the pattern for this is the apostle Paul, as outlined in II Thessalonians 3:7-9. For some churches, this may actually turn out to be a way for the pastor to make contacts in the community and have opportunities to witness and minister than he would have had otherwise. This can be a problem for declining churches which have become used to having the ministry of a pastor who has been supported entirely by the church, and who has been able to keep up with the demands of two quality sermons, one or more Bible studies, and the administration, visitation and counseling that his support enabled him to give. Generally, though, it is the right thing for a church which cannot support a pastor full time to either share the pastor with another church or to allow for one sermon and Bible study or prayer meeting a week, some visitation on the weekends and evenings, and let the pastor work throughout the week at supporting himself and his family. In these cases also the elders and others in the church need to make sure that they are also sharing the responsibilities of the teaching and preaching ministries of the church.

As part of the process of developing an adequate understanding of what would be adequate remuneration for the fulfillment of the needs of the pastor and his family, the church or denomination should undertake a written description of the expected responsibilities of the pastor. The pastor should also work to put together his own expectations for his responsibilities in ministry, a personal budget that sets out reasonable living expenses and a personal report on what kinds of expenses would be necessary for ministry. This will help to get the discussion not on what someone thinks a pastor should make based on the salary of an unskilled entry level factory worker (I met someone who actually believed this) or upon what a retiree makes from Social Security (I’ve heard this one too) or what a previous pastor was paid thirty five years previously when he came to the church fresh from seminary (this also is true).

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