Subverting Satan’s Schemes via Pastoral Salaries

Paul wrote that “we are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10). Guilt, bitterness, compromise, lack of forgiveness, pride. All these things can be used of the enemy to derail the progress of the gospel. But have you ever thought about how keeping pastoral salaries low could be one of the devil’s schemes? John Calvin did. Calvin said that “one of the tricks of Satan [is] to defraud godly ministers of support, that the Church may be deprived of such ministers.”

The crafty schemes of the enemy of our soul must be discovered and thwarted. With almost any area of life, Satan is happy for Christ’s followers to fall into either ditch on the two sides of the road. He is happy if we are so focused on “doctrine” that we have no warmth in our souls for the lost. But he is equally pleased if we fall into the opposite ditch: boundless zeal but no doctrinal foundation. He is delighted if men lord it over their wives and abuse their power. But he is just as content to see husbands become submissive, weak, and feminine. The enemy rejoices when a Christian slips too far and becomes engrossed in the world. But he has equal pleasure when a Christian refuses to interact with the sinners that so desperately need his witness.

Take another example: sex. Sex is a weapon Satan uses to tear down ministries, pull families apart, and destroy souls. But remember: just as illicit sex serves Satan’s purposes (the ditch on the left side of the road), so also does a lack of sex in the proper context (i.e. marriage) serve his ends (the ditch on the right side of the road). But sex itself is a gift from God—even a gift that Christian couples should use as a weapon against the evil one’s temptations.

In the same way, Satan uses money as a weapon, pulling people into a root of all evil: the love of money. However, Satan is just as happy when faithful pastors struggle to get by as he is when prosperity pseudo-pastors grow rich by fleecing the sheep. Along these lines, one of Satan’s schemes seems to be that churchgoers ought to be afraid of giving a pastor “too much” money. Just as Satan would be happy with people becoming slaves to riches, he would be just as happy for churches to eschew generous pastoral salaries “that the Church may be deprived of such ministers.” But just like sex itself isn’t evil, neither is money.

The thing about Satan’s weapons is that they have been stolen from God’s arsenal. And the best way to defeat Satan is not to be afraid of his weapons, but to resist him, firm in the faith, and reclaim the weapons for righteous use. The solution to this trick of the devil is to be generous and liberal in supporting those who are in his diabolical cross-hairs. It’s the same old trick, use the perversion of a good gift to scare Christians away from using the gift at all. But we are not ignorant of his schemes.

I am not a pastor. In some ways, I may be freer to talk about this than current pastors. I do not write this post in a spirit of complaint, but rather in the hopes of edification and blessing to pastors and churches. Like Paul, I (at least currently) have no private interest in the matter, but seek the universal benefit of the Church:

Though it does not become us to indulge too much in complaint, or to be too tenacious of our rights, yet Paul found himself called upon to exhort the Galatians to perform this part of their duty [i.e. paying pastors]. He was the more ready to do so, because he had no private interest in the matter, but consulted the universal benefit of the Church, without any regard to his own advantage. He saw that the ministers of the word were neglected, because the word itself was despised; for if the word be truly esteemed, its ministers will always receive kind and honorable treatment. (John Calvin, commenting on Galatians 6:6)

My main point in this post is that pastors should be paid and they should be paid well. I will begin by showing that pastors should be paid well, then move on to some objections and concerns, and finally end with specific ideas for application (always my favorite part).

Pastors Should be Paid

The first thing to understand is that pastors provide a service to the flock, and as such, are to be compensated for that labor. Their compensation should be seen more as a wage than as a charitable offering. The Bible says: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and ‘The laborer deserves his wages'” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).

The laborer is worthy of his wages because he has worked. He has provided a service or product and, in return, is to be compensated. While the pastor’s role is not identical to a “secular” vocation, there are similarities. The pastor (i.e. laborer) deserves the wage he receives; the pastor is to be compensated for his labor. Galatians 6:6 affirms this: “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” Commenting on this passage, John Gill noted the following:

[Those] who [are] commissioned, and qualified and sent forth by Christ, and whose office in the church is to teach the word, to preach the Gospel, to instruct men in the truths of it, and teach them their duty also to God and men, such are to be communicated to; that is, such as are under their instructions ought to impart of their worldly substance to them, for their honourable and comfortable support and maintenance; for since they spend their time, and make use of their talents, gifts, and abilities, for their instruction in spiritual things, it is but reasonable, and no such great matter, that they partake of their carnal things; and especially since it is the will and ordinance of Christ, that they that preach the Gospel should live of it [1 Corinthians 9:14].

The pastor is to be devoted to prayer, “to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). He is to be immersed in his trade (1 Timothy 4:15). He is to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). He is “to be sober-minded, endure suffering, [and] do the work of an evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5). To this work he is to be singularly devoted and for this work he is to be compensated. Of this truth, the Bible speaks clearly.

In July of 2018, I preached a message entitled “Why Pastors?” The following excerpt is applicable to the current discussion:

Since a pastor is to be immersed in Scripture, teaching, and exhortation, he is to be bringing valuable content when he teaches and preaches. The reason you pay a doctor is so that he can be immersed in his trade. It’s not that many more people couldn’t be doctors, but many don’t want to be immersed in the medical field. Everyone should know about their health and care for their bodies, but a doctor is to be immersed in studying the field. Everyone should know and obey the Scriptures, but the pastor is to be immersed in this. Then when said pastor comes to teach and preach, there is a different product being presented.  This is why the work of the pastor may be regarded as laboring…It is not a charitable offering that is to be given to pastors. It is the wages of a laborerA good doctor is happy to provide his services free when he can. But he could not survive, nor devote his time to progressing in his trade, if he is not paid most of the time. In the same way, a pastor so loves preaching that he is happy to do it with no compensation, but he cannot devote his time to it, nor progress in it, if he is not compensated.

Commenting on 1 Timothy 5:17, Luther wrote that “Christians are obliged in God’s sight to think them worthy of double honor who minister to their souls…They are obligated to deal well with them and provide for them.” Not only does the Bible teach that faithful pastors are to be compensated, it teaches us that they are worthy of double honor. The reason I am inclined to include compensation in this “double honor” is because of the next verse: 1 Timothy 5:18. Albert Barnes notes the connection:

From the quotation which is made in 1 Timothy 5:18, in relation to this subject, it would seem probable that the apostle had some reference also to their support, or to what was necessary for their maintenance. There is no improbability in supposing that all the officers of the church, of whatever grade or rank, may have had some compensation, corresponding to the amount of time which their office required them to devote to the service of the church.

We will revisit this topic of “double honor” when we draw some application below.

A Desire for More Money is not Necessarily Evil or “Unspiritual”

I am the sole breadwinner in my family. My yearly income is generally slightly under the median household income for my state. In my work, much of my focus and energy is devoted to seeking advancement and progress in my industry in order to make more money to support my growing family. If I were offered an honorable job at double my current rate (or even 1.5 times more), I would likely take it. If you can understand why I desire more money, then you can understand why a pastor making a median income could be drawn into looking for more gainful employment. Should this life be a perpetual struggle to always make more money? No. But to disregard the real-life aspects of a father and husband seeking to provide for his family and pastor the church is foolish.

As a Christian in the “secular” workforce, I am never questioned on my motives if I seek other employment because I want more compensation. As long as he is acting ethically, a Christian businessman is even encouraged to seek as much profit as possible. Now, I understand that a pastor is not a business owner, but the reason he would seek more money and the reason the godly Christian employee or businessman would desire more personal income is the same. Despite this, pastors are often hesitant to voice their desires, lest they be viewed as being in ministry “for the money.” Didn’t they become a pastor because they were called to it, not because of the pay? It is true that no godly pastor ever pursued ministry because of the money, but pastors still live on this earth and they aren’t allowed to pay their car insurance bill with gospel tracts.

If a church thinks that by paying the pastor less, they will prevent greed and avarice, they are amiss. R.C. Sproul, Jr., provides poignant wisdom here: “If he really and truly is in it for the money, such will show apart from the money. A hireling is a hireling no matter how well or poorly he is paid. You don’t avoid hirelings by paying little, but by paying attention.” Furthermore, if a church deems a man qualified for ministry (see 1 Timothy 3), then he should be among the most qualified to handle an above-average salary without making shipwreck of his faith. As Mark Dever put it, “If you don’t trust his character enough to be generous with him, you shouldn’t [have hired] him in the first place.”

The Error of “Sacred-Secular” Thinking

Many, perhaps, will find nothing controversial in the first point. The average church member is happy to have the pastor receive some compensation, but never gives it much thought. In fact, many may not even think about the pastor’s temporal necessities at all when giving a tithe or offering. However, I believe we should be thinking about this when we give. I would argue that the two main purposes for giving within the local church are to: (1) pay the pastor(s) and (2) support those in the congregation with temporal needs. The former was addressed above, the latter will be addressed in another post.

Some may even grant that a pastor’s desire for money may be acceptable, so long as it is not a love for money. (I can tell you that wanting more money is not the same as loving money. I would like more money, but I don’t love money. If I loved money, I would not be committed to keeping my wife out of the workforce so she can raise our kids, nor would I be committed to having a large family.)

But moving beyond these two points, the rubber meets the road when we consider this: how well should pastors be paid? It may or may not surprise you that many churchgoers think pastors should not be paid a lot because their work is a “spiritual” work. R.C. Sproul, Jr. notes:

[Some] churches believe they should pay their pastor very little, lest he look unspiritual. I think those who think in these terms are the unspiritual ones. There is nothing spiritual about driving a rundown car, or eating beans and rice, nothing unspiritual about going out to dinner or owning a well made suit.

Thom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources, elaborates: “Many pastors are under extreme stress because they do not have adequate income to meet their financial obligations. Like anyone else who is under heavy financial burdens, a pastor can find his thoughts consumed with worry. Because he is so distracted, he naturally is less effective in his ministry. Both he and his family feel the pressure.”

Those who do not want pastors to be paid “too much” should also feel the same toward other “secular” professions:

In principle I am persuaded that a man’s pay ought to be determined by agreement. That is, in the marketplace there are those who value my labor at x. I value my labor at y. If there is overlap, I have a job. Under such a market scenario someone cannot be overpaid. When we grumble about this athlete, that actor, or that other business executive making big dollars our real beef is with those in the market who are willing to pay so much. No need for us to get troubled when others make agreements we might not make. Remember that when God established the nation of Israel He established in the marketplace no price ceilings or price floors. (R.C. Sproul, Jr.)

For some reason, we have bought into this idea of a “sacred-secular” divide. We think that for a pastor to desire more money is automatically earthly and carnal, since he is called to spiritual things. Luther, perhaps more than any other Reformer, challenged the way Christians think about the so-called “sacred-secular” divide. For it was Luther who wrote:

It is pure invention [fiction] that pope, bishops, priests, and monks are called the ‘spiritual estate’ while princes, lords, artisans, and farmers are called the ‘temporal estate.’ This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy.

Due perhaps to his perceptiveness of this issue, he saw the danger in failing to pay pastors well:

We have come to understand why it is so necessary to repeat the admonition of this verse [Galatians 6:6]. When Satan cannot suppress the preaching of the Gospel by force he tries to accomplish his purpose by striking the ministers of the Gospel with poverty. He curtails their income to such an extent that they are forced out of the ministry because they cannot live by the Gospel.

Luther, even before Calvin, saw that one of Satan’s ploys to stymie the preaching of the Gospel is to limit pastoral salaries!

Calvin noted that while those devoted to advancing pagan agendas make bank, ministers of the gospel often struggle to make ends meet:

How disgraceful is it to defraud of their temporal support those by whom our souls are fed!—to refuse an earthly recompense to those from whom we receive heavenly benefits! But it is, and always has been, the disposition of the world, freely to bestow on the ministers of Satan every luxury, and hardly to supply godly pastors with necessary food.

Years ago, I was listening to R.C. Sproul talk on the radio about how our society values certain professions. The highest paid professions in our society are entertainers: athletes, singers, actors. Those who proclaim the Word of God, however, fall far lower on the list. Sproul wasn’t arguing that pastors should get a $1 million salary (nor am I), but he was highlighting an important point: are faithful pastors valued by our society (or at least the church)? Are they compensated according to the value they provide?

Pastors Should Have a “Comfortable Supply”

The London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 provides wisdom as it relates to paying pastors (my fellow Confession geeks will note that the Westminster Confession does not include this section):

The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him; it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel. (Chapter 26, Paragraph 10)

The phrases to note are “comfortable supply” and “entangled in secular affairs.” The writers of the Baptist Confession saw this issue as an important one. The pastors are not only to have a supply of temporal things, but a comfortable supply. The reason is so that pastors may be devoted to the work of the ministry and not become “entangled in secular affairs.” They also ought to be able to freely exercise “hospitality towards others.” The distinction made between pastoral duties and secular affairs is not a contradiction of what I have said above: it is simply being used to differentiate between doing the work of a pastor and doing other work. Both options are godly, holy, and good through Christ—but they are different options.

As it relates to hospitality, I like what Sproul, Jr. says:

“Worthy of double honor” (I Timothy 5:17) may be difficult to define precisely but it should at least mean that the pastor is paid well enough that he can pick up a check from time to time, and is not always dependent, like a servant, on the occasional, unexpected generosity of his friends…Pay him well enough that he is able to give with great generosity.

The point of the “comfortable supply” is to free the pastor from having to think about anything as it relates to his career other than watching his life and doctrine, laboring in the Word, shepherding the flock, and doing the work of an evangelist.

As we now move on to consider one simple and practical way to answer the question of how much to pay a pastor, keep the following questions in mind:

1. Does the compensation provided enable the pastor to truly focus solely on his work, or will it be very difficult for him to not think about the possibility of making more money elsewhere?

2. Does the salary conform to the spirit of the law: a faithful pastor is “worthy of double honor”?

3. Would we rather err on the side of paying the pastor too “little” or too “much”?

Note: Consider the possible outcomes. If you pay the pastor too “little” you may cause him and his family unnecessary stress simply due to an unfounded, nebulous desire to not pay him “too much.” However, if you pay him “too much,” what have you lost? You have given a man who is “not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:3) a few extra bucks to use wisely for kingdom purposes and family support. The decision seems easy—err on the generous side.

Dr. Talbot’s Practical Application

As I have thought about this topic on-and-off for the better part of a decade, I have considered multiple models, one being a pay-for-service type model where the pastor is paid each Lord’s Day from the tithes and offerings given after his sermon. The reason I keep toying with ideas is because I continue to see certain themes occurring:

  1. Underpaid pastors. As Patrick Taylor, an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., noted: “Many American churches under-compensate their pastors. Many families have had to struggle through years of financial hardship, not because the Lord wants his ministers to feel financial pain, but because churches do not know how to be generous.”
  2. An uneasiness about discussing the topic. Thom Rainer confirms: “In many churches, the pastor’s salary is a quiet issue. There is a sense of discomfort from both the pastor and the members when the topic is broached. Such discomfort is unfortunate, however, because a number of churches will not seek every year to make certain the pastor is paid fairly.” As such, no clear guidelines or principles are laid out to help churches address the problem.

At this point in my journey, I present the following as one viable solution that complies with the biblical principles discussed in this post and addresses the issues I’ve continually seen in my experience: pay the pastor double.

I owe this application to Dr. Kenneth Talbot, President of Whitefield College and Theological Seminary, who put it quite simply to me:

The Bible is clear, he gets double pay. Basic rule of thumb is twice the average income [of] a family in the church. So if [the] average salary among all the member families is…$40,000…the pastor’s package should be $80,000 per year. If the families are tithing 10% that would be $4,500 per year. [This] would mean you need 20 to 25 families. Remember the facility is paid for by free-will offerings…[The pastor] may have to start with less [as the church works toward paying him full-time].

This general guideline applies the wisdom of God’s Word in a practical, down-to-earth, generous way. A new church may not be able to do this for several years, and a godly minister will understand that. However, that doesn’t mean it cannot be the goal that a church is aiming for.

Talbot’s advice on taking the average (I’d actually prefer the median in some cases, which will probably be less than the average most of the time) of the church body is probably best in theory, but then you have to recalculate that data by collecting income info from every church member, every year. Another option is to take the median salary from the community. In either case, the numbers should be similar if the church body represents a fair sampling of the community (which a healthy church should). Every year or two, get the new number and adjust the compensation.

For example, the median household income in my county is $55,000. Double that and you get $110,000. That’s still less than the average salary of a high school principal in my state (according to at least one source). That’s a fraction of what the lowest-paid NFL player receives. It’s well under the salary of judges and countless business owners in our state. It is a comfortable supply, without being an exorbitant one. It is a comfortable supply that should allow a pastor to pay off his mortgage early and support a growing family, but it is not a lavish supply that leads to yachts, jets, and mansions.

In some cases, the church may want to go above and beyond the double guideline. For example, in San Francisco the median income is $77,000 (the average is $105,000). A church in that city may want to take the higher number, double it, and pay the pastor $210,000. In San Francisco, that salary is by no means lavish. In fact, if the church is able, they might want to do a little bit more (call it hazard pay for ministering in a modern day Sodom).

While there may be some minor tweaks and adjustments to make based on which numbers to use, this general rule alleviates uncertainties and continual tension (voiced or unvoiced) over the salary. Most importantly, it alleviates unnecessary stress on the pastor. A Christian serving in a non-pastor role may find it awkward to ask for a raise, but I guarantee you it is not as uncomfortable as a pastor asking for a raise. In some companies, it is basically a game of give-and-take in order to get a raise. I know. I’ve been there. I don’t want pastors to have to do that. Most times, however, pastors won’t do that. They will simply remain silent. They will be content to have less, because they do not want to cause a stir. The “unity” of the church or something like that may be more important to them than getting a raise. Remove that strain on men who are called to preach the Word and allow them to truly be focused on that work. Even with a comfortable supply, pastors are often giving up the opportunity for more money outside of the church. Faithful pastors are not in the ministry for the money, but let’s not force them out of the ministry because of (the lack of) the money.

A faithful pastor has enough obstacles as it is, especially if he is boldly taking the lordship of Christ into the public square. A faithful pastor must face countless hurdles, setbacks, and roadblocks in his ministry, A small salary shouldn’t be one of those things, unless it has to be. Thankfully in America, it hardly ever has to be. This is one ploy of Satan that should be easily defeated.

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