Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Should pastors have salaries?

The subject of pastors' salaries can be somewhat difficult to discuss. It is, or at least can be, a highly emotional topic. Also, we often have very different presuppositions underlying our positions on the topic. A profitable discussion would really require going over that ground first.

I have noticed several misconceptions about the position that a pastor should not have a salary -- that it is motivated by love of money; that the 'salaried' preacher is free to preach the truth while the 'unsalaried' one is dependent on the good will of the people; that pastors must have a salary from the church to eat, pay bills, put children through college, etc. But I can point to some churches that only give freewill offerings to their pastors that actually give more money to their pastors than some churches of similar size and condition that pay set salaries give to theirs -- so it must not just be love of money. I can point to some salaried preachers that have comfortable positions and wouldn't dare mess that up, while also pointing to some unsalaried ones who preach their convictions to their church -- so it must not just be one-sided as to which preacher might shade the truth to maintain 'the good will of the people.' I can point to some preachers that have never received a salary and yet have paid their bills, fed & clothed their children, and even sent them to college -- and who might be said to have out-labored some men who had those things provided for them by their congregations. These are practical matters, and practical problems in the ministry reside on both sides of the "salary fence." They do not settle the question.

On occasion I have read salary advocates just throw I Corinthians 9, Galatians 6, and I Timothy 5 on the table and say "these are our scriptures, you need to deal with them." They are God's Word, and both sides must deal with them! There are some things that must be considered in these passages by those who support setting a salary for a pastor. Such as, in I Cor. 9:14, et. al. -- where are pastors (elders, bishops) found in the context of the passage? What does living of the gospel mean? How were the priests supported - salaries or freewill offerings? How does an apostle's refusal to use this right, but rather setting a model of self-support for elders (cf. Acts 20:34,35) fit your interpretation? Or, in I Tim. 5:17 -- if honor means a set salary, does double honor mean pay a double set salary? Have you considered that Timothy was in Ephesus and they had a plurality of elders? Did all of them receive a double salary? What about the possible division of labours of elders - elders that rule well, and elders especially who labour in word and doctrine? Or, in Gal. 6:6 - does "all good things" inherently mean a set salary? If it means a "set salary" from the one taught to the one who teaches, does that include a salary to itinerant ministers, radio preachers, etc.? If not, why not? If so, who will set their salaries? The point here is that these passages are not cut-and-dried proof of salaries for ministers as some have supposed.

As I stated above, there are often some radical differences of approach to church & ministry among those who hold that pastors should be paid salaries, and those who hold that pastors should not be paid salaries (or, in some cases, should not be paid). For example, for one the "ministry" is a full-time position, while to the other it is a part-time position (these terms may do as much to obscure as enlighten, but they are the common terms). In one approach, few could conceive of operating without a budget; in the other approach, few could conceive of why a church would need a budget. For one, the pastor is expected to fulfill numerous obligations; for the other, the obligation is teaching/preaching by several pastors.

We must be careful to not read our own practice back into the New Testament. The use of certain verses to support the salary system, IMO, does not take into account the commonality of things in the church at Jerusalem; the poverty common to the early churches; the plurality of pastors in these churches; the self-support not only practiced by Paul and others, but also given as a model to the elders; the fact that Paul's self-support was not an isolated incident; the difference between the function of apostles & itinerants and elders; and the pattern of local elders being raised up within the churches to serve those churches. Though I'm sure neither side could prove satisfactorily to the other, it is highly unlikely that any support mentioned in the scriptures, received by the apostles and evangelists, would approach anything which we would recognize as a salary.

Though Paul proves the right of apostles and other traveling ministers to be supported by the churches, He chose not to use this right (I Cor. 9). Paul chose to set a pattern for the elders to follow in their ministry (Acts 20:33-35) -- not only to support themselves, but others as well. Paul was setting patterns and examples that he expected others to follow (I Cor. 4:16, 11:1 cf. with Acts 20:35). In a correspondence on this subject several years ago, I made this statement to another preacher, "There seems to be a deliberate tension in the scriptures - on the one hand exhorting churches to support the ministry, and, on the other hand, urging ministers to be self-supporting." I still think there is truth in that statement, and believe the tension is why many good people can read the Scriptures on these matters and come to such different conclusions.

One thing on which I think most of us could agree, though, is that churches concerned with how little they can give and pastors concerned with how much they can make are both contrary to the Scriptures.

It is unfortunate that many people cannot understand the difference between the position of the early church practice as normative and the idea of walking in sandals to a meeting house without electricity. I and others who take the position are as much to blame in failing to explain it as they are in failing to understand it. By the statement "New Testament (or early church) practice is normative" I mean that it lays down a model or standard. In my opinion, we find not only our theology of doctrine in the New Testament, but also our theology of practice.

1. All may not apply the idea consistently, almost all do apply it on occasion. For example, most Baptists would feel that it is necessary to form their church government after the New Testament pattern, despite the fact that no command says they must do so.
2. The call to New Testament practice as normative is not a call to return to the culture of the first century (lighting with candles, wearing tunics and sandals, traveling by foot, horseback & wagon, etc.), nor does it regard everything as practiced in the New Testament era to be binding or as being errorless.
3. The call to New Testament practice as normative recognizes that everything the apostles expected the churches to practice was not couched in the language of command, but that they also clearly set examples they expected to be followed (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1-2; cf. v.16; 14:33; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thess. 1:6-7; 2 Thess. 2:15; 2 Tim. 2:2).
4. The call to New Testament practice as normative looks for distinctive apostolic practices and patterns, that were (a) not just rooted in the culture of the day, (b) not just rooted in the religion[s] of the day, (c) common to the churches [iow, not an isolated case], (d) rooted in and consistent with the teachings of the apostles.
5. The call to New Testament practice as normative is held to be generally binding by some (like myself), while others only hold that it is the most beneficial and more conducive to the carrying on of the work of the church.
6. The call to New Testament practice as normative questions why we would assume our methods are more effective than the apostolic pattern, and defers to the wisdom of the inspired apostles. Our question is not "why do we have to do it the way the apostles did," but rather "why do we want to do it some other way?"

If New Testament practice (as explained above) is not normative, there is very little point in discussing whether or not pastors should be paid a salary. From my limited study of the Reformation, I would conclude that one of the main differences between the Reformers and the Radicals (such as the Anabaptists) was that the Anabaptists believed the apostolic practice was normative. I would argue also that much of what distinguishes Baptists from other Christian groups is not based on explicit commands, but is derived from implied conclusions and inspired examples. If New Testament practice is not normative, then perhaps Baptists are irrelevant.

If a church requires all of a man's time (that is, so much that he could not work elsewhere) how could they expect to do any less than pay him a full time salary? But should they do so? Should they allow him to do so? IMO, this is contrary to the scriptural idea of the church as a family, a community and a functioning body. The idea is not to have one man (or a few) minister to the needs of everyone else, but that they should serve one another, each contributing his/her own special gift to the edification of the entire body.

An example of how our presuppostions lead and mislead us can be found in Grasping God's Word by Duvall and Hays. They write, "We are separated from the biblical audience by culture and customs, language, situation, and a vast expanse of time." (p. 19). But they do not say that we also have things in common with that audience. Duvall and Hays urge us to ask, "What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?" But they do not urge us to ask, "What are the similarities between the biblical audience and us?" Will failing to ask both sides of these questions not possibly slant us toward a particular conclusion? Close inspection reveals a possible bias slanted toward one type of conclusion.

Again, I think the main separation of the positions of whether to pay or not pay salaries is one of a difference in our doctrine and philosophy of ministry. Yes, there may be the peripheral issues -- loving money, etc. -- but those are only sidelights. There are plenty of people on both sides that have a love of money. Perhaps we should explore this philosophy of ministry some more.


Anonymous said...

The old deacons prayer: "Lord, you keep him humble, and we will keep him poor."

"A man is worthy of his hire", and if someone expects me to do all they ask of me, then they best provide for my family in this 21st century; I don't live in the first century!

As to setting the salary, my rule of thumb was "somewhere between the highest paid member and the lowest paid member, but essentially whatever will meet my needs to keep me efficient in the work before me.



PS, Glad, at my age, pensions take care of my needs. We didn't have these either when I first started ministry.

Bro. Matt said...

Well, I guess you thought you'd stir the pot a little huh? Maybe you'll start a big controversy like I did! Hahaha...

I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. I do not think a pastor has to be salaried, yet I do not necessarily have a problem with it. I feel that many men are called to pastor and work at a secular job. Others, seem to have been called into "full-time" (I hate that makes others feel inferior in their ministry, which is obviously not true). They should be provided for by the churches, yet how?

I look to the Old Testament and see that the priests were to be taken care of, yet it was not a set amount (except percentagewise). So, I think I'll shut my mouth for now, and let wiser minds prevail.

(FYI: I am a salaried pastor who thinks that a "part-time" pastor is just a much a pastor as a "full-time" pastor.)

R. L. Vaughn said...

Jim, it's been awhile; it's good to hear from you. I hope you all are doing well.

We've discussed this on the Baptist Board and didn't agree then. I suppose we are both set in our ways. If a church wants a man to do everything, to devote all his time to their needs, and will not pay him enough to support his family, they are negligent at best and nearly criminal at worst. But my argument includes that a church shouldn't ask one man to do everything, and that the ministry of the church should be done by elders (plural) and other gifted members. This allows the pastors to have time to also provide for their families.

Let me add that I know many good men who receive set salaries from their churches, and I don't discount the good they're doing. But my point is to advocate what I view as the Biblical example. Some examples may leave room for doubt, but Paul is pretty clear to the Ephesian elders that he was deliberately giving them an example to follow.

Matt, I agree that "full-time" and "part-time" are unfortunate terms. IN fact -- all Christians, whether preachers or not, ought to be servants of God ALL of the time! That's full-time!

Anonymous said...

Having said what I did, I want to add this. Early on, I took pastorates that could not afford a pastor. They paid me as little as ten dollars a week, house and motorcar expenses..that sort of thing. I also did architectural drawings to supplement my income at one church. Still, I accepted the small stipend and depended on God, without advertising, to provide for my needs; He did quite well.

In latter years, I was paid handsomely by the university, and accepted no wage from my church.

For others, I believe they should be fully compensated, and work full time in His service. This does not excuse parishioners from involvement. It is the preachers job to preach himself out of a job.

If what I say is paradoxical, I presume it is, but who said we must always fit into what is the right thing.

If I wanted no wage, I would become a member of the Plymouth Brethren. Not everyone entering ministry come from personal wealth, and they deserve a living wage. They have enough on their plate caring for others, and need not add their own miseries to that plate. "A man is WORTHY of his HIRE..." Not all need be tentmakers,,that is my choice, and not the local church.



PS. I have a terrible time with these word verification things! Someone please remind me what sense they are to make?

R. L. Vaughn said...

Jim, I have problems with the word verification things on blogs sometimes too. The reason I added it to my blog is because I had a couple of spammers hit the comments section with some bad links. The word verification seems to have put a stop to that.

There is no doubt that we differ on some of the details of this issue, but the testimony of your ministry indicates we're not too far apart on the spirit of the thing. Concerning a couple of things you write: 1. "Not all need be tentmakers, that is my choice, and not the local church." I really think this is a choice most ought to make. If one is ministering itinerantly, the need for support is usually greater. Most "settled pastors" (those who stay in one place) can get a job, home, etc. If this next (no. 2) is occurring, they shouldn't have too much on their plate. 2. "It is the preacher's job to preach himself out of a job." I like that statement and believe it is full of truth.

Unfortunately, what we have in many cases is that the preacher is the only one in the body who is ministering, and many preachers love to have it so.

Philip said...

R.L. Vaughn said...
"Unfortunately, what we have in many cases is that the preacher is the only one in the body who is ministering, and many preachers love to have it so."

Avoid these preachers and congregations at all cost (except to minister to them in love). They neglect the true intent of the Great Commission in my view.
Had to put that out there...

Now, having a secular job as a pastor affords the pastor secular friendships and relationships that he might not otherwise have, and these can be great daily opportunities to "live out" the Christian life before the world. I've seen this done repeatedly with positive (and, occasionally, negative) results. It really tests the mettle of that pastor.
However, as already stated, those churches that demand the "full-time" attention of their pastor should certainly be willing to take care of his family.
Matt's time and attention is certainly in great demand, so we as a body are responsible for taking care of his family. We should not abuse him (or them) just because we "pay his bills," nor should he take advantage of the situation and fish half of the week (as some have done!). I think we could (and should) do more to take care of his family.
Every situation is different. I think Scripture leaves room for many different structures of compensation.
Come to think of it, I think I'll bring forth a motion at the next biz meeting that Matt be paid solely in pinto beans and Yoo-Hoo.
That'd be sweet...