Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

The Minister’s Salary – Is It Ever Too Much?

  • Dr. Chuck Betters
  • 2005 7 Apr
The Minister’s Salary – Is It Ever Too Much?

Question: How much money should a minister be paid? Is there an upper limit? Salaries for ministry leaders range from $0 to over $949,000 per year, plus additional financial perks. Does the Scripture have anything to say about ministerial salaries?

There are several lightning rods that create division in the local church. There have been music wars, youth wars, and power struggles. Sadly, the wake of destruction left behind in many of these local churches is a poor testimony to our faithfulness to the Great Commission. We are so busy fighting each other that we forget the real enemy isn't the church. The world watches and scorns our faith.

But in my experience there is no greater lightning rod in the church than the pastor's salary. There are some, albeit in a minority, who adhere to the false theory that it is God's responsibility to keep the pastor humble but the church's job to keep him poor. But what do the Scriptures teach? Here are some general themes. We are to give honor to those who govern the church but a double honor to the one who handles the Word of God and teaches us its precepts. It teaches us that a workman is worthy of his hire.

But it also teaches ministers to learn the spirit of contentedness. Paul said he knew how to abound and how to suffer loss. This means he knew what it was like to be rich and to be poor. Paul was at one time a wealthy man who lost it all defending himself in court. He embraced his wealth and his poverty and practiced Godly stewardship in his personal life. He made a point of never being indebted to the church nor to lay a burden on them for his support. Yet, he received their generous offerings given in love and expressed his great appreciation for them. Some of the churches could afford very little yet gave above their means to support Paul. Others had plenty to give but were stingy in their mission outreach.

The church cannot function without money. It is not money that is evil. It is the love of money that causes greed and lust to flourish. But now to the question at hand: What should a church pay its pastor? A local church body lives within a cultural context that is different depending upon its demographics and size. For example, a church in the North Eastern part of the nation will require a standard of living much higher than a church in the heart of Mississippi. It is more expensive to live in New York than it is in many other parts of the nation. The rule of thumb I have used for years in helping churches to understand what they should pay their pastor is this: A pastor should be paid on the same level as the average person in the congregation he serves. The church should see to it that his family is cared for and his work properly rewarded. He should never have to plead for monetary recognition. The spirit of the church should be that if he serves the body faithfully and does his work with honesty and integrity he should receive the honor of a decent wage and the double honor of work well done.

There are churches where the laymen who make such decisions are determined that the pastor will never be paid more than they are. Why is that? Jealousy? Pride? Many laymen work a forty-hour week. They come home at night and leave their jobs behind. There is no such luxury in the ministry. The pastor is sadly, in too many churches, living on a performance basis. He is the show. The congregation is the judge. They hold up scorecards to rate his sermon, his family, his evangelism, and his worship skills. Many miss the fact that the minister is not the only one who is to perform the work of the ministry. All of the church is to be ministering. It is the pastor's task to equip them to do so (Ephesians 4:11ff).

But the pastor must learn to exercise all Godly care that he does not live a lifestyle that could offend the body. That is not to say he cannot live in a nice house, or drive a nice car. But he must be prudent in handling his finances so as to reflect that his love is for Christ and not the world of materialism and hedonism.

In MARK INC Ministries, our media outreach, I take no salary. Why? Because my church, the Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church pays me a good salary. It is not exorbitant, nor does it deprive me. It is very consistent with what people in my church make. It is more than some of my session members. It is less than others. It is fair and reasonable. My session loves their staff and looks for ways to financially reward them.

There are many ministries where the minister is overpaid. But there are just as many where he is underpaid. Many of the larger scale (not all of them) televangelists and national leaders are bilking their following. Some are living extravagant lifestyles and are prime targets for “news” shows that want to discredit all religious leaders. Witness the recent exposure of a well-known so-called “healer." But who gives the money for these people to steal in this way? It is the thousands of sheep who follow without any accountability. I hold them responsible as well as the wolf in sheep's clothing, which I hold doubly responsible.

It saddens me when ministries like ours suffer the pain of financial uncertainty everyday living hand-to-mouth while other false-doctrine ministries flourish in limousines, private jets, padded expense accounts, and Rodeo Drive clothing. But they have their reward. Who is to blame? The foolish people who fail to see that the true Gospel is one where its servants live simple lives, uncompromising lives, and lives that honor the Master as His bondslaves. These foolish people are the ones who flock to their crusades with not even a word of objection to the false teachings spouted out by men and women who can wow a crowd with their charisma and charm. The snake oil salesman lives on but so do their clients.

We are trusting that those God has chosen to encourage and equip through MARK INC Ministries will financially support this outreach so that we can continue to “make abundant riches known in the name of Christ." Our books are open for all to see. There are no hidden accounts, slush funds, or unaccountable perks to our leadership. We are in the process of making application to the ECFA, the Evangelical Council for Fiscal Accountability, along with annual public audits to insure we are squeaky-clean.

But it saddens me that so many Christians who are blessed by our ministry take it all in, our teaching, resources, and information and never give back. Their assumption is that we are backed by some deep-pockets type of people. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have come literally to within weeks of having to close down our ministry. We are counting on people who are blessed by this ministry to listen when God nudges them to help us continue to encourage, equip and energize people to know the power of Christ and to build His kingdom.

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