Indisputably, the Bible teaches the importance of a church's financial support of its pastor. However, there are many questions that arise from the pastoral compensation issue. For example, what is a reasonable salary for a pastor today? What components should make up a pastor's compensation? How should these matters be discussed between the pastor and the church's lay leaders?
It has been my privilege to teach ministerial students an introductory course on personal and church finance for a number of years. Because fiscal responsibility is integral to a pastor's personal testimony, his family's well-being, and the church's well-being, it is crucial for ministers to understand matters of personal finance. It is also important for a pastor to understand the basics of money management in order to be able to counsel young couples and families.
Many pastors are under-compensated. Church leaders often do not take proper advantage of tax laws that could benefit both the pastor and the church. Furthermore, many pastors do not or cannot plan ahead for their retirement years, which leaves both them and their final church ministries vulnerable to immense financial pressure.
Basic Bible Teaching on Pastoral Support
I Timothy 5:17 states: "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." Dr. Homer Kent in his commentary on the pastoral epistles reflects, "the double honor refers to a proportionate increase in respect and appreciation, which includes adequate remuneration, for those who excel in their superintending and teaching ministry" (The Pastoral Epistles, Chicago: Moody Press, 1982, p. 176). Worthy pastors should receive proper respect and remuneration. Paul concludes in I Corinthians 9:14: "Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel."
The means of the preacher's support should come from his ministry. Paul supports his conclusion with five illustrations: the soldier's support, the vineyard keeper's partaking, the shepherd's sustenance, the ox's eating, and the priest's portion (I Corinthians 9: 7-13). Galatians 6:6 reinforces that basic truth of the necessity of providing financial support for those who provide a ministry to the flock.
Although Paul established the Bible principle of pastoral compensation for the early church, he also exempted himself by giving up his personal right to ministry support. He did not want his motives to be misunderstood in those early days of Gospel ministry (I Corinthians 9:12, 18). Paul certainly appreciated the occasional and generous support that he received for his ministry (Philippians 4:10, 14-18). Yet, instead of depending on that support, he chose to serve as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3; I Thessalonians 2:9), setting an example of diligence amidst his Gospel labors (II Thessalonians 3:6-10). No one could justly challenge his sacrificial example and noble motives.
One should remember, however, that Paul was single with no family financial responsibilities, though he did support the "team" that traveled with him. His working as a tentmaker and an itinerant evangelist enabled him to pioneer in evangelistic church planting where the Gospel was unknown. Although many men serve the Lord nobly and sacrificially as bi-vocational pastors, it seems much better for the pastor and his church for the church to support him full-time.
The Pastor's Personal Attitude
A pastor should approach his church and family ministry in the spirit of a servant who is a faithful steward of his entrusted resources (Titus 1:7; I Peter 4:10; I Corinthians 4:2). As a family man, he is responsible for his family's financial well-being (I Timothy 5:8). He is to be a man free of covetousness, modeling godly contentment with the present provision of God (I Timothy 6:6-12). He should practice generosity in giving (II Corinthians 9:6-11) and trust God to meet his needs (Philippians 4:19; Matthew 6:33). He joys in seeing God sustain him through "thick and thin" (Philippians 4:11-13). He should not be demanding or complaining in his spirit or word (Philippians 2:14). His ethics compel him to pay his bills and taxes in a timely manner, maintaining "a good report" among those outside of the church (I Timothy 3:7).
Issues in Today's Pastoral Compensation
Because modern family finance is complex, the young couple launching into ministry has much to learn. Larry Burkett's Complete Financial Guide for Young Couples is a useful resource. Pastors and church leaders must understand the basics of family finance as a starting point for pastoral compensation planning.
The church should endeavor to honor the pastor for his diligent oversight and ministry of the Word by freeing him from the distracting material concerns of living on the edge financially. The church should consider his family's need for housing, utilities, food, clothing, automobiles, medical needs, health insurance, life insurance, and his children's education. The pastor's experience, educational background, personal productivity, family size and longevity of service at the present ministry, along with the size of his present ministry should all be taken into account as his compensation package is determined.
For church boards and finance committees, I highly recommend The Annual Compensation Handbook for Church Staff from Christian Ministry Resources in Matthews, North Carolina, and their catalog of financial and legal resources (phone: 800-222-1840, website: www.churchlawtoday.com).
Every pastor should have an adequate family healthcare plan paid for by the church. It is not right to freeload on the medical system, nor is it prudent to take the risk of incurring enormous medical costs. Life insurance for the pastor is also very important to his family.
Many churches have stopped providing a parsonage and let the pastor buy his own home, using his housing allowance tax exclusion privilege and the accompanying interest tax deduction. This avenue is about the only way most ministers can build asset equity, especially in the first 25 years of their ministry when family life is especially expensive. About half of those in pastoral ministry are taking advantage of this important financial arrangement. The Annual Compensation Handbook for Church Staff provides details.
Pastors should plan ahead for their children's college costs. More than likely, a pastor's salary will not be sufficient to fully cover college expenses, especially if more than one child is in college at a time. To help cover costs, the student himself might work, the pastor's wife might work part-time, the grandparents might assist, or the family might draw on other financial resources. College financial aid offices can provide helpful information and recommendations about planning for college costs.
Most pastors do not want to think about retirement, but the truth is that people often live long past their wage-earning years. A pastor also must not neglect the welfare of his widow in her latter years. Many pastors have opted out of Social Security. The money not going into Social Security must be invested in some sort of retirement plan if the pastor and his wife are to have an income at retirement. Even those remaining in Social Security need additional retirement income.
Churches that fail to provide for their pastor's eventual retirement may find themselves under enormous financial burdens down the road. Furthermore, a good retirement plan may free a healthy retired pastor to serve as an interim pastor or volunteer church worker or to travel, assisting and encouraging other pastors and missionaries. In addition, an effective retirement plan assists in keeping the ministry couple from becoming an undue financial burden to their own children.
A church should carefully review its pastor's compensation package annually. A well-informed lay leader should sit down with the pastor (and perhaps his wife) and graciously explore the pastor's financial concerns each year. It is very difficult for a pastor to take the initiative to express his own concerns, so the annual process of review takes away some of the awkwardness. The church's finance committee members should read the various resources about compensation planning and present a proposal for implementing the needed changes.
Perhaps over a period of time, their growing understanding of important issues will result in a much better and more honorable compensation package for the pastor. One needy veteran pastor who followed this suggestion saw his salary increased over $10,000, and his church moved him from a parsonage to his own lovely home.
Ultimately, the pastor must look to the Lord for his needs to be met. He must wait upon the Lord patiently during lean times when he cannot humanly see how God is going to meet his family's needs. God is certainly able to do more than we could ever imagine.
Bruce McAllister is the Director of Ministerial Training and Extension at Bob Jones University.
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