Should preachers only be supported if they are in need?


This subject came up in our budget meeting last night. The brethren proposed to increase the pay for our gospel meetings and our spiritual weekend events. I objected.

I am in agreement with the scriptures used in your address regarding supporting the work of the Gospel.

I stand on this: It is scripturally wrong to pay someone to preach. It is scripturally right to support the cause and work in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Where do we draw the line?

One cannot argue against this fact: During the Bible times the apostles gave up everything they had to follow Jesus. What did they give up? They gave up their ability to work and earn a living. The Bible teaches that the apostles left everything they had to follow Jesus. I believe that is why we have I Corinthians 9 and Galatians 6:6.

I raise this question, Does the local church where the preacher resides support him financially? Common sense says if there is a spiritual financial need or hardship, we as Christians have a spiritual obligation to fulfill that need.  If not, what is the need for double support?

I truly can understand if the man of God has dedicated himself to God full-time and has proved worthy of his work, then and only then he’s justified for pay.

Keep in mind these men in the Bible were dedicated workers of the Lord; they had no other means for financial support. They only had the faith in the promise of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; in this case and only this case, one earns the right for financial support from the church.

Keep in mind I Corinthians 13. Whether there be Gospel meetings, spiritual workshops, lectureships, retreats, etc., without any of those things motivated by love it’s nothing.

Let us beware of the devil traps and schemes concerning this issue. I truly believe we are headed one-day in the direction where preachers will only think of themselves and of their financial gain versus the truly in-depth love and concern for the church. Remember the warning by Paul in the book of Acts “beware of wolves in sheep clothing”. It has been commonly reported that some will only do meetings for a specified amount.

I welcome your comments.


The reason I answered the prior question about preachers being paid for their work in the Gospel by only citing passages is for the very reason you lead off with: a person would be foolish to argue against God. I, therefore, found it odd that you then turned around and placed conditions that are not found in the passages. You favor supporting men who are dedicated to spreading the gospel, but only if they are in need or are suffering hardship. I take it that if a man had a side business that would make him ineligible for support by a local congregation because in your mind he is receiving two salaries. You also draw a distinction between a man preaching a lesson and one working in an area. The latter can be paid, but not the former.

Your justification for these ideas was not backed up by Scripture. You cited passages, but you did not attempt to show how they supported your specific qualifications. For example, citing a passage that talks about supporting a preacher working in the fields of mankind does not prove that they were only paid when they were in financial hardship. Further, you attempt to bolster your position by citing the possibility of abuse. That people may abuse what is authorized does not lead to the conclusion that the authorization should be withdrawn. For example, there are some people who are baptized but have not truly accepted Christ. Does that mean that we should stop baptizing people? There are some who prey upon the generosity of God's people by pretending to be destitute. Does that mean we should stop all aid to needy people?

In other words, what you are so confidently asserting was not presented with a firm foundation.

"My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel." (I Corinthians 9:3-14)

While Paul talks of the situation of himself and the other apostles, this discussion was not limited to only the apostles. Notice that the brothers of the Lord and Barnabas are used as examples and they were not numbered among the apostles. The final verse shows the general application: those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. Paul uses several examples to prove this conclusion.

Employment: Paul asked, "Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock?" The general rule is that when a person invests time and effort in some task, he can expect to receive some benefits from his labor. I wonder how well it would go over if I informed your boss that you only expect to be paid if you are suffering hardship? What? You don't like that idea? Then why are you distinguishing the work that you do from the work that a preacher does? What I suspect is that you don't believe preachers really work.

What about the idea of only being paid if you don't have a side job? Again, I'm sure you wouldn't work for a boss who said, "You know Jim, I heard you're making a good bit selling candles over the Internet. I don't want to be paying you double, so I'm going to cut your salary to an amount that I think you should live on." If you haven't thought about it, you are advocating a socialistic view toward a preacher's income. You believe that the congregation should pay, not on the value of the service offered, but on what the congregation thinks a preacher ought to live upon. Oh, and since preachers are dedicated servants of God, it is "obvious" that they don't do it for the money, so they should be paid near the poverty level. Yet, at the same time, you don't apply the same standard to yourself as a Christian. Christians, not just preachers, are told not to worship Mammon (Luke 16:13). Yet you apply a capitalistic view toward your personal income. You feel you should be paid the worth of your service. You feel that extra work that you do, especially effort in another line of work, should not factor into your primary pay. In other words, you are failing to heed the words of Christ, "whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them" (Matthew 7:12).

The treatment of animals: Paul cites the law of Moses to show that even animals were expected to benefit from their effort. Nor is it expected that an animal is paid in like kind. An ox pulling the millstone around doesn't get paid in someone pulling the millstone for him. "If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?"

Your system of payment is worse than how you would treat a farm animal. People don't feed an animal only if it is suffering hardship. I suppose that if during a large harvest, a neighbor's oxen was borrowed for a week to get through the extra grain, that you would argue that the oxen should not be feed since the neighbor feeds them anyway and besides this isn't their normal work. No? I thought not.

How priests were paid under the Old Law: Here again, your system of payment doesn't match how God's servants, the priest, were paid. Did you realize that the various families of priests only served at the temple two weeks out of the year? (I Chronicles 23:3-32). The remaining time they operated farms and family businesses. While serving, they could eat portions of the sacrifices (Numbers 8:6-19). But in addition, all the Levites received wages from the tithes gathered. "Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting" (Numbers 8:21). Levites were not examined to see how much income they were drawing from other sources. Nor was a minimum wage established and then they were only paid to bring the family's income up to the minimum wage. Conditions were not placed on the sacrifices that they could only eat if they were destitute.

Are there men who see preaching as a way to make a quick buck? Most certainly. Both Timothy and Titus were warned that false teachers were around who saw the gospel as a means toward gain (I Timothy 6:5; Titus 1:11). However, you don't deal with the problem by not paying preachers. False teachers are to be withdrawn from.

Of course, a preacher's motivation for teaching is love. But why do you assume that if a preacher is paid for doing what he loves to do that he no longer has a love for the Lord? Why is it that only preachers are expected to work for little or no pay -- and that by their own brethren? Let's say that you love to work on cars, does not mean that as a mechanic you should not be paid because, otherwise, it would prove that you are only in the business for the money?

You are quite wrong that paying preachers for their service is going to lead to corruption in the church. The corruption exists independent of the pay. Frankly, almost every preacher I know is paid far below the value of his service. I'm sure that some exist that are compensated well in the churches of Christ, but typically I see things going the other direction. Most of us, myself included, receive compensation that puts us in the lower-middle-class range. One source states that the average preacher's salary (including denominations) is $40,000. The average public school teacher makes $46,600. However, the preacher is considered self-employed and thus pays twice the social security tax that a school teacher pays, plus most preachers do not receive health insurance or pensions, which school teachers receive, in addition to their salary. If I was out to make money, preaching is not the way to go. In fact, I left a position paying about $70,000 twelve years ago to preach full-time at an offered salary that was not quite half that amount. Many preachers I know take on part-time work to keep their families out of poverty or to make enough to gain some health insurance.

Concerning gospel meetings, instead of begrudging a preacher compensation, you should be looking at the value of the service he is providing. Did his work benefit the congregation and the community? Then be happy to offer him something in return. Most preachers accept meeting requests and never ask about payment. Most that I have done pay me enough to cover my travel expenses, though a few ask what my travel expenses are and then add a sum on top of that. But it doesn't matter, I accept meetings because of what they would like me to teach; what is paid isn't even discussed (except possibly after I already said I'll do it). Every preacher I know operates the same way. We hope that our expenses will be covered, but if not, we are still happy to do it; and if more is offered, we are appreciative of the thoughtfulness of our brethren.

When Jesus sent out the twelve to preach the gospel in Judea, he told them not to take any funds or even spare clothing with them. Why? Because "a worker is worthy of his food" (Matthew 10:10).

"Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches" (Galatians 6:6).

"Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages"" (I Timothy 5:17-18).

When Paul was on the island of Malta, we read, "They also honored us in many ways; and when we departed, they provided such things as were necessary" (Acts 28:10).

"After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ" (Acts 18:1-5). In other words, Paul decided to dropped the tent-making business once enough funds came in from Macedonia in the hands of Silas and Timothy.

"I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself" (II Corinthians 11:8-9).

"For what is it in which you were inferior to other churches, except that I myself was not burdensome to you? Forgive me this wrong!" (II Corinthians 12:13).

"Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:15-17).

"For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us" (II Thessalonians 3:7-9).

What too many stingy brethren have done is reverse these passages describing the character of Paul. Paul chose, not the brethren, to work and receive wages from other churches while he works in a new field. He specifically stated that he and all preachers had the right to draw wages. Paul, on his own, decided not to do this in new works so it won't impact the acceptance of the gospel. Though Paul could have continued his tent-making, once he had sufficient income, he dropped it to spend more time preaching the gospel. Today, it is not the preacher who is deciding how to spend his time. Brethren are not paying the man for his labors, so he is forced to take up additional work to keep his family fed because, "if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (I Timothy 5:8). Thus, he is left with less time to devote to preaching the gospel. Since he now has secondary income, he is told he shouldn't be paid for the work that he does (because preaching isn't really work to these brethren). For shame!

Additional Comments:

[The following was sent to me by a reader as additional commentary on the subject.]

I do not agree with the original author's position and find his reasoning very unconvincing. There are several questions I would have for him:

  1. I wonder why he only opposed increasing the pay for gospel meetings instead of opposing paying for gospel meetings at all. Where does he draw the line (a question he asks in his first paragraph)? Is the former amount scriptural but any more unscriptural?
  2. He speaks about "double support." The local church pays this man because he preaches for them. Why would not another pay him when he preaches for them? (that is unless they are trying to free-load and let another church pick up the tab for something they should support themselves). I do know of churches that sponsor preachers who preach in gospel meetings for congregations that can't afford to pay anything. However, that is the exception. A congregation that can afford to pay a preacher should not shirk their responsibility by relying on another church to pick up the tab for them. That seems very selfish to me.
  3. He says that the apostles had no other means of financial support. However, Paul was a tentmaker and actually did support himself while in Corinth (I Corinthians 6). Paul sometimes did receive compensation for his "church work." Sometimes, however, he declined. To say that these men had no other way to support themselves is simply false.
  4. I Corinthians 13 has absolutely no bearing on this issue. Someone can preach for no money and still not be motivated by love (he may be preaching for notoriety), while someone can get paid well for preaching and do it out of love. It is very poor reasoning to conclude that we should not increase pay for gospel meetings in order to ensure that people are preaching out of love. Will the former amount ensure that he preaches out of love? Will the increased amount ensure that he doesn't preach out of love? Most preachers don't know what they are going to get paid until the meeting is over anyway! It's irrelevant!
  5. He is painting with a broad brush in his last paragraph by suggesting that one day all preachers will be motivated by financial gain. Is keeping the pay scale at what it has always been going to keep this from happening?

Sure, preachers must be motivated by love and not financial gain. Yes, preachers (as well as other Christians) are called to live lives of sacrifice. Yet he even admits that if a man is working for the Lord full-time and has a worthy work, then he is justified for pay. How much he is paid, then, is just a matter of opinion. He needs to be careful not to force his opinion upon the church and make an issue out of something that should not be an issue. The church would probably be in a better condition if all members would do what we supposedly "pay the preacher" to do (spread the gospel) instead of arguing about freezing the pay scale. Those are my thoughts, for what they're worth.

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