Money conversations in the church can be awkward, especially when it comes to giving and paying church staff. We don’t want to be perceived as greedy or ungrateful. We value the ministry of the word, so we don’t want to sound like we are in it for the money (and not the fulfillment that comes from preaching the word). The temptations that can arise when money is on the table are legion, and often go unnoticed until money is actually on the table. So I get the concern (and the tendency to move as far away from money as possible).
But it’s easy in the conversation that is often happening about celebrity pastors and big ministries to think that men in ministry are overpaid or that men in ministry tend towards greed. But the reality is that many aren’t overpaid. Many don’t desire to make it rich. Many are actually underpaid. More than we would care to think, I bet.
As a layperson I have no stake in this. I am not paid by the church, nor is my husband (though he serves as an elder). But as a layperson I feel compelled to say it because those in vocational ministry would never say it themselves (and if they did, it would come off weird). I also say this as a member of a church that deeply values our paid pastor. I can’t remember a time where we have ever had someone in the church want to decrease his salary. If anything, we all want to raise it more. It’s a gift to see it play out.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 says:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
Did you notice what it says about money here? An elder/pastor shouldn’t be a “lover of money.” A vow of poverty isn’t in the job description, but in our quest to not be consumed with the world’s riches, we often error. We don’t want a pastor who sees the pastorate as a way to pad his bank account, but do we limit him too much? Do we take the command to not love money and refuse him any money at all?
Let’s put it this way. Consider your own family spending. Do you go out to eat? I bet your pastor wants to as well. Do you buy clothes for your kids? I bet your pastor does as well. Do you take your wife on a date? If he’s married, I bet he would love to do this. Do you go to the movies, go on vacation, have a day off? All things your pastor probably wants to do as well.
Your pastor is a human, just like you. He needs (and maybe even wants) many of the same things you desire. We shouldn’t expect our pastors to live lives we wouldn’t even expect of ourselves. And if you expect it of yourself, maybe you should rethink that expectation as well.
If you value expository preaching, good theology, and a pastoral heart, you must know that these things don’t happen in a vacuum. They are connected to a human being—one who isn’t Superman. If the Chief Shepherd rested, so should the under-shepherd. If the Chief Shepherd enjoyed good things (like a meal with his co-laborers), it’s not wrong for the under-shepherd to enjoy those things as well.
Not everyone can afford this. I get that. But if you can, why don’t you do what you can to care for your pastor? Churches are sustained by the people who have the ability to give more. That’s a gift to your local body. Don’t squander your gift on things that won’t last, while those you are tasked to provide for are left barely getting by. Or maybe you think you can’t give more, but maybe a little sacrificial living might make it all possible?
I say all this as one who has been a member of small churches almost my entire Christian life. I’ve seen the difficulty that comes at budget meetings, where we try to make ends meet. I’ve seen what happens when pastors try to serve bi-vocationally. It’s nearly impossible. The work of the ministry is all-encompassing, and faithful pastors want to serve well (and as a result will give their lives and health for it). But I’ve also seen God provide abundantly when churches make paying their pastor well (and I’m not talking a six-figure salary here) a priority. I’ve benefited from good preaching and Christ-like shepherding because my pastor didn’t have to wonder where his next paycheck would come from.
There is a reason why the church is called a body (1 Cor. 12:12-31). A body needs everyone to function. A body can’t make it if one part doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, if one part sits down on the job. A pastor can’t preach faithfully week in and week out if he’s worried about the bank account. A pastor can’t be there to pray with you in crisis if he is too exhausted from working multiple jobs. A pastor can’t love his family well (which is a requirement of being a pastor) if he’s worn out from all of his responsibilities. If you can give more, do it. If you can’t, pray for those who can. But all of us should work towards caring for the men who lay down their lives every week so we can walk this Christian road together.
If you love God’s word, if you love good theology, and if you love your pastor—pay him well. A little sacrifice on all of our parts goes a long way.