It probably started long before I ever accepted God’s call to become a minister, and it will continue long after I am retired, or dead, and gone. Pay for preaching. There is a constant tension for the one called of God to minister the gospel in the world that keeps the question alive: ought I to be paid for what I do? And if so, should I charge? And if so, how much?

The Apostle Paul did not help as he gave us instruction because at one point he told us that those who “receive instruction in the word must share all good things with” those who teach (see Galatians 6:6). And then in another letter he assured us that

those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? 14In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 15But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. 18What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. (from 1 Corinthians 9 ESV)

So, which is it, Paul? Should we be paid? (apparently, yes) Or are we to make the gospel free for all? (again, apparently, yes)

Bottom line: as a church we must provide for the physical needs of those who open the word and expose it for us to free them from the worry involved in meeting those needs and giving them the time to honestly dig into the word and justly offer it in a public manner. When the church does this, she is proper in her expectation of the pastor to do more than fly by the seat of his pants. I see abuses to this biblical mandate on both sides of the pulpit.

The fact that we have US Senators leading investigations of major ministries tells me that there are ministers who are moving from accepting the gift of support that their church can afford to collectively provide to milking the sheep (can we do that?—how about shearing the sheep) for extravagances not necessary either for their personal need or for the ministry of the gospel, but only of the building of their own kingdom (more on that at another time). The desire of the plastic preachers to build their audience removes from them the focus required to rightly handle the word of God.

On the other side of the dais is the congregation who would rather use their position as “employer” of the preacher to direct him in what to say, or to simply leave it up to the preacher to “do what is right” without expecting excellence from his study.

This question, which hit me between the eyes during my seminary days, can be extremely divisive. There were different schools of thought I encountered:

  • Set your “minimum requirement” and talk to no church who will not meet your magic pay package number.
  • Don’t ever talk about support package, it will influence whether you talk to a church or not.

And complications ensue because preachers become mercenary in their approach to ministry. Two things strike me: First, if indeed God has called me to the ministry, then I must approach this task of handling His word with excellence so that I will be a workman who is worthy of the task I am hired to do. I don’t need to set a fee chart for the service that I provide to the church, but ought to expect my needs to be met in as far as the church has the ability to do so. Is it valid for me to be a minister without having to work outside the church for any sustenance? I would ague, yes. At the same time this does not negate the validity of the one called to work with the word, and lead a congregation while at the same time fulfilling responsibilities in the business world to meet family financial needs. There are churches at both of these financial levels with validity in their existence—one that can well afford to meet all the physical needs of their leader, the other able to work with a leader who has less free time, but as much of a calling, and can work with the local church who has a smaller coffer to pay from.

Secondly, I see a need—a drastic need—for the local church to determine their level of ability and not over- or under-step that level as they look to fill an empty pulpit. The church should look honestly—neither miserly nor unrealistically—at the resources available to her, and offer to the possible candidate accordingly. The old joke is that the church wants the new pastor to be thirty-five years old with fifty years’ experience. The reality is that many churches expect the pastor to preach like Adrian Rogers, write like Max Lucado, and shepherd like Jesus although they’ve called Buddy M. Leikum to fill the pulpit.

What do you think?