There is no Biblical Defense for Paid Pastors/Elders

I came to believe that there was no valid support or defense for paying the salary of a pastor or elder while I was at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. This was while I was training to become a vocational/paid pastor! It was through my experiences at the seminary and studying the scriptures that made me realize that just about everything we we do in “traditional church” cannot be defended or supported with the scriptures (try as we might). So, I have been inspired, by a conversation with my brother-in-law, to write about the misguided idea that pastors/elders should receive a salary. But before I start, let me say that I am not saying it is wrong or sinful to pay a man to teach you every Sunday morning, all I am saying is that this practice cannot be justified using the Christian Bible. I would also say that in most cases, paying the salary of a pastor/elder is quite often detrimental to the maturity and growth of the church.

1 Timothy 5:17-18

So, let us talk about the most popular verse use to support paying an elder, 1 Timothy 5:17-18…

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

The ultimate question with this verse is what does honor mean… or in this case double honor. Many people equate honor with wage, the laborer deserves his wage and the elder deserves his wage too. Which does not really make sense. In essence, what Paul is saying here is “Elders are worthy of double honor, just like oxen are worthy of their grain, and laborers are worthy of their wage.” We cannot rightly say that elders are worthy of their wage because laborers are… not unless you are prepared to say that elders are worthy of their grain too. You see, elders are not oxen and they are not laborers, they are elders! (technically, an elder could be a laborer, if they got real jobs to support themselves and their families)

You may be inclined to say that elders work at least 40 hours a week and are on-call 24 hours a day , 7 days a week! Surely that is a job and quite labor intensive. And yes, I would agree with you, but that is not an elder’s job, no where in scripture can you defend the practice of making eldership as employment. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any description of an elder that prescribes the job requirements of a modern day pastor. An elder is someone who has simply been recognized as being mature in Christ, not someone who gets paid to perform certain duties.

There is another fundamental problem with associating the term “double honor” with “wage” in this text. If we read a few verses from before, 1 Timothy 5:3…

Honor widows who are widows indeed

You see, just a few lines above where Paul talks about double honor he says that widows are worthy of single honor. If we are confident that double honor is the same as a laborer’s wage, then all the true widows in your church should get half the salary that your senior pastor makes (and half the grain).

I have not heard anyone, ever, suggest that we need to pay a widow an annual salary. So what does honor mean here? Well, the Greek words for honor (τιμἁω / τιμἡ) is used in both verses to literally mean, “respect.” In other words, the godly people in the church deserve respect, especially if they teach and preach — and the widows should be respected too.

We should also consider a few verses that come after 1 Timothy 5:17-18, namely, 1 Timothy 6:1…

All who are under the yoke as slaves are to regard their own masters as worthy of all honor so that the name of God and our doctrine will not be spoken against.

If double honor means that we should pay our elders a salary, then logically speaking, slaves should pay their masters a salary, right? And yes, this is the same Greek word τιμἡ used in 1 Timothy 5:17-18. It truly does not make sense to say that Paul meant “honor” as one meaning in between two other uses of the same word. Not to mention, how could a slave pay their masters a salary at all? Unless of course these slaves were paid, which may be historically accurate, why would they then be required to give all that money back to the person who paid them?

1 Corinthians 9:14

Let us move onto the next verse, 1 Corinthians 9:14…

So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

Well, this is pretty damning evidence, is it not? No, not really. Let us consider the some of the context surrounding the verse, 1 Corinthians 9:9-18 (bolded to illustrate my point)…

For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

You have to realize, Paul (the author of this letter) repeatedly says that although they have the right to receive money for their work, they did not pursue this right. They did this so they would not hinder the gospel. Oh, and there is also an often ignored smoking gun in this verse. Do you see it? This verse has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with pastors or elders! This is about missionaries. Paul was not an elder or a pastor, he was a missionary. He was travelling from town to town as a missionary spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Now, I would be the last person to argue that we should not support missionary work, but Paul here says it is ideal for a missionary to find their own work and support themselves! But we cannot deny the fact that in this context, those who proclaim the gospel get their living from the gospel is talking about people who are leaving their home town and travelling far away to share about the Christ. In other words, these are people who would, in any normal situation, have a hard time finding employment and supporting their own physical needs.

Galatians 6:6

The next verse is pretty weak, Galatians 6:6…

The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him.

I am not even sure how this verse can be used to support paying someone a salary. Especially considering how the verse continues, 6:7-9…

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.

In other words, if you teach the word (sow), you can expect to reap spiritual blessings from that work. This has nothing to do with money, I think many people out there who share the gospel can speak to the blessings they have received from the people who they have shared with or continue to disciple.

Philippians 4:14-19

The last verse that is commonly used to support paying a pastor/elder is Philippians 4:14-19…

Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction. You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs. Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

We still have to deal with the same smoking gun as above, Paul is a missionary, not an elder/pastor. But yes, apparently the Philippians supported Paul when he was going through a rough patch, and he considered it a blessing. Though he did not seek the gift, he is glad that their graciousness will profit the Philippians. I would also like to point out that this is not a salary, it is a gift of support they sent Paul while he was away. In other words, this verse does not support paying a pastor/elder a salary!

The Old Testament Priests

Many people look to the Old Testament priesthood as an example or model of how we should support our pastors and elders. There is one hugely fundamental problem with this concept though. We are all priests, we have direct communication with God, we do not need to go to a human to have our sins overlooked. The priestly system was setup in a certain way for a certain time. And that whole system was ultimately fulfilled through Jesus (thankfully).

Final Thoughts

Of the four verses I talked about today, the only one that has any direct bearing on elders is 1 Timothy 5:17-18. If there were a verse to support paying a pastor a salary, it would be that one. Unfortunately, it does not… it cannot! The fact is, the church system is not meant to function the way that it does, the way that requires one or a few men to teach every Sunday, to be on-call 24×7, to be the only people who visit the sick in the hospital, the men who sets the vision for the church (as if God did not already do that 2,000 years ago), etc. The church should function in a way that we all share in the responsibility of discipling one-another, we should love one-another, we should visit one-another and help one-another. This responsibility should not, MUST NOT, fall on one man (or a few men). Earlier I said that paying a pastors salary was detrimental to the maturity and growth of the church. What I meant was this, when we pay a man to do the stuff that we should be doing, we fail to grow. Sure, we might learn something every now and then as we mindlessly sit in our pews, but that is not growing or maturing. We grow spiritually when we learn how to give up our own wants and needs for those around us. That is extremely hard to do when we think that paying a mans salary to do those things for us is what God wants from us. With all that said, let me leave you with a few quotes from the scripture that do support the ideal of being unpaid…

For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. – 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10

What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel. – 1 Corinthians 9:18

I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” – Acts 20:33-35

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. – 1 Peter 5:1-3

Comments

  1. Great blog post.

    I remember thinking about this as well. How it has turned into a “profession” and some people seem to go into “ministry as a profession”…. which seems to me more self-seeking in many ways than an actual calling.

    There is always a need for $$. For room rentals, purchasing a building to meet in…. but these “needs” shouldn’t be prioritized over the simplicity of sharing the message. In a nice building or a small room.

    • Hi Yves, Yeah, I’d much rather we use our resources to help those in need, instead of renting building space for a once-a-week meeting (which could easily happen in a home or park), or paying a large portion of our giving towards a single man’s salary.

  2. Lew,
    Thank you for your post. I have felt this way for a long time but didn’t have the words to explain when concerning the 1 timothy 5 versus. There were many times that I would have to pray that I wasn’t looking to deep, just to prove my point. It makes sense what you are saying concerning this verse. I do have a question, more for insight then for debate. In that specific verse, what does Paul believe to be the “grain” and the “wages” for the elder? My other question is pertaining to the word “rule” in the verse. Do you have any insight into the greek on this word?

    • Hi Adam,

      To answer your first question, “honor” we should honor our elders. Basically he could have left off the examples to just keep the first part of his sentence (but Paul likes to talk too much).

      To your second question, the word “rule” there is the Greek word προιστημι (proistemi) which basically means “lead”… interestingly enough, it is the Greek word (in the LXX) in 2 Samuel 13:17 used to translate the Hebrew word for “serve.” It generally means to protect or lead. In Titus it is used for the word “engage” as in “engaged in good deeds.” So it seems like the in the context of elders who “rule well” it would be men who lead the way that Jesus led — by serving others.

      I hope that helps :)

  3. It does thanks

  4. David Derby says:

    Hello Lew,

    I’m a convert to the LDS church and my wife was my missionary during my conversion of religion with two Elders of the church. I have a strong testimony of the church and the gospel and through the past two years now since I was baptized I have grown in knowledge by people who would ask me questions and then I would investigate more to help them understand the gospel from my beliefs. The reason I’m here is that I have a friend who I have known online playing video games with who is a pastor and much older then myself. He had told me how being paid to do the things a pastor/bishop does in a community should be sustained by his local members. The LDS church thinks this to be what we call Priestcraft and I fully agree. We think that anyone who gets paid to bring enlightenment among the children of God about the gospel can be easily corrupted. It was a strong reason why I was never much into religion until I met my wife. I’m here to say that I’m glad we are not the only ones that believe this and I appreciate your blog post. I was searching online about where my friend feels that getting paid is right in the bible which led me to this talk of yours. Thanks again for your time and words. Hope you all have a great Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas ;)

    • Thanks for your comment David. I have known a few paid pastors who, after carefully studying the scriptures, have realized that they should not be paid for their position. Unfortunately, many of them refuse to acknowledge what the scriptures teach.

  5. I am happy to come across your discovery on this topic. I never really thought about this much until I started studying at seminary. I’ve often thought about is it right to have a youth pastor assigned a salary like a assistant pastor? And also children’s minister teacher? I only conclude from what the Bible teaches is that the apostles were given food and a place to stay. It seems that being paid a salary is out of context.

  6. William says:

    Have you noticed that churches now are full of pride? More than likely, the first church in an area will call themselves “First Babtist,Prespitarian,etc, church. That’s a pride thing isn’t it? If all churches are supposed to be under the same brotherhood of Christ like the bible teaches, then why are so many churches distinguishing themselves? They want you to know that they are the fist ones established so that you’ll attend their church and that in turn gets the church more money. Its easy to notice that churches care a whole lot about money and expanding their building than they do anything else. The bible says that they spirit does not dwell in buildings but within you. You could have fellowship out in the grass and it would be the same effect as in a building. The church becomes a place of disagreement and worldly discussion more than a place of God as they try to decide which part of the building to expand and how much it will cost and where will the money come from. And as far as the hireling goes, I agree with you completely. Take away the salary of a preacher, and he will find a new church. Its sad, but its true. Money is valued highest in most churches now.

  7. Robert says:

    Paul was a man running hard to spread the gospel, what ever was required of him he wanted to do double or triple. Why, because after his conversion
    not only did he realize the truth and how wrong he had been, He was a man with murder in his heart for gods people before conversion. The conviction he felt must have been incredible. He was a man driven to make up for his wrong and to prove to God he was worthy of salvation. Of course he would not accept a wage, but he did in the form of offerings of food and care while in prison and while at different churches. The hours my pastor puts in visiting the sick , the homebound, those in the hospital etc. and counseling people. As well as overseeing the church and its every day business, superman couldn’t hold a job and pastor the church . Not only is he worthy of his wages but more, his wife by his side puts in tremendous hours for no pay. To not pay them would be sin in my book.

    • Hi Robert,

      Thanks for commenting.

      When Paul was able to work, he did — that was the model he promoted throughout the scriptures. But Paul was not a pastor, he was a traveling missionary. Do you have any scripture to back up the idea that Paul took food and money from the church when he was able to provide for himself?

      I’d say, for the church to pay one man to do everything they are suppose to be doing, on their behalf, is sin… in my book.

  8. Robert says:

    It’s an incredible thing, when it comes to money, people will work twice as hard, search the scriptures with great zeal to prove they don’t have to pay a tithe. Not always, but also to prove somethings are not worthy of their money. In my time as a deacon, ( not Paid and would not ask to be paid ) I
    have witnessed some incredible scrambling by folks to prove tithing is not required. People that make large sums of money. People indignant because they think the pastor only works on Sunday and wednesday for full time wages. People who don’t think about the light bill, heating and cooling, theft from the church, out door maintenance, carpets, cleaning, outreaches, and many other things. All these things are overseen by the pastor, assistant pastors, and deacons. My pastor is always busy and on call to the entire congregation.The scripture says let your spirit bear witness,
    my spirit does not bear witness with this teaching. I am not judging anyone, and I can see a lot of thought and scripture has gone into this. I just can’t agree.

    • Hey Robert, though this post isn’t about tithing, I would definitely encourage you to take the time and study the scriptures regarding the tithe(s). It is definitely not something commanded, prescribed or even recommended from the church. Though we are expect to have a heart of giving.

      Regarding the pastor’s duties. I know full well all the tasks that a modern day pastor is paid to do. I do find it interesting though, out of the list you gave, none of those things are found in scripture. In fact, I would say that those duties, as well as the other typical duties a pastor is required to do for his salary are a hindrance to the growth of the church. We are often times paying a man a fairly hefty salary to do the things that we are all asked to do, as well the many financial burdens that come with a number of other things that we are not asked to do in the scriptures (like maintain a building, etc.).

      Imagine what the church would look like if we weren’t dependent on a salaried pastor and a mortgage. Imagine what the world would look like if we used our resources to support our communities and those in need, rather than one man’s family and a parking lot.

      • Robert says:

        first tithe was paid by Abraham to Melchizedek, Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek is my point of view . the philippians sent paul money while he was in prison, philippians 4: 10-20 for his support. I would not dare not pay my tithe, because of how gods blessed me since I made that commitment. I went from bankruptcy to retirement in 13 years with a good income, after making the commitment to tithe the lord. When we honor him he honors us, Psalm 50 vs 5 says bring my faithful people to me, the ones who have made a covenant with me by giving sacrifices. NLT I watched our church struggle financially, then the decision to tithe 10% to a church poorer than ours was made. Result our church out of debt and running a surplus, no one will ever convince me tithing doesn’t work. And if it works its a kingdom principal period.

        • Hi Robert, I’m glad that giving 10% has seemingly been so fruitful for you. But as I said previously, this post is not about tithing, it’s about the unscriptural practice of paying a pastor a salary.

          • Robert says:

            I am just dumbfounded, the pay comes from the tithe and offerings, and 1 Tim 5: 17-18 is very clear, that preachers and teachers are worth their pay
            and should be paid. If God can make the rocks praise him, I am sure he can set up the church the way he wants. The anointing on righteous pastors is clear to me, If they were doing it wrong I don’t see god blessing it. If there not supposed to get paid are they stealing from the people and the church ? In the underground churches in communist nations I am positive the pastor does not have a salary and works off of a calling , and just like Jesus told the decibels take nothing with you, stay where you are invited, no money , no extra clothing etc, Why? Spiritual law, you preach the gospel, your needs will be met. You will get what you need, ( paid ),
            food, clothing , a place to lay your head. you will be taken care of. Sometimes you have to read between the lines.

            • Hi Robert,

              If 1 Timothy 5:17-18 is talking about paying a preacher/teacher a salary, I wonder, what do the widows in your church receive for a salary? Alan Knox has a great little post about why “double honor” cannot mean “wage” in these verses. You should check it out here: Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits in 1 Timothy 5:18.

              You’ve said a few things now that seem somewhat inconsistent. For instance, “God can setup the church the way he wants” — which of course I believe. Ignoring the fact that the church is the bride of Christ, not an organized 501c3 organization. Is the Catholic Church the way that God wanted things setup? After all, it was the primary ecclesiology for 1500 years. Earlier you said, “And if it works its a kingdom principal period” but don’t a lot of things “work” that aren’t kingdom principals? I mean, rape is a way that works to get someone pregnant, but I wouldn’t think it was a kingdom principal. You also said that, “the anointing on righteous pastors is clear to me,If they were doing it wrong I don’t see god blessing it.” — Do you think Joel Olsteen’s extremely successful model based on the prosperity model, is because God is blessing him, even though he’s not following the Catholic Church?

              • Robert says:

                The word says the laws of right and wrong are written on our hearts, so back at you is rape acceptable. We have criminals in the congress, white house, big business, unions, drug companies, etc, that there are unsavory people with greed on their minds and hearts in the church to is no surprise to me.
                pentecostal, catholic, Babtists, lutheran, etc, God is not returning for the sign in front of your church, he has made it very clear he judges the heart.
                He has also made it clear that we are not to judge, lest we be judged by the same measuring stick we used to judge others mathew 7:1 Why did Jesus give the instructions he did if it wasn’t supposed to work like that, was he lying, fibing.? The # 1 assignment from our lord Mathew 28: 19-20 go and make disciples of all nations etc #1 why, He is willing no man perish, his love for us cannot even be fathomed by us in our present state. He told them disciples not to take money clothing etc , because when you go on a trip you pack, but he wanted to demonstrate a kingdom principal. Matt
                6:33 seek first the kingdom of god and his righteousness, and all your needs will be met. You need tax money, go and get a fish peter and it will have a coin in its mouth, ( money ) to pay both are taxes. WHY, When you serve me , I will take care of you. I personally bring food to widows, and sit in on board meetings deciding how much needs to be allocated to poor, widows, single moms etc. Isaiah 58. I personally have spent 100’s of dollars
                to buy books and ship them to prisoners. Isaiah 58

              • Robert says:

                I just checked one of the most respected sources, Mathew Henry
                He makes the case crystal clear, using my example of Mathew 10:10, his example of 1 st Corinthians 9: 14 , and Timothy, No matter how you slice it teaching preaching elders, deacons are worthy of their wages. I think if one try’s hard enough they can twist things around to say whatever they want. It just dawned on me that you are probably a J W, I shared what I believe and will be moving on, not leaving any judgment behind me, I pray you have a blessed day. Our beautiful living word says twice in duet. and
                revelation that anyone who adds to or takes away from the word , is subject to some harsh judgement. Forgive me Lord if I have misunderstood your holy word in this conversation with this person, and bless their day I pray.

  9. Mark Chapman says:

    I agree with you on much of what you share, especially the fact that we as the church are concerned with too much stuff of this world in that it hinders our ministry to the poor and needy of our communities; which would give our message of love creditability. Yet, in your discourse of 1 Timothy 5.17, you overlooked that Paul called attention to “those who “LABOR” in the word and doctrine.” In the context of your argument, the text would support paying a laborer of the Word and doctrine a wage. I think that Paul advocated those who served as missionaries or pastors to be “tent makers” as Paul was and in so doing would free them from being harnessed with salaries to those who prove them. While I have served for 30 years in full-time ministry, I am presently looking to be a market place minister or “tent marker”. Not that I have been harnessed by salaries, but because of the tradition and lack of spiritual vision of some who undermine the divine direction of reach others for Christ. Thanks for your time and study Blessings. Mark

  10. Jewell says:

    Thank you! I have been praying about this and studying it for some time now. You put it so clearly.

  11. Hi Lew, thank you for the post. I also agree with you on the point that the church or churches spend an awful lot of energy and resources dealing with things that are not priorities in the Bible. I believe that the message of Jesus is so much more beautiful, simple and clear than most people think it is. This means that for someone to have a paid preacher is the same as someone having a paid father or mother – what is really inconceivable if you think deeply. While reading the comments I also could not help but to remember what Jesus said about the hired shepherd vs the true shepherd.
    “The hired servant–one who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep–no sooner sees the wolf coming than he leaves the sheep and runs away; and the wolf worries and scatters them.” John 10:12

    P.s Please pray for me so I can find a true church (not looking for denomination) where I live. I am going by a very turbulent decade in my life and have not encountered any.

    • Wow, I never thought about how John 10:12 applies to vocational pastors! That is truly awesome! Thanks for commenting and I’ll be praying for you.