When it comes to church finances, one of the most common questions I encounter is this: What amount of compensation do you believe is appropriate for a pastor's salary?
Often, it's a question asked by pastors themselves. Most leaders I know are concerned about this--not in a self-serving way, but with a concern for being equitable and ethical when it comes to their incomes.
This is especially true when a congregation experiences growth--with a proportional increase of responsibility being borne by its leaders. The question is a natural one in that context: How much of a church's increase should be apportioned to its leadership?
Is the church's success to be administrated like that of a secular corporation, with "rewards" being given to the executives who were "key" to its success? Or, is the fruitfulness of a church presumed to be the manifestation of God's grace alone, making the undue acknowledgment of any individual's role an act of idolatry?
It will usually befall the leaders themselves to establish the mood and to secure the parameters by which salary distribution is made--especially their own. Godly leaders should be more inclined to guard against excess, however lovingly intended by those who advise toward exaggerated generosity.
But despite media image-shaped reports of worst-case scenarios of self-indulgence, most pastors and other gospel ministers are, at best, only average, middle-class wage earners. Virtually none of them are interested in "lining their pockets" at the expense of their flocks--yet, unfortunately, the qualifier "virtually none" must be acknowledged.
I was disappointed at the public disclosure made by a renowned friend, whose exorbitant from-the-ministry-income flew in the face of counsel he had earlier asked for and received from peers, including myself. Such cases work against the health of the church in at least two ways:
First, they intensify the vulnerability of those who might be tempted to capitalize on increased ministry success. The "poverty spirit" seeks to snare us all with illusions of wealth as the secret of our security or the just rewards of our labor.
Second, they justify the world's suspicion that the church is no different from the world--that it is money-driven and engineered by leaders who are motivated by carnal quests for their own creature comforts at the expense of those they are able to manipulate.
Of course, there are many more worthy cases of leaders who model a humble spirit of sacrifice and service through their non-self-seeking approach to remuneration. Further, there are many whose devotion to ministry is never reduced though they are paid very little.
Low salaries are generally due to the limited resources of small congregations; however, they too often represent an inequity administrated at the hands of controlling, ungrateful boards, indifferent to the biblical salary directives that not only limit excessiveness but also prohibit stinginess.
God's Word, of course, is our sourcebook and point of final counsel, and it doesn't take a brilliant mind to settle three issues on this subject:
1. Support is required.
First Timothy 5:17 is clear: "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine" (NKJV). This text is a call for those who receive ministry from teachers and preachers to see their responsibility to support the ministers as a divine charge.
It includes a recommendation to be generous: "Let ... double honor ... " The "double honor" is subject to interpretation, possibly meaning simply the "two-way" honor of financial support and the respectful acknowledgment of the congregation. But "double honor" may also suggest something tangible.
This "double" concept seems to indicate that a spiritual leader's role should parallel, in salary, a person of executive status in the local community.
Such generosity is not to enrich, but to enable a leader to pursue ministry without being distracted by financial concerns.
The doubling concept strikes at the core of any supposition that the pastor-leader's salary should automatically be commensurate with some percentage of the congregation's income. I believe it also undercuts any system that generates systematic (as opposed to special occasion) "love offerings" that exploit the affection of people to the enrichment of the leader.
2. Acquisitiveness is prohibited.
"Not greedy for money" is a recurrent phrase in the required personal qualifications for spiritual leaders (see 1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7). Furthermore, warnings against a leader's becoming subtly motivated by income potential to manipulate money matters in an opportunistic way are plentiful (see 2 Tim. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 5:2).
Revelation 2:14, while not directly mentioning Balaam's greed, strongly suggests the dangerous link between this sin and the sin of sexual immorality--offenses that too often go together when leaders fall.
3. Restraint is modeled.
Nowhere does Scripture require we who lead to take an oath of poverty (though I honor any who submit to such a sense of mission for their own lives). But the call of Christ is clearly one to a life of discipline--one that calls me to a full removal from any preoccupation with my income, possessions or material resources (see Matt. 6:24-34).
"Removal from economic preoccupation" is what I believe is at the root of the concept of providing "double honor" to a leader. The purpose isn't enrichment, but sufficient provision to keep economic strain "off the back" of a leader. Thus, money never becomes preoccupying--either its lack or its abundance.
Few of us are unaware of the strained textual arguments that some have advanced in order to prove "Jesus was rich, and Paul was affluent." But the facts remain unchanged: Jesus, the Son of Man, had "'nowhere to lay His head'" (Matt. 8:20). He was buried in a borrowed grave. Paul worked that he might not be a burden to any of those to whom he ministered (see 1 Thess. 2:9).
Yes, I have heard the apostle's words in Philippians 4:18 yanked from their context and used to justify a leader's personal enrichment ("abound"). And I've heard this proposition elaborated to infer that offerings that enrich a leader are "well pleasing to God."
However, two things would argue conclusively against such a materialistic interpretation.
The first is the immediate context, which indicates that Paul honored the Philippians' "sacrifice" because it reflected their own spiritual devotion to God (see Phil. 4:18). It also demonstrated the increasing spiritual fruitfulness in their lives (see v. 17).
Second, Philippians 4:15-17 reveals that the apostle did absolutely nothing to generate this financial show of love, and it gives us a chronological context. His mention of being in Thessalonica when receiving an earlier gift tells us that the Philippian offering came at a time when Paul was already gainfully employed in secular work by his own choice (see 1 Thess. 2:9-12).
While Paul saw financial income and support as a rightful privilege for a spiritual leader, there is nothing to argue that he ever saw abundance as meaning acquisitiveness. (see 1 Thess. 2:6; 1 Cor. 9:3-11). In Philippians 4, the abounding he references was not the sole result of the offering from Philippi--it was the joint sum of their gift added to his secularly earned income.
Further, from other counsel he gives, we know the apostle never saw a believer's abundance as self-focused. In Ephesians 4:28, he shows income as a means of ministering with one's gain, not simply acquiring wealth for oneself.
If I as a leader ever use the people to serve as a means of increasing my own profit at their expense, I've succumbed to "money-grubbing." If my identification with the need in my flock is contradicted by excessiveness manifest in my own possessions, I've submitted to "flamboyancy."
The car I drive, the clothes I wear, the accessories surrounding me, my general lifestyle traits--all of these must be measured with the Scriptures and the spirit they reveal, with my own heart of shapeable, correctable integrity before God and through my submission to peers who will confront me if necessary.
In the last analysis, spiritual leaders will usually be the masters of their own financial fates. God alone can bless--but we are assigned to manage. And self-management and self-control will ever and always be a challenge and a responsibility we must accept.
With more than 45 years of ministry behind me, I think I understand a little of Paul's words, "I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound" (Phil. 4:12). Both have proved joyous. But I have also learned that a tight rein must be kept on abundance lest my call to model the servant-spirit of biblical leadership ever be compromised.
Jack W. Hayford, Litt.D., is the founding pastor of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, and chancellor of The King's College and Seminary.
Editor's Note: This column, which previously appeared in Ministries Today (September/October, 1997), is an excerpt from The Leading Edge, by Jack W. Hayford (Charisma House). For an in-depth report on pastoral salaries, see "Feed the Shepherd" on page 32 of this issue.