I hear it all the time, lately. "I don't want to burden the church by drawing a salary." The conversation stream has turned to the idea of not paying pastors a salary and having everyone be bi or co-vocational. This is not a new idea, but how we talk about the 'burden' might be.
Is the Church rightly thinking about the burden, or ministry load, or is this line of thinking purely isolated to finances? I will offer four considerations regarding the burden to pay a pastor a salary. But first, there are two things I have to put on the table.
First, I must point out that any pastor or minister who is not earning his or her salary shouldn't be paid; but at the same time, the one who is should be fairly compensated. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, instructed the local church to rightly compensate those doing the labor. He wrote in 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.'"
Second, it's right that a person tends to the needs of his or her family. God established the family unit and even instructed the man to tend well to the spiritual and physical care of his family. The verses just before the instruction about paying a pastor teach us who should work and at what point widows should be financially cared for. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he as denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." It's more than reasonable that a pastor meets the needs of his family and financially provides for them. It's a shame that local churches would expect a pastor and his family to live in poverty while he labors on the church's behalf.
Now, with the previous two thoughts guiding our thinking, we need to consider the actual burden of ministry. Who bears the burden of ministry, paid or unpaid?
Is the burden purely financial? If a church doesn't pay a pastor, should they expect him to continue doing the work he was previously doing? Should they expect a Bible college and seminary trained pastor? Or is it okay to go back to having the most respected farmer or businessman lead the church and preach the sermons? What is the burden of rightly teaching and preaching the Word of God? What is the burden of ministry? And if the church isn't going to pay the pastor for this work, is the local church ready to pick up the burden?
Below are some thoughts on the burden of the work of ministry and what should be considered when determining if a pastor should draw a salary.
1. What is the necessary burden on the church to know the Bible well and be able to teach it to others? Is the church ready to take up this burden if the pastor were not there or able to spend as much time on teaching and preaching? Is the church skilled in this area?
2. What is the necessary burden on the church to care for its members? Is this something the church feels is important? Is the church ready to pick up the burden of meeting with people in the hospital, praying for the sick, counseling in crisis or pre-martial needs, tendings to marriages and funerals, discussing baptism and the Lord's Supper, etc?
3. What is the necessary burden on the church for community outreach, disciple-making, discipleship, and mission work at home and abroad? Is the pastor leading this vision and training, or is the church ready to take on these needs as the body of Christ? Is the church trained and equipped in evangelism, outreach, small group leadership and Bible study, church planting, apologetics, and social justice?
4. What is the necessary burden for spiritual leadership and vision? Is the church unified and ready to lead the church without a paid pastor in this role? Is the church unified around a common vision? Do they love each other enough that others will know they are Jesus' disciples? Are they dwelling in unity? Is the church ready to guide others in this direction?
Somehow, the church has developed a mindset that the pastor should be paid to do the work of ministry. Scripture doesn't say such things. Paul said the pastor, especially the one teaching and preaching, deserves the double honor. Right teaching and preaching should result in the saints doing the work of ministry. Ephesians 4:11-16 says the pastor's job is to equip the saints to do the work. Training and equipping is what should be expected of the pastor, and the one who trains and equips well should be paid so he can attend to this task without having to worry about how he'll tend to the financial needs of his family.
The burden will be carried by the church, whether financially or in other ways or both. Simply not paying a pastor doesn't absolve the church from the burden of equipping disciples to be God's ambassadors for his Kingdom.