At some point every church needs to discuss finances. Sometimes the church isn’t bringing in much and the discussion centers on how to get the most for the resource. Sometimes the discussion is produced because there has been great growth in the church and money is abundant. Of course the latter discussions are much more enjoyable than the former. Still, the topic can’t be avoided. It needs to be talked about.
How much should the pastor, ministers, staff and guests speakers receive for their services to the church? The normal, or at least most often procedure is usually to start with the financial or business minded people of the church who get together and distribute the finances. The problem with this method is that usually the business men of the church tend to run the church like it is a business. While it is true that in many ways the church is similar to a business, it is not completely true. In addition, while the government sees the church as a non-profit organization, this does not accurately describe it either.
The problem with these business models is that they see the people who are being supported by the finances as employees. They see the employees as those who support the work of the business and they think in terms of hiring and firing rather than the way the Bible views the church’s spiritual leaders. And often, there is conflict between the way the pastors and the finance committee views the roles and thus the remuneration strategies for ministry to one another. Often the committee is trying to get the most work for the least pay, and the pastor ends up always looking for greener pastures and upward mobility.
There is a “better way” to think about and to discuss church finances. The Bible has a lot to say about how we should think about our church leaders with respect to finances than we often surmise. While there is a lot more to this topic than what I’ve written here, if we can understand the fundamentals and put them into practice, the result will be fruitful discourse on this topic for years to come. The goal of all this is to bring glory to God and to continue to love one another into eternity.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ (Eph 1:7-9).
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7).
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Tim. 5:18).
Overview of the Text:
In the first of these three texts, Paul tells us that our redemption was given to us as a gift from God. This redemption included the forgiveness of our sins, and came to us out of the abundance of God’s resources. Not only this, but God did not niggle about his gift. He gave it with great abandon and in overflowing abundance, freely bestowing on us the salvation that came through Jesus’ death on our behalf.
The second says that our giving should not to be done because we are under compulsion to or because we will feel guilty if we don’t, but because we decided to give beforehand. God does not want us to be grumpy about our giving; instead we give out of generosity and a cheerful heart.
The third passage tells us that one of the primary opportunities for blessing should be in the area of caring for our church leaders, especially those who preach and teach. Those elders who are called to guard our souls and are responsible for our spiritual wellbeing should be treated with double honor. And this, it should be noted, is in the context of financial blessing.
God’s View of Giving:
It might not need to be noted that our God is a generous God. This may seem obvious, but it needs to be plainly stated early on because all the other gods in existence are grasping, niggling, self-centered and narcissistic. From the beginning God has been an mind-bogglingly generous giver. He created the universe simply because he wanted to. Then he poured blessing after blessing on his creation from the smallest speck of dust to the crown of his creation, man. God always gives lavishly, excessively, and out of all proportion. This is true even when man rebels and continue to rebel against him. Instead of wiping sinful man off the face of the earth, God sent his only son to die for us, taking our punishment and acting as the propitiation for our sin. This ultimate gift served to highlight God’s graciousness, compassion, and mercy.
Instead of doling out grace and forgiveness out in meager portions, waiting for us to prove our repentance, to prove our true sorrow, or to prove our true thankfulness, God continues to cheerfully shower us with mercy and blessing. He blessed us by welcoming us into his presence as if we were totally clean, having never done anything wrong; we who were his enemies, who spat on him, who rebelled against him with all our hearts.
Imitation of God:
Throughout Scripture we are called to imitate God, to do things like he does them, to become like him in every way. Ephesians 5:1 tells us to act like beloved children and imitate God. It tells us to begin this imitation by walking in love, and goes on to tell us what walking in love looks like: pouring ourselves out for one another in cheerful, sweet, and beautiful ways. We are to lay down our lives to God first and then to lay them down for one another. Jesus said the same thing when he told us that if we want to follow him we need to take up our cross daily and follow him (Lk. 9:23). In Romans, Paul tells us to love with brotherly affection. And to outdo each another in showing honor (Rom. 12:10). We are to strive to lift one another up, to encourage one another in the Lord (Heb. 3:12-13), to bless others by serving them (Gal. 5:13). In short, we are to be the kind of givers that God is. Jesus told us, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Lk. 6:38).
Job or Calling:
Given what we’ve been saying about generosity, how should we think about those who God has placed over us in the Lord? There are four ways of thinking about our pastors that we need to consider:
The first concept we should consider is that the pastor serves God by leading us and having authority over us. He exercises his leadership ways that are often different from what we expect. Virtually everything in the Bible is spoken of in terms of service and submission. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Apostles served their churches. Wives serve husbands. Children serve parents. The slave serves his master. This pattern is summarized in Ephesians 5:21 where it tells us all to “submit to one out of reverence to Christ.” This is all true and glorious.
This all means that we are a people of servants. We are all serving someone. But the whole system can go sideways when I am told that someone else is to serve me and I assume that the command to them is warrant for me to dominate and become overbearing to the one who is in submission to me. This has turned the whole system on its head. It is no longer godly, holy, righteous, or submissive.
The Bible says that the pastor is the shepherd of the church. God appointed him to be the one who feeds the people of God (Jn. 21:17; Eze. 34; etc), watches over the congregation of God (Psa. 23:4; 1 Pet. 5:2), nurtures the sheep God has given him (Psa. 23:2; Isa 40:11), protects the little children (Isa. 31:5; Psa. 46:5), lays down his life for the flock of God (Jn. 10:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-4), and gives an answer for how those who have been placed in his care (1 Cor 9:25-27; Heb. 13:17). All these tasks are the things pastors do to serve the people of the church, but it is a mistake to believe that because he is humble and not “lording it over the flock” that he is the church’s servant. All these roles and behaviors are acts of leadership and authority. Godly men lead from the bottom, not the top. This is true godly ministry. The model the world presents of the “kick butt” CEO is simply worldly and is not a godly approach to church leadership. The pastor ministers to the people (Col. 1:25), but he does this as a shepherd.
Secondly, because the pastor is God’s man for God’s flock, he is not a church ‘employee.’ Because of our backgrounds in the world’s business and economics, it is easy to get this sideways. Most church members are businessmen. They hire and fire. They set salaries and budgets. They are responsible to get the most “bang for the buck” and they are themselves held to economic standards. Most businesses are owned and operated by non-Christians who rarely consult the Bible to find out how they are to proceed in the business world. This is often true even when the businesses are owned by Christians. For example, owners and executives are rarely advised or instructed to lead from the bottom. They often see strong leadership qualities in those who “kick butt and takes names” and who tell people “where to get off.” Because the businessman in them comes to the front easily and because it is easy to fall into the business model in all areas of life, church leaders often forget that God called pastors to something higher than a company, or employment, or a career. In his book Gentlemen, We are Not Professionals John Piper tells pastors to remember that God called them to a much higher calling. Quoting E.M. Bounds, he says, “The preacher…is not a professional man; his ministry is not a profession; it is a divine institution, a divine devotion.” Pastoral ministry is its own kind of thing. Nothing on earth equals it or exemplifies it. Everything we think about pastors needs to be re-evaluated. He works for God and for the church, but as the shepherd of the flock of God not as a hireling or as an employee.
There are times when pastors forget this (John Piper’s point) in the same way that members of the church forget. Sometimes the pastor himself can define his type of servant leadership in a way that does not represent God’s Word. He can slide into a mindset that tells him that he works for the people and only minimally for God. He sometimes forgets that godly leaders must still lead, and he sometimes lets the sheep walk all over him in the name of Christ. This is one example that explains the situation where the pastor appears to be “in it” for the money. But this is not the way God established the church. Pastors are not employees of the church, no matter who forgot it.
The third concept we need to consider is that except for the pastor’s salary, we don’t think of the pastor’s role as a normal job. If he were a factory worker, his hours would be set. His office hours would be his own to do with what he wants. If he were an executive in a large corporation, he would work more hours because he is salaried, but the expectations on his person and family would be very different from what we expect from pastors. This becomes clear and obvious when we attempt to publish a job description for the pastor. We expect him to live up to the qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus. We expect him to be prepared to teach and preach several hours every week. We expect him to be at our beck and call at all hours of day or night. We call him for any and every event in our lives. We expect him to visit us in the hospital, help us with our struggles with sin, teach us the deep things of God, be prepared for any kind of discussion all the time, and enter into our disputes with our fellow Christian in a wise and mature way. We expect him to marry us, visit us when our children are born, and bury us when we pass along. The list goes on and on. In fact, we expect him to be an example of what we ourselves should be in every area of life. All this should lead us to the conclusion that we have been thinking about the pastor in the wrong terms all along. His job is not a job at all, it is a calling. What the pastor does and is expected to do is clearly different from any normal profession in the world. Indeed, it is not a profession at all, it is a life.
Wages or Blessings:
How do you remunerate a man given the things we have discussed so far?
It is primary importance that we understand and assume that if we have a man of God in our pulpit, we have someone who is doing what he is doing because he loves God and he loves us. A godly man does what he does because he desires to see the flock grow to maturity, to thrive, and to bless others with the blessings he has received from God. He should be an example of generosity by giving his time, mind, knowledge, and wisdom to the flock.
Because our pastor is working to bless us with his gifts and abilities, our first thought should be to bless him with our gifts and abilities. In the Bible, this most often shows itself in financial gifting. Godly pastors give spiritual food to the people, and the people give the means for physical food and sustenance to him and his family. We see this concept in the Scriptures when Paul taught it to the Corinthians, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? (1 Cor. 9:11). Normally, the pastor does not bring this up himself; it’s too embarrassing. In fact, in the context of First Corinthians, Paul thought the same thing. It is embarrassing to need to bring up to the people that they need to support their leader.
Before we ask how to give to the elder, who teaches and preaches, we need to remember, what has already been noted, that we should imitate God in this area as in all the other areas of life. He is generous, he pours our lavishly, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. He is not squeamish about blessing over the top. Consequently, we need to maintain a cheerful attitude and give without thinking about our possible hurt. This we can do, if we remember that ultimately God is the giver, not us. Even the Macedonians “overflowed in a wealth of generosity,” though they were in extreme poverty (2 Cor. 8:2).
Another predominant fact is that this is a matter of blessing on our part, not earning on his. If the preacher is a great man one on one but not a great pulpeteer, we do not bless him less. If he only has two children instead of seven, we do not bless him more. Our goal should be to bless him as God blesses us, with everything we can muster.
We need to be big hearted and open handed. We need to purposefully build a reputation of generosity—even uber generosity. A Christian cannot out-give God. If we want God to be generous toward us, we need to be generous to those God places in front of us. There is nothing wrong with being known for being generous, even overly generous. We serve a gracious God, we expect to serve an unselfish and self-effacing pastor; therefore we should be a generous church.
One final, but important thought, because we are working with a completely new view of how we do church, we need use terminology for our ministry of giving that forces us to think outside our business mindset. When we hear the word salary, we immediately assume that we are his employer and he works for us. We assume that we are paying him for services rendered as if he were cleaning our carpet, or selling a product for us. If we call what we give him wages, we assume that he is earning from us what we are giving him. With all of this in mind, we should call the finances we give our pastor something other than salary or wages. One church calls their pastoral gift, “monthly blessing.” When we call a pastor we should call his monetary package a ‘blessing package.’
1 Timothy 5:18 says “The laborer deserves his wages.” However, the word translated ‘wages’ can also be translated ‘reward.’ And in our cultural context, where wages assumes all the wrong things, reward would be a better translation for us. If we viewed our gift to the pastor as a reward for his gift to us, we would have a more Christian view of servanthood and service.
To recap, we serve a God who is gracious and generous beyond our comprehension. He loves us so much that he gave his only Son so that he might bestow blessings on us that we can’t even imagine. This same Son did nothing but give when he was living on this earth, and continues to give while ruling in Glory. He freely healed everyone who asked. He gave life back to one who had died. He gave food to those who were in need. He gave status to the downtrodden. He gave hope to the hopeless. He gave his life for those who could not pay their debt to God. He gave forgiveness to those who sinned against him.
The greatest wonder of wonders is that this same God invites us to share in his generosity by giving to those in need around us in every way possible. And this especially includes those who minister to and watch out for our souls.
The proposal then, is this: that we think differently about how we are going to treat our pastor with regard to how we support him financially. We must not think about him in terms of the worldly business model that we need to use to function in the world, nor may we imitate the churches around us who are thinking in worldly ways. This includes changing the vocabulary we use when talking about the church, pastor, and finances. From now on, we will call our monthly gift a monthly blessing.
We also need to determine how much money to bless him with by doing some research into his needs, and then giving him enough more than that that he notices the difference (check out 1 Tim. 5:17-18). We want to love a pastor who is not concerned that his finances will “make it.” We do not want him to feel the need to look for a second job if he is to stay with us.
Finally, we will resolve that we will be thrilled to be known as the ‘church that is too generous.’ We want to try to out-give God. This does not mean that we should endanger our other financial commitments, and we always want to be responsible with our finances; but if we err with regard to the care of our pastor, we want to error on the side of generosity to God’s glory.
A Few Words Regarding Guest Speakers
This paper has focused on pastors, but how should we think of guest speakers? We should endeavor to be as generous with our guest speakers as we desire to be with our pastor. What we do now will prepare our hearts and practice for how we will be when we begin calling various ministers and staff. If we are generous now, we will be generous then. If we are not generous now, we won’t be then.
We want to make generosity our goal. These men come to us because they want to share their lives and faith with the Christ Church congregation. Their goal is to be part of helping bring many souls to maturity. They do not say to themselves, “I probably won’t get paid what it is worth to work on this sermon, drive all that way, take at least two of my days, and spend a lot of time with folks I don’t know, but I’ll go anyway.” They come because they love God, serve Jesus, and want to bless the people of God with the best they can bring. They come because they are being generous with what God gave them.
When both sides are being too generous, it creates a wonderful picture for the church and for the world. When both parties are giving as much as they can afford, for the good of the other, we begin to see a picture of what Christ and the church are supposed to look like. Jesus laid down his life for the church and the church should take up her cross and follow him.
 It is unclear in the Biblical terminology exactly what ‘double’ means here. It is clearly a reference to the double portion that the first born son was to receive as an inheritance. We see the same language used by Elisha when he asks god for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit after he dies (2 Kings 2:9). Some scholars have said that it is double what the other sons receive as their inheritance. If a dying man had five sons, for example, he would divide his estate into six parts and give each of the younger sons a portion and give the oldest son two. Other scholars think the father would divide his estate in half, leaving the oldest son half the estate and dividing the other half between the remaining sons. Either way, a ‘double’ portion is meant to be a statement of honor, homage, respect, devotion, and glory.