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Is it okay to get paid for ministry?

What about Paul? Tent-making? George Müler?

This is a sermon that everyone in ministry needs to hear!

Nobody likes to talk about money. It’s a tough subject to talk on!

But we need to talk about it, because ultimately money is a heart issue: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat. 6:21, Luke 12:34).

Like the dreaded talk “about the birds and the bees,” the talk about money comes around once in a blue moon. it is often short, awkward, and everyone is glad when it is over.

But one thing is often missed. Usually, a pastor – caring deeply for his congregation, and sometimes motivated by a practical need to raise donations – usually talks about the giving aspect of money. Should we tithe? How much? Why? What does it mean? Etc.

But when was the last time you heard a sermon on receiving money? “Is it okay to get paid for preaching/teaching/singing/cleaning in the church? What rules apply? What about tent-making? etc.” For myself, the answer was “never,” and so I thought it was about time someone spoke to this issue.

Because in the absence of good information, a whole host of bad ideas can come crowding in. Such half-formed, mis-informed, poorly-thought-through ideas as…

  1. Ministry isn’t real work
  2. Ministers shouldn’t be paid
  3. All work done for God should be a gift: therefore, not paid for
  4. Money paid to pastors/missionaries is a gift, not a salary
  5. Pastors/missionaries don’t deserve to be paid
  6. Ministry is a hobby, not a “real job”
  7. Ministers should be poor. Their families should be poor.
  8. When they ask for money, ministers are greedy
  9. Corruption is rampant in the church: pastors are just out to make a killing off of their congregations!

These sorts of silly ideas – already wilting in the light of day – are floating around right now in the minds of the average person in our culture…and in the minds of people in the congregation…and in your pastor’s mind!

When they go unaddressed, they can really wreak havoc on his or her soul and mind. For myself, I have found these sorts of ideas can lead to stress, workaholism, a lack of self-respect, and a whole host of other mental maladies.

It’s time for some good thinking on this issue.

I recorded a four-part podcast series on this, in which I clarified my thoughts.

Missionaries n Money 1: Five Questions

Missionaries n Money 2: Bible Survey

Missionaries n Money 3: Paul

Missionaries n Money 4: Appendix

–> Remember you can subscribe to my theology podcast here!!! <–

These podcasts I then boiled down to a twelve-page document. You can download it in pdf here or scroll down to read it. (It is a work in progress: I welcome critique and editing feedback!)

Finally, I had the opportunity to preach this last Sunday on the subject. As you can imagine, the sermon was densely packed with information! You can listen to that sermon below.
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–> Subscribe to my Sermons Podcast (yes, I have two different podcasts) here!! <–

I also recorded an informal question and answer session in the much smaller service just before this one. You can listen to that here.

Remember to love your pastor well! He cares for you!

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Ministry & Money

Is it okay to receive money in ministry?

Josiah Meyer

OUTLINE

IS IT OK TO RECEIVE MONEY IN MINISTRY? 

Introduction

A Quick Word on Giving 

Dangers of Ministry & Money 

1. The Gospel Must be Totally Free (Simony) 

2. We are all “priests” 

3. Greed should never be a motivation for ministry 

4. One must work for their keep 

5. On “Fleecing the Sheep” 

Five Questions 

1. Is ministry work real work? 

2. Is it okay to get paid for ministry work? 

3. Is it okay to be paid well for ministry work? 

4. Is it okay to ask for money to do ministry work? 

5. Is it okay to budget and save while doing ministry work? 

Objections 

What about K. P. Yohanan? 

What about George Mueller? 

What about Paul?

Why I Care

IS IT OK TO RECEIVE MONEY IN MINISTRY?

Introduction

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… (Phil. 4:15)

Nobody likes to talk about money. If it is talked about, we very helpfully focus on the giving aspect. This is so crucial because “where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also” (Luke 12:34). Giving is ultimately a heart issue, and so when our beloved pastors get up the courage to speak on money, they usually spend their time addressing the importance of making Christ the Lord of our hearts…and our wallets.

However, another important aspect is the question, “Is it legitimate to receive money in ministry?”

If people are called to give, to whom aught they give?

If people wish to work in ministry, how aught they pay for it?

What rules/limitations/guidelines apply?

We will focus our discussion by asking the following five questions:

Is ministry “real” work?

Is it ok to get paid for ministry work?

Is it ok to get paid well for ministry work?

Is it ok to live exclusively off of ministry work?

Is it ok to ask for money in order to do ministry work?

Is it ok to budget and save when doing ministry work?

First we will look at some big-idea concepts, and some dangers.

A Quick Word on Giving

Some of our thinking about money is undeveloped, immature, and sometimes just downright silly

Let’s have a reality check right now: everything costs money

Houses, cars, gas, electricity, “a roof over my head”

Professional time, services, mowed grass, cleaning, etc.

Sometimes, teens and young adults “just don’t get it”

“Mom, can I have the keys to the car?”

“Mom, where are my jeans?”

“Mom…there’s nothing to eat!”

Part of the reality check of going to college, renting a place, getting married, etc., is to realize: nothing is free. It never was. Someone needs to work for your food, lodging, education, etc.

Sometimes we can have a similarly immature – and downright silly – idea about how money works in the church.

It takes time/money to…

Mow the law

Plough the snow

Rent/buy the building

Pay for cleaning

Pay for lighting

Pay for people’s time (pastor, counsellors, worship leaders, etc.)

It costs money to meet as a church

Where does the money come from?

Since Protestant churches are not state sponsored, all of the money for missions, church & church activities needs to come from individual donations

Yup. That’s you and me.

Dangers of Ministry & Money 

Right away, you may be feeling some resistance to what I just said. Some of you might be wanting to say, “You can’t tell people that! Maybe they won’t come back!” So let’s look at some very important dangers and cautions in Scriptures about ministry and money.

1. The Gospel Must be Totally Free (Simony)

The Bible teaches us over and over that the Gospel must be free.

The rich should not have extra access to the Gospel (James 2:1-6)

The poor should not be hindered from the Gospel for financial reasons (Mat. 11:5, Luke 4:18, Luke 7:22)

The Bible gives us dire warnings that this is a very serious matter

Elisha’s servant Gehazi was striken with leprosy for asking for an “under the table” gift for the free gift of healing which his master performed (2 Kings 5)

Jesus “cleansed the temple” by vandalizing and displacing the businesses of those who were trying to make a profit off of those trying to worship in the temple (Mark 11:15-19, Matthew 21:12-17, Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-16)

Ananias and Sapphira were stricken dead by God for trying to buy fame in the church by lying about their gift (Acts 5)

Simon Magus was “condemned to hell” by Peter for trying to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-24).

Notes:

It is from the passage on Simon Magus that we get the term “Simony,” a term coined by the Reformers, to describe the practice of “buying” religion in the Catholic church (e.g. Indulgences, clerical positions, etc.)

It is because of a sensitivity to this issue that we have practices like “passing the offering plate,” or having a collection box in the back. Ironically, it is because we are so passionate about offering the Gospel free to all that we talk so much about giving. If we just charged an entrance fee, as many religions and cults do, we wouldn’t need to talk about giving.

The Gospel must also be free from all compulsion: for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)

2. We are all “priests”

It is very important for Protestants that pastors are not part of a special “priestly class”

We believe in the “Priesthood of all Believers,” (Revelations 1:6, 5:10, Acts 2:16-19)

Sometimes, a subtle belief in a division between the “clergy” and “laity” can sneak in

Sometimes, there can be negative feelings between those in full-time and those in part-time (or “tent-making”) ministry: one can feel, or be made to feel that they are not doing “real” ministry. My brothers, this should not be so!

The same standards which should apply to pastors (e.g. Living standards, right to property, etc.) should also apply to non-pastors. And vice-versa. We will look at this more below.

3. Greed should never be a motivation for ministry

One of the qualifications for Christian ministry is that one should be free from greed

One of the persistent attributes of false teachers is a tendency towards greed. (1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 4:3)

Greed leads to false teaching, because a greedy teacher will preach what people want to hear, not what they need to hear, because that is the path to financial reward in ministry (2 Timothy 4:3).

4. One must work for their keep

Laziness and entitlement are a constant problem with humanity.

Laziness is continually condemned in the Bible (Proverbs 6:6, 6:9, 10:26, 12:27, 13:4, 15:19, 19:24, 20:4, 21:25, 22:13, 24:30, 26:13-16)

In the New Testament Church, there was a problem of people living off of the community, but not really working.

Paul taught a zero toleration policy on this, stating: “if anyone is not willing to work, then his is not to eat either.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Paul taught that even for widows, they aught not to be supported if they were young, able-bodied, weren’t contributing to the church, and could be supported in other ways: aka getting married and starting families (1 Timothy 5:3-7).

Because of this danger, we must address the question, below, “Is ministry work ‘real work’? 

5. On “Fleecing the Sheep”

In extreme cases, churches may be guilty of “fleecing the sheep”

This phrase comes from Ezechiel 34:1-10

The passage is an extended metaphor, and hard to know specifics: but one gets the idea of a combination of all of the above abuses, combined with a self-serving, arrogant, uncaring, selfish, greedy attitude. An entitled, lazy, greedy “priesthood” living in luxury at the expense of the laity. This attitude was seen at times during the most corrupt periods in the Middle Ages, and in some modern Cults. It may also be the case sometimes in the churches of the “Health & Wealth Gospel”

This was also the case during the Second Temple Judaism (Matthew 21:14)

Five Questions

Throughout this time, we will be looking at the question, “Is it okay to receive money in ministry?” We will divide that down into five smaller questions to give it a thorough answer.

Is ministry work real work?

Is it okay to get paid for ministry work?

Is it okay to get paid well for ministry work?

Is it okay to ask for money to do ministry work?

Is it okay to save & budget to do ministry work?

1. Is ministry work real work? 

Biblically, we are all to work

God works for six days, then rests. We are to do the same (Genesis 1)

God gave humanity work to do immediately upon creating them (Genesis 1:26, 2:5, 15)

After the Fall, work is cursed and will be hard (Genesis 3:17-18)

Those who do not work are “lazy” and are condemned in Proverbs and elsewhere (Proverbs 6:6, 6:9, 10:26, 12:27, 13:4, 15:19, 19:24, 20:4, 21:25, 22:13, 24:30, 26:13-16)

Paul teaches that those who do not work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

Some forms of “being busy” do not count as work (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12, 1 Timothy 5:13)

Paul is very clear that ministry work – especially preaching and teaching – count as “real work” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

2. Is it okay to get paid for ministry work?

Yes. Why?

Because a “worker is worthy of his wages.”

Jesus says so (Matthew 10:10)

Paul says so (1 Timothy 5:18, 1 Corinthians 9:14)

In all of these cases, it is a person working in ministry that is meant

1 Corinthians 9:1-14 says, “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

Because soldiers don’t serve at their own expense (9:6)

Because vinedressers should eat of their own vines (9:6)

Because shepherds should drink of their own livestock (9:6)

Because even oxen should share in the rewards of their work (9:9)

Because plowmen aught to plow in hope (9:10)

Because threshers aught to thresh in hope (9:10)

Because those who work in the Temple receive of the offerings (9:13)

Therefore: “God has directed that those who proclaim the gospel will get their living from the gospel.” (9:14)

(Note: Paul does not want to be paid, so he has a reason for boasting, 9:12, 15-18). However, his personal vow in now way invalidates the general rule he has laid out in this passage

Full-time ministry is a time-honored tradition in Scriptures

The Priesthood

God instituted that priests would live from the sacrifices and free-will offerings

When he re-instituted temple worship, Nehemiah found that when they were not paid, the priests and Levites left the Temple to work and provide for themselves. (After all, one cannot expect someone to work without paying them, can they?) He re-instated a means of paying them through offerings so that worship would continue

The Prophets

Some prophets were part-time, or “tent-makers” (Amos 7:14)

But most were full-time, through:

Miraculous provision (1 Kings 17:4)

Donations (1 Kings 17:10-16)

Communal living (2 Kings 6:1-3, 4:39-40)

Jesus never engaged in “tent-making” during his ministry years

He lived on hospitality (Matthew 8:14-15, Luke 10:38)

He lived on private donations (Luke 8:3)

He lived off the land (on social assistance?) (Luke 6:1)

Sometimes God provided miraculously (Mark 1:13, Matthew 16:9)

Jesus never told His disciples to engage in “tent-making”

They were to take advantage of hospitality (Luke 10:7)

The Apostles did not engage in “tent-making”

(Ok, they worked briefly between the crucifiction and Pentecost – but that’s it! John 21:3)

The Early Church lived on communal living (Acts 4:37)

The Apostles did not work, and did not even want to do administrative tasks, but “devoted themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4)

The Apostle Paul:

Did at times work to support his ministry. He did so for personal reasons, although he knew he was not obligated to do so. (1 Corinthians 9)

He also:

Received gifts (Philippians 4:15-16)

Asked for gifts (2 Corinthians 11:8, Romans 15:24, Philemon)

Accepted hospitality (Acts 16:14)

Used communal living (Acts 9)

(perhaps) he was “sent out” from the church with more than just prayers: otherwise, how could he have afforded so many sea voyages? (Acts 13:3)

(perhaps) he had some wealthy private donors, such as Philemon

(See further discussion below)

3. Is it okay to be paid well for ministry work?

…or should pastors be paid at, or less, than the poverty line?

Yes. Why?

A) Because Paul said, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” “ – 1 Timothy 5:17-18

Elders should be paid “double”…not “half honour,” as is so often the case

The context makes it very clear what is meant is financial renumeration

The Old Testament priests were well taken care of

The reality is that in ministry, the funds are often tight. Someone going into ministry should know that lower income is part of the burden to bear. Many ministries simply cannot do better. But there is no Biblical warrant for underpaying one’s pastor when one has the means to do better. There is nothing “spiritual” about being poor. Rather, pastors are worthy of “double honour.”

Objection: but greed aught not to be a motivation for ministry (1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 4:3): on the other hand, it is not “greed” for a worker to expect his wages. It is a sin to withhold wages when they are due (Deuteronomy 24:15)! If a worker agrees to work for free, or for reduced salary, of course, that is quite a different matter.

4. Is it okay to ask for money to do ministry work?

…or should we all do as George Mueller did?

There is no Biblical command not to ask for money

B) Jesus told His disciples to ask for lodging, food, etc. (Matthew 10:11)

Many Biblical figures asked for money, food, water, resources

– Elisha (1 Kings 17:11-15)

– Jesus (John 4:7)

Paul (Romans 15:24, Philemon)

D) Therefore, it seems reasonable to ask at times for money: although we aught to be careful never pressure anyone, or create a hindrance to the Gospel

5. Is it okay to budget and save while doing ministry work? 

…or should we all do as George Muller did?

Nowhere in the Bible are Christians told not to budget/save: rather, the Proverbs and other passages are full of admonitions to steward one’s money, including budgeting and saving (Proverbs 30:25-26). Since Protestants believe in the “priesthood of all believers,” what we expect of pastors we would expect of everyone else. And we certainly want to encourage good financial practice among everyone in the church!

Perhaps Muller based his life-vows partially on Jesus’ words to His disciples (Matthew 10:5-15) but:

This is not a support for not asking for support: disciples were to impose themselves on a host

Wives and children are not mentioned in this passage: this seems to be a singles missions trip

Jesus very explicitly taught that this was not to be the normative model past the time of His ministry years (Luke 22:35-38) see also Matthew 10:16

Objections

What about K. P. Yohanan?

Western-style missionaries are wasteful

Indigenous missionaries are a better use of funds

After having lived in a third-world country, I understand that the “wasteful” things are actually precious, sanity-giving & life-giving

This makes an unfortunate false dichotomy between western and indigenous missionaries: clearly, we need both

One cannot simply take a western missionary’s salary (say $6,000) and divide that up into equal parts to evaluate whether it would be better to pay that many indigenous peoples (say $60): the reality is, people give to people they know, and that money would likely not be re-allocated

As one indigenous person said, “You cannot replace real people with money.” Yes, we need to support indigenous peoples: but there is no substitute for sending real, flesh-and-blood missionaries as well

What about George Mueller?

Who did not ask anyone for money

Who did not keep any money on hand: any surplus was given immediately to ministry

This model is not taught in Scriptures

As seen above, believers are to save/budget, as well as pray and rely on God

As seen above, there is no Biblical commandment not to ask for support

Elisha did it (1 Kings 17:11-15)

(arguably) Jesus did it (John 4:7)

Paul did it (Romans 15:24, Philemon)

Muller asked in passive ways

If Muller had a personal vow, that is commendable, but it is not binding on those who did not take it, neither does it negate the Bible’s teaching on these matters

What about Paul?

He was a tent-maker: he worked at least part time (Acts 18:1-3)

He held up his own example as one for others to emulate (2 Thessalonians 3:9)

This was not the only way Paul supported himself. He also…

Received gifts (Philippians 4:15-16)

Asked for gifts (2 Corinthians 11:8, Romans 15:24, Philemon)

Accepted hospitality (Acts 16:14)

Used communal living (Acts 9)

(perhaps) he was “sent out” from the church with more than just prayers: otherwise, how could he have afforded so many sea voyages? (Acts 13:3)

(perhaps) he had some wealthy private donors, such as Philemon

In the famous passage of Priscilla and Acquilla (Acts 18:1-3), he only worked until his traveling companions arrived, at which time he “began devoting himself solely to the word…” (Acts 18:5)

Paul received funds so often, and in so many different ways, in fact, that his statements in 1 Corinthians to have worked “for free” need an explanation. In 2 Corinthians, he clarifies that he did not only live on his own resources, but he also received support from other churches to work “for free” in Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:8). This begs the question…why?

Some have theorized that Paul wished to avoid a conflict of interest, in having a sponsor who may have wanted to control Paul’s message. Perhaps this explains why Paul has no problem asking the Corinthians for gifts to give to another cause (2 Corinthians 9)

Some have theorized that Corinth was an especially lazy and undisciplined place, and Paul wished to give them an example. This also seems to have been the case in Thessalonica (2 Thessalonians 3:11). Perhaps it was also the case in Ephesus.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Between the two models of “full-time” and “part-time” (or tent-making) ministry, there can sometimes be some friction, even scorn. But we need both!!

The Gospel simply cannot break new ground without the “full-time” model. Unless they are already independently wealthy, how could someone try to work full-time in a third-world country, while also evangelizing? Where could they even find employment. And why would they steal jobs from locals? It just doesn’t make sense.

But likewise, the Church absolutely needs people who are willing to donate their time free of charge, or on half salary in order to start up new churches, and keep churches going.

Both models are desperately needed!

Both models are absolutely “real ministry”

Why I Care

I am a missionary, and so the issue touches me personally

I care about the Gospel: I believe if we fund it, it will go forth more abundantly

I care about missionary/pastor wives and families: I think they are asked to suffer unnecessarily, and the price is often very heavy. And senseless.

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