Bible in a Year – Day 122: Almighty Dollars
Today’s Reading: 1 Chronicles 6
Today’s reading serves as a jumping off point for a million conversations regarding pastoral wages. Some will argue – correctly – that those entrusted with service in the temple were given some of the very best land in Israel. Logically then, the argument goes, today’s pastors should be given nothing but the best and should have gifts lavished on them. Others will say, “Wait a second,” and will point out that receiving choice land only meant that the priests and Levites had an opportunity to earn a good living – that they were expected to work hard for their money like everyone else. This argument is also correct.
So where does that leave us today? Should our pastors be handsomely-paid and well taken care of or should they have to “work the land” along with everybody else? Now, this is dangerous territory for me to wade into, since I am a full-time pastor (and am paid as such). But I think I can also offer some perspective in this complicated conversation. You see, I have been a pastor for the better part of 15 years – sometimes, like now, earning a full salary that is comparable (or nearly comparable) to the salary I would earn at a non-church job. Other times, however, I have worked in pastoral roles for part-time pay, very part-time pay and even no pay.
So, you see, I’ve lived in each of these scenarios (though I have yet to live on the “lavishly-paid” end of the spectrum) and I have learned a few things along the way. The answer as to whether and how much we pay our pastors is very dependent upon the situation at hand and the expectations of that individual. Even in the priestly system, as originally set up by Moses, there were different methods for church workers to earn a living.
It is true that many – probably most – priests and Levites had to earn their living by working the land. They were generally given a leg up by starting with some of the best land, but, just like everyone else, if they didn’t work, they didn’t eat. However, there were those who didn’t have to work land to earn a living. The men (they were all men at that time) who attended to the services in the Tabernacle were paid out of the tithe of the people. Those who served full-time in the Tabernacle received a full-time “salary,” those who served part-time received a part-time “salary.” Those with other duties or those who were part of the tribe, but not in functional roles in the Tabernacle were responsible for reaping a good harvest from the land they had been given.
For today’s pastors, I think there is a fairly direct correlation. I believe that anyone who is in a full-time pastoral role has the right to be paid a full-time salary. That doesn’t mean that he or she has to exercise that right. There are certainly those pastors who choose, for any number of reasons, not to receive a salary from the church. That is their right. But for a full-time pastor – one whose “business hours” are spent pastoring people, leading staff and volunteers, seeking God’s direction for the church and providing leadership to the organization – it only makes sense that they should be paid as full of a salary as the church is able.
Now, if the church is brand new, very small and/or full of lower income people, it is very possible that the church could pay a significant portion of their income to the pastor and it still not be enough for the pastor’s family to support themselves. That’s where some common sense has to mix with some personal sacrifice and the pastor (who is charged with doing what is best for the church) may need to examine the possibility of earning income in some other way.
Here’s my advice to friends who pastor or who serve on church boards: Remember that pastoring people costs something. Providing leadership to any organization – church, business or otherwise – costs money, time and energy. If a church can’t afford to pay their pastor a full salary (and the pastor has to earn a living elsewhere) then the pastor may not be able to afford to give the church a full-time effort. If your pastor has to work 40 hours a week somewhere else to pay the bills, that is 40 hours that he or she cannot devote to the church. If, in the course of that other job, they are required to take on additional responsibilities, stresses or leadership roles, they are going to have that much less energy to deal with the responsibilities and stresses of ministry.
So, you see, it gets complicated. I believe that the only rule when it comes to salary for pastors is that the salary should be in balance with the expectation (and vice versa). Pay your pastor well and expect much. Then, give him or her the option of dialing back the pay if they feel it’s in the best interest of the church. If you don’t feel like you can trust your pastor to do that, then perhaps you, your church and your pastor have bigger issues that need to be dealt with.
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