Should You Pay Your Minister?
For the most part, the church of today is an institution. Institutions require structure and leadership; self-perpetuation is essential—regardless of cost. For an institution to work, it needs paid staff. That’s why local pastors receive a salary: to keep the institution of church functioning and viable. This follows the Old Testament model of church.
But we don’t live in the Old Testament or under its covenant; we live in the New Testament and under its covenant—at least in theory.
In the New Testament, we (that is, those who follow Jesus) are his church. Each one of us is a priest (that is, a minister) to care for one another. We should not have to pay someone to do what we’re already supposed to be doing. Further, our bodies are God’s temple. We don’t need to go to a building to go to church; we take church with us. In short, the institution of church is over—at least in theory. Without a physical building or an institution to maintain, there is no need to pay someone to run the whole mess.
However, there seems to be one exception to this idea of no compensation. In his letter to the people in Corinth, Paul builds a case to pay preachers. But he’s not talking about the folks who run local churches; he’s talking about those who go around telling others about Jesus. Today, we might call these people evangelists or missionaries. Based on Paul’s teaching it’s right to pay them.
Yet once Paul builds his case to appropriately pay missionaries, he points to an even better way: for missionaries to earn their own money and not require outside support. Paul often covers his expenses and those who travel with him by working his trade; he is a tentmaker. Springing from this is the idea of a tentmaker-minister, someone who pays their own way as they care for others.
So if you are part of an institution and want it to perpetuate, then buy a building, hire staff, and pay them their due. However, if you want to pursue a different path, as seen in the New Testament, take the church with you wherever you go and help others wherever you can, paying your own way as you do.
[Read more about this in Peter’s upcoming book, Jesus’s Broken Church.]
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.