A recent survey of pastoral support conducted by the Grace Baptist Trust Corporation (see p.13) clearly suggests that, while many churches provide adequately for their pastors, this happy situation is not universal.
I am not criticising those who cheerfully give all they can to support their church and its pastor – and who are served by faithful men who would, as Philip Henry said, ‘rather preach for nothing than not at all’.¹
Nor am I considering the faith of God’s people in the Lord’s boundless ability to provide. I am addressing the responsibility of true churches of Jesus Christ to provide financial support for the man or men who faithfully watch out for their souls, as those who must give account.
Such a man is constantly to attend to the service of Christ – it is the business of his life’s energy (1 Timothy 4:15-16; 2 Timothy 4:2). He is to minister the Word and to pray, watching for the souls of those entrusted to his care, as one accountable to Jesus Christ at the judgement (2 Timothy 4:1).
This is the heavy responsibility of every man called to be an elder, whether he is gifted for the regular public proclamation of the truth or not. It is this labour, diligently conducted, that makes the labourer worthy of his hire.
This is not a new issue. In the 1680s, the introduction to a book entitled The gospel minister’s maintenance vindicated included these words: ‘some congregations have not duly weighed and considered, of their indispensible [sic] duty to the ministry; in respect of providing such a maintenance, for those who Labour amongst them, and are over them in the Lord, as they ought to do, by which … many [ministers] may be hindered or obstructed in attending on their work, in serving of Christ and his people, as … the present day especially calls for, and as the Lord himself hath also ordained’.²
Similarly, the 1689 Confession of faith declares that ‘it is incumbent on the churches to whom [pastors] minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability, so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs; and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others; and this is required by … the express order of our Lord Jesus, who hath ordained that they that preach the gospel, should live of the gospel’.³
The ministry of God’s Word is the cornerstone of the government of the church, because the church is ruled by the Scriptures. The highest continuing office in the church has as its unique requirement the ability to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17).
The proclamation of the Word is the central function of the church.
Even the noble service of deacons was instituted so that prayer and the ministry of the Word might not suffer neglect. It was right that widows should receive care, but wrong that their care should detract from the apostles’ primary ministry (Acts 6:1-7).
The confession spells out the twofold duty of the church with respect to godly and faithful pastors – respect for the man and provision for the man. A scripturally grounded view of the pastoral office will provide both. If the church fails to support its pastors, it despises the ministry of the Word and becomes hamstrung.
This paragraph in the confession implies that the common problem of our age was also present in the
seventeenth century – professed respect without adequate provision. We must remember that pastors are, by Christ’s appointment, charged with overseeing the church which he purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
This does not mean that pastors may elevate themselves into demagogues and autocrats. They are under-shepherds whose duty and accountability to the risen Christ is carefully set out in Scripture (1 Peter 5:1-4).
However, it does mean that the radical individualism and proud anti-authority spirit of the age in which we live must be resisted (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17). Elders are men gifted by Christ – both to understand and apply the Scriptures as the rule of faith and life, and to exercise Christ’s rule in his church.
If the church does not believe that a man is so gifted, then he should not be recognised; if he is recognised as so gifted, then he should be heard accordingly.
If true respect is the first requirement, the second element of corporate responsibility is ‘to communicate to [pastors] of all their good things according to [the people’s] ability [1 Timothy 5:17; Galatians 6:6-7] – so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs [2 Timothy 2:4]’.
Having a special responsibility for hospitality (expected of all church members but required of elders; 1 Timothy 3:2), they should be in a position to be hospitable towards others. The pastor must be ready to extend his hand; the church must ensure that the extended hand is well supplied.
This duty of providing materially for the minister of God’s Word is required by the express order of our Lord Jesus. Three key passages address the matter of ministerial maintenance.
The first, 1 Timothy 5:17, speaks of ‘double honour’. It is clear from the context and from the whole New
Testament that this has primary reference to financial support, although it does not exclude respect well earned (Luke 10:7; Acts 4:34).
Double, says Sam Waldron, ‘figuratively indicates amplitude or great extent. Double honour, then, is ample material or financial support’.4 Such honour is to be focused on those who labour in the word and doctrine, but extended to all those who rule well, irrespective of their particular sphere of labour. If those who rule well are worthy of double honour, then all those ruling must be worthy of reasonable honour.
Galatians 6:6 requires ‘good things’ (clearly material, v.10) to be shared with the one who teaches the word. Waldron again comments, ‘Those who highly value the labour of the servant of God will find themselves blessed with highly valuable labour’.5 How often – and how sadly – the church gets only what she pays for.
Paul describes material support as a ‘living’ (1 Corinthians 9:14). The one who preaches the gospel should enjoy a sufficiency of the world’s goods as the reward of his labours.
A good soldier ‘engaged in warfare’ should not need to be entangled ‘with the affairs of this life’ (2 Timothy 2:3-4). He should not be distracted by worldly needs, but be amply supplied by the church – for his good and their own.
Besides, if he is a man of the character Christ requires (‘not greedy for money’), there is a sense in which he cannot have too much. He will use his income wisely and generously – and answer to Christ himself for the use or abuse of his worldly goods.
It is clear from Scripture that pastors in the local church are entitled to material support – especially those called to the public ministry of the Word of God. The level of material support should be generous and ample. Pastoral salaries are a recognition of the worth of the office, and the earned esteem of the man holding it.
Without the faithful ministry of God’s Word, the church is a hollow shell. This makes the provision and support of faithful ministry the church’s financial priority. How we provide for gospel ministers is an indisputable measure of our esteem for the gospel itself.
What message does your pastor’s salary send to the church, to the world, and to potential gospel ministers, about your estimation of his work? What message does it send to pastors themselves? Are you declaring that to preach God’s Word is something lightly esteemed or deeply appreciated?
This matter is clearly addressed in God’s Word, and ministers must teach the whole counsel of God, including this. Such teaching ought not to be construed as an attempt by the pastor to feather his own nest.
Church members must likewise consider whether or not we have served Christ well in this matter. Such careful, prayerful thought, with repentance and action where appropriate, will promote Christ’s glory, secure reformation for the present, and – under God – lay a foundation for the future.
1. See John Blanchard, Gathered gold (Evangelical Press, 1984), p.238.
2. Benjamin Keach, The gospel minister’s maintenance vindicated (London: John Harris, 1689).
3. Chapter 26 (‘Of the Church’), para.10. It is worth noting that neither the Westminster Confession nor the Savoy Declaration has a corresponding passage.
4. Sam Waldron, A modern exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Evangelical Press, 1995) p.325.
5. Waldron, loc. cit., p.325.