The following thoughts on ministry and money are primarily a personal conviction, upon which I am basing my own approach to ministry and financial support. I know there are many sincere believer who take other approaches. I submit these ideas for discussion, hoping to encourage reflection and biblical study on the subject.
“You received without paying; give without pay.”
A common method local churches use to support their pastors financially is through a salaried position set up through the church budget that is funded by the regular, undesignated giving of its members. I would like to suggest that such a financial set up does not best honor the biblical principles of giving and finances in the church.
The first reason is based on my understanding of what a church would look like that most honors the biblical principles of discipleship, fellowship, and leadership for the church. As I argued in my Ph.D. dissertation, Scripture indicates that elders are a group of local believers who have already demonstrated their ministry abilities and qualifications within a local church, who are called by God, and who are appointed by the fellowship to be elders. This is in contrast to the common structure in which a single man from outside the community is hired to be the senior pastor.
In addition, a strong argument can be made for the wisdom, benefit, and ministry effectiveness of maintaining smaller, church-starting churches, as opposed to building mega-churches. Some of the reasons that smaller churches are positive include pastor/believer ratio, less need for institutionalization and buildings, conducive for intimacy and accountability, reproducibility, etc. The point for leadership is this: If a group of men were pastors of a relatively small church, sharing shepherding responsibilities, there would be little need for a full time pastor.
It is clear, however, that the local church is called to support those who are ministering the word them (1 Tim 5:17-18; Gal 6:6). I suggest, though, that it is still not best to support such elders and teachers through any type of salary budgeted from the undesignated gifts of believers. Instead, they could be supported through the designated gifts of anyone who is convinced they should support them. Here are the reasons why:
- Elders are warned in Scripture not to shepherd God’s people for personal gain (Acts 20:33-35; 1 Tim 3:3, 8; 6:5; Titus 1:7, 11; 1 Peter 5:2).
- Elders are not employees of the church, and the appearance of such should be avoided.
- The gospel, truth, love, and ministry should be offered freely (Matt 10:8b).
- The biblical pattern for supporting those in ministry seems to be that the ministry is given first and the support is offered after, based on the ministry (Matt 10:9-11; 1 Cor 9:11).
- Money can become an obstacle for the gospel (1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:9).
- Believers who support those in ministry, as with all other giving, should do so freely, out of conviction, according to God’s leading, and in obedience to God’s Word (2 Cor 8:1-12; 9:1-7).
- Examples of giving in the NT indicate that when believers gave corporately, they were giving to a particular need or types of needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 6:1; 1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 9:1, 5).