Jump Start # 1577
1 Timothy 5:8 “For the Scriptures says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’
We continue our thoughts about preachers and preaching. It is time to discuss the very sensitive subject of paying the preacher. This is hard to write. I do not want to sound as if I am complaining. I am not. I do not want some to think that someone somewhere put me up to this. They have not. I feel that I am at a place both in my age and the relationship I have with the church I am with that I can say some things about this topic. Other than showing passages that justify the right for a preacher to be supported by congregations, most never ever talk about this. It’s too difficult. And many folks need to take a serious look at what they are doing but their isn’t a platform for that. I hope this becomes a bridge for discussions to begin.
Let’s get right to it—how much should a preacher make? There isn’t a number to go by. There isn’t an “average” or a standard. This is what makes this hard. Old school thinking made sure that the preacher made less than most of the members. That thinking went away with the dumb comments, “he only works one day a week.”
Our passage, written concerning elders who also preached, justified supporting them financially. The laborer is worthy of his hire, that’s the principle. A man should be paid based upon ability and experience. What we do with preachers is never done in the business world. At no company, would you find the posting of everyone’s salary on a bulletin board. In the business world, a person doesn’t get a raise just because his wife had a baby. Sometimes, that is the only time a preacher gets a raise. That seems odd. It seems we’ve twisted the principle to read, “if the preacher’s wife is in labor then he is worthy of wages.” Sorry, it doesn’t read that way. If he is worthy, pay him. If you want him to stay with you, pay him. Don’t base his pay on what others are making in the congregation. Have a conversation with him. Find out what he is thinking. Begin there. Don’t lowball the preacher. You get what you pay for. If you pay cheap, you’ll get a cheap preacher. It’s time to stop being tightwads and begin to be generous as God is. Read the parable in Matthew 20 about the laborers in the vineyard. The generous master paid the man who worked one hour the same as he paid those who worked all day. That’s not right! Exactly. God’s generous. Shouldn’t we be the same?
Two thoughts to put before us.
- It does seem that some of the younger preachers, with very little experience, are demanding high salaries. I guess I remember how little I started out with and struggled for years and years. You start out too high, and you are going to top out what a congregation can do. There needs to be some discussion and judgment about these things. If all the money is going towards the preacher’s salary then there won’t be any money to do things. A balance needs to be found here.
- There is also little thought as to what to do with our older preachers. Some because of finances, must continue to preach, often long past their effectiveness. They are not in the position to retire. The church suffers and the church doesn’t know what to do with these old warriors. Maybe some thought ought to be given to honor those heroes who have devoted their lives in preaching. Tossing them out because they are old really doesn’t follow the golden rule well. It doesn’t look good and it isn’t right.
Times are changing and so are the thoughts in paying preachers. More thought is given than just a base salary. Some places think about insurance and even retirement. Try to put yourself in the preacher’s shoes and see what he is being paid. If you like your preacher and you want to keep him, then pay him well. A preacher that has to worry about money is going to be stressed and it will affect his work. And please, stop asking if his wife is going to work. Were you asked that when you took your job? Pay him for what he is worth, period! You are not paying his wife. Do not put unfair limitations, such as we do not want your wife to work. You don’t have the right to say that. Other wives work. Unless you are going to put her on the payroll, she is free to do what she wants. The old prayer, “Lord, you keep him humble and we’ll keep him poor,” is shameful and disgusting.
Have a conversation with the preacher to talk about his longevity with the church. Preachers are not tenured. There are no preacher unions. Some fear getting fired because they might upset a family. Shepherds need to support their preacher and stand behind him when he is doing a good work. Let him know that you are counting upon him staying for the next decade. Hearing that can sure put the preacher and his wife to ease. In the say way, the preacher ought to let it be known that he is planning on staying. Leaders worry every time the preacher goes out of town, if he is looking at another place to move. These hidden feelings do not make for healthy relationships. Talk and be transparent with one another.
Have you considered that most preachers have two or three weeks vacation. That seems fair and fine. But do you remember where you work, you may receive the same, but you also get holidays off. For the preacher to take off on a holiday means he must use a vacation. Many preachers live states away from their family. Vacations are used to go visit family once or twice a year. Give that some thought. Have a discussion about that.
Years ago, a fine elder named Jack was reporting to the congregation about the finances. He got to my pay. He announced what I made. Then he reminded the congregation that the pay did not involve taking out taxes, paying for insurance, retirement or any other benefit. He went on to say, when those numbers are factored in, the salary was much lower. I whispered to my wife, “remind me why I am doing this?” Those are things that folks do not think about.
Now, let’s talk about Gospel meetings. We are in the season in which many churches have meetings. I am writing this while preaching each night in a meeting. Give some thought about where the preacher will stay. The old way was to allow a family in the church to keep the preacher. This was the standard practice for years. Talk to any older preacher about that and every one of us can tell you stories. First, it’s a bit odd staying with people you do not know. A person never knows what the situation nor the conditions will be like. I have woken up with a dog licking my face in the morning. I have heard sounds that I should not have heard. I have had children putting toys in my bed. In some places, the guest bed was the pull out couch in the family room. That meant, you were the last to bed and had to be the first up. I have been at places where mom, dad and four kids shared one bathroom. After everyone left, I had to clean all the hair and toothpaste out of the sink each day. Most who travel for business would never do that. Most who travel for business have an understanding that their expenses will be paid for and even an idea of what they are making while they travel. It’s not that way in preaching. The preacher hopes the church will pay him enough to cover his expenses. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t.
Give the preacher the option of a hotel. I still stay with folks, especially if I know them. But having that option is nice. That way, there is some down time and quiet time. Meetings can be so exhausting because the conversations begin from the moment you get up, and last until you go to bed. Those are wonderful times, but they are tiring and the poor preacher gets nothing done. Most have to have things ready for home by Sunday. That means he is working while on the road. That means he needs time to work while on the road. Be sensitive to that.
Be sensitive to his travel times. Many travel most the day on a Saturday to get to a place. Then they preach all week and they must travel the following Saturday to get back home. Has anyone considered his travel times and that he is not getting much work done on those days? Is any thought given to the fact that the meeting may last 6 days, but it took 8 days for the preacher, counting his travel times on both ends of the meeting?
The meal list—oh, that’s another thing. Remember, most people do not eat the way some ladies cook for the preacher every night. Having a breakfast, lunch and a dinner is going to lead to a fat preacher. He needs self control and know when to stop eating, but it’s hard. Give some thought to that. Don’t cook too much.
Finally, I am a believer in a church and a preacher having a written contract. There is a business side to preaching that I really do not like, but it’s there. Having everyone’s signature on a contract and copies made will keep people from forgetting what was promised and expected. This just keeps things above board.
Ugh! I’m glad I’m done with this. This hasn’t been easy to write. I would suggest that you print this and give a copy to your preacher and a copy to the elders. If they could just sit down with this and talk about these things and be open and not feel threatened, you will see the relationships bonding and soaring. For places that do not have elders, this will be most difficult.
I am blessed. The relationship I have with my shepherds is very open and transparent. We talk about these things. No one feels threatened. I do that not for my sake but for the preachers who will follow me. I want to leave it better for them. Legacy—someone will follow us. Are you giving thought to that? Some preachers have made things worse for those who follow them. They have soured the church because of the way they whined or took advantage of them. That’s wrong. Look beyond yourself, preacher. If you truly believe in what you are teaching, leave footprints for the preachers who follow you. Your relationship with the church can make things so wonderful or it can tarnish his work.
Talk about these things. It’s the first steps in understanding each other.