Because I'm not a pastor, the question of a pastor's pay doesn't affect me directly. But as a college teacher, I have an opportunity to talk with students considering seminary, and I hear them ask, "Will I be able to earn enough to support my family?" I also know that some of my former seminary classmates who are now pastors often wonder if they'll ever earn enough to give their wives the freedom to choose not to work.
These facts began to trouble me enough that I decided to try to answer the question, "How much should a pastor be paid?"
People often disagree about this question, largely because they're not sure just what the Bible teaches about it. In fact, the Bible does not give us a simple formula to arrive at the proper amount. But when I examined the two key New Testament passages on this subject, I found they taught a principle of abundant generosity that was far greater than I had imagined.
The first passage is I Timothy 5:17, 18:
"The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
"For the Scripture says, 'Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,' and 'The worker deserves his wages.' "
The connection of verses 17 and 18 shows us how highly Paul valued the ministry of the gospel. He says, in effect, "So if even these deserve a fair wage, then how much is deserved by the one who works all the time in the highest and most important calling God gives? Certainly, his work is worth at least twice what other people get!"
Perhaps we would not have used the word "double," but there it stands in Scripture, showing us how highly we ought to regard this important work. When I think how much it means to me to listen to the Word preached week after week, then I realize that the word "double" is not so extreme after all. Paul did not specify exactly whose salary the pastor's was to be the double of, but it probably was not necessary in a society where the wage structure was much less complex than ours.
Isn't the Bible saying to us that we should compare a pastor's job with the most important jobs in society? Rather than comparing our pastor's salary with the salaries of other pastors, shouldn't we compare it with the salaries of doctors or lawyers or business executives, people who often earn "double" what ordinary working people earn? The Bible tells us the pastor's job is at least as important as these and he deserves ("is worthy of") pay similar to the pay these jobs receive.
Now it must be made clear the Bible does not tell us to pay our pastor a double salary. Rather, it says he is "worthy" of it. How wise Scripture is! Perhaps there are some churches so small they can't pay a pastor much at all. God does not command them to pay their pastor twice as much as the average pay in their community. He just says the pastor deserves that much, and that is something the church should remember as it plans and grows. Or perhaps a pastor will simply refuse to accept that much. He and his family might even decide they should have a simpler lifestyle below their present income, as a witness against the excessive materialism of our society.
Paul's own practice is instructive here. Sometimes he took payment for his ministry, sometimes he did not. I Corinthians 9:1-18 and II Corinthians 11:7 show he found work instead of accepting money from the Corinthians, but II Corinthians 11:8-9 and Philippians 4:15-18 make it clear he did accept support from other churches, and in I Corinthians 9:14 he stoutly defends that right. In fact, in II Corinthians 12:13 he tells the Corinthians they were less favored than the other churches, because they did not enjoy the privilege of giving to his needs!