How Should We Pay Our Pastors?

Christopher Ash | May 31st 2019

First off, whose job is it to care for the pastor?

I guess the baseline is that pastors ought to care for us. That’s their job, to “watch over you as those who must give an account”. And yet… And yet we are to submit to their pastoral authority in such a way “that their work will be a joy, not a burden”. For, if it is a grievous burden, “that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17). If we can make their work a joy, it will be better for us!

So here’s the question: whose job is it to make sure the pastor’s job is a joy and not a burden? I take it that leadership ought to be shared. There is one pastor, or one senior pastor in a team. But there is more than one elder (or whatever terminology your church uses for shared leadership). So, is it the job of the elders to care for the pastor, or is it the job of all church members to look after the pastor and make his job a joy?

The answer must be both. The first answer is: everybody! That’s why I wrote, The Book your Pastor wishes you would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask). Hebrews is written to us all, not just to elders. All of us are responsible for being the kind of church members who are a joy to pastor. There are many ways we can do this. In the book I have suggested seven virtues of church members that will promote this joy, and seven contrasting vices that will make it a wearisome burden.

The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read

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Caring for your pastor and the difference it makes

A whole package of support

But I want here to write about the part of the responsibility that rightly falls on the elders. In a way it’s an eighth virtue, but one that impacts elders especially. Paul tells Timothy that, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). Perhaps the biggest and most obvious way in which honour is expressed is in how we pay our pastors. The whole package, of salary and all that goes with it, expresses most concretely the way in which a church genuinely values the work of a pastor. Any pastor reading this needs to close their eyes and ears; for they are not to be greedy for gain or to think of their godliness as a means of financial gain (cf. 1 Peter 3:1-4; 1 Timothy 6:5,6); they are to be willing to serve for nothing, to put no barrier or obstacle in the way of the gospel of Jesus. But for those of us who are in normal jobs and who share in the leadership team of a church (e.g. as elders who are not set apart as pastors), there is a responsibility, on behalf of the church, to make sure that the whole package of support is appropriate.

We will want to consider salary, provision for pension contributions, perhaps housing (especially if the church is in an area of very expensive housing), allowances for expenses for hospitality (which can be expensive), perhaps allowances for the pastor and his wife to attend some conferences that will refresh them, and a book or digital resources allowance. All these things need a thoughtful generous carefulness. Some churches work on a package that is roughly equivalent to an appropriate secular job; I know of one church that seeks to match their pastor’s support with that of a primary school headteacher. In some denominations or associations or connections of churches there may be shared norms, or a common guidance about this. But, one way or another, this responsibility needs to be taken seriously.

Clarity from the outset

It is important also that there be an honest clarity about these matters. When a pastor is appointed, it will not do for the existing elders to smile, wave their hands in the air, and assure him it will all work out fine. That is a recipe for disaster; it probably won’t. No, there should be clarity from the start so that no misunderstandings can arise.

Circumstances differ. Some churches (like the Macedonian churches in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9) are very poor; others are more prosperous; many include a wide range of financial poverty and wealth. But the take-home ought to be this: a hard-working pastor, who labours in preaching and teaching, who cares for his people and prays for them, who leads the team that directs the affairs of the church, ought to be in no doubt that he is greatly valued. He ought to be free from crippling financial uncertainty and worries, so that he can give himself uninterruptedly to the noble task entrusted to his care.

The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask) looks at how you, as a church member, can care for your pastor and the difference it makes. Seasoned former pastor Christopher Ash urges churches to think about pastors not just in terms of what they do – how they lead and pray and preach and teach and so on – but what about who they are. Buy it here.

Christopher Ash

Christopher Ash has been a pastor, and is now an author and writer-in-residence at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He was Director of the Proclamation Trust’s Cornhill Training Course from 2004-2015. He is married to Carolyn and they have four children and five grandchildren.

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