No doubt you’ve heard of the congregation who prayed: “Lord, send us a poor, humble preacher. You keep him humble; we’ll keep him poor.” Sure, it’s an old, bad joke. But it holds a touch of truth, and we laugh because it hurts too much to cry. Old joke or not, many congregations still have trouble seeing their obligations to their pastors and other church employees.
Mosaic and Christian Principle
What is a church’s responsibility in supporting its pastor? Consider what the Bible has to say. First Corinthians 9:1-14 may be the best single passage regarding this subject. Paul speaks first “as a man,” considering natural, human situations. A soldier doesn’t have to make a living on the side, he says, nor does a vineyard keeper or a shepherd (verse 7). All live by their work.
Then Paul goes to the Old Testament. Even God’s law confirmed this principle, he says, providing that an ox shouldn’t be muzzled when threshing grain (verse 9). More important, the Levites and priests, who spent full time in the temple ministry were to be supported by the people to whom they ministered (verse 13). If you know your Old Testament, you know God often judged Israel for failure to support the Levites as He had commanded. (See Nehemiah 13:10-12 for an example.)
Paul still isn’t through. He turns from the logic of human circumstances and the law of God to the Lord Jesus Himself. “Even so hath the Lord (Jesus) ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (verse 14). The principle, then, is not merely Mosaic, but Christian. Those to whom they minister should support those who spend their lives in gospel ministry.
When did Jesus say this? Certainly in Luke 10, when He sent out the 70 to preach. He instructed them to accept support from those who received their ministry, noting, “the laborer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7).
This is the law of Christ, then: the livelihood of the man who devotes his life to the ministry (or anyone else in full-time Christian work, for that matter) should come from that ministry.
Need more Bible? Try Galatians 6:6: “Let him that is taught in the Word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” In its biblical sense, this word communicate (Philippians 4:15 is helpful) means participation, sharing. Paul means, simply, that those taught the Word of God must share all good things with the one devoted to teaching them.
The answer to the question is plain. The congregation who has a full-time minister is responsible to provide all the livelihood of that minister.
“All the Livelihood”
What does this phrase “all the livelihood” include? It isn’t the purpose of this article to answer that question in detail, although one aspect of “livelihood” must be mentioned in passing. “All the livelihood” means just that—all it takes to live. If a man devotes his time to his ministry, those to whom he ministers should provide everything anyone else expects work to provide. Whatever the rest of the working members of the congregation expect and receive from their jobs, they ought to see their pastor receives from his job.
I fear many congregations overlook some important things in this. Shouldn’t the pastor’s total income be equal with men in the church with similar levels of responsibility—professional men, that is? And don’t forget fringe benefits. Most employers provide insurance of several kinds—hospitalization/medical, disability, life. Most businesses supplement social security, only requiring employees to pay half of their withholdings; but a pastor must pay all of his. Don’t forget a pastor’s work requires much driving. Corporate jobs like his often provide generous expense accounts beyond salary, even company cars.
“But we provide housing and utilities,” you say. Yes, but remember the pastor is building no equity in a church-owned parsonage and won’t have a home when he retires from pastoring. And here’s something else you shouldn’t overlook: most pastors put in far more than 40 hours a week. A preacher is often “on call” day or night; he can’t clock in or out of his responsibility. We have much to consider in this matter of the congregation’s Christ-given responsibility to provide “all the livelihood” of its pastor.
Responsibility for Retirement
We must not overlook retirement. Working years should provide for retirement. That’s part of “all the livelihood.” That’s why most companies implement a retirement program of some kind. Every church has a responsibility to support its pastor so he also can provide for his retirement years.
That’s where the Board of Retirement comes in: to assist Free Will Baptist churches and ministries in doing this. Truthfully, in our congregational church structure we have a little problem providing for retirement. If a pastor worked for the same congregation his entire ministry, it would be easier. That particular congregation would shoulder the whole responsibility for his livelihood, both for active ministry and retirement. Or, if we had a centralized structure in which pastors were employed by the denomination, then the denominational headquarters would have the responsibility.
But Free Will Baptists do not operate that way. A single pastor may be at five or ten churches over the course of his ministry, with each church answering to no one but itself. Who has the responsibility to provide for his retirement years? The church he happens to pastor when he retires? Obviously not! No, each church he pastors has the responsibility to provide for his retirement.
Providing for Retirement Years
How can that be done? Easy, when our denomination’s retirement plan is used. The church simply deposits money regularly into the pastor’s retirement account. When the pastor retires—whether still at the same church or not—he’ll have funds from which to draw.
If a man pastors ten different churches over the course of his ministry, and each contributed its share, his retirement needs will be met. And, it won’t cost the church any more than if the pastor had served a single church for his entire ministry.
Be careful about two things. First, be sure retirement contributions are sufficient. Our present retirement plan recommends minimum contributions of 5% of pastor’s salary. That probably won’t be enough, depending on how you figure it. This amount should take into account both salary and housing allowance. The point is, be informed. Find out what the church’s contributions will actually “buy” at retirement.
Suppose you’re paying your pastor a base salary of $250 per week, not counting housing and any other extras. Five percent of that is a total of $650 per year. Suppose he pastors 35 years, with each church contributing 5% to his retirement fund. Deposits of $650 each year for 35 years will equal $22,750 total deposits at retirement. The amount will have grown to $161,916 with the interest received at the current rate of 8.5% being paid by the retirement plan.
That’s a lot of money, you think? Consider the reality. If a person retires at age 65, with $161,916 in a retirement account, he can purchase an annuity of only $800 (or so) per month for the rest of his (or his wife’s) life. So, you see, his retirement savings aren’t as much as it might seem. It really isn’t enough to live on now, much less 35 years from now. Sure, if inflation continues he’ll earn more as the years go by, and his deposits will be more than $650 each year. But what those larger amounts buy, later on, won’t be worth any more than the smaller amounts now.
Of course, there’s social security, if your pastor is actually in the program. (Remember, if he is, contributions are totally at his expense.) Estimated social security benefits for a 65-year-old man who’s earned the amount used in the illustration will be less than $500 per month. Combine that with the figure above, and he will draw roughly $1,300 per month. That figure is better, but it’s still only about 80% of what he earned before retirement. It certainly isn’t great, by any means. You owe it to your pastor to consider carefully what he will need for retirement based on the way you’re paying him. You ought to be as interested in his needs as you are your own.
I referred to a couple of things about which to be careful. The second is this: be sure you pay him enough beyond what you’re putting into his retirement account. Remember all those other things I mentioned earlier. Your pastor can’t pay for things now with money put into his retirement account for later. In fact, he can’t touch those funds until retirement age.
Should a Pastor Retire?
I can almost hear the objections as I write, with someone saying, “A preacher should never retire.” Maybe not; but don’t take too much for granted. Most churches do not want pastors who can no longer fulfill the work of ministry. How many men can go on, full steam, until they die? And, if you expect your work to provide retirement for you, why expect less for your pastor?
“But preachers are different,’’ someone else protests. “They aren’t working for money. They’re spiritual. God will supply their needs.” Funny, but that isn’t what the Bible says, as we’ve already seen. The person who devotes his life to church work has exactly the same right (and needs) to expect “all his livelihood” to issue from his work, not just from working years but for retirement.
Many laymen have trouble seeing it that way. I served for many years as chairman of my local church’s budget committee. We frequently encountered resistance to extending the small raises in pay the average worker expects for himself. Sadly, many people seem to pay the pastor as little as possible. Instead, we should be trying to pay our pastors generously and rejoicing in how much we can give them—no less than the average income of professionals in the church. More, if possible!
Yes, a pastor ought to be motivated by spiritual rather than carnal things. But this fact does not lessen the church’s responsibility to provide “all the livelihood” for the man who devotes himself to serving them. It’s a sin for a pastor, or any other church worker, to be mercenary, to make serving the Lord dependent on money. But it’s an equal sin for the church to justify inadequate support because they expect the pastor to show more dedication than the average Christian.
The pastor is responsible, before God, for his motives. The church holds its own responsibility, before God, for his livelihood.
About the Writer: A noted educator and author, Dr. Robert E. Picirilli served for a number of years as a trustee on the board of the Free Will Baptist Board of Retirement.
**Adapted from ONE Magazine