How Much Should a Preacher Be Paid?
Robert H. West
North Las Vegas, Nevada
In virtually every congregation we find some brethren who are critical of or opposed to the amount of wages received by local and visiting evangelists. Such criticism and opposition has precipitated general unrest among the membership and has thus given occasion for loyal gospel preachers to be accused of "riding a gravy-train," "milking the church dry," etc. We hasten to add, however, that such accusations seldom come from elderships of working congregations. In most instances these charges are pressed with equal force against the elders themselves who have agreed to supply the questioned amount of financial support. The purpose of this article is, therefore, to point out a few of the reasons why we, along with the majority of godly elders, feel that the present wages received by preachers is justified, and why, in many cases, any increase in the It would not be unjustified.
That those who labor in the preaching of the word should be supported financially is clearly taught in 1 Cor. 9:6-14, 2 Cor. 11:8, and Phil. 4:14-18. The fact that gospel preachers should be supported is generally agreed upon. The bone of contention is usually -- How much money should a preacher receive? We shall not attempt to give a specific answer to this question. But we shall endeavor to set forth some principles, the consideration of which should aid us in arriving at a reasonable figure.
When we consider the amount preachers should receive, we should be governed by wise standards of action that have been proven and accepted by all. Those who object to the amount of preachers' wages, are themselves governed by such standards in the amount of pay they receive in secular employment. They generally recognize and accept these standards as effective in establishing the right amount of pay in any given occupation. Why, then, not apply these same standards in determining what the preacher should be paid?
The first of these standards we wish to consider is
The Ability of the Employer
When a small business begins operation, obviously it will not be able to equal the salaries of larger concerns because it is not financially able. This is equally true in the case of small congregations. No reasonable person could expect them to pay wages beyond their ability. Most of the gospel preachers with whom we are acquainted have taken this factor into consideration and have sacrificed greatly in order not to overburden financially weak churches. But as the congregation grows in number and contribution, the evangelist should not be expected to continue to sacrifice when such is not necessary. Certainly the wages should be lower when the church is not able. But, by the same token, they should be higher when the church has the ability. Is this not reasonable?
The Need of the Employee
Some employers take into consideration the needs of their employees in determining what to pay them. They consider such things as the number of his dependents, medical expenses, cost of living, etc. But with some brethren, this never enters into the picture in planning the amount of support. For any number of reasons one preacher may need more support to "make ends meet" than would another preacher. Perhaps he was so far underpaid previously that he had to go into debt to meet his expenses. Brethren need to recognize and consider this.
The Number of Hours Involved
The hourly-paid employee comprises perhaps the largest group of working people in the nation. They all recognize the standard: "More time on the job -- more pay received." This is only just and right, is it not? But why is it that this standard is never considered in determining the support of preachers? From our own experience and from observation of the work of others, the average preacher spends over 60 hours a week in doing the work of an evangelist. Do you doubt it? If so, then either the preacher you are observing is an exception to the rule, or you have not observed his labors carefully. We certainly are not suggesting that we start paying preachers on an hourly basis. Even if this could be done, the funds of most congregations would soon be depleted. But
we do encourage brethren to take this standard into consideration before criticizing what preachers are paid. Take the time to divide the average number of hours a preacher spends in his work each week into his weekly wages. The result should serve to curb the envious spirit manifested by some.
The Difficulty of the Occupation
Any difficult job is usually deemed worthy of a higher wage than one less difficult. That the work of an evangelist is difficult and sometimes a seemingly thankless job, is a fact recognized by all preachers and most elders. Does it not seem reasonable that this standard should be taken into consideration? Some brethren seem to think that a preacher "has it made" and "works only one day a week." If this should be your opinion, may we suggest as kindly as possible that you just don't know what you are talking about!
The Skill Required to Perform the Job
This standard is closely related to the preceding one. When a man has to have some special skill in the performance of his job we all recognize that his income should be greater than that of jobs where little or no skill is required. Is there anybody willing to deny that the preaching of the gospel requires a certain amount of skill, especially in the preparation and delivery of lessons? We feel confident that no one will deny this, because when looking for a new preacher, brethren usually want to listen to several different men and then agree to support the "best one." Although this practice is, to say the least, questionable, it nevertheless shows that we take into consideration a man's skill in asking him to come work with a church. Why, then, not take this into consideration when determining how much to pay him?
The Expenses Involved in the Job
When a man in secular employment uses a large amount of his income for expenses actually incurred in performing his job, we all agree that his gross income needs to be high enough to meet such expenses and still assure him a reasonable net wage. But have you ever stopped to think about the expenses that must come out of a preacher's wages? Each year many preachers spend from $50 to $300 on religious books and periodicals. He uses his car regularly in doing his work, which expenses usually run over $1000 yearly.
Since the preacher is set forth a representative man from the church, he tries to dress neatly and appropriately. His daily "working togs" usually run so at more than a five-dollar pair of over~ Because he is a preacher he will receive re requests than other members to render assistance to the needy, in addition to the ten to twenty per cent of his gross income which he regularly contributes.
All of these and many other "hidden expenses" must come out of the preacher's gross income in order to do the work the Lord and the brethren expect of him. Those who incur little or no expense in performing their secular work should hesitate to criticize preachers whose gross income is equal to or even slightly higher than their net wages. Deduct the preacher's working expenses from his wages and then see if you think he is getting paid too much.
Also keep in mind that the weekly figure brethren agree to pay the preacher (sometimes including his house) is all he receives. Most factory or government employees may have, in addition to their regular income, hospitalization benefits, retirement plans, profit-sharing plans, disability benefits, life insurance, and a host of other "fringe benefits." It would cost an individual well above $100 monthly to provide such benefits out of his own pocket. But remember, kind reader, that if the preacher has any of these benefits he must provide them for himself out of that weekly figure which some unthinking brethren feel is so outrageously high!
At this point it might be well to mention the matter of paying preachers in gospel meetings. Elders are criticized severely when they agree to pay a visiting preacher $250 to $500 or more for a gospel meeting. The fact that he will incur travel expenses, sometimes lodging expenses, as well as having to maintain his obligations at home would serve to justify the amount paid for the average meeting. But there is another factor that enters in here that is rarely taken into consideration. Most preachers hold a great number of meetings in their lifetime in which they are either paid nothing at all or not nearly enough to even meet their expenses. Thus we see an additional "hidden expense" which must come from his weekly wages at home. Therefore, when a congregation is financially able, does it not seem both reasonable and fair that they should be as generous as possible in order that the expense from some of his "unpaid-for" meetings of the past and future might be offset?
The Importance of the Work Performed
The performance of a work, which is important in nature and far-reaching in consequence, is recognized to merit what we might consider a large income. Working from this standard we justify the large salaries received by the President, Senators, doctors, lawyers, etc. The work of these men is vitally important. But, truthfully, do you not feel that the work of preaching the gospel is far greater than all of those just named? We would not advocate for a moment that preachers receive wages comparable to men in those occupations. We do suggest, however, that brethren give some thought to this standard when they feel that the present support of preachers is too high.
Let it be observed here that it is the consideration of the importance of preaching that has led most gospel preachers to turn down opportunities to better themselves financially in secular employment. Most preachers have gained considerable experience and ability in dealing with people publicly and privately. With such a background, few of them would have trouble advancing into higher-paying selling or managerial jobs within a short time. But in spite of this fact, we still hear the old worn out statement "You're just in it for the money!"
To the consideration of these standards we might receive the objection that we are placing the paying of preachers on a secular basis. No, not at all. We are trying to place it where it belongs: On a just and reasonable basis. Those who compare the preacher's pay with their own are the ones who have placed it not only on a secular basis, but far below that which secular standards indicate it should be. Paying preachers is in the realm of faith. But the amount of pay is in the realm of judgment. Therefore, let us use wise and equitable standards in determining this amount and desist from undue criticism of preachers' wages. Such criticism can well be interpreted by other brethren and outsiders as manifestations of envy and jealousy.
This article is sent forth with the hope that it may serve to create a better understanding of a touchy but serious question.
Truth Magazine VIII: 6, pp. 13-15 March 1964