Preachers and Preaching (IX)

Preacher Problems With Churches -Financial Support

James P. Needham
Louisville, Kentucky


One of the major problems preachers have with churches is financial support. The problem is intensified by the sensitive nature of the subject, making preachers reluctant to speak out on it. We must all admit to such reluctance, but we must all learn that teaching is the only solution of the difficulties. It is high time we cast aside our "modesty" and plainly teach what God has said on the subject. God's will on the matter of a preacher's financial support is just as important as anything else He has said, and we have not discharged our duties until we have fully preached it.

I am well aware that preaching all the truth on this matter will sorely offend certain brethren who are covetous and who feel like the church treasury belongs to them, and who bear a deep-seated envy and/or hostility toward preachers and resent every dollar they receive from it. Every conscientious Bible student, however, knows that such attitudes do not mitigate our responsibility to preach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Let us, therefore, frankly investigate this matter in the light of God's revelation with a firm desire to know what the will of God is.

I. The Preacher's Right to Financial Support

A. FROM THE CHURCH: The preacher's right to be financially supported from the church treasury is found in the following passages of Scripture:

1. 1 Cor 9. In this chapter Paul defends his right to financial support on the following grounds: (a) His right to "eat and drink" v. 4. (b) His right to have and support a family v. 5. (c) His right to "forbear working" v. 6. (d) The right of a soldier v. 7. (e) The right of a husbandman v. 7. (f) The right of a shepherd v. 7. (g) On the basis of what the Law said, which he affirms was written for us. Therefore what he said was not said "as a man" v. 8-11. (h) On the basis of sowing and reaping v. 11. (i) On the basis of the Old Testament temple service v. 13, 14.

2. 2 Cor. 11:8. Here Paul says, "I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service." He does not argue the point here since he had already established his right to receive wages in the first letter.

3. Phillipians 1, 4. In 1:3-5, Paul says, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in. the gospel from the first day until now." In 4:10, he Says, "But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity." In 4:15, 16, he further states, "Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity!'

4. 1 Timothy 5:17, 18. In this passage Paul speaks concerning those elders who devote "full time" to spiritual work. He says, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in WORD and DOCTRINE. For the scripture 'saith, Thou shalt not muzzel the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, the laborer is worthy of his reward."

B. FROM INDIVIDUALS: Paul also states that the preacher has the right to expect financial support from Christians AS INDIVIDUALS. Notice what he says:

1. Galatians 6:6-10- In v. 6, he commands: "Let him that is taught in the word communicate (Gr. KOINONEO, to give a share to, distribute etc.) unto him that teacheth in all good things." In v. 7, 8, he likens this unto sowing and reaping. He says that "he that soweth to his flesh (Becomes selfish with his worldly goods, using all of them to satisfy his fleshly desires-JPN) shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit (Uses part of his worldly goods beyond what he gives on the first day of the week to support preachers JPN) shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." In v. 9, 10, he gives two * admonitions: First, "Let us not be weary in well doing: (Communicating to the teacher in all good things-JPN) for in due season we shall reap, (See the good done by this act) if we faint not." Secondly, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, (use our worldly goods to the benefit of our fellowmen) but especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (But give priority to helping those who are preaching the gospel). This may be contrary to the usual explanation of this, passage, but one cannot deny it in the light of the context. No doubt, other applications of it are proper, but Paul's subject is the duty of the TAUGHT to support the TEACHER.

Individual support for preachers of the gospel is not only scriptural, it is fair and reasonable. Any preacher who has enough intelligence and ability to be a successful preacher could make a great deal more money in the business world (This is proven by the many preachers who have become successful in business), yet they channel their ability into spiritual work while other brethren (Who could also preach) use theirs to make money. It is only fair that such brethren share their financial success with the preacher. I realize that some covetous brethren are going to think this is far-fetched, but I leave them to argue with Paul.

It is not unusual for the average church member to make several thousand dollars more per year than their preacher, and yet he buys and furnishes his automobile to do church work, and contributes just as much (sometimes more) on Lord's Day as do they. Furthermore, in order to make less money, he must work in the neighborhood of twice as many hours. This means that, in the majority of cases, if we compare what the preacher is paid per hour worked, he is the lowest paid member of the congregation. I personally know of churches which pay their janitors more per hour worked than they do their preacher. Who wants to say this is fair?

I personally know of several brethren who have recently tried to help solve the preacher shortage by leaving well-paying jobs to give "full-time" to preaching. Many of them have said, "I now see the other side of the coin. I never knew preachers were so under paid." One such brother recently said to me, "I do not believe it is right that a person has to sacrifice to preach the gospel." He had just left a job where he was taking home about $200 per week, plus a number of other benefits, and is now drawing a salary as a preacher of $150, out of which he must furnish his house, utilities, automobile and any security his family might have. It is necessary for him to draw on his reserve to meet expenses. I ask you, IS IT FAIR?

There are hundreds, of cases where brethren with large fortunes give very little more into the local church treasury than does the average member. Frequently the preacher personally knows that he gives as much or more than some of the wealthiest members. There are numerous preachers all around who need help in providing adequately for their families while they preach the gospel, but these selfish brethren seldom respond to the need. They go right on spending lavishly for the things of this life, and accumulating more money to be left as a bone of contention among their heirs, or to be absorbed by attorney fees. The judgment day will confirm the truthfulness of what I have said.

II. Problems of Pay

A. GENERALLY: There are many problems connected with the preacher's pay. I want to discuss them both generally and specifically. From a general standpoint, the most serious problems preachers have with pay are the unfair objections brethren make to their salaries. Let us look at some of them:

1. "He Makes More Than I Do." This is a very common objection brethren make to the preacher's salary. I do not doubt their SINCERITY; I question their INFORMATION. Not many understand what is involved in the preacher's salary. They do not understand that what he takes home is his GROSS PAY, rather than HIS NET, as in the case of most church members. Out of his take-home pay, the preacher must pay all expenses incurred in earning this money, which is considerable when we take into account his automobile. (Under similar circumstances in the business world, the company would furnish an automobile, but a preacher both buys and maintains his for usage in his work out of his salary). Out of his salary the preacher must also pay ALL of his social security (if he has any), whereas most of the brethren have over half of theirs paid by their employer. Also, do not forget that the preacher's income tax has not been deducted from his take-home pay, hence he must pay his tax in a lump sum.

Furthermore, the preacher does not have the many fringe benefits of the average church member, such as: company and group insurance (both life and health, part of all of which are sometimes paid by the company), provisions for company retirement income, workman's compensation, unemployment insurance, overtime pay, commission or piece work provisions, profit sharing arrangement, credit union, employee discounts, bonus pay, paid holidays, guaranteed increment, sick leave, or severance pay. He has no union to negotiate a BETTER contract each year, and generally to protect him from unfair treatment.

To be fair, all this must be taken into account when brethren compare their salaries with the preacher's. It is anything but fair when they compare THEIR NET with HIS GROSS! I think no preacher would be uneasy about the results of a JUST comparison of their salaries with the average church member's.

A company whose employees take home $600 per month estimates that their pay is about $6.00 per hour when fringe benefits are figured. (Arthur Atkinson, THE ADMONISHER, Volume VII, Number 36, July 16, 1967, San Bernardino, Calif.) This means that a person who brings home (nets) $150 per week is GROSSING approximately $240. And do not forget, this is for a forty-hour week. How many preachers do you know who are doing that well?

When we compare the preacher's salary to the average church member's on the basis of hours worked, he becomes the lowest paid member in the church. Most brethren work an average of 40 hours per week, and draw time and a half for anything over that. Any hard working, efficient preacher will work twice that many hours per week and at that some brethren will complain that he does not work enough. The preacher cannot "punch in" for eight hours, then "punch out" and go home and forget about his responsibility to his employer until the next shift. He does not have two days off per week in which to do as he pleases, but works seven days per week most of the time, and all this at a flat salary. As I said earlier, I know of churches which pay their janitor more per hour worked than they pay their preacher. Hence, brethren need to be careful when they say, "The preacher makes more than I do." He would probably be glad to swap salaries with you!

2. "But The Preacher Gets Paid When He Is Gone in Meetings." This is true in some cases. It ought to be true in all. Here is another case where the brethren do not have the facts. Again, expenses make a vast difference. Preachers do not make a great deal of money on meetings when expenses are paid. Pay for meetings is so uncertain and fluctuates so erratically that when we total the gross income from meetings and divide it by the number held, and deduct expenses, very little profit is realized. In many cases a loss would have been sustained had the local church not continued his salary.

Besides this, most preachers have to double up on their work either before or after meetings. A major part of their work at home must be done by them whether they are there or not, and they make adjustments to take care of it either before or after a meeting. For instance, if they have a radio program they usually record programs to be broadcast in their absence. If they publish a bulletin, they write the material for the issues that will be published in their absence. When they return, work that has piled up in their absence must be caught up. All of this means that if the local church does not pay the preacher in his absence, all this work is done free. How many brethren would be willing to work several hours for their company without pay? Most preachers never mention these facts. Some never even think of them. Let the reader understand that I am not mourning the preacher's lot in life. That is neither my desire, design nor disposition. I believe the brethren who make these objections want to be fair. They can only be fair when they have all the facts. I am trying to help them collect the facts before making some of the common objections to the preacher's salary.

3. "But the Preacher Gets His House Furnished." Yes, to be sure, but here again, this may not be everything it appears to be. As we have already noted, the preacher furnishes his automobile. The brethren who feel that the preacher is way ahead of them because the church 'furnishes him a house, need to compare their car expenses with his. He not only must bear the initial cost of the car, but must also maintain it to do church work. A secular worker, who uses his car in company business as much as does a preacher, either has a company car, or gets ten cents a mile for his.

Furthermore, consider this: When the church furnishes the preacher a house, they pay him less Wary than they would if he furnished his own house. Hence, in reality, the preacher pays the church rent for living in their house. They deduct his house rent from his salary, and use it to buy the church a house. After twenty years of this, the preacher has bought a dwelling for the church. The church has a house bought with part of the preacher's salary, and he has nothing - NOT EVEN A RENT RECEIPT.

To take the matter a step further: When the preacher reaches retirement age, the church has deducted his house money from his salary and used it to buy itself a house. Because of this, the preacher has not been able to buy a house. So, at retirement age, he must think about making provisions for a place to live the rest of his days. But this is a problem. His salary has been so low that he has not accumulated enough cash to buy a house, and now that he is retired, he is a poor credit risk and lending companies had rather not finance him. Meanwhile, the brethren have their homes paid for at retirement with a pretty good income from the fringe benefits of their employment.

Thus we can see that things are not always what they appear to be. All that glitters is not gold! We should always be sure we have the facts before making a judgment.

B. SPECIFICALLY: I now want to consider some specific problems preachers have with churches in the line of pay. I shall discuss the matters under the following headings:

1. Local work: There are many problems connected with the preacher's pay in the specific field of local work. Here we want to consider some of them:

a. Inadequacy: Preachers are generally under paid in local work, due largely to the same factors discussed in the previous section of this article. The major problem is that brethren pay the preacher a GROSS salary which seems to be high because they compare it with their take-home pay which is largely NET. They fail to consider the fact that the preacher incurs a great deal of expense in earning his salary. In his work he must furnish and maintain some rather expensive tools such as: his automobile, numerous books, periodicals, etc, etc. He must wear pretty good clothes, and do not forget, contribute on Lord's Day just like everyone else.

b. No Cost of Living Raise: Most companies give employees an annual "cost of living raise." How many churches give their preacher one? In the majority of cases known to me, the preacher must undergo the expense and trouble of moving to obtain such. It is generally not a good idea to try to negotiate a raise with the brethren where one lives. That is a quick way to get moved on for the good of the Cause! Frequently, brethren had rather the preacher would move than to give him a raise. Of course, they realize it will cost a thousand to fifteen hundred dollars to secure a new preacher, but they had rather pay this to some moving company than use it to raise the salary of the preacher. They will also, very likely, have to pay the new preacher a higher salary. But they had rather do that than increase the pay of the present preacher, even though he is probably capable of doing a better job than the new one due to his acquaintance with the work.

I find many brethren wondering why they are losing their preacher. They just cannot understand why he is moving, even though they are paying him the same salary they were paying him three or four years ago! The brethren have had several raises meanwhile. But it never occurs to them that the preacher might need one also. Most preachers are too modest to ask for a raise, so they move. I personally know that many preacher moves are motivated by financial pressure. I am aware also that many brethren think it is terrible for a preacher to move in order to get a raise. If a company wants to move any of the rest of the brethren and give them a raise, or if the brethren have an opportunity to better themselves financially with a new company in some other locality, that is fine, but if the preacher moves to get a raise, well, "he is just preaching for money!"

It is discouraging to a preacher when he gives himself wholly to the work and sees everything increase but his salary. He sees the brethren expend large amounts of money on various projects which, in some cases, pander to pride or satisfy some selfish desire, but they are not willing to give him a mere five dollars per week raise as a token of their appreciation for his hard work.

I feel that most failures to raise the local preacher's salary are the result of unthoughtfulness. Churches generally do not operate on a business basis. They do not look upon the preacher as an employee, but just as another member. Hence they do not think of his rights as an employee. If they think of him as an employee, it is as a TEMPORARY one. Because he is thought of as TEMPORARY, they feel no need to make any provisions for his future security since he will not be there in the future. In the business world, corporations employ people on a PERMANENT basis, (knowing full well they may not be) with provisions for their well-being after they have given the company the best years of their lives. But churches have the philosophy that the preacher will only be here a year or two, so why should we be concerned about his future?

There are instances where the failure to give the preacher a raise is the brethren's signal for him to move. They know that increasing his salary would indicate their satisfaction with him and their desire that he stay. Hence, a failure to raise him indicates the contrary.

Should the reader doubt the accuracy of what has been said; I challenge him to investigate the facts where he worships. Find out how much the preacher's salary has been increased over the past 5 years, and then compare it with the increases others have received. In many cases the results of such an investigation will be astounding.

c. Moving Expenses: Many preachers receive unfair financial treatment when they move. The brethren promise to pay moving expenses. To most of them this means paying the moving company for transfer of his furniture. It does not include his travel expenses, and new equipment necessitated by the move such as: appliances which were furnished at the previous location, drapes, and many other incidentals involved in a move. All of this must be borne by the preacher's family. Moving is expensive.

d. Expense Accounts: From time to time local churches send their preachers to hold meetings away from home. They agree to pay the preacher's travel expenses. By this they mean they will furnish fuel for his automobile. But we all know this is not all that is involved in operating an automobile. Most companies pay ten cents per mile, and this is about what the government allows one to deduct on income tax returns. So, let us say that the church sends a preacher on a trip that covers a thousand miles. That would be $100 just for his automobile, plus room and board. Many brethren would think this is outrageous; that the preacher is trying to rob the church.

e. Unfulfilled Promises: Were it not for a few personal experiences, I would find it hard to believe that churches will make promises they do not keep. It is true, and just about every preacher will confirm it with personal experiences. Brethren sometimes "speak great swelling words" (Jude 1.6) about what they will do for a preacher if he will come and work with them. "We cannot pay you as much as we would like now, but just as soon as the contribution increases, we will give you a raise." Months will pass, and the contribution will increase, but no raise! If it is ever mentioned again in many cases, the preacher will have to do it, and the brethren will frequently resent it when he does. They may say this shows "he is preaching for money." They may even deny ever making such a promise, or they will say, "Well, some other work has come up that we need to do. We are going to have to put a new roof on the building, or paint it, etc."

Let me give you an example: A church was in serious trouble. They needed someone to come and help them through it. They applied great pressure to a brother to leave a very pleasant work and help them out. They promised him a salary of $120 per week, plus $10 per week car allowance. They did not have a house, so they said, "We will pay your house rent." Well, he moved in and the first salary check was for $120. When he asked about the $10 car allowance, part of the elders remembered promising it and said it ought to be paid. One elder denied it was ever promised, and one just could not remember one way or the other. The solution was that they did not pay it for about the first year, and when they started, they did not make it retroactive to the beginning.

Then the preacher made arrangements for a house. He could not find decent rental property, so he bought a house. The payments were $117 per month. When the first house allowance check came due, it was for $100. When the preacher asked about their promise to furnish the house, their disposition was about the same as it was toward the car allowance. The solution was that the $17 per month never was paid!

This is only one example among many that could be given of churches handing preachers such shoddy treatment. Then the brethren wonder why so many preachers are entering secular work, or why more young men are not interested in becoming preachers.

I find it hard to believe that such brethren deliberately falsify, and fail to keep their word. I would like to be charitable about it. Perhaps their forgetter works too well! With out trying to explain the psychology of such action, I say it is unfair to the preacher, a sorry reflection upon people who claim to be Christians, and an abomination in the sight of God. Should the brethren receive such treatment from the world, they would shout to high heaven, but when a preacher receives it from THE CHURCH he is supposed to take it good naturedly and maintain a sweet disposition.

2. Meeting Work: Another specific area where problems of pay arise is in meeting work. We need to discuss these also. The brethren often engage in some rather unfair practices in this area. I do not say they do it intentionally.

a. Two-Sunday Meeting for One Week's Pay: Some churches request that a preacher hold a two-Sunday meeting. They think they have better meetings when they start on Sunday, so they want it to continue through the next Sunday and perhaps into the second week. They consider this a one-week meeting, even though it involves two pay days. Whether the brethren realize it or not, Sunday is the preacher's pay day. If he misses one, he is in trouble. Here again, we get back to an objection considered earlier. If the preacher does not get paid straight through at home, and gets this treatment in a meeting, he really loses out.

What is really unfair about this whole setup is the fact that brethren expect a preacher to leave his family and his local work, and travel several hundred miles, and preach 10 or 12 times more than he would have preached at home and make no more money (sometimes less) than he would have made at home! Some of the churches act as though they are doing a preacher a great favor by letting him hold them a meeting!

Something else that is quite unjust about this matter is that if one complains to the brethren about it, they charge that "he is just preaching for money..." This is a stock and trade charge that is supposed to explain everything. It is really just an anemic rationalization for the brethren's unfairness. But if we admit that the preacher is preaching FOR money (which is very unlikely), would it be any worse than the brethren's love for it? (I Tim. 6: 10).

b. Allotting So Muck Money for the Meeting Regardless of Expenses: Some churches allot, let us say, $250 for a meeting. They say, "This is what we pay." They do not take into consideration what it will cost the preacher to hold them a meeting. If he travels a thousand miles or one hundred, the pay is still $250. It may take half or more to pay traveling expenses, but these brethren never consider that. They will sometimes deduct the preacher's room and board at a local motel and give him the rest. There are many instances where the preacher nets a hundred dollars or less for all of his work and inconvenience in a ten day meeting. Frequently the preacher makes the largest contribution toward the meeting. In fact, his contribution may be more than the sum total the congregation has given.

c. "We Would Like to Pay You More, But We Are Paying for Our Building." What the brethren do, without realizing it, is FORCE the preacher to make a contribution to their building. A very strange thing about this situation is that paying for the building affects no body's salary but the preacher's! The payments on the building are made out of the first-day-of-the-week contribution to which the preachers are equally obligated, but over and above this, the brethren force him involuntarily to make an additional donation.

d. Ask the Preacher for a Free Meeting: Some churches are rather bold in asking for free meetings. Here again they seem to indicate that they think they are doing the preacher a favor by letting him hold them a free meeting. I realize that there axe some few places where churches are deserving of free meetings, and most preachers have held their fair share of them. There are many meetings, however, that are free which should not be. I have preached in many free meetings where the brethren had expensive homes with all modern appliances, including a color television. They drove better automobiles, wore better clothes than I could afford, and had more money. Now how is it fair for the preacher to preach for such brethren for nothing? These brethren make absolutely no contribution to the meeting; No, not even $5 per family to pay for the preacher's gas. The preacher has done 90 per cent of the work for the meeting, and either he and/or his home congregation have made all the financial sacrifice. The church receiving the meeting has done exactly NOTHING!

Now, we would think that brethren who have received such free meetings would be appreciative to the preacher who held them, Would we not? Well they are not! They will tap him for as many free meetings as he will hold, and then when they become able to pay for a meeting, they will say "Well, we have heard brother Freeprice so much, why don't we try someone else for a while?" This is one of those cases of brotherly exploitation.

e. Ask the Preacher If the Home Church Pays Him When He Is Gone? This is a very frequent question when brethren get ready to pay for a meeting. If one answers in the affirmative, they pay him less for his work with them. What they do not seem to realize is that what they are asking is none of their business. What business is it of theirs what kind of a working arrangement the preacher has with his home congregation? To be sure, the home congregation does not pay their preacher to preach for churches that are able to pay their own way. Some brethren are very conscientious about seeing that the preacher is not "overpaid." Their fears must be quite unwarranted since there is NOT ONE single warning about such a danger in the New Testament. The Lord must have known this is not very likely.

f. "How Much Do We Owe You?" It is not unusual for the brethren to call a little business meeting the last night of the meeting and asks the preacher, "How much do we owe you?" Really, this is a loaded question that will impale the preacher either way he answers. If he gives them a figure, they will be highly indignant. If he refuses to answer, they are likely to under pay him.

How does one determine the price of a meeting? There are so many factors involved, many of them intangible. For instance, every preacher has to work harder to hold a meeting. He will double up on his work at home either before or after the meeting to make room for it in his schedule. He will have to be away from his family (in many cases the brethren do not want them to come with you) and the brethren cannot pay me enough for that. Many times they put him in an inconvenient or inadequate place to stay, and even if it is the finest, it is not home. There are extra expenses such as travel, eats, lodging, extra cleaning bills, etc. I do not know how much it is worth even from a worldly standpoint (not to consider the spiritual) to hold a meeting, but I am pretty certain it is worth more than many, many churches are paying.

g. Exchange Meetings: The practice of exchange meetings is becoming rather prevalent. It CAN be worked out satisfactorily, but in a great many instances, the churches are taking advantage of the practice at the expense of preachers. Sometimes preachers do not even make expenses out of such meetings, to say nothing of compensation for the extra work. I know of several instances where it worked out like this: Church "A" and church "B" worked out an exchange meeting. When "A's" preacher held their part of the meeting, "B" gave him $125. But when "B's" preacher fulfilled their part of the exchange, "A" paid him $15. Some exchange, wouldn't you say? For all practical purposes church "A" got a free meeting at the expense of "B's" preacher.


Let nobody think this article is an indictment of all churches. It is not. There are many churches which are very considerate of preachers and their families. They treat them royally! They are the ones that make the other kind bearable. This article does not concern these good churches. I have written about those who are sometimes unfair and unkind to preachers. It has not been my aim to impugn their motives, but to point out some inequities in their actions even though their motives may be pure. It has not been my intention to be harsh, and my language may at times be exaggerative as a means of getting the point across. It is my prayer that these articles will result in a better understanding between preachers and churches, and that the Cause we love will be served.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 3, pp. 13-19
December 1967