"Come On In"
Middlebourne, West Virginia
When Nathanael questioned the possibility of any good thing coming out of Nazareth, Philip replied, "Come and see" (Jn. 1:46).
Back in my boyhood days, before modern swimming pools became popular, we had to find our own swimming place in some creek or river. The swimming season was not limited by Memorial Day on the front end or Labor Day on the back end. You went in as early and stayed as late as you could stand it.
When some doubting Thomas questioned your selection of a swimming hole, you just said, "Come on in, water's fine." The next move was up to the skeptic.
When it comes to preaching and skeptics, I prefer the invitation, "Come on in" to the "Come and see" version. Some brethren stand at a safe distance from the pulpit to do their seeing, when they need to get right in the pulpit and test the waters under question. I've learned that it does little good to stay in the water and try to argue with some swimming coach on the bank. You don't make much progress converting the coach, and you don't get much swimming done. And you won't do much better standing in the pulpit trying to argue with some skeptic in the pew.
One brother who held an office job in a plant had it all figured out that when you figured the preacher's salary on an eight-hour-per-day, 40-hour-per-week basis, the preacher wasn't doing too badly. I informed that brother (in the business meeting), that for his information, I had stayed up until midnight the past Saturday, at his father's house, trying to convert the skeptic's future brother-in-law.
Then, the doubter switched gears, and said that a preacher wouldn't last a day at hard labor in a steel mill. Before I could answer, a new convert who was attending his first business meeting replied, "No, and if we put some of you fellows in the pulpit, the rest of us wouldn't last an hour." And I was afraid of what effect this typical business meeting skirmish would have on the faith of the new convert!
On the other end of the spectrum, that same critic's brother in the flesh held a time-study job in the same plant. He wrote an article in one of the papers, analyzing the preacher's salary as compared to the salary of a common laborer in the average plant, and the laborer came out way ahead of the preacher from a financial standpoint. Some of the brethren were ready to tar-and-feather that brother for revealing the discrepancies between the salaries of preachers and those of brethren in general.
Since I began to preach, the church has made considerable progress in the area of the preacher's wages, as well as in the area of attitude toward the work of an evangelist. But, there are still some brethren who will deliberately compare their net take-home pay (after taxes, social security, vacations, clothing allowances, pensions, hospitalization, etc.) with a preacher's gross wages which are listed on the financial report for everyone to see. When this glaring discrepancy was pointed out to one brother, he expressed surprise that a preacher had to pay federal income tax.
Some preachers live in a house provided by the brethren, and while this practice has both its advantages and disadvantages, the preacher has to figure the fair rental value of that house on his income tax. Another thing that some brethren overlook is the fact that a preacher returns a portion of his wages in the form of a contribution ("as prospered" - say 10 percent), back into the collection every week. So, the church is actually paying the preacher (say 10 percent) less than what the financial report on the bulletin board indicates.
And, this isn't "playing with figures," it is a simple statement of fact which will stand any accounting test you want to use. A preacher needs (and wants), to contribute of his prosperity like any other member, but how many brethren do you know who make a regular contribution of their wages back to the company which pays those wages? Some may purchase stocks or savings bonds, but they don't make a flat-out contribution to the treasury of the company that employs them. And remember, we aren't talking about spiritual benefits or treasures or sacrifices "laid up in heaven," we're still talking about the salaries paid and drawn here on earth.
Jobs and wages vary from area to area. Some preachers preach in depressed areas where brethren have low incomes, and some preachers preach where the economy is prosperous, or in what we call a "mission field" where the church is weak. That's why churches sent to Paul's needs while he was establishing congregations where there were no brethren to pay his wages.
During my preaching years, I have been grossly underpaid at times, and on other occasions I have received sufficient wages. I have never been overpaid, for I will not allow that to happen. I have turned down a raise in wages with the suggestion that it be sent to some other preacher who needed it worse than did 1. Most preachers are just as concerned about how the Lord's money is spent as are the brethren. Some brethren will waste the Lord's money on some material project, then try to economize when paying the preacher.
The pros and cons of the preacher's salary need to be considered, but I refuse to be drawn into a lengthy argument, and placed in the position of defending my God-given right to live of the gospel. The head of the church handed down that decision when the church was established, and we have examples from the Old Testament (Neh. 13:10-14). Some preachers have returned to secular employment rather than argue with brethren, and a few preachers were either hirelings to begin with or turned into such. But none of that changes what the Bible teaches about preaching or supporting the gospel.
Rather than argue with brethren about the preacher's salary, I just say, "Come on in, the water's fine."
But before they do, I suggest that they learn how to swim.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 8, pp. 238-239