Letters to Young Preachers (3)

By Bill Cavender

Dear brethren __________ and ___________,

In your letters to me, printed in the Guardian of Truth, July 4, 1985, you both mention experiences you have had with brethren regarding financial matters, feeling that you were unjustly treated in the matters of travel expenses, and in regular wages which were promised but never paid. You stated: “Then came the chore of finding a church that would take a beginning preacher. I spent over $300.00 driving around ‘trying out’ that I was never paid for, just for my expenses. I drove from _________, Texas, one Friday night to preach the next day, on Saturday night, over 900 miles, for a church in Kentucky. I just barely had time to look over my notes and shave before preaching. One of the men gave me $20.00 and said, ‘This is for your trouble.”‘ . . . “Let me give you a personal example of how brethren treat preachers . . . I was hired two years ago. I was told they could pay no more than $400.00 per week (that’s total, everything!), because of their big building payments. But they would evaluate my salary every year and do better when they could. I believed it and with the extra income from our business we felt we could get by. Well, two years have gone by and no raise. But we are making extra payments on our building. Last year we made 8 extra payments on the principal! Bill, I learned one thing-you have to deal with the brethren when you first move, because after you get there, you are at their mercy.” You also tell me of the church who would pay $21,000.00 a year to a man, but would raise it to $23,000.00, a year if they could get a certain preacher. This preacher told the brethren he would have to have $32,000.00 a year. This upset some; others said, “We can do better,” so they paid him $28,600.00 and he accepted. You say, “If he had accepted their offer of $23,000.00, he would have been stuck. I wonder? If the brethren could pay $28,600.00, why didn’t they do it in the first place? It’s the old story: ‘the best preachin’ for the least pay.”‘

Such matters as both of you relate to me are widespread and all too common. They are practices which have been prevalent among many brethren and churches all these years and will continue to do so. Being young men, and dealing with brethren in financial matters, you are seeing and experiencing what all old preachers know, for we have traveled the same road with the same kind of brethren here and there. The only way such misunderstandings, injustices and practices will be corrected is for brethren to talk over such matters, considering them fairly and justly (Mic. 6:8; Matt. 7:12), and to be taught by sincere preachers and godly, understanding elders and brethren regarding what is right and needed in the support of preachers. Yet there is hardly an area of fellowship and relationships between brethren, churches and preachers which is fraught with more disagreements, misunderstandings and hard feelings, and judging of motives, than that of financial support to preachers. If a preacher undertakes to teach, guide and educate the brethren in these matters, then he is generally accused of “preaching for money,” “all he talks about is money” (even if he preaches one sermon on the subject), “he is money-hungry,” “the preacher is wanting a raise,” etc. Rarely ever do you see or hear elders, deacons and discerning brethren, who try to understand Bible teaching and preachers’ needs, teach and talk with other brethren about these matters. In so many instances it is very difficult for preachers, themselves, to be objective entirely in these matters, for we often feel we are mistreated and are being dealt with unfairly. The brethren think he is being paid enough, is making enough (“or more than he’s worth!”), should be satisfied, and should not be teaching upon or talking about such matters. They really do not know his needs nor understand the expenses he has or costs involved in his work as he gives his “full-time” to preaching and working in the Lord’s kingdom, depending upon brethren to be fair, just and understanding in financial matters.

Your trip from Texas to Kentucky and return, 1,800 miles in all, for $20.00 from an individual, and your having to spend over $300.00, not reimbursed, in trying to locate with a church, are common experiences among preachers, especially young preachers. Brethren will come much nearer mistreating a young preacher in the matter of finances than they will an older man. Younger preachers are less likely to bring the matter up with brethren, and to try to reach an understanding, than older preachers are. We have all had similar experiences and, at times, still do. Some brethren are unthoughtful, saying if they had no part in inviting a man to come and preach, then they have no part in his worrying about any remuneration to him. Some are just so unthoughtful and unconcerned that it never dawns on them that a man should be compensated and reimbursed for his expenses. Some are just stingy. They protect “the Lord’s money” and set on the treasury as if it were theirs and as if preachers were robbers. (Rarely ever will you find a generous, liberal giver to the Lord’s work who has this disposition.) Some think preachers do not need or should not have much money, thinking wages to preachers are “gifts” which are given by good-hearted brethren to men who really do not earn anything. The old saying that if God will keep ’em humble, the brethren will keep ’em poor is more truth than fiction in many cases and in the thinking of many brethren. Some never bother to try to learn the needs, expenses and situations of preachers. They want to pay him about “what the average member earns,” when there is no average member, no way of averaging the members, and what is really meant is to pay him about what the lowest paid person in the congregation is paid. Some take a sort of fiendish delight in being able to hold a financial axe over the heads of preachers. They can cut his pay, refuse to increase his wages, withhold their contributions and cause his work to look bad or diminish, all if they do not like him, or find fault with him or his family, or become offended because of some truth he tries to teach them or some rebuke he administers to them.

On the other hand, there are some brethren who are very thoughtful, and very generous to and with preachers. They realize the extra expenses preachers have; the various works that preachers participate in and contribute to; the tremendous expenses we have with automobiles (wearing one out every 3-5 years, and they are expensive to purchase now); entertaining expenses as we have young people, older people, etc., in our homes continually; extra clothing; continual expenses with books and office supplies; church contributions (for in most every case the preacher and his family will be among the very top contributors in the local church, if not the very top contributor according to his income); health insurance; social security (which a church cannot legally pay for a preacher; a church may legally pay his health insurance premiums); plus many, many other financial obligations, which may include house payments (if he purchases his own home-and which he should do if at all possible), caring for elderly parents or sick, needy relatives, etc. Some brethren want preachers to have life-long security and financial independence, and realize he must be paid enough to provide for insurance, pension, social security, housing, etc. But thoughtful, generous, caring, discerning brethren as I am describing in this paragraph, are in the minority. The vast majority of brethren do not care. And of that minority of brethren who do have to do with and determine preachers’ wages, the majority of them are of the first group. The majority of brethren in each congregation of any size and numbers really care less nor do they ever really give serious concern to the needs of preachers. That is why stingy, unthinking, selfish brethren could give you $20.00 for a 1,800 miles round trip. Such thoughtless brethren do not deserve a preacher to work with them. If these men had been fair and just men, they would have had an understanding with you about payment of your expenses before you came there to preach. Often brethren think they have no obligation to pay a man if he asks for the chance and opportunity to preach and to work with them. But if they initiate the appointment and invite him, then they feel obligated. They ought to feel responsible and obligated either way it is done. We ought not be the kind of people who “want something for nothing” in the Lord’s work and service (2 Sam. 24:24; 1 Chron. 21:24).

All preachers have these experiences. I remember holding a fifteen days’ meeting, three Sundays, once. The brethren paid me $86.00, and my car expenses for the meeting were more than that. I was in college, had a wife to support, a car to pay for, etc. But I said nothing. One time brethren asked me to hold a three weeks’ meeting in a schoolhouse, hoping to establish a church in that community. It involved three Sundays. I drove a car all those days driving the countryside, visiting, teaching classes, talking to people, knocking on doors, inviting folks, etc. The brethren paid me $150.00. I’ve held numbers of meetings, funerals, weddings, etc., where brethren do not begin to pay enough for a week’s wages, plus travel and other expenses for the meetings, and nothing for a funeral or a wedding.

Many years ago I drove about 1,600 miles round trip from Texas to Tennessee to hold a meeting, two Sundays, and eleven days’ meeting. I lost two weeks’ wages at home, total of $180.00, and the brethren paid me $100.00 for the meeting. So I lost $80.00, plus all my car expenses for 1,600 miles, to hold them a meeting. I decided to write them and just tell them about this, even if I made enemies out of them. They sent me another $150.00 and apologized. That was the first of ten meetings I have held there, and I hold one there every three years!

Some years ago a rich brother in East Texas phoned me in Port Arthur, wanting me to come to conduct a funeral for his brother who liked me and who had died suddenly. I went, 230 miles one way, 460 miles round trip. I never even got a thank you note. While I was in that town, the day of the funeral, my wife phoned me to tell me that another brother had died in Fannin County, Texas, and they wanted me to come conduct his funeral. So late that afternoon, after the first funeral, I drove on for the next one the next day, about 150 more miles one way. The deceased brother was well-to-do but noted for his “frugality.” I later got a “thank you” note from his wife but no money. One time a brother died in Montague County, Texas. The family phoned me in Port Arthur, wanting me to conduct the funeral. I went, 400 plus miles one way, over 800 miles round trip. They were a poor family. I was glad to go. I didn’t even get a “thank you” note.

I held a meeting for a big church, 300-350 members, in a large southern city some years ago. I flew from Houston to this city, lost two Sunday’s pay, paid for a round trip ticket, and was put in a motel out by the airport. The preacher told me to enjoy staying there, to eat what meals I wanted and charge them to the church, and each evening a different family would come by for me to take me out for a meal or to their home. He was in law school so he couldn’t be with me through the day and all the other brethren were working. So I stayed nine days, held a Sunday through Sunday meeting, and was paid $200.00 for the meeting, as they had allotted $500.00 for the meeting and my motel bill and meals at the motel took $300.00 of that.

Once I was called to Louisiana to conduct a funeral, drove about 275 miles round trip, and never had a “thank you” note from the woman’s husband. They were Christians (?) but had fussed and fought for years, separated and divorce, remarried, and enjoyed making one another miserable. I suppose it was really worth nothing to him to get a preacher who knew them to come and conduct a funeral service.

These are not isolated cases for preachers, for you/and or me, or for all who work with people where the monetary remuneration is on a voluntary basis. Brother Moses E. Lard once wrote, “In nothing can men be so readily seduced into wrong as in withholding in pecuniary matters that which is due, especially where the amount due is come in the form of voluntary offering” (“The Support of Aged Preachers,” Lard’s Quarterly, Vol. III, pp. 379-380, October, 1866). Most preachers are hesitant to say or teach very much about “giving,” or even to mention it to brethren when they have been mistreated, or at least think they have been treated unjustly. We just say nothing and go on, believing God will equalize the matter in His own good time and in His own good way. To so many brethren, God’s will on liberality, unselfishness, and a proper attitude toward material things and using them generously is “preaching on money.” Yet it is only through teaching of God’s will, and showing examples of generosity (as in 2 Cor. 8:1-5), will brethren ever do better. It still really “gets under my hide” and arouses my righteous indignation when I see brethren smoking, hunting, fishing, camping, traveling, buying their expensive campers and mobile homes, having their homes in the city and in the country (and on the lake), and living in luxury in general, and then see church contributions low and preachers not paid adequately and where they are even forced to almost beg for support. Many a good man doesn’t preach or has quit “full-time” preaching because of the stinginess of the brethren, and their lack of sacrifice, generosity, and spiritual perception and understanding.

Again, may I say to you both, that I do not intend to indict all brethren and congregations in these remarks. There are many churches and good brethren who are very conscious of preachers’ work and needs, and are very generous and thoughtful, both in their personal giving and gifts, and in the use of the church treasury. For years now I could not have held 15-20 meetings per year (and for two and onehalf years to hold 28-30 meetings a year) had it not been for thoughtful, generous congregations with whom I worked, and who did not worry about how much a preacher makes but worried about preaching the gospel and wanted me to do all of it I could do, and were willing to support me to do it.

It is inexcusable for brethren to fail to support a preacher adequately and according to promise in order to make extra building payments and “to save interest money.” I have heard that time and again. A building is nice to have (sometimes too nice and too extravagant-I heard of one church last year which split over putting an unnecessary expensive steeple on their new building, thinking more of this vain item of pride than unity among the saints in the congregation), but no building is necessary to the cause of Christ. No building has ever yet converted one sinner from the error of his way, and never will. Building meetinghouses is not building the kingdom of Christ in the world. Only the gospel preached by good men can do that, and we ought to first of all support the men who will give their lives to preaching Christ. I held two meetings in one place where brethren were not supporting the preacher and his family adequately. Between these meetings, two years, they had given him no raise. Many brethren wanted him to be paid better. Two of the elders did also, but the third elder, who tried to run the show, would not agree to pay the preacher more, so they just made extra building payments. During that second meeting, I told this elder his wrong and reproved him for his actions and attitudes, and reproved the other two for not standing up to him. He counted me as an enemy and had no use for me the rest of his life. The other two elders are still living, and are my friends, and appreciated what I did, and the preacher was thankful.

There is much truth in what you say that “you have to deal with the brethren when you first move, because after you get there, you are at their mercy.” Yet this is a cynical attitude for brethren to have toward one another, both brethren and preachers. For brethren to want as much preaching for the least cost is an ungodly attitude. And for preachers to have to bargain with brethren, so much preaching for so much pay, is a most distasteful, distrustful attitude. It makes a preacher to appear to be a “hireling” whether or not he is in his heart and/or in his practice, and he should not be in either. A good, sound, righteous preacher will pay for himself if he works hard and teaches the truth and loves people. In most cases contributions will increase enough to pay him well and give him wage increases regularly. And brethren should do that. “The laborer is worthy of his hire,” and that means not only when a church first begins supporting a man with wages, but it means to continue to pay him well for his good work. No sincere, true, hard-working preacher can be paid enough. I have never known such a man to be overpaid. I have known a good many men who should not have been paid at all.

There are some basic areas of understanding which brethren (churches) and preachers ought to have with one another. This is not a complete list of items to think about but practicing these would keep down many problems about wages to preachers. My suggestions are:

1. When preachers are invited to hold gospel meetings for a congregation, the church ought to consider a week’s wages for him (if he is to be there a week), plus his travel expenses, and they ought to notify him ahead of time what the church plans to pay and if this will be adequate. (In thirty-eight years of holding meetings, only two churches have ever told me ahead of time what they plan to pay me for a meeting, asking me if the amount was right, and only one church ever sent me part of the money ahead of time to help on the expenses.)

2. When churches invite preachers to come to talk with them about locating with them to work, they should take into account the travel expenses he will have, meals, lodging, or other expenses, and compensate him generously for all that. And even if a preacher initiates the contact and asks for the opportunity to talk with a church about working with them, then brotherly love would dictate that the church be mindful of his expenses.

3. Any and every church, in setting up a wage schedule with a preacher, ought to put it on a yearly basis, where he will be paid so much per year, and divide it into fiftytwo weeks, so he will be paid each and every week. This way a preacher and his family can have a dependable income, knowing what to expect.

4. Every preacher ought to own. his own home if at all possible. Sometimes a preacher cannot make a down payment on a home, or does not make enough to pay house payments. Sometimes a church cannot pay a man enough to work with them and make house payments. But church-owned housing is costly to preachers. Churches pay preachers less so they can pay for a church-owned house. Then preacher after preacher lives in the house, being paid less in money, for the value and privilege of living in the brethren’s house. When his work is done with the church, he has nothing; they have the house and the equity and value of it. The house gets paid for several times in effect while the preachers who live in it have no equity and no long-term benefit. A church-owned house really belongs to no one as brethren who bought it first pass on, move away, get mad and leave, and most care less anyway-and the preachers have nothing of their own by way of housing. Many churches could help a preacher own his own home by (1) advancing him enough money to enable him to make a down-payment and then gradually deduct this amount from his weekly wages, or (2) simply paying him enough that he could afford to pay for the house, arranging the down payment though relatives or friends or financial agencies.

5. All preachers who are paid wages by churches ought to have the “Minister’s Housing, Utilities and Home Furnishings” agreement with the church(es) that pay them, according to the Internal Revenue Service Code. The law provides that a preacher may deduct from his gross income such amounts as he spends on housing, home furnishings, utilities, repairs, taxes, interest on home loans (there will be some changes on this at the end of 1985), and does not have to pay income tax on those amounts. He must pay social security taxes on all his incomes, after business expenses, but he does not legally have to pay income tax on whatever he spends to provide housing for himself and his family. Only maid service and food is exempted from this amount. But he must have the understanding in writing with the church before each year begins, and the amount must be designated that he purposes to spend for “housing, utilities, and home furnishings” during the coming year. Whatever he does spend, he does not pay income tax on that amount. If a church pays his hospitalization insurance, he does not have to pay income tax on that amount (the law may change on this if the proposed Tax Reform Bill now being tossed about in Congress becomes law). Good books by good accountants can be purchased which deal with these matters regarding a preacher’s wages, income and social security taxes, etc. Brethren ought to be willing to cooperate with and help a preacher to have the best wage package he can have according to the laws of the land.

6. Brethren ought to consider a preacher’s wages each year. Good working churches and brethren generally prepare a yearly budget for a church, look at their work and plan it for the coining year, and review a preacher’s work and increase his wages yearly. His expenses, along with everyone else’s, are going up little by little each year. Honest, good, thoughtful brethren will think of these matters and will be helpful in every way they can to make a preacher’s work and life pleasant and fruitful. A happy preacher and family will make for a happy and diligent church as brethren love each other, and worship and work together in the cause of righteousness.

So your initial problems and mistreatments by brethren are common, my dear young brethren. We all have to face them, and go on doing the best we can. Someone, somewhere else, down the road of life, will be extra generous to you and make up for the lack you experienced here and there. It all evens out fairly well in the long run. Jesus’ statement is ever true (Mk. 10:29-30). And Psalms 37:25 and Matthew 6:24-34 are also truths of the Almighty, our Father in heaven. He cares, and He will bless you. Be faithful.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 20, pp. 614-615, 628-629
October 17, 1985