Paying the Preacher: The Laborer is Worthy of His Reward

By Ron Holbrook

Whether the preacher’s needs are supplied by individuals, as in Luke 10:7, or by the local church, as in 1 Timothy 5:18, the Bible says in both passages, “The laborer is worthy of his reward.” Preachers and all other brethren need to remember first and foremost that when we labor together in the gospel, this is God’s work and not our own. We plant and water, but God gives the increase. “For we are laborers together with God” (1 Cor. 3:6-9). As we all labor together, our focus must be on pleasing God, saving our own souls, and saving the lost. With regard to paying the preacher, he should not focus on squeezing every possible penny out of his brethren, and his brethren should not focus on pinching every penny while keeping the preacher as poor as possible. When our attitudes are right toward the work of the Lord, they will be right toward each other as respects the preacher’s pay (Phil. 4:10-18).

Passages and Principles on Paying the Preacher

In both the Old and New Testaments, God ordained that those who devote their lives to teaching his Word are to be supported both by individuals and by the collective treasury of his people according to the need. The Levites who served in the temple and who taught the Law were sup-ported by “the tithes of the children of Israel” (Num. 18:20-24). The priests received a portion of the sacrifices brought to God, including “the first fruit also of thy com, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep” (Deut. 18:1-8). The Shunammite woman and her husband built a small room onto their house for the prophet Elisha, and shared with him the food, hospitality, and love of their home (2 Kgs. 4:8-10). When Jesus sent his disciples out on the limited commission, he ordained that their physical needs be supplied by the people who accepted their teaching (Matt. 10:9-10; Lk. 10:4-8). Jesus taught that those who sacrifice physical needs and comforts for the sake of his kingdom will be blessed “an hundredfold” with such things (Matt. 19:29). This often occurs when Christians share many of the good things of life with gospel preachers. Saints like Lydia constrain preachers to visit in their household, and in other ways supply the needs of such teachers (Acts 16:15; Gal. 6:6).

Paul repeatedly taught by divine inspiration that he had the right “to forbear working” and to be supported by the church while he labored in the gospel. Such support of an evangelist should be sufficient not only for himself alone but also for his “wife” and family if he is married. Paul used as illustrations that a soldier is paid wages while engaging in war, a fanner eats of the crops he raises, and a shepherd drinks milk from the flock he tends. Paul’s readers are reminded that the Law of Moses said, “Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn.” He asked, “If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?” Since the priesthood ministered in the “holy things … of the temple,” God ordained that they should eat from the altar. “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:4-14).

Paul at times exercised this right and at other times sustained himself, as seemed best in each situation. Paul was sometimes supported while laboring with a local church and at other times while traveling and preaching. when he departed from the church at Philippi, that church supplied his needs as he went and sent additional aid “once and again” while he was preaching in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:15-16). Later when preaching at Corinth, he “robbed other churches, taking wages of them,” as a matter of expediency, so as to avoid the opportunity for his critics to charge that he came to Corinth to bilk the people out of their money (2 Cor. 11:8).

Early evangelists were often “brought on their way by the church,” i.e. supported in their travels, when going to debates, going to help other preachers in some work, or preaching in foreign places (Acts 15:3; Rom. 15:24; 1 Cor. 16:6,11; cf. Acts 11:22). All of the passages presented above provide principles which guide us in paying the preacher as he engages in many varied labors for the gospel’s sake, at home or in travels, including gospel meetings. The greatest, guiding principle for all of us to remember is that God ordained gospel preaching to save the world. This is his work and not our own. We must put our faith and trust in him as we do the work he has given into our hands.

Applying the Principles on Paying the Preacher

Brethren are to be commended who open their homes to give preachers lodging, use their automobiles to transport preachers, prepare meals and provide food, wash clothes, repair suits, make typewriters and computers available, supply money when needed, offer the use of an extra vehicle, nurse him when he is sick, invite the preacher to use their phone to stay in touch with his family, send gifts and notes of appreciation to the preacher’s family, and show consideration for his needs in a hundred other ways while he is away from his home to labor in the gospel. They fulfill Galatians 6:6, “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” They are “fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil.4:3)

When the church contemplates having a gospel meeting, here are questions which brethren sometimes ask the preacher or one another.

1. “What do you charge for a gospel meeting?” A preacher who is worth his salt does not “charge” anything. He preaches for the Lord, to save himself, to serve brethren, to keep the saved from being lost, and to save the lost, not for money. If he can get to the place where preaching is needed and back home again, with or without the help of the brethren who are calling or of other brethren, he should try to go.

2. “What is the cheapest we can get him for?” Brethren who have the right attitude toward the Lord’s work and the Lord’s servants do not try to be “cheap.” They try to be fair (Matt. 7:12). It cost Paul the same amount to purchase a fare on a ship that it cost anyone else. It is fine for brethren to inquire what expenses a preacher may incur so that they can be fair and generous in covering those expenses, rather than leaving him to wonder what their intentions are. His fare, meals, lodging, etc. will cost him what it costs anyone else. If the church plans to put the preacher in a motel during the meeting, brethren should select a place which is truly clean and comfortable, just as anyone would select for an honored relative, instead of making the cheapest price the first priority. The cost of a motel room should not be deducted from the preacher’s pay, leaving him a pittance for his week’s work.

3. “What are some expenses we should consider so that we can be fair?” If he is coming by car, he may have to buy gas, meals, and lodging along with incidental expenses, depending on the distance. Motel expenses vary along the way and it is not always possible or desirable to find “the cheapest place.” A modest room averages $40.00 per night. The U.S. government sets the expense of operating a car at the average of 28.5 cents per mile; a roundtrip of 100 miles costs $28.50, and 1,000 miles costs $280.50. If the preacher drives his car, he may have extra mileage and expenses if he uses his car during the gospel meeting. If he comes by bus, train, or plane, he will have to purchase a ticket and perhaps some meals, along with incidentals. Not all airlines serve meals and food is very expensive in airports (about $10.00 for a sandwich, drink, and chips),It is thoughtful to send money for estimated travel expenses ahead before the meeting. Some of us find that our family must struggle when we take travel money out of the normal budget; at times the strain covers a two to four week period because advance preparation must be made for the trip. In an effort to find cheaper rates, travel tickets are often bought several days or weeks in advance. At times it may be necessary to buy two or three tickets ahead, requiring a total outlay of $500-$1,000! Please consider that there are many hidden costs for the preacher such as luggage, phone calls to stay in touch with his family or to meet other obligations which arise in his work while away from home, the extra wear and tear on suits, literature which he may distribute at his own expense, and other expenses.

4. “What do churches currently pay for gospel meetings?” It varies greatly. Most preachers hold some meetings without any pay in order to help where there is a great need. Some churches are able to pay more, others less; some are stingy, some generous. I have never discussed with other preachers what they are paid for meetings because that is not my focus. Most of my meetings are with smaller churches. In my limited experience, churches often pay within a range of $500 to $700 for a week’s meeting, and about $100 per day for shorter meetings, with some additional allowance for expenses in both cases. Whatever brethren pay, they should remember that it is not “clear money,” because the preacher will not only pay income taxes and 13%+ Social Security taxes, he will always incur hidden expenses.

If a preacher traveled 1,200 miles roundtrip, and was paid $500 plus $200 for travel, deduct $342 for car expense, $80 for on-the-road motel, $100 for food and miscellaneous, $90 for S.S., which leaves about $70 to apply to hidden expenses. If he was asked to pay his local motel bill, deduct another $200, which leaves him $130 in the hole. If his home congregation suspends his regular salary when he is away “getting rich” in meetings, he is really in desperate straits! Thank God, most churches have quit penalizing their preacher that way, and some even offer to make up any such deficit when he returns home. To avoid creating such deficits, thoughtful brethren ask the visiting preacher if what they plan to pay is adequate so that any needed adjustment can be made.

5. “Would it be better to discontinue meetings, shorten them, or use only men nearby to ‘save’ the Lord’s money?” No, such thinking is shortsighted and false economy. God ordained that the money be put to work in his service and gospel meetings are among the most effective things we do to proclaim the gospel. Other methods are fine, but there will never be a substitute for the public preaching of the gospel. Not only do sinners need to hear it, but so do saints (Acts 20:20,31). To always use men nearby locks the church into the danger of regional views which may develop. When men are brought in from different areas, there is the benefit of “cross fertilization,” the opportunity for questions to be raised which may be overlooked in one region, and the advantage of getting the right man for the job in order to be as effective as possible.

God’s patience permits the world to stand so that we can press on in preaching the gospel and in calling men to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). Faithful preachers press on in this work with or without adequate pay. Faithful brethren press

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 16, p. 16-17
August 19, 1993