Possessed By Our Possessions (11) Support of Preachers and Elders

By Jady W. Copeland

There is absolutely no substitute for faithful, uncompromising preaching of the word of God. Paul charged (“to charge earnestly”) Timothy, “Preach the word; Be ready in season, out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables” (2 Tim. 4:2-4). (NKJ)

Within the past sixty or seventy years churches have adopted the practice of “hiring” a “”full-time” preacher to work with the local church. And whether we admit it or not, many are getting dangerously close to the “pastor system” which we so pointedly condemn in denominationalism. If all brethren (the preacher, the elders and other saints) understand the Scriptures, and if they understand their duty to God there is nothing wrong with having a “full-time” preacher in the church. The preacher or the elder is worthy of his hire, if he does his work well (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:6-14). If he is primarily interested in “becoming a preacher” to “have a job” (and I’m afraid this is happening) he becomes a “hireling” and may not put the Lord’s work first in his life and work. Jesus, in speaking of himself as the good shepherd said, “But he who is a hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep, and flees” (John 10-12). I believe this principle is true of the elder or preacher who gets his support from brethren. If the support is a primary consideration he has not the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind. In that case he will “move on” in the interest of his job when things don’t go exactly to suit him. I realize he sometimes gets to the point that he honestly feels he can do nothing for the situation, so there is nothing left but for him to move on.

The Support of Preachers

That churches have the right to support preachers, and that preachers have the scriptural right to accept such support is not questioned. Paul said, “I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you” (2 Cor. 11:8). Philippi supported Paul (Phil. 4:15-16). This principle is taught in the Old Testament (Deut. 24:15).

When a preacher is supported by churches, is he not still primarily working for the Lord? His work may take him to many places as was the case of Paul, but he is still preaching the gospel to save souls. That is his “business.” Philippi supported Paul while preaching elsewhere. They supported him several times but it seems to me common sense dictates that the church and the preacher have an understanding about such matters when they begin to support him. This prevents problems down the line. If they want him to stay in the community where they live, have that understanding; if he does not like that arrangement he can get support elsewhere. But to say that “he is working for us” seems to put the emphasis in the wrong place. I repeat: his “business” is saving souls for the Lord and we are supporting him while doing so. Read carefully 1 Timothy 4:16.

We have (in our busy society) fallen into the practice of having a “located preacher” and becoming so dependent on him for teaching, that we are, I’m afraid, neglecting our own personal development and study of the Bible. This is a symptom of the “pastor system” that we condemn so definitely in the denominational world. Do we have to have “the located preacher” every Sunday? Is that the only source of information we have? Is this not (unconsciously perhaps) an indication that we are copying the “pastor system” of those around us? It was very refreshing to me several months ago when I visited a congregation who did not have a “regular preacher” and one of the ladies re-marked that “we are doing just fine with the various men taking turns doing the preaching.” With so many men of ability in many congregations now, could it be that if they would prepare well, and apply themselves that they could do the local preaching and have more money to support preachers overseas or other places in this country? Each congregation will have to judge for themselves, but my point is this: “Have we adopted the pastor system without realizing it?” And this is not minimizing the need of good preaching, and the power of the gospel, but we do need to give some thought to where we are drifting. If we think we must be “spoon fed” every Sunday and can’t grow without it, we need to change our thinking. And I repeat: I am not minimizing the power of the gospel, nor the need of gospel preaching; I am simply trying to get us to think about the way we may be drifting.

May I make this suggestion to my fellow preachers  especially you younger men who want to preach or have just begun preaching? Be careful about your demands for money, and be willing to make whatever sacrifice necessary if you really want to preach, and think this is the best way for you to serve God. I fully realize my thinking may be influenced by my own experiences and the time I started preaching (1941) but I believe we can see signs that many think they must have a good salary and be fully supported when they start preaching. If you do not have as your driving desire the salvation of souls, then don’t present yourself to brethren as a preacher desiring support. Think me extreme if you must, but I honestly believe that if you really want to preach, and if you think that is the best way to serve God (if you have the ability), God will provide you a place to preach and support from brethren. But I have often said this (and some may think I am in this category) that there are some who are presenting themselves as preachers who should be serving God in some other capacity. This alone has been the root of many problems.

Young men ask yourselves these questions: “Am I primarily concerned about salary?” “Do I have the attitude of Paul who was willing to work with his hands while preaching without pay?” “Is my driving thought the salvation of souls?” “Is preaching the gospel the most effective way for me to save those souls?” After all, I must not only realize my strengths, but I also must accept my limitations. Please don’t think I am trying to discourage anyone from preaching; it is one of the greatest and most rewarding works on earth. I am only trying to get us to think about the proper use of the Lord’s money as well as encouraging young men to seriously consider how they can best serve the Lord.

Now let us look at the matter of support from the standpoint of the church. Brethren, the preacher is worthy of his hire. Don’t starve him. If he has the proper attitude in wanting to preach, and has the ability, why should he suffer from lack of adequate support? Brethren think about these things when you talk about support: (1) He receives no fringe benefits as do many. Does not the hourly worker receive about’/ of his wages from fringe benefits? (Maybe more) (2) He pays over 15% of his salary in social security. (3) He usually spends more than the average for car expense. I believe car dealers tell me the average mileage put on a car is about 10-15 thousand miles per years. Through the years I have put about 20-25 thousand miles per year on mine, and I don’t drive as much as many preachers. (4) He will do a better job if his wife doesn’t work out of the home. Indeed, brethren, you have a serious responsibility in spending the Lord’s money, and it may be true that some preachers get “more than they are worth” but give some serious thought to the support  he is “worthy of his hire.”

The Support of Elders

While this is less common among us, more and more churches are supporting elders in their work, and it be perfectly scriptural (I Tim. 5:17-18). The above principles need to be kept in mind, but in the case of the elder and the church, the situation is different. The elder must have been a member of the local church for some time in order to be an elder in the first place (note the qualifications that demand this). The church must consider the arrangement and wisdom of such an arrangement. Don’t begin supporting an older man “just so he will have a better retirement.” This is not a good reason to support him. The statement, “The laborer is worthy of his hire” (quoted from Deut. 25:4) is a statement regarding the support of elders, and not preachers, primarily. So he must be “worthy” of hire. We don’t need “hirelings” in the eldership any more than we need “hirelings” as preachers. Another danger in this is that sometimes the other elders look to him to take their work “because he has more time.” While it is true he has more time, it is also true he can’t do their work, any more than the preacher can do another’s work. Both have more than they can do. Also, when an elder is “paid” some may get the idea that he is the “head” or “main” elder. Not so. There is no difference in their work at all; they have equal responsibility.

As we close this series on possessed by our possessions, let us close by saying that in whatever capacity we serve our Master, let us make sure that we are driven by the fact that he is our Master; we are his servant and since material things are only temporary and fleeting, we must not let “things” possess us; let us possess them to his glory and our salvation.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 18, p. 10-11
September 16, 1993