By P. J. Casebolt
The amount of a preacher’s support may be negotiable. A preacher may choose to forego his right to live of the gospel. But the preacher’s right to live of the gospel, is not arbitrary or negotiable, and a preacher should not be placed in the position of having to defend that right (1 Cor. 9:14).
While the church has made considerable progress in this area during my lifetime, there are still some incongruities and inconsistencies regarding the support of gospel preachers. When I was younger, I was reluctant to address this subject for fear that brethren would think I was preaching for money. But this reluctance also caused me not to teach brethren their duty regarding the support of gospel preaching. As one preacher put it, he did not preach for money, but there were times when he couldn’t preach for lack of it.
There is another aspect of preacher support that needs to be addressed, and while it may be a touchy subject, it will not be resolved by ignoring it. I have given myself wholly to the preaching of the gospel while being only partially supported by the church. I have worked with my hands in order to preach the gospel in places where it was needed. I think that I am in a position to address this subject fairly, both from the standpoint of those who preach and those who support the preaching of the gospel.
The Right to Stop Support
If there is anything more difficult than getting brethren to support a gospel preacher, it is getting them to stop when that preacher has forfeited his right to be supported. When a preacher is soliciting support, he may not be too concerned about the factors which caused brethren to decide in favor of his support. But, when those same brethren decide for any reason, or no one reason in particular to discontinue that support, they are the worst brethren on earth.
Without controversy, fairness should be exercised by both the preacher and his sources of support. Proper notice should be given in keeping with whatever arrangements have been made. But both brethren and the affected preachers need to remember that if churches have a right and the wisdom to commence supporting a preacher, those same churches have the right to discontinue that support. It may just be that brethren decide the support can be more effectively and efficiently used in some other way or place.
But there are times when brethren begin supporting a preacher without investigating the moral or doctrinal qualifications of the one receiving support. Or, they fail to obtain a recommendation from someone they do know. At one time, Paul needed the recommendation of Bamabas (Acts 9:27). Again, brethren can be deceived, or maybe the recipient of the support will change his doctrinal or moral position after he has begun to receive support.
We have known of preachers who divided a local church, quit preaching and assembling with the church, and still accepted support from contributing congregations. One preacher had become immoral, had ceased to support his own family, his wife had gone to work doing laundry for brethren, and the preacher was still trying to locate with other churches. Brethren had checked with other congregations where the preacher had previously lived, and had obtained a lengthy list of things that would disqualify any Christian from receiving the fellowship of faithful brethren. Yet, they were still calling around to see what others knew or thought. When they called me, I told them that they already had enough evidence to convince even the most naive, and that had the preacher lived in Texas he would already be swinging from the nearest cottonwood tree.
Some preachers will change their doctrinal position, knowing full well that supporting brethren would not bid them God speed if they were aware of that change, and even attempt to conceal their position while still accepting support from brethren. Or, it may be that the preacher held that position all along, but spoke in such ambiguous terms that brethren could not determine what his convictions really were.
Why are brethren reluctant to support preachers, especially in distant places? Congregations may have had some unpleasant experiences (such as those mentioned above), and are wary of being stung again. Or, some brethren are too concerned about “how they spend the Lord’s money,” when in reality they are more concerned about how they don’t spend it than how they do spend it.
But, once brethren decide to start supporting a particular preacher, why is it harder for them to stop than it was to start? Are they afraid of repercussions from relatives or friends in the supporting congregation, or from other preachers or congregations? Are they afraid that the sup-ported preacher will cause trouble or divide the church if his support is discontinued? If a preacher would divide the church over such a matter, even if he feels he has been wronged, such a preacher has convicted himself of being unworthy of support, morally or financially.
I have preached in my home congregation more than once for less wages than what some preacher in a “mission field” was receiving, yet I encouraged brethren to support other gospel preachers. I have recommended preachers for support both in this country and in foreign lands. I have also recommended that brethren not support, or discontinue supporting, preachers who did not live up to their responsibilities either morally or doctrinally.
One of the safeguards which the Lord built into the mission and organization of the church is that of autonomy. Congregations not only have the right to decide whom they will support and when, but they also have the freedom to decide whom not to support and when not to do it.
If preachers, including myself, pursue a course which the supporting church or churches, local or distant, deem to be unworthy of continued support, then congregations need to exercise their freedom of autonomy. If they are wise enough to initiate support in the first place, they ought to be wise enough to know when to discontinue that support. And their judgment in both instances needs to be respected, even if we disagree with that judgment.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 9 p. 13-14
May 4, 1995