Supporting Gospel Preachers

By Connie W. Adams

(Editorial Note: This article appeared in Searching the Scriptures (April, 1976), a magazine edited by Brother Connie Adams. We feel that the article would be of interest to a much larger audience than those who receive his magazine, so we reproduce it here for your edification.)

No subject is more sensitive with both preachers and congregations than that which heads this article. Some resent any teaching on the subject. Preachers have often been accused of preaching “for the money.” Fearing that this sentiment prevails, not enough preachers have been willing to address themselves to the problem. Generally, the situation is improved over former days. Yet, in many instances, justice does not prevail. What might have been adequate, or even generous, support five years ago is not enough in these inflationary times.

This is one of the major contributing factors to some men leaving “full time preaching” to support their families at a secular job while preaching only on Sundays, if at all. Honest men want to pay their debts and see the needs of their families met. We have heard brethren criticize preachers for accumulating debts when in reality they might have been forced to it for lack of adequate support. Certainly, gospel preachers ought to pay their debts and try to live within their means.

Any man who is preaching for the money would do the cause of Christ a favor by quitting. Besides, he is not too bright if he has high expectations along that line. All of us should be willing to preach to the limit of our opportunity and ability WHETHER OR NOT THE CHURCH SUPPORTS US. With Paul, we should be able to say “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (2 Cor. 12:15). It is honorable to “make tents,” as Paul did on occasion, in order to build up the work in some needy field. We doubt that it is honorable to “make tents” to keep from fully preaching the gospel simply because one is unwilling to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). It is no worse to preach for money than it is NOT to preach for money. Both are wrong.

Authority For Supporting Preachers

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul defended his right to financial support on the following grounds: (1) his right to “eat and drink” (verse 4); (2) his right to have and support a family (verse 5); (3) his right to “forbear working” (verse 6); (4) the right of a soldier to be paid for his services (verse 7); (5) the right of an husbandman to eat of the fruit of his own labor (verse 7); (6) the right of a shepherd to drink milk from the flock (verse 7); (7) the right of the ox not to be muzzled while he treads out the corn (verses 8-11); (8) the principle of sowing spiritual things while being supplied physical things (verse 11); (9) comparison with the Old Testament practice regarding the sustenance of those who attended to temple service (verse 13). In verse 14 Paul reached his conclusion that “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”

Paul accepted “wages” from other churches to furnish “service” in Corinth (2 Cor. 11:8). “Wages” does not mean benevolence. We hear brethren saying “We give the preacher so much.” No, brethren, that is not how it is. You don’t GIVE him anything. Faithful men of God earn every dime they are paid, and some dimes they are not paid. It is not charity, but a wage in exchange for a life devoted fully to kingdom service.

The church at Philippi was concerned for Paul’s support as he preached. They had “fellowship in the gospel” with him (Phil. 1:3-5). Their “care” of him flourished (4:10) and “even in Thessalonica” they “sent once and again” to his “necessity” (Phil. 4:15-16). This is the proper basis of support. Arbitrary standards have often been set in this matter. A man ought to be paid what he needs to do the work he is sent forth to do. If the “average wage” of the “average member” is enough to do that work, then let him be paid that amount. If that is not enough to do the work, then let them provide whatever is needed. It is a shame and disgrace for brethren to have to haggle over finances.

“He Makes More Than I Do”

Often, when brethren are “negotiating” with a preacher to move and work with them, or when the question of raising his pay arises, someone is bound to say “Well, I don’t make that kind of money. He makes more than I do.” It is high time for people ransomed with the blood of Christ to give up lying! Let’s take a look at wages in this country. I have before me now the December, 1975 SURVEY OF CURRENT BUSINESS, Vol. 55 /12 issued by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. This report gives the latest figures anyone has available to him as to wage averages in this country as of the end of 1975. It gives a break-down of the various industries in terms of average hourly wages, with 25% fringe benefits added on to make up the gross annual income in these categories. All figures are based on a 40-hour work week and do not account for overtime pay. In averages, some make less while others earn more. Here are a few samples:

Private Small Business (non-agriculture) earns an average of $12,168 a year. That includes 25% fringe benefits which are tax free. In Contract Construction the national average is $19,604 annually inclusive of fringe benefits. Ordinance Manufacturing earns $14,066 a year. Stone, Clay and Glass workers earn an average of $13,378 annually. Primary Metals earns $16,718. NonElectrical Machinery earns $14,378. Transportation earns $16,250 while Food Products earns $12,194. Chemicals earn $14,482 and Petroleum averages $17,264. In the printing industry the fringe benefits are figured at 27% with income based on a 35-hour week.

I called the personnel offices at both General Electric and Ford here in Louisville and was given a break-down on hourly wages from the lowest paid man to the highest and a list of fringe benefits, which in both industries amount to 25% of the worker’s gross pay. When brethren say “he makes more than I do” they are usually comparing their take-home pay with the preacher’s gross income. That is not a fair comparison. By the way, do you suppose all members are basing their giving each week on their gross income, or on take-home pay? In both industries cited 1/2 of Social Security is paid for the worker, there is complete hospitalization for the worker and his family, retirement and pension plan and an annual graduated cost-of-living increase. A worker with one year of service at General Electric gets one week paid vacation graduating to four weeks after 15 years and five weeks after 30 years. We know a number of gospel preachers who have served longer than 30 years who would never even expect to receive such consideration. The hourly worker receives five paid sick or personal days and is paid for ten annual holidays which he does not work. If he does work on these days, he is paid extra. Arrangements are made for time off with pay for family deaths and jury duty. The personnel office at Ford called me back with national averages for Ford-Philco operations throughout the nation. I was told that these figures were a year old and the rate is higher now. The national hourly average for their employees is $6.61. With fringe benefits added the gross hourly. wage is $9.40. Vacation time ranges from one week after a year of service to a maximum of six weeks. Anyone who wants to argue with these figures should not write to me. Contact the Department of Commerce, and locally the personnel offices at Ford and General Electric. These are THEIR figures, not mine.

I have known preachers who worked five years or more with congregations in industrial areas without receiving one pay increase. Plant workers received annual raises and every time they did the price of nearly everything went up. With his income remaining the same, he really took a cut in pay in terms of what his income would buy. A special hardship has been worked on men in foreign fields where the rate of inflation is much worse than in this country. “Well, the preacher gets his house supplied and his utilities paid.” If so, then that about balances out with the 25% fringe benefits which the rest of you don’t have to declare as taxable income. Besides, usually when a house is provided as a part of his wage, the preacher’s pay is reduced by the amount of the payment. If he lives and preaches 40 years under. such an arrangement, he will have enabled the brethren to purchase and pay for two houses and he will not even have a rent receipt to show. This preacher has had it both ways and much prefers to be paid an adequate amount to live where he chooses, though we are not unappreciative of the other consideration. None of this takes into account the increasingly popular practice of working wives which adds to the family’s annual gross income-a practice which is frowned upon by some for the preacher’s wife.

Another area which has not kept pace with the economy is compensation for gospel meetings. A faithful servant of God will go anywhere he is invited for meetings, in keeping with the amount of time he can devote to such work, whether the church inviting him is small or large and able to pay him well or not at all. Personally, we have always booked meetings on a first come-first-served basis and know of other preachers who do the same. Sometimes it has been necessary to get a salary advance at home, or borrow money to make a long trip, but go we did. However, there are churches which are abundantly able to support their own work which are paying for gospel meetings what they did twenty years ago. A small country congregation paid me more for the first gospel meeting I ever held (1950) than some large congregations provide now. A meeting involves extra work for a man and travel expenses are costly. You can’t buy gasoline anymore for 30″ a gallon. Food and lodging costs in transit are getting higher and we have not been able to locate any airline which will give away tickets. Some brethren will ask you if you are getting paid at home when it is none of their business and when you are there to work with them that week. Some will say “We want to cover your expenses. How much did you spend for gas and oil?” That does not even start to cover all the travel expenses, not even for the car. The government figures it costs 15 cents a mile to cover car expense and that does not include food and lodging while traveling. Sometimes brethren look at the gross figure they pay a man for a meeting, do a little quick multiplying in their heads, and decide the fellow is getting rich. Well, this writer has done his share of meeting work and has come out on the short end more often than on the long end of it when everything was taken into account. By the way, what would be wrong with a man earning a little extra sometimes. Meetings involve extra work.

Lest any of our readers decide that this article was inspired by malice or a desire to grind a personal axe, be assured that we have very few complaints as to how we have fared through the years. Brethren have usually been good to us. The Lord has richly blessed us and stood by us through good years and lean ones. If I had to start my life over, I would not even consider doing anything else with my life than preaching the gospel of the Son of God. But there is a problem in this relationship between preachers and congregations. We must admit that there is a problem before we can solve it. Then we must apply a scriptural remedy. Those on both sides of this relationship ought to practice the Golden Rule. The laborer is worthy of his hire. Let him,’ therefore, give good measure in his service, heaped up and running over. “The harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that he will send laborers into his vineyard.”

Truth Magazine, XX:25, p. 9-11
June 17, 1976