The Preacher: Servant of God or of Man?

By Jeffery Kingry

There is a definite attitude displayed toward evangelists and their support by some brethren and churches that is decidedly unscriptural. Brethren speak of “hiring a preacher” and having him “work for us.” Their idea is that a man, rendered free from a 9 to 5 job by the church’s support, in turn becomes an employee of the church.

I have had brethren inform me that as an employee of the church, I would be expected to work 40 to 50 hours a week. Above and beyond my “supported time” I would be expected to put forth “individual” hours to fulfill my personal responsibility as a Christian. Congregations (and preachers as well) have submitted “contracts” that must be agreed to and signed before “employment” can be accomplished. In some instances the contract is renewed annually after a review by the church. Is any of this scriptural? I think not. The basis for all of this kind of behavior stems from a basic misunderstanding of the work of an evangelist, and what his support consists of.

Hire A Preacher?

Our word “hire” carries with it the concept of submission for pay that is characteristic of the employer-employee relationship. Webster’s Dictionary defines it, “To purchase the personal services of for a set sum, to get done by pay, to employ.” Yet this idea of purchasing or buying a service is not one that is taught in the scriptures. For example, the word translated “hire” in the Greek is misthos. It is used in 1 Tim. 5:18 to encourage brethren to support those elders who labor well. “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine, for the scripture saith, Thou shaft not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn, and the laborer is worthy of his reward (misthos).” No-one misunderstands that an elder is still an elder, functions as an elder and is responsible as an elder, whether he is supported or not. No one would ever suggest “hiring an elder.”

In Luke 10:7, Jesus sent out seventy disciples to that the “kingdom is at hand.” He told them to go from city to city, receiving their food and lodging from the hospitality of those they taught. “And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: For the laborer is worthy of his hire (misthos).” No one would say that those who exercised hospitality to the Seventy “employed” those teachers, were their “bosses,” or had the power to require a certain degree of self-appointed service from the Seventy to assure that they “earned their wages.”

While scriptures do teach that an evangelist labors in the Gospel and has a right to expect a reward (hire) from the gospel, scripture utterly rejects the concept that the evangelist (any more than the elder, apostle, or teacher) “sells personal service for a set sum.” On the contrary, the evangelist may receive misthos but he is not a misthotos, or hireling. Misthotos is used four times in scripture: once as “hired servant” (Mk. 1:20) and three times as “hireling,” as in Jn. 10:12,13. “Here it expresses, not only one who has no real interest in his duty, but one who is unfaithful in the discharge of it; that sense attaches always to the word rendered “hireling” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary, p. 222).

To be sure there are hireling preachers (Rom. 16:17,18; 2 Pet. 2:3,14, 15), hireling elders (Acts 20:29; Tit. 1:7b), and false Apostles (Gal. 1:8; 2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2) who will preach, teach, and deceive wherever there is personal gain to be found. But the true man of God (1 Tim. 6:11) is not an employee of the church, but a servant of Jesus Christ (tom. 1:1; Jas. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1). A preacher serves and answers to God (2 Cor. 6:4). If the evangelist serves God and pleases his master, he should be acceptable to the church. In this sense a preacher can never be a servant of the church and no amount of support can make him that way. In what way then is he a servant of the church?

In Col. 1:24 Paul declared, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church — whereof I am made a minister.” How was Paul a minister-servant of the church? As Albert Barnes put it, “The object seems to be . . . a privilege to suffer in the cause of Christ . . . not for the Colossians alone . . . but for his preaching to the Gentiles at large . . . and that he suffered the same kind of persecution as Christ for the church, not that he suffered as much as Christ . . . but that he felt that it was an object to be earnestly desired to be made in all respects just like Christ . . . what he says is based on the leading desire of his soul — To Be Just Like Christ.” In other words the evangelist serves the body in the same way that Jesus did-as a messenger of truth (2 Cor. 2:1517; 3:6; 4:1-5) willing to suffer, even to die for the truth (2 Cor. 6:3-6; 2 Tim. 2:3, 4). A man cannot be paid to do that (1 Cor. 9:16-27).

What Then Is The Money For?

Words like “hire,” “buy,” and “employ” denote the purchase of a service. One may purchase the service of a hireling, but never the service of one who serves another master (Matt. 6:24). The true man of God serves God in all things whether supported or not. The church may free him to do more by supporting him in the work he is doing. There is a distinct difference between “support” and “hire.” I may support an artist, a government, a cause, and never exercise any control or authority with my funds. My only control is a decision either to support or not to support. It is in this way that the church rewards the man of God for his service in teaching, study, rebuke, and evangelism. The preacher is “controlled” in the same way any individual member is. If a preacher sins, he is not to be “fired” but disciplined, the same as every other member. Money spent on evangelism is not benevolence. “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10) is a principle that applies to preachers as well as anyone else. God did not mean for the indolent to live off the church. But, any control a preacher’s support may bring a church over the man is a shame upon the church and the evangelist as well.

Paul is a perfect example of the true evangelist that all preachers should emulate. His relationship to a local work had nothing to do with his support. While working in Corinth he received his subsistence from the brethren in Macedonia (Phil. 4:10-15; 2 Cor. 11:9). Even when his living ceased from other churches, he would labor with his hands and continue preaching (2 Thess. 3:8). Paul did the work, as hard and as well as he knew how. He knew he had a right to live of the Gospel (1 Cor. 9:4-14) but his joy was in preaching the word (1 Cor. 9:18); often he purposely refused money given to him by some brethren lest some use it as a charge of “hireling” against him (1 Cor. 9:15). He also stated, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more” (v. 19). Paul did not count hours and divide his days into “church’s paid time” and “my time.” He belonged to Jesus, and he gave all of himself that he might perhaps save a few before he slept with the Lord. When brethren ask about hours spent in service by an evangelist who really serves God, they betray their ignorance of what being a preacher is all about.


If you are looking for a diligent Christian who will work in the community where you live and you wish to free him to spend all of his efforts in God’s service, then there are good men available. You can tell them by their fruits (Eph. 5:9; Gal. 5:22, 23). Paul told Timothy “Put the brethren in remembrance . . . labor, suffer reproach . . . command and teach . . . be an example . . . in word, in manner of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity . . . give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:6ff). You will be able to tell the difference between a hireling and the servant of God. The hireling will agree with all you say, meet all your demands, sign your contract, take your money, and give you nothing in return except a scratch behind the ear, or a congregation filled with error, division, and hatred. The man of God will prick your conscience, rebuke your sins, build up your soul, motivate you to work, and run the race with you hand in hand. He will be independent, with a head as hard as flint, and will knuckle under to no demand that smacks of compromise. His support will not be a matter of indifference to him, but his words to you will not lose their edge because you sign his check. You see, the real servant of Christ pleases his boss, because he knows that the only paycheck that matters is that one he gets in eternity.

Truth Magazine XXII: 14, pp. 232-233
April 6, 1978