Should a Pastor/Priest be paid?


DSC01962For many young evangelicals, there’s a movement towards treating Christianity as a “relationship” and not as a “religion.” There’s a reaction against organization and hierarchy because they’ve grown up seeing the abuses of organization and hierarchy. I’ve watched many friends debate over this “relationship/religion” divide, saying that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, because a religion has rules and can stifle a relationship. I could point out the absurdity of this claim, showing that a marriage is no less a relationship in spite of the rule not to cheat then religion is no less a relationship in spite of the rule to be faithful to God. Or I could let a Catholic priest give a spoken word on the subject (or you could listen to Fr. Barron’s comments on the subject).

Yet, let’s take one aspect of this movement, namely, “Should pastors be paid.” There’s a lot of backlash against pastor’s being paid because, let’s be honest, a lot of pastors have abused their salaries. Many of them live on bloated salaries while people in the church go hungry. I don’t think anyone has ever or would ever argue for this. But there are those who believe that pastors should not make a lot of money.

I think the best answer to the question, “Should pastors take a salary” is to ask another question, “should grocers take a salary?” You could insert bankers, construction workers, lawyers, or any other vocation into the “pastor” slot and ask the same question. If pastors are not supposed to make money, or at least a lot of money, then why should anyone make any money at all? The justification for cutting off the funds is that we shouldn’t charge for the expression of the Gospel. But if that is all your pastor does, if all he does is preach on Sunday morning, then you have a lazy and useless pastors. Most pastors also offer counseling, run the affairs of the church as well as its direction, and take time to visit the sick in hospitals and attend church functions. In other words, his vocational calling is to help people, he just so happens to preach on Sundays.

From a Scriptural point of view, all Christians are saints and priests. We have canonized saints because they have exemplified how we should live. We have actual priests because they are to exemplify how we should live. In other words, whether we are called to a vocation outside the walls of a church, we are still representative priests in those jobs. This means that if a priest of a parish is not worthy of being paid, then neither are we because ultimately our goals in the vocation are the same.

Even in Scripture there is no prohibition on priests being paid. In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul actually quotes the Gospels when he says, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” He also aludes to the right of priests to receive pay in 1 Corinthians 9. Even Jesus told the 70 in Luke 10 to receive pay and food, saying that “the laborer is worthy of his wages” (this is what Paul quotes in 1 Timothy 5:18).

The issue of paying a pastor, however, is really just symptomatic of the disease that is the new piety, or what the early Christians called “Gnosticism.” It takes a hard view of the sacred/secular split, putting value on the sacred and no value on the secular. Often anything that is material or physical, unless it explicitly points to a higher spiritual truth, is viewed as “secular” and therefore abandoned. But this is a type of Platonism, or a devaluing the the material world and uplifting of the spiritual world. Such an approach is to be anathema in Christianity.

Within Christian teachings on metaphysics, there are ultimately only two metaphysical realities: God is one, and everything else is the other. That means that, metaphysically speaking, God is above us, but we would argue He is also above the angels, above Heaven, above Hell, and so on. That means everything below God is metaphysically equal. While there are ontological differences (that is, a cat is not a dog, a man is not an angel, a horse is not a tree, etc.), those differences do not make one thing metaphysically superior to another. Ontologically, however, that is another story.

A man, for instance, is ontologically higher than a snail because a man is made in the image of God, that is, he functions at a higher rationality. Thus, because of his ontological make up, he comes with certain ethical considerations that would not be applied to the snail. A male and female are ontologically different, but no ethical considerations apply to that (there may be ethical nuances) because both are still in God’s image.

Material items, then, are metaphysically equal to us. When God created the world, He declared that everything was good. That means that material items are good, the material world is still good. It is not “lesser” than the spiritual world, it is just different and functions differently. That being said, a hammer is just a hammer. It is not “sacred” or “secular.” If you use the hammer to help build a home for someone who needs a home, then you have used the hammer for love and it is good. If you use it to bash in the head of an innocent person because you want his money, then the hammer has been used for evil. All in all, it’s a tool in the hands of a rational animal (humans) that can be used for good or evil. This stands true of all material things, including wealth.

And therein lies the problem; a lot of Christians hold an implicit hatred of money. They view money as evil, or as something that isn’t spiritual, and therefore have a problem when pastors obtain that money. But money is not evil, it is a tool. Even the pursuit of money is not evil, so long as one uses the money for good. And so long as a pastor is responsible with his finances and doesn’t use them inappropriately, there is no reason for him to not be paid. After all, we wouldn’t deprive him of a hammer, a car, or a fork- all of which are tools – so why deprive him of the tool of money?

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4 thoughts on “Should a Pastor/Priest be paid?

    1. Well the 10% is arbitrary, but you give to the church because you go there. The church, ideally, uses that money to pay the pastor, maintain the building, support the programs you use, and then to help members who need it. If anything is left over, that money can be used in various charitable ways.

      So that’s why we tithe, because our money typically goes (at the bare minimum) to support the services we’re using and (hopefully) to help others.

  1. You have some good points here. I’m in the beginning of my pastoral ministry myself and I’ve been seeing this push back against paying pastors. The problem is, we have to make a living somehow. If the church doesn’t pay us then there is no other option but to be bi-vocational — thus, having significant time and energy away from the church. It’s not about becoming rich, it’s about the pastor being able to support herself or himself so that she or he can pour more of themselves into the church.

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