Would you expect a building contractor to put an addition onto your house free of charge? Do you go to the doctor for medical treatment without paying for his services? Would you go to the store to get food without bringing money to pay for it?
Of course not. We understand in our society that work has value — whether someone is providing you a good that you need to survive or a service that will make your life easier, that person deserves to be paid. We pay people to show them our appreciation for the time and effort that they have put into serving us, and to enable them to provide well for their own needs. This understanding is so deeply rooted in our culture that we would never think to take advantage of someone’s work without offering to pay them. Why, then, do some people bristle at the thought of a servant of God making money in ministry?
Money and ministry can have a tempestuous relationship. It takes money to run a ministry, but many great organizations are limited in their effectiveness by poor financial management. Following God’s Master Plan for your money can help with ministry finances. But it’s also important to clear up the foolish idea that ministry and money don’t go together. Because the Bible is clear that they do.
Simply put, if you work in ministry full-time, that work should provide you with a full, livable wage that will support you and your family. Even if you work part-time in ministry, it’s not inappropriate to have some sort of financial compensation commensurate with the amount of time and effort that you put into the work.
For some authority on this issue, let’s turn to scripture. Jesus addresses this issue in Luke 10:5-7, when He gives His disciples instructions on how they should handle the practical aspects of traveling ministry assignments:
When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
Later on, in I Timothy 5:17-18, Paul gives similar advice to his protege Timothy, who is also working in full-time ministry:
17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
Both of these passages make the same point: People who work hard in ministry deserve to be compensated. Even though they are doing God’s work, instead of the work of a doctor, grocer or construction worker, they are still entitled to be paid fairly for their time and effort. And besides, Christians working in ‘normal’ jobs are really working for God too (but that’s another topic for another article).
Jesus understood that “the worker deserves his wages,” and He instructed His disciples to receive physical support from the people that they ministered to. Paul took this instruction — as well as the Old Testament prohibition against forcing an ox to labor without feeding him — to convince Timothy that the people who work in the church are worthy of both honor and financial reward. After all, if an ox deserves to be rewarded after doing physical work, how much more do the servants of God deserve to be well cared for?
This teaching has real ramifications in ministry as well. Some people in the world become uncomfortable when they arrive at the intersection of money and ministry. There are those who believe that ministers shouldn’t be making money, or that they certainly shouldn’t be wealthy. Entire generations of Catholics were misled by the idea that true service to God requires a life of austerity, leading thousands of monks and nuns to make unnecessary poverty vows. But these ideas are unsupported in scripture. Looking at the teachings of Jesus and Paul, it’s safe to say that God intends for His full-time workers to make money and to enjoy a life of financial contentment.
What does this all mean for you? Well, if you run a ministry or are involved in other faith-based non-profit work, you need to make sure that you’re being paid for your work. It can be tempting to forego a salary, especially if money is tight for your organization. But you can’t live that way for long — it’s simply not sustainable. You need to have an income and personal money that is not intermingled with your ministry’s cash. Unless you’re independently wealthy, working in ministry without an income will eventually lead to stress, worry, discontentment and burnout. It may sound noble to work for free, but ultimately foregoing a paycheck does more harm to your organization than good. And if we follow Paul’s line of thought to its logical conclusion, we see that failure to pay workers brings dishonor on a ministry. If you want God to honor your work, you must honor His workers by paying them appropriately — even if that means paying yourself.
If you work in the secular world, these principles have real implications for you too. The work of the Kingdom must be funded, and God expects those of us with incomes to give generously to fund that work. Our tithes provide the funding that makes church happen, and our generous giving is what allows missionaries to take the gospel to all corners of the earth. If we fail to do our part to help pay our worthy workers for their labor, we are guilty of dishonor. Just as you wouldn’t expect a doctor, contractor or grocer to work for free, you shouldn’t expect your ministers to work for nothing either.
Photo by Marissa Bowers. Used under Creative Commons License.