the weblog of Alan Knox

What about honor for elders/pastors?

Posted by on Oct 8, 2007 in elders, office | 24 comments

So far, as I have tried to explain my argument against paying a pastor based on his position, I have said that all believers are instructed to “work with their hands” in order to support themselves and others, which is a different kind of work than ministry/service work (see “What about work?“). I have also suggested that elders specifically are instructed to “work with their hands” to provide for themselves and others, and that his type of work is different from their shepherding responsibilities (see “What about work for elders/pastors?“).

A counter-argument for my two points could be stated as follows: Scripture instructs us to offer double honor to elders in particular. This double honor appears to be a salary payment offered because the person holds the position of an elder.

In response, I’ll begin with two more general observations. First, followers of Jesus are instructed to provide help (monetary help as well as other types of help) for anyone (especially other followers of Jesus) who is in need:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45 ESV)

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:34-35 ESV)

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (Ephesians 4:28 ESV)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17 ESV)

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-16 ESV)

So, for the first general observation in answer to this counter-argument, we should recognize that believers in general should share with those who are in need. This was demonstrated in Scripture by description and by prescription.

Furthermore, as a second general observation, followers of Jesus are instructed to share with those who lead and/or teach in response to their leading and/or teaching:

One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. (Galatians 6:6 ESV)

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ESV)

Note that the “sharing”, “respect”, and “esteem” offered to teachers and leaders in these passages are offered in response to their labor, not in anticipation of their labor. Nor is the “sharing” offered in order for them to teach and lead.

Also, in these two passages, the people leading and teaching are not called elders. Perhaps they were elders, but Scripture does not limit the “sharing”, “respect”, and “esteem” to those who hold the position of “elder”. Instead, the “sharing”, “respect”, and “esteem” is to be offered to any who teach or lead. This is not payment for a position, but response to the impact a teacher/leader has already had on a person’s life.

Finally, as a third observation, and one that is a bit more specific, we should consider the verse referred to by the counter-argument:

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17 ESV)

This passage is very similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 above. In this case, however, followers of Jesus are instructed to respond to the teaching and leading of elders, not just any who teach or lead. This, then, is a more specific case than 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. Once again, though, the response (“double honor”) is not offered to elders because of their position, but the response is offered to elders who lead well and labor in the word (literally “word”, not “preaching”) and teaching.

The illustrations offered in the following verse help to make this case:

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18 ESV)

First, we notice that author says that elders who lead and teach well deserve “double honor” just as the ox deserves to eat grain while pulling a plow and just like the laborer deserves his wages. The author knows and uses the word for wages, but not in relation to elders. Also, it can be assumed that the ox does not primarily eat while plowing, but that the ox is provided his main meal at another time.

Just as we would not withhold the grain from a treading ox, nor would we withhold wages from a laborer, we also should not withhold “double honor” from elders who lead and teach well. Once again, “double honor” is a response to the teaching and leading of elders, not an anticipation of teaching and leading, nor even an allowance for more time to teach and lead. Elders are offered “double honor” after they have already led well and labored in the word and teaching.

What is “double honor” then? We see in 1 Timothy 5:3 that widows are to be “honored”, presumably by having their needs taken care of by other believers. “Double honor”, then, would indicate sharing above and beyond the point of need. So, it would appear that it is right for followers of Jesus to offer monetary (as well as other types) of “honor” to elders in response to their leading and teaching. Note, though, that this does not relieve the elders from their responsibility to “work with their hands” to support themselves or others, nor does it indicate that the elders should always assume that the “honor” is for their own use.

This “double honor” should not be confused with a salary either. Instead, it is a response by each believer to the impact that the elder has had in his or her own life through their leading and teaching. While this could be in the form of a monetary gift, “double honor” could also be given – and should be expected – in other forms as well, in whatever form God provides to the individual offering the “double honor”.

If, instead, a salary was paid to an elder based on his position, then withheld if the elder did not lead or teach well, this would be backward from the position of Scripture. This type of salary would attempt to remove the responsibility from the individual, who according to Scripture is responsible for recognizing the leading and teaching of an elder and to respond accordingly.

Thus, the counter-argument is invalid. Scripture does not instruct followers of Jesus to pay elders a salary because of their position. Instead, “double honor” is a response by the individual taught or led to the person teaching or leading.

Do you recognize a difference between paying a salary to an elder because of his position and offering honor because an elder has led and taught well? Do you agree or disagree that an organizational type salary removes the responsibility from the individual to recognize how the teaching and leading of an elder impacts the individual’s life? Money is certainly a valid type of honor, what other ways might someone honor an elder who teaches and leads well?


Series: Scripturally, we cannot justify paying elders/pastors a salary based on their position.

1) What about work?
2) What about work for elders/pastors?
3) What about honor for elders/pastors?
4) What about the right of elders/pastors?
5) Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-8-2007

    I think you make some good points. I disagree with some of your interpretation of passages cited (e.g. Eph; thief). I don’t have the time to make my whole argument for that here, sorry. I do think that pastors should be paid and that it is okay. I do not think that this organizational type of salary prevents persons from failing to see how their teaching influences people. In many cases, I think the salary makes people take the position more seriously. I wonder if your argument is more about the fact that what we call pastors today, should actually be called elders? I also wonder, then, if you would make the argument that no elder can be paid? Sorry if my reply seems spotty or all over the place, I’m in a hurry and wanted to respond. Keep up the good work.

  2. 10-8-2007

    Like the comment above, I also think you make some good points, but I also disagree.

    But I don’t want to overload your comment box…so…the short answer is 3 John.

    I’ll post a detailed discussion either tonight or tomorrow.

  3. 10-8-2007


    Thanks for the comment. I almost did not include the passage from Ephesians. The good thing is that that passage is not necessary to make my point that followers of Jesus are supposed to give to those in need.

    No, the argument is not about what we call pastors and elders. I’m using the terms interchangeably in this series. I think that “elder” is the better term and that “pastor” is more of a gifting, but that is not the point of this series. So, I would say that elders should not be paid a salary because of their position either.

    I appreciate that you think salaries make people take the position more seriously, but that doesn’t deal with my argument here. Perhaps its true; perhaps not. I don’t think we’ll find scriptural support for a salary making people take the position more seriously.

    Also, thank you for stating that you think it is okay to pay pastors. I’m sure that most of my readers agree with you. For many years I agreed with you as well. Hopefully, if you are correct, then you’ll be able to show me where my argument fails. I look forward to your continued interaction.


    My post tomorrow night will mention 3 John, so I’m interested to know how you see it affecting this argument. I look forward to your detailed discussion and interaction with my argument.


  4. 10-8-2007

    Alan, I appreciate you approaching this subject from the passages on elders.

    Most would agree that a “pastor” (speaking in terms of a vocational position) should fit the qualifications for “elder” (speaking in terms of a spiritual designation).

    What I find continually baffling, though, is that I know of no church that pays all of their elders a salary.

    If, as some commenters have stated, it is scripturally legit to pay an elder, than why only the “pastor”? Why not all of the elders in that church?

    This is where I find the system breaking down. It’s just not consistent. People want to justify paying their pastor? Then fine. Pay all the elders.

    Ironically, it’s usually the guy brought in from the outside who gets the paycheck, while the ones actually spending their lives laboring within the body of believers don’t get a dime.

  5. 10-8-2007

    Alan, my other question is what you would do with 1 Corinthians 9?

    Do you see Paul’s words in 3-12 only applying to the apostles, not church leaders?

    Granted, Paul, in this passage, has not accepted money from the Corinthians, but he states that it is a right of his to do so.


    Anyway, I’m tempted to wait until your post comes before giving my own, but I won’t. I having it up by tomorrow morning.

  6. 10-8-2007


    The more I study the church in Scripture, the more inconsistencies I see in our modern practices. Your example is one that I have noticed.


    Yes, I will deal with 1 Corinthians 9 in my post tomorrow night. In that post I will discuss Paul’s “right” to receive support from others and how that “right” does or does not apply to other believers.

    I look forward to your response.


  7. 10-9-2007

    I have just read through your posts on this issue and of course, it is a big issue for us on the M field. In the end- as your blog always does- it comes down to ecclesiology. If we kept a biblical model of small house churches no one would ever consider paying elders. In the end Elders/Pastors today do not get paid to do spiritual work. They preach, pray, and minister because they must (if there are those who do this for pay alone then the word ‘prostitute’ comes to mind). No, in the West we pay our ministers to run organizations. This is a perfectly legitimate thing to do for of course, it takes management, time, and organizational skill to run the large corporations we call churches in America. As long as we continue in America with the current church model paid ministers is a necessity regardless of your exegisis.
    Here on the M field we never promote salaried pastors. The few who have attained a salary (churches started by other organizations) have universally found that they are dependent on foreign funds and out of touch with their church members. Several of them have really grown to hate their salaries but are unable to free themselves from the snare.
    They can not continue the work that they do and ‘work with their hands’. So, in the end- and I may be getting ahead of you here- the only way to attain the New Testament model for pastoral staff is to go back to the New Testament model for ecclesiology.

  8. 10-9-2007

    How long have you thought that pastors do not work?

    I understand what you are saying about teaching and about discipling with your life and therefore being worthy of double honor. Sure. But what about the fact that these people really do work.

    I serve in a place where the average church size in 50 people including children and where it is almost impossible to pay anyone for full time service. The elders give a great deal of time serving the congregation. Those guys work and also work at the church.

    I think you need to rethink the question of work. Pastors and elders work. If they are in the ministry full time and are not working then they need to leave the ministry.

    After serving over 20 years in the ministry in very small churches I can only say that the discussion here seems a bit ivory tower….if you do not mind me saying so.

  9. 10-9-2007


    Thank you for your comment. You give us a different perspective to consider.


    Being elder is very hard work. In fact, this series started with a post called “What about work?” in which I talked about Paul’s use of the word “work” when describing how leaders teach, admonish, etc. other believers.

    The question that I’m asking is different: Is the “work” that elders do among the people of God the same as “working with your hands” in order to provde support for yourself, your family, and others. I believe that Paul makes a distinction between these two types of “work”, which I pointed out in the first two posts of this series.

    I appreciate your concern, but I promise you that this is not an “ivory tower” discussion. I understand the concern because so much of what comes out of scholarship is worthless to most Christians. However, I do not consider this “ivory tower”. I consider this to be so important that I live my life this way. I am an elder, but I also work a full-time job and I teach part-time – both of which allow me to support my family and others.


  10. 10-16-2007

    I have to say that we have to take the BIble at what its says. And Clearly in 1 Corinthian 9 15/18 It states that a preacher should not take pay. In 2 Corinthians Paul states it again that preachers should not get paid. So do we take the Bible for what it say or take verses and make them fit. Where is our faith that Christ will provide. Lets put all our money baskets at the back of the Church and see if you recieve more. I believe you will. Thank you

  11. 10-16-2007


    Thanks for the comment and welcome to my blog!


  12. 10-17-2007

    My Pastor believes that “double honor” is especially for him as the Pastor Teaher. He believes that he must have the highest pay in the church of his position will be dishonored.


  13. 10-18-2007


    What do you think? Do you think “double honor” in 1 Tim 5:17 means that pastors (it is plural there) should receive the highest salary or their positions are dishonored?


  14. 1-9-2009


    Do you also believe that it is morally wrong for a woman to pray or teach with her head uncovered (1 Cor. 11:5)?
    I guess my point is that I don’t believe we can make doctrine (or formulate dogma) by isolating passages that appear to be very culturally sensitive. There are fundamental doctrines in scripture, but paying pastors is not one of them. This isn’t to say that I disagree with Alan’s position, but my agreement has much more to do with organic structure than it does with arguably culturally-oriented positions. Strider makes a good modernism culturally-oriented point in his post. The modernist Western church model is not going away any time soon, so as long as the church utilizes the structured organizational model, there will be ‘CEO Pastors’ on the payrolls. However, postmodernism has created a fracture in our culture whereby new ideas and models are becoming acceptable. I believe the Western church is in the throws of morphing into a new epoch, and young leaders like Alan will be a vital part of the transformation.

  15. 1-9-2009


    Thanks for the comment. I try to be very careful in the way that I present this information. I say it this way: “I do not believe that Scripture supports paying a salary to a pastor”. In other words, I don’t think you can come to this conclusion from Scripture. This doesn’t mean that its wrong, although I don’t personally think its healthy for the church.


  16. 1-9-2009

    Great thoughts, Alan!

    One thing popped to mind as I read this and the comments: preparing to teach or be about the “word” requires time. Time that would otherwise be spent working with one’s hands.

    To invest such time without knowing whether or not any “honor” would be forth-coming after, could possibly put the elder/teacher/whatever into the uncomfortable position of feeling manipulated into saying only things that people want to hear, because they literally can’t “afford” to offend anyone and not be double-honored after the fact.

    Anyone who knows me in greater blogdom knows that I’m NOT a fan of the clergy/laity distinction and any sense of ecclesial entitlement based on position (at least, I hope that’s been obvious over the years). But at the same time, I wonder if double-honor in this fashion might end up being more restrictive than what some salaried pastors already deal with in their churches.

  17. 1-9-2009


    Thanks for the comment. How did you find this old post?

    What if you were not the only one spending time in the word and teaching each week? What all believers – especially the more mature ones – thought it was their responsibility to study and be prepared to teach each week? What if you only had to teach a few minutes or once every few weeks?

    Would you have time to work with your hands then?


  18. 1-10-2009

    I think Alan makes a great point here. When I finally surrendered to the Lordship of my Savior 30 years ago, he imparted to me a spritual gift – the gift of teaching. I do not judge whether I am good at it or not, others must verify that. But I can tell you this, I have been studying and practicing for 30 years now, and have never been salaried for it. It is my passion, and it is where I find the greatest fulfillment. The companion to teaching (should be) service. Teaching by example. This is where I see so many ‘paid leaders’ fall short. They seem to have the mindset that they are ‘equippers’, their task is fundamentally limited to platform ministry within the walls of a building.

    Jesus and Paul didn’t just teach. When Jesus called His disciples, He said “Follow me” … out into the community. Paul writes to the Corinthians “Therefore I urge you to be imitators of me.” (1 cor. 4:16). And, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul certainly wasn’t a platform equipper.

    Regarding ‘paid clergy’ (if you will), Paul wrties in 2 Thes. 3 that he paid his own way by working with his hands and states in verse 9 “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow.”

  19. 1-10-2009


    Yes. Another point is that the fact that I may have the gift of teaching does not mean that I should ALWAYS teach. I should also allow others to teach as well.


  20. 5-26-2009

    Hi, I appreciated the thoughts in this post, and the discussion that followed. I think there are some valid points and concerns here, but I’m not certain what to do with it. With large scale organizations I can’t imagine a lot of volunteers being willing to put in all the hours the paid staff puts in to keep everything running. I think the only model that pastors wouldn’t need a salary is in smaller home sized groups… but I still see some value to the larger assemblies as well.

    Anyways, maybe this one isn’t for me to figure out right now – I’m not an ‘elder’ or pastor.

    Good thoughts.

  21. 5-26-2009


    Thanks for the comment. I enjoyed this discussion also.


  22. 6-15-2011

    Jesus once He started His ministry did not work. Maybe He had money stored up. What we see is that everything He needed was provided. This is not because he was half God and holy. The ministry and the mission were greater than the every day planning needs so His focus and devotion went to pouring out not earning a living.

    Jesus was our example on how to live long before Paul who worked along side others with his hands and natural talents. We have to know our places and assignments. They will all be different.

    I believe God ordains some people to work only in what we call ministry. It then makes sense for them to be paid through ministry. We see a picture through out scripture of people giving gifts as a show of honor. It is respectful human nature.

  23. 4-15-2013

    Good conversation Allan. Those that have commented on the distinction between elders and vocational pastors make a good point. Structure and ecclesiology mater. I agree with framing a salary as a gift and not a right.

    But here is some push-back. You say for example, “Elders are offered “double honor” after they have already led well and labored in the word and teaching.” I can work with that. On the first day of the week, all you all bring your “gifts” to our place of meeting. After the pastor/elder has “already led well and labored” for two weeks, we’ll cut him a check. i.e. present models work with your interpretation.

    Second, we have a rich history of old-testament principles and practices. Priests and levites were provided for by the community, and it was an expectation, illustrated by the fact that they were not given land by Moses. There seems to be some indication that many of them later did acquire land, but only as a response to the sin of the people who refused to tithe a tenth of their food and livestock. In the same way, pastors who are forced to work outside the church because of the stingeness of the congregation, as apposed based on a strategic decision or your interpretation, which I largely support, those churches are wrong.

    Third, there is a question of what we do with Biblical models. If we appreciate a missional approach that brings the Gospel into different cultures in ways that are consistent with that culture and with Biblical principles, then we are free to modify forms as long as they are not anti-biblical. Much of what we see in scripture is descriptive not prescriptive. Consequently, a missional approach to a suburban American context may well functionally pay a salary, even as we appreciate that Biblically it is a gift.

  24. 4-15-2013


    Actually, I appreciate the “push-back”.

    1) Your first scenario is not like the “present models” that I know about. In your scenario, a person would agree to be an elder/pastor without the promise of a salary. By the way, I’m not opposed to people giving gifts (financial or otherwise) to anyone who has served them. But, a gift is just that… a gift. If it is required in exchange for a type of service, it is no longer a gift.

    2) Yes, we do have a history of Old Testament principles and practices. There are also huge differences, though. For example, today we are all priests, and elders/pastors are never associated with priests in the NT.

    3) I’ve never heard anyone in our culture (outside of “church culture”) calling for salaried pastors. In fact, I usually hear the opposite, with people (in our culture) skeptical about those who get paid by the church.