the weblog of Alan Knox

Acts 20 and salaries for pastors

Posted by on Oct 29, 2008 in elders, scripture, service | 7 comments

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “1 Corinthians 9 and salaries for pastors“. That post has turned out to be (in only a few weeks) one of my most read posts. Interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 9 Paul does not mention pastors (elders or bishops). However, in another passage, Paul does talk about the relationship between pastors and financial support.

After a near riot in Ephesus, Paul decided to leave for Macedonia and Greece, where he spent three months. (Acts 20:1-3) He then decided to return to Syria by travelling through Macedonia. At one point, he stopped in Miletus which is near Ephesus, and asked the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet with him. (Acts 20:17-18) For most of the remainder of Acts 20 (vs. 19-35), Luke records what Paul says to the elders of the church in Ephesus.

In the first part of his speech, Paul reminds the elders of his manner of living while he was among them. In the second part of his speech, Paul instructs the elders concerning their ongoing service to the church and the reasons why their service is so important:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” (Acts 20:28-31 ESV)

Most believers and most elders consider this instructions to be normative for leaders today. Thus, many books on ecclesiology and leadership will include admonitions for elders (pastors) to “care for the church of God”. However, many do not consider the next parts of the speech to be normative.

In the third part of Paul’s speech, he once again reminds the elders of his manner of living while he was among them. Then, in the fourth part of the speech, he again instructs the elders concerning how they should live after he departs and the reasons for this:

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:32-35 ESV)

Notice that Paul begins by pointing out his own practices. When he lived in Ephesus, he says that he did not desire anyone’s money (silver or gold). Paul is very specific that he worked “with his hands” (and apparently a different kind of work than the previous work that he said he did ‘in public and house to house’ – Acts 20:18-21) so that he could provide for himself and other people who were with him. In fact, Paul said that they were witnesses to how hard he worked with his hands in order to support himself.

Then, Paul turns his example around. He tells them, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…” The phrase translated “we must” is usually translated “one must” or “it is necessary”. In other words, Paul is saying to these elders from Ephesus that it is necessary for them to work hard with their hands like he did so that they will be able to help those who cannot support themselves.

Paul did not expect these elders to receive financial support from others. Instead, he expected them to work so hard (in the same manner that he worked) that they would be able to support themselves and others too. Remember, Paul’s example for them was that he had worked hard enough to financial support himself and others. He reminded them of his example, and told them that it was necessary for them to do the same thing.

He finishes his exhortation with the words of Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul wanted the Ephesian elders to be examples of givers, not examples of takers.

This admonition seems different than the “right” of apostles as found in 1 Corinthians 9 and other passages. In 1 Corinthians 9, for example, Paul says that some have the right “to get their living from the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:14 ESV) I suggesting in my previous post that the “some” in that passage (i.e. “those who proclaim the gospel”) are those who are travelling away from the home and their means of support. Of course, some of those travelling, like Paul, could work with their hands wherever they travelled.

But, elders – who were selected from the believers who lived in a city – were already living in the city and working with their hands to support themselves and their families. Paul expected elders to continue working – both “ministry” work and “working with their hands” – both are hard work and both are expected of all believers. This does not mean that people couldn’t show their appreciate for elders and others by helping them financially from time to time. But, Paul seems clear in this passage that he expected the elders at Ephesus to work with their hands in order to support themselves and in order to help others.

Now, one question remains: Is this passage normative for all elders or just for the elders at Ephesus? If the first part is normative for all elders (i.e. “Shepherd the flock of God…”), then why would the second part not be normative as well (i.e. “By working hard in this way it is necessary to help the weak”)? If you do not think the second part is normative, would you explain what has caused you to reach that conclusion?

Since the post on 1 Corinthians 9 generated some good discussion and good questions, I’m looking forward to the discussion here as well.


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

  1. 10-29-2008

    I greatly appreciate your insight into this topic. I have never looked at this passage in this way.

    Thanks as always for your great thoughts.


  2. 10-29-2008

    Let me ask Alan,

    Why is that we normalize some parts of Acts and then push the other to culture? This is something I have wrestled with for some time and through the reading of the scriptures been called to the table.

    However, I believe this to be normative. I guess the question is if they are already working, did Paul expect them to quite their jobs then ask for a salary package?

    I think the other issue is that for the most part people enter school expecting to get paid for their education. And I believe that many seminaries encourage this mentality by even have job boards and helping you get a “full-time” position. Maybe I am wrong for that but that seems to be the expectation of many of my friends who are entering or who are in school.

    But if elders are homegrown and not transplanted I believe that changes, but since pastors becomes an official permenant “position” in the church and elders are a seperate group of men who are usually homegrown we have a false dichotomoy.

  3. 10-29-2008


    A couple of thoughts…

    First, I noticed that you have made the following connection: pastors = elders or bishops. I think this will be an important point as the discussion wears on. I happen to agree. I would say that it somewhat differently: elders and bishops who pastor their flock. In other words, shepherding is a function, not an office. This helps to avoid the false dichotomy that Lionel mentions. I’m sure I am in the vast minority, but oh well…it makes life interesting!

    Second, I am hesitant to make instructions in Acts normative if the incidents are “stand alone” type of occurrences. If there is other support in the Scriptures that can help us to draw a conclusion then we may be able to do so. For example in 1 Pet 5:1-2, Peter tells the elders to “shepherd” the flock among you.

    Now is the second part of the passage normative (i.e., “working hard…”)? I would hesitate making this normative based just on this passage in Acts alone, just as I would the first section if only stated in Acts. But, I believe that scripture is more in support of Paul’s position here in Acts. I also believe that the early church and synagogue context is supportive of this view. I think the scriptural burden of proof about mandatory compensation for “elders” lies with those that believe they should be paid. I can’t seem to find it. (I think your post on 1 Corinthians 9 was correct).

    Keith Price

  4. 10-29-2008

    This may sound like repetition, but I am loving these posts. I am longing to see the scriptures in the light of how they were meant to be followed. What your post comments on, is what I have been trying to put into words when I talk with people about the whole pastor issues of the modern tradition. I praise God for putting people like you and the others on the web to help walk these issues out.

  5. 10-29-2008


    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad this post was helpful for you.


    I’m very interested in narrative and normativity, especially in the NT. I am writing a paper on this topic in the next few weeks. The paper will include a case study from Acts, but I haven’t decided on the passage yet. Perhaps I’ll be able to post some of the paper here.

    I said all that to say this: Determining what is normative in Acts is not easy. However, I agree that we need to be consistent, like you pointed out.


    I agree that “pastoring” (i.e. “shepherding”) is a function, not a title – although it is used as a synonym (usually) for elder today. In fact, I believe that all followers of Jesus should be shepherding (pastoring) one another.

    You said: “If there is other support in the Scriptures that can help us to draw a conclusion then we may be able to do so.” In 2 Thess 3:7-12, I believe Paul gives the general admonition about working to support yourself. He gives this to all the believers at Thessalonika. In Acts 20, I think Paul emphasizes that this applies to elders also. So, the instructions to work with your hands is included in at least these two passages. (By the way, in 1 Cor 9, I think that Paul says this general instruction does not apply to those who are travelling away from their means of supporting themselves, i.e. apostles.)


    Thank you for the encouragement. Your words (and the words of all who comment) are more appreciated than you probably realize.


  6. 7-31-2012

    The pastor of our church has became disable for awhile, due to an illness. While in recovers the church doesn’t want to pay him his salary! I think it is wrong because a salary is usually your our paid no matter whether you are there are not. I need some scriptures or feedback on this the church is going to divide if we can not find a solution.

  7. 7-31-2012


    In my opinion, you’ll search in vain for scriptural support for paying a salary to someone to be a pastor/elder. However, for someone who is in need – such as this person who is disabled – the church should definitely take care of him/her regardless of whether or not he/she is a pastor/elder. And, there is plenty of scriptural support for caring for brothers/sister (and others) who are in need.