Last week, I published the first five posts in this series on the connection between elders/pastors and financial benefits. After introducing the series, in the next four posts, I analyzed the only three passages in Scripture that mention elders/pastors and finances in the same contexts: Acts 20:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, and 1 Peter 5:2.
In those passages, I concluded that Luke recorded Paul referred to his own example and told the elders from Ephesus to work with their hands (separate from their work shepherding and helping others) so that they could support themselves and others. (Acts 20:33-35) While it’s impossible to tell whether or not “double honor” refers to some kind of financial benefit, Paul tells Timothy that the “double honor” should be given to those elders who are already leading well and working hard in the word and teaching. “Double honor” is not given so that so someone would serve as an elder. (1 Timothy 5:17-18) Finally, Peter said that elders should not serve for the purpose of financial gain, but should do so freely. (1 Peter 5:2)
So, in the only passages of Scripture in which elders/pastors and financial benefits are mentioned in the same context, there is no indication that churches should pay salaries to people so that they will be their elders/pastors. In fact, these passages teach the opposite: elders/pastors serve others without regard to any type of financial benefit and work (independent of the “work” shepherding others) to support themselves.
Now, as I said in the introduction, I said that Scripture does not support the idea of paying a salary to someone to be an elder/pastor. The passages that I analyzed above form part of the reason that I believe that. However, these passages are not the only reasons that I believe Scripture does not teach that people should be paid salaries so that they will be elders/pastors. There are other passages that inform my understanding on that topic as well.
For example (but again, not extensively), Galatians 6:6 is one of the passages that most clearly indicates that some type of financial gift could be given from one Christian to another based on someone’s service. Here is that passage:
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. (Galatians 6:6 ESV)
Now, the phrase “all good things,” may not refer to some type of financial benefit, but it could refer to that. However, the problem is that “all good things” is to be shared with “the one who teaches.” This does not refer exclusively to elders/pastors but to anyone who teaches someone else. There is nothing in the passage or context that reduces the phrase “the one who teaches” to only certain people teaching in certain contexts. Instead, in this passage, Paul is talking to “the one who is taught” and instructing that person about their response to someone (anyone) who teaches them.
Many times, other passages are brought into this discussion, passages such as 1 Corinthians 9 or Matthew 10. However, these passages specifically refer to apostles or others who are traveling away from home (see 3 John for another example of these itinerant servants). The authors of Scripture clearly indicate that we should care for those who are traveling away from home – which means they are also traveling away from their places of business and source of income. (Of course, some itinerant servants – perhaps many – can support themselves while they travel, and so they should.) Elders do not travel away from their home, so the connection is not valid.
The same could be said for arguments that reach back to the Levites or priests in the Old Testament. The Levites were not allowed to own land which meant that they could not use their land to support themselves. Again, this is not the case today for elders. Also, the New Testament authors never connect elders/pastors with Levites or priests. Instead, all believers are said to be priests now.
Finally, the argument is made that it is beneficial for the church if elders/pastors can spend more of their time studying, preparing lessons/sermons, discipling people, administrating the church programs, etc. These are not scriptural arguments, and these are not responsibilities placed on the shoulders of elders/pastors. It is much more beneficial for the church for elders/pastors to “work with their hands” to support themselves and, at the same time, serve others in the ways that God has gifted them. Why is this beneficial? Because this is what every other believer does, and according to Paul the church grows when all believers work together, not when the elders/pastors have more time to do the work.
Yes, it would be a huge change to elders/pastors and to churches if churches did not pay salaries to people in order for them to be their elders/pastors. In the short term, it would be difficult for all involved, and if anyone decides to move in this direction, it should be carried out carefully. However, in the long run, it would be better for both the churches and the elders/pastors.