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Objections to Paying Pastors

Jun 1, 2024 — Jon Here

Some people have been so put off by the commercialization of ministry that it has led them to question whether pastors should be paid at all. We’ve already argued that pastors should be paid. In this article, I’d like to specifically address objections raised regarding financially supporting pastors. I’ll be doing so in light of the dorean principle, that ministry should be supported but not sold.

Objection 1 – Pastors Are After Your Money

Pastors encourage their congregations to give to church, and some see this as manipulative and greedy because pastors themselves benefit from such giving.

While pastors are not the only beneficiaries of church donations, there is a close connection between church funding and their compensation. Pastors, therefore, should be careful how they communicate financial matters to those under their care. They would not want to manipulate their congregations by guilting them into giving or claiming that God will prosper them financially if they do. Such coercion is a form of spiritual abuse.

However, pastors are tasked with preaching the whole Word of God (Acts 20:26-27). This includes teaching on supporting those in ministry, even themselves. Such teaching can be communicated in a way that is not coercive. Pastors should not be heavy-handed in teaching on giving, but they should not neglect its teaching either. We have a responsibility to support the ministry at our churches (1 Tim 5:17-18), yet it should be done joyfully and not reluctantly or under compulsion (2 Cor 9:7).[1] It is a difficult balance for pastors to communicate, and attendees should assume good will unless there is a clear reason not to.

Objection 2 – Pastors Who Receive Pay Are Insincere “Hired Hands”

Since many pastors are “hired” by churches, some accuse them of being like the “hired hand” of which Jesus spoke:

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd, and the sheep are not his own. When he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf pounces on them and scatters the flock. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:11-13)

Are pastors who receive pay like the hired hand in this passage? Jesus criticizes those who are in it solely for the money and “care nothing for the sheep.” However, receiving financial compensation does not immediately imply insincere motives, just as being financially dependent in a marriage does not imply insincere love. The point of Jesus’ illustration is not to only trust human shepherds who work for free, but to trust in the good shepherd. While no pastor can match the sacrificial nature of the chief shepherd himself (1 Peter 5:4), any good pastor will tell you that you should ultimately follow Jesus, not them.

Finally, it should be remembered that this is an illustration of Jesus’ trustworthiness and sacrifice, not an instruction on how to run a church. Notably, the sheep do not give any money to the hired hands (to state the obvious) in this illustration. Jesus gives other illustrations where servants receive compensation in a positive light (Matt 20:1–16, Luke 12:42-44). Pastors should not be greedy while shepherding God’s flock (1 Peter 5:2) yet they are entitled to support from the flock (1 Cor 9:7).

Objection 3 – Paying Pastors Perpetuates Old Testament Tithing

It is unfortunately true that there is confusion around tithing, and some pastors use “tithing” to refer to any kind of church giving. The word literally refers to giving a tenth of something. Most who do refer to church giving as tithing do not claim that we are to obey Old Testament tithing law but merely that it is a good practice that is still relevant to today. Those who use this language often see 10% as an appropriate amount within people’s means rather than a requirement.

Israelite farmers were commanded to give a tenth of their produce annually as a sacrifice to God and provision for those who did not have their own land to grow produce. The Levites relied on this system since they were not allocated any land like the rest of the tribes (Num 18:24), but tithing was also intended to aid foreigners, orphans, and widows who may not have had land to farm (Deut 14:29).[2] There was no mention of tithing monetary income because it was a system focused on the distribution of food. From this brief survey, we can see that it would be inappropriate to apply the tithing system to today and it is quite different to what some pastors refer to as “tithing.”

Old Testament laws are not binding on Christians, though the principles behind them can still be relevant. The sacrificial system (including tithing) involved supporting those who dedicated their lives to ministry. Israelites were to sacrifice to God, and God allocated portions of this to provide for his ministerial servants, the Levites.

We do not argue that pastors should be supported because of the temple system. We merely argue that the way God provides for those in ministry is consistent throughout the Bible. They are provided for through the offerings believers give in worship of God, whether someone chooses to give a certain percentage or not. The consistency adds weight to our view, not proof.

Objection 4 – Pastors Should Receive Only Basic Necessities

Some argue that pastors only have the right to basic necessities such as food and clothing, not a regular income.

They argue that Jesus’ statement that “the worker is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7) is in the context of “eating and drinking whatever you are offered” from those who welcome you into their home. They bolster this argument with a similar passage in Matthew where Jesus is quoted as just saying “the worker is worthy of his food” (Matt 10:10). They also point out that there is no explicit reference to financial gain in 1 Corinthians 9 and most of the illustrations refer to receiving food. And in contrast to treating “godliness as a means of gain,” Paul says we are to be content with “food and clothing” (1 Tim 6:5-8).

Firstly, there is no instruction to give pastors only food and clothing. All references to food and/or clothing are minimum standards, things ministers are expected to receive at the very least. Jesus’ statement that “the worker is worthy of his food” does not mean the worker is unworthy of other necessities such as clothing, shelter, or medicine. It is not only ministers who are to be content with “food and clothing” but all believers, when faced with temptation (1 Tim 6:6-10).

While the instruction that a worker is worthy of their wages is often applied in Scripture through the giving of food and shelter, that does not take away from the fact that they are referred to as “wages.” Providing for a minister financially would not be going beyond “wages” but rather staying inline with it. In fact, there are references to financially supporting those in ministry. Paul received financial support from the Philippians (Phil 4:18) and instructed believers to financially support elders/pastors (1 Tim 5:17-18).[3]

One of the ways that believers are to participate in the work of God is through financial giving. In regard to those who minister in God’s name, John said “we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 1:8). This is why the dorean principle refers to supporting ministry as “colabor,” because by giving financially to ministry we become colaborers in it. Paul likewise mentions how the Philippians “partnered with me in the matter of giving and receiving” (Phil 4:15). Their gifts were not given out of obligation to Paul but were “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18). Giving to ministry is an act of worship and claiming that such an act is inappropriate is an offense to our God, who is the one such gifts are offered to.

Finally, Paul says “elders who lead effectively are worthy of double honor” (1 Tim 5:17). There is debate around exactly what this means but the important aspects are clear. It is certainly financial given the context (see next section). But what is indisputable is that elders/pastors[4] are to be treated with literal honor (τιμῆς).[5] Paul’s use of “double” (διπλῆς) at minimum implies “more than” others receive.[6] If pastors are only to receive basic necessities such as food and clothing then are they really being doubly honored when compared to anyone who is in need (cf. 5:3-16)? Believers are not to merely give food but are to give generously and sacrificially, just as Paul commended the Philippians for “sharing in his affliction” (Phil 4:14). If the worker deserves their wages, then are pastors honored with giving that is below what society considers to be a living wage? We can hardly be considered as “honoring” our pastors if such were the case.

Objection 5 – Paying One’s Own Pastor Is Self-Serving

Some believe that we should not give to those who serve us, because otherwise our giving would be self-serving. For example, if you give to your pastor, then you benefit from your own giving by receiving his teaching and guidance. Whereas giving to a missionary (or other external ministry) brings no direct benefit for yourself.

While we do reject reciprocity in ministry, and affirm that there should be no obligation to support or pay someone in order to receive ministry, that is not what goes on in biblical churches. Churches are open to the public and anyone may come in and receive ministry free of charge. While regular attendees will benefit from the church’s ministry, it is not kept to themselves but open to all.

The New Testament was written in a time when there were relatively few churches, so most accounts we have of funding ministry are in the context of mission and evangelism. But there is no instruction in Scripture to only give to ministries which don’t benefit you. Rather, Paul explicitly tells us that it is appropriate to support those who serve at one’s own church:

Elders who lead effectively are worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The worker is worthy of his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

The context of this passage is clearly the local church, with elders who serve the congregation. Honor is clearly financial in application, given the context of financially honoring widows prior to it, and the subsequent quotes (ox, wages).[7]

When you receive spiritual things through a minister of the gospel, it is all the more appropriate to ensure such ministry is supported as a way of responding to God’s provision to you through it. Part of Paul’s argument for the right to support in 1 Corinthians 9 is based on the appropriateness of supporting those you have yourself benefited from spiritually: “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much for us to reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right to your support, shouldn’t we have it all the more?” (1 Cor 9:11-12).[8] Paul goes on to explain why he did not exercise such a right when with the Corinthians, but his reasoning is sound. Receiving ministry from someone does not make it less appropriate to support them, it makes it more appropriate.


It is unfortunate that there is abuse of finance in ministry today, with many charging for their teaching or coercing their flock to give. But we should not let such negative experiences cloud our judgment. In biblical churches, pastors provide free ministry to everyone who wishes to receive it, without conditioning such service on payment. Churches support their pastors financially to be able to do this, with regular attendees giving generously to benefit the church as a whole. This model is an excellent example of the dorean principle in action, and has been sustaining ministry for generations. We should, therefore, generously support those laboring for the Lord with joy, “so that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 1:8).

  1. I am aware that 2 Cor 9 refers to supporting poor Christians in Jerusalem and not pastors (1 Cor 16:3, Romans 15:26). The principles behind the giving are still relevant to all forms of giving. ↩︎

  2. There seems to be 2-3 different tithes in Old Testament law (Lev 27:30-33, Num 18:20-29, Deut 14:22-29), at least one annually and one every third year. ↩︎

  3. There are three words used for senior leaders in Scripture and they are interchangeable: elder, pastor, overseer. ↩︎

  4. See previous footnote. ↩︎

  5. “At a minimum the word includes the idea of respect” (Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, Word Biblical Commentary). ↩︎

  6. There is debate around whether elders are to (1) receive exactly double the finance others might receive, (2) receive significantly more than others receive, (3) are doubly worthy of receiving finance, or (4) are to receive double honor in the sense of “both literal honor and finance”. Given the vagueness of Paul’s language, using “honor” to refer to finance, it is safer to assume he is not being precise in his reference to an amount, so option #1 should be dismissed. Paul is referring to both literal honor and finance, but if he meant option #4 then he could also have said widows are worthy of “double honor” (5:3). Options #2 and #3 seem most likely. Elders should be well provided for, not just to help them have basic necessities (cf. widows) but to free them from the need to work so they can dedicate themselves to ministry (Acts 18:1-5). ↩︎

  7. This is not to say that the term “honor” (τιμῆς) always implies a financial application. For example, Paul also says slaves are to “honor” their masters (6:1) by respecting and obeying them. Whereas, honoring one’s parents would often involve financially supporting them (Matt 15:3-6). It is the context that matters, and the context is clear when it comes to honoring elders. ↩︎

  8. See also Galatians 6:6. ↩︎

Jon Here

Founder of Gracious TechMDiv

Jon has served as a pastor, a missionary in South-East Asia, and went on to start his own company for creating apps for mission. Every app his company makes is free to use and open source.

The first app I made was for evangelizing using plain Scripture. It was almost done when I realised Bible translations forbid sharing plain Scripture! Copyright has been the number one barrier to my ministry ever since. The more I've reflected on Scripture and the practices of modern ministries, the more concerned I've become.

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