The following “article” was adopted from a much lengthier article I wrote back in 2006 titled Message From The Heart” (HTML | PDF). I believe this message is still relevant and may help encourage those who have had questions about this particular subject. What does the Bible actually teach concerning the matter of money in connection with ministry? The following are my thoughts on the issue…
What is a minister? A minister is simply anyone who serves others. That is, in fact, what the word “minister” means; a servant. In a secular context this could be realized as a service that is professional in nature or as a charitable service. In the context of the Chris-centered life, a minister may be anyone who serves others because of a motivation of love, devotion and/or obedience to God. Christ himself was a minister and gave of Himself continually and freely. In the world of Institutional Christianity, however, the term minister is often understood a bit differently; as an official position of religious service. People often associate the term minister with “church leader.” Often times this position holds the expectation of financial support, even salary.
Those thusly employed by this profession of “ministry” are said to be involved in the “full-time ministry” (meaning, generally, that they have decided to stop working a regular, secular job so they can now “minister” full time and be placed on a religious organization’s salary). The startling thing is – such concepts (involving money), which are familiar to institutional Christianity, are NOT found in Scripture as pertaining to true servants of God. On the contrary, the truth is that the Scripture most commonly associates those who minister for a paycheck as false ministers. This may come as a surprise or as an offense to some readers, but I will discuss this in more detail as we continue on this point… I hope to effectively illustrate that Scripture does reveal what I am suggesting through this article.
In addition to the Scripture presenting ministry as being something bestowed freely out of love for others in addition to love for God and obedience to His call, Christ presented ministry as something that cannot adequately be mixed in any way with some intention to make profit from such service. His conclusion was: You either serve God or you serve mammon (i.e. to obtain and maintain the things of this world; your possessions, your money, vanities, etc.). Only one will be your Master (God or mammon) but where serving God is concerned, never both. Put another way, you might say that if the reason for your “ministry” is to maintain a paycheck, then you have inadvertently made the paycheck your master rather than God alone. Good intentions are irrelevant. The true minister of God does so because his devotion is to God and matters not whether it will guarantee him any financial merit at all. The true servant of God does not take what God freely gives him and then prostitute it for another purpose. This may be a hard thing for many to consider, but this is the very instruction of our Master, Jesus Christ.
- Matthew 6:24 (WNT) – “No man can be the bondservant of two masters; for either he will dislike one and like the other, or he will attach himself to one and think slightingly of the other. You cannot be the bondservants both of God and of gold.”
Now, for the record, I do not believe the Scripture teaches that it is wrong for a minister of the gospel to receive financial gifts from other Christians who desire to support them; however, I believe this should be the exception (considering the circumstance) and when gifts are given they should be given from free volition, without guilt or manipulation. Biblical ministers were simply brothers among brothers (and this was their attitude toward one another). Though some were elder (in spiritual maturity as well as age), they were not “over” the others (as ones who “rule”). In God’s leadership paradigm, it is those who exercise humility, who do not seek titles or the possessions of others and who do not see ministry as a profession, but who willingly serve others (even laying down their lives for others) because of love and obedience to the Spirit of God. Only a true servant who prefers others before himself and who genuinely loves and cares for God’s sheep will be an effective “overseer” who watches out for the others and effectively leads them by a godly example.
Some early Christian ministers were itinerant workers, meaning they did not sit in an office or front pew of a church and get paid for existing as resident minister, but they traveled on many occasions to bring the Gospel to other peoples and also encourage believers in different places. Sometimes their purpose was to bring letters and gifts from the saints in one location to the saints in another. Believers in local gatherings would often support this minister by giving him a place to lodge when visiting their town and homes, provide him food to eat and perhaps share some gifts (both financially, spiritually and otherwise) to assist him on his travels. The greatest reward to this minister was the communion of fellowship among his fellow believers and he would gladly spend all and be spent for their sakes. But when a minister’s travel had ceased for any period of time, it was his custom to again take up a job and work for his living. Labor was also the mark of dignity for a man. It was and is the order God had established from the very beginning with Adam. Those who refused to labor for their living were looked down upon in the community as slothful and lazy.
Traveling ministers in those days were often lovingly supported, but they did not minister for a price. In fact, those who did “take up” for themselves were viewed as false and were rejected! There is clear evidence of these mindsets present in the earliest historical writings of the Church. One such example is…
The Didache (Greek translation = The Teaching) is the common name of a brief early Christian treatise (dated by most scholars to the late first/early second century), containing instructions for Christian communities. From it we can observe how many of the early believers viewed the matter of money in connection with ministry. It states the following:
- “If a visiting apostle remains somewhere for 3 days, he’s a false prophet” -11:5
- “If he takes anything from God’s people except for a loaf of bread, he’s a false prophet” -11:6
- “If he asks for money, he is a false prophet” -11:6
- “If a someone says in the Spirit, ‘give me money,’ do not listen to him” -11:12
- “Christian workers should work for their own bread” -12:3
- “In no way should anyone live among you unemployed as a Christian” -12:4
The early Christian ministers did not live on “love offerings” and “monetary tithes” for no such religious “system” was known among Christ’s followers. They were a family of brothers and sisters with a common vision and a common love for Jesus that permeated every facet of their individual and corporate lives. As we have discussed, their travels were indeed sometimes supported with voluntary gifts of the saints and free-will collections were sometimes gathered for the support of the poor, but they (those who ministered the Gospel) most consistently labored for their sustenance and never sought to make themselves a burden to the other believers. This was a principle even among Jewish religious leaders of the day. In fact, the Jews generally believed that a man who does not work is a disgrace. All of the workers in the synagogues also held secular professions!
The Scripture also records that during the two years that Paul preached the Gospel throughout Asia, people were accustomed to seeing him always in his work clothes! Acts 19:12 describes the unusual miracles God performed in this region that was steeped in witchcraft and demonism, as people sometimes took pieces of Paul’s work apron and “sweat towel” and took them to the sick and demon possessed so that they were delivered.
Watchman Nee, the Chinese Christian who spent the last 20 years of his life in prison for preaching the Gospel, said the following in his book, The Normal Christian Church Life (Anaheim, CA: Living Stream Ministry, 1980):
- “It is not necessary that elders resign their ordinary professions and devote themselves exclusively to their duties in connection with the church. They are simply local men, following their usual pursuits and at the same time bearing special responsibilities in the church. Should local affairs increase, they may devote themselves entirely to spiritual work, but the characteristic of an elder is not that he is a “full-time Christian worker.” It is merely that, as a local brother, he bears responsibility in the local church (pp. 62-63).
A true minister should rely on God foremost and never make himself a burden to the Saints. Scripture clearly teaches that a minister of the Gospel should work a job just like everyone else. Yes, it does teach that clearly and very directly! Paul worked for his own living (Acts 18:3) and even supported those ministering with him by the labor of his own hands (Acts 20:33-34). Paul said that one of the reasons a minister should hold a job was so that he may support the weak (Acts 20:35), and that doing such was to follow the example of Jesus who counted it more of a blessing to give than to receive. The Scripture says that he made every effort possible to make his ministering without charge to those he ministered to (1 Corinthians 9:18). Barnabas also had this same mindset (1 Corinthians 9:12). Titus had the same mindset as well (2 Corinthians 12:18) as did Paul’s other companions, Silvanus and Timotheus (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). So did James (James 1 & 2). The list goes on and on!
Do you know why Paul chose not to receive money for ministering? It was because he believed so strongly that it might hinder the message of the Gospel of Jesus that he was entrusted to preach! Think about that for a moment… Why would Paul think that a minister receiving money for his ministering could obstruct the clarity of his message? Considering how most of the world (and even many Christians) today view ministers (i.e. televangelists, prosperity teachers, money scandals in the Church, etc.), is it really any wonder? Obviously Paul had a wisdom that still exceeds that of the most popular professional ministers of our day. Will we ever learn? It is just amazing to me how boldly and clearly these things are stated in the Word and how most of those “in the ministry” today live 180 degrees from it.
- 1 Corinthians 9:12 – If you support others who preach to you, shouldn’t we have an even greater right to be supported? Yet we have never used this right. We would rather put up with anything than put an obstacle in the way of the Good News about Christ.
First of all, this “right” Paul spoke of was for Gospel workers, not so-called pastors of institutional churches, not prophets, not even religious teachers in general… It was for those who gave up literally everything (leaving house and possessions) at the direct command of God to travel bringing the Gospel message to those who had never heard it. The “right” was not to make a living off preaching the Gospel, but to trust that God would meet their basic needs of life. In many cases that might only be a meal or a cloak to cover their back. Yet Paul boldly pointed out the example of himself and those who ministered with him (all of them being Gospel workers); how that all of them refused this “right” and worked for a living (laboring day and night, the Scripture says) so that they would not be a financial burden to any of the believers they were ministering to. They did not expect hand-outs but paid for everything they ate (2 Thessalonians 3:8). Paul emphatically charged (no pun intended) those who would follow his example that if they expected to eat, they should also work for a living. In fact, Paul stated this was a commandment (2 Thessalonians 3:10)! Unfortunately it is a commandment not many ministers today want to heed. Paul identified these so-called “ministers” who refuse to work for a living – busybodies, because they make it their “business” to spend their “labors” meddling in the affairs of others. Paul very plainly says, “we COMMAND them to settle down and GET TO WORK – AND EARN YOUR OWN LIVING!”
- 2 Thessalonians 3:11 – Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and wasting time meddling in other people’s business. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we appeal to such people-no, we command them: Settle down and get to work. Earn your own living.
Furthermore, Paul said (actually commanded the Church) to withdraw from every brother who did not follow the Apostles’ examples in these things (2 Thessalonians 3:6). He also indicated that those who hold to the mindset that godliness is a means of profit are destitute of the truth and plagued by corrupted minds. He strongly warned believers to stay clear of such people!
- 1 Timothy 6:5-8 – Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.
In all of the New Testament you will not find even one example of a minister taking up a “love offering” for himself. You will not find one example or teaching that ministers are to be paid a salary by an institutional church. You will find no hint of an instruction to tithe to some organization or to give money for the purpose of maintaining a building or a program. You will not find a single shred of evidence to support some kind of fund being collected to pay a resident, non-working minister. The biblical word “pastor” is the same word for “shepherd” (which is simply a caring servant of God’s people) and, as a matter of fact, Jesus Himself made this point clear when he said the following about such “ministers”:
- John 10:12-13 (MSG) – “A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.”
If someone needs a “black and white” statement to confirm the Lord’s position on the subject of “pastoring for a paycheck”, this should well suffice! Jesus simply answered the question by saying, “If he takes money for it, he’s NOT a real pastor.” Furthermore, when Jesus sent out the twelve for “mission work” and “preaching abroad” He stuck to this principle:
- Mark 6:8 (GNB) – and He ordered them, “Don’t take anything with you on the trip except a walking stick—no bread, no beggar’s bag, no money in your pockets.”
And what about lodging while on these preaching travels? Certainly they would need to find a place to lay their head right? Many so-called ministers today require luxury accommodations for their ministry travels (and usually the expectation is for the congregation they are visiting to pay the bill). But what’s wrong with simply staying in the home of a willing guest? This is also what Jesus directed:
- Mark 6:10-11 (CEV) – “When you are welcomed into a home, stay there until you leave that town. If any place won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave and shake the dust from your feet as a warning to them.”
It is impossible to gather from this instruction some method of guilting a congregation to give their money. Here we have the humble picture of disciples of Jesus being content to stay in the home of a welcoming host, eating what’s set before them, and then sharing God’s message with the community. If there is no welcome, Jesus said to shrug it off and quietly withdraw. No guilt sermons or checking into hotels while you run up a “ministry bill”. The reception of the people (or lack thereof) was their primary indicator as to whether their message was received and whetheror not they were meant to stay in that place! How many ministries today even come close to following such an example? On the contrary, they often rather move into town, set up shop, and then do everything they can to solicit people for money to keep their “ministry” afloat there. They expect “love offerings” and “tithes” to cover their many expenses; travels, lodging, food, cars, and materials. Does the thought of actually getting a job and working for themselves ever cross their mind? Not usually. Does the thought of leaving if their message is not received ever enter their thinking? Not usually. So where is the concern for any example of Scripture in these things, least of all Jesus Christ?
The Message version says it this way:
- Mark 6:10-11 (MSG) – “And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”
Paul and the other apostles of Jesus behaved in the same way with regard to their travels preaching the Gospel. Paul even point out:
- 2 Corinthians 2:17 (NIV) – Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
As you can see, I’m not very enthused (nor, it seems, is the Lord) about the concept of “full time ministry”. Such a label itself gives the impression that ministry is a profession. So, am I against Christians giving money to help out Gospel workers? Not at all! But I would have a problem with people being charged for genuine ministry. Ministry is both a call and an act of love – therefore it (in my opinion) must ALWAYS be free of charge! That is the PLAIN and CLEAR example of Scripture and the direct instruction of Jesus who said (Matthew 10:8), “You received without paying, now give without being paid.“
The apostle Peter echoed this same attitude (of freely giving what we have freely received) in his own letter to the believers.
- 1 Peter 4:10 (EMTV) – As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
The word “minister” in this passage bears no connotation of some kind of “religious office”, nor does it imply a “ministry profession”. Vine’s Greek Dictionary defines ministry here as: “(diakoneo) signifies ‘to be a servant, attendant, to serve, wait upon, minister.'” Though the modern church has invented a formal ministry office they call “deacon”, Vine further notes the following: “there is nothing in the original representing the word ‘office.'” The word “ministry” simply means to serve others and the text in 1 Peter 4 indicates that we do this according to the prime example of the manifold grace of God – who freely gives to us. What is a “gift”? Is it not something which is GIVEN freely rather than presented with a price tag? Would you consider something a gift if someone handed it to you and then charged you some amount for it? If you look up this word “gift” from this passage in a Greek Dictionary, it plainly defines the word gift as: “a FREE gift.” But it goes further than that. This word gift itself bears in mind something bestowed from GRACE; that is, given freely without concern of merit on the part of the one receiving it. To sum up, we are talking about something TOTALLY FREE!!!! You cannot pay for it! It is something you receive FREELY from God and something which you can only distribute to others FREELY as well! If someone comes to you claiming to have a message from God or some other kind of spiritual gift intended for your benefit, but who also expects payment for their service, leave them alone! They are not acting as stewards of the manifold grace of God and, by doing such, they only prove themselves false! If I were to paraphrase this passage according to the way the Greek language presents it, I would say it something like this:
- 1 Peter 4:10 (paraphrased) – As each one has received a free gift from God (based upon His unmerited favor toward us), so the same ought to serve others freely (without charge), thus showing themselves to be a trustworthy steward of the many wonderful blessings which God has given freely.
Offerings may have their place, but in today’s religious machine they are common-place and, really, serve as the foundation of pretty much all so-called “ministry”! The thinking is, “without money, we can’t do the work of the Lord,” (never mind what actually ends up being considered “work of the Lord”) and then that great financial burden gets dumped on congregants regardless of their individual convictions to be a part of the things that church leaders deem important (and probably should paying for themselves). Let alone the fact that this concept of “God needs your money” puts the Lord of all heaven and earth in a very weak light; where, apparently, He is only able to effect His will if there is money available for institutional church programs! SPARE ME! (add sarcasm)
So many of these “offerings” go for things that, really, are non-essential to the spreading of the Gospel anyway… Pastor vacations, “ministry conferences” (perhaps that’s redundant as this might just as easily fit under “vacations”), church parking lots and building maintenance, choir robes, sound systems, pews, pulpits, hymnals, entertainment systems for “children’s church”, pool tables and posters for the “youth room”, espresso stands for the church foyer, logo-inscribed coffee mugs for new visitors, you name it.
But let’s think, for a moment, about the kinds of offerings received by God’s people in the first century. Was it for religious luxuries? Was it to send preachers on vacations? Was it to sell their writings/books? Did even one of the apostles or Jesus sell their sermons, letters and books? Was it to maintain church buildings, pay hotel costs for visiting preachers, or afford “ministry staff”? No. Money was given (FREELY I might add) at times to take care of the needs of the impoverished Saints in the city. It was also given at times to help send brothers (like Paul) who could share the Gospel with others and convey messages of encouragement from one groupe of believers to another (but note that while believers did support Paul on occasion, he never made himself chargeable to those he was ministering to and, with all his power, he purposed to spend all and be spent for their sakes – 2 Corinthians 12:14-15). As Paul stated, “I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”
It absolutely cannot be overstated that Paul’s own example and teaching to those who would serve as overseers/elders of a community of Christians was to work for a living and never become a financial burden to the believers (Acts 20:28-35). Where is this teaching and example today? And why also do so many ministers today neglect to remind the Saints of Paul’s warning that those who come with a claim as ministers who expect to be paid and eat without working for a living are false (2 Corinthians 11:9, 13-15)? Paul said that such men, who think that godliness is a means of financial gain, are proud, knowing nothing, they have corrupt minds and are destitute of the truth (1 Timothy 6:5)! He warned the Saints to withdraw from such men and to not follow their evil example (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:5), but to be content with godliness and be happy just having food and clothing. Granted this message won’t be very popular with those who are privy to what many are calling the prosperity doctrine today, but it is the message of truth from God’s Holy Word.
Now (as I mentioned previously), on occasion, Christians did support Paul’s travels financially and Paul encouraged the Saints to consider those that spend their lives ministering the Gospel, but the gifts were given freely, from love and in response to need (ACTUAL NEED – i.e. FOOD AND CLOTHING).
- 1 Timothy 6:6-11 (NKJV) – Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness.
Financial (and other) gifts from the saints were not derived by compulsion or from tithing or from some organizational system that officially employed such people and put them on a salary. Likewise those who consider themselves ministers today and shepherds of the flock, should pursue a mindset like Christ and like Paul and they should expect the rest of us to judge them based on the example and teaching we were given by God in the Scriptures. I fully believe that IF God has ordained their service than He will also fully provide every legitimate need they have. But the minister should not have a high and mighty opinion that he is above the need to earn his own living and provide for his family and ministry. He should get a job! This will also help to insure he remains humble, walking in sincere faith (being dependent upon God for his needs), and in view as a fellow brother in Christ rather than placing himself in an elitist position by default. So, in conclusion of this point, if indeed there are sincere men and women who seek to serve God’s people (even if they presently do so in positions of institutionalized church ministry), I would simply like to challenge them to examine their motives fully. I personally believe that the organizational system (along with the positions it employs and makes demands of) tends more to be an obstacle to their effectiveness and to a pure manifestation of body life and ministry.