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Issues Facing Missions Today: 6. Remuneration for Ministry

Issues Facing Missions Today: 6. Remuneration for Ministry

We find in Scripture at least six different views on remuneration for ministers.  These involve different models for ministry, each with a different focus, different metaphors for ministry, different things being opposed, and different values.  What we learn from Scripture in examining these models is not the Biblical practice that we ought to follow today but ways in which to discuss these matters as people of the Spirit in our own contexts.  What is required of us is a good performance in our contexts of the various concerns and values that we find in the various Biblical models for ministry.

First Model: The Levitical, Institutional Religion Model

Texts: The Pentateuch
Focus: Centralized Temple Ministry for All the People
Metaphor for Ministry: Wave Offering, Gift, Priests
Opposition: Freedom of religion
Values: Obedience and loyalty (hierarchical roles), diligence (fulfilling duties in established programmes of ministry), honour (ministry as a gift), geo-political religious unity
Remuneration: The tithe, housing, retirement, no inheritance

The first model is the most well-known.  It is the Pentateuch’s Levitical, institutional religion model for ministry, but it has its related forms in the geo-political religions of Europe—the Orthodox Church, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism.  In America, most denominations follow some version of this model, with their ordained clergy, salaries taken from tithes, housing, medical plans, and retirement.  Furthermore, the minister is seen as a leader among the people.  Moses, Aaron and Miriam were both leaders of Israel and from a Levitical line (Ex. 2.1).  The Levites were in charge of the tabernacle, God’s dwelling place (Num. 1.50ff). They were also set apart from the rest of the people (cf. Num. 8.14) in various ways.  They had their own camp around the tabernacle (Num. 1.53), they were not counted with the rest of the people because they had no inheritance (Num. 2.33; 26.62; Dt. 10.9; 12.12), they were a priestly, first offering of the people (Num. 3.12) and a gift for them (Num. 18.6).  Their ordination is described in Num. 8.9ff as a wave offering, with the laying on of hands and a purification ceremony.  Similarly, Aaron’s and his sons’ ordination is described in Ex. 29.  The priests and Levites are consecrated as a holy order, set aside to do the Lord’s work, ministering on behalf of the rest of the Israelites.

Thus the Levites and priests represent institutional religion.  The Levites were to begin work at 25 and retire at 50 (Num. 8.24f).  Regarding their remuneration, we read in Num. 18:

Numbers 18:21 "I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the Tent of Meeting.

The Levites, in turn, were to give a tenth of Israel’s tithe to the Lord, that is, to the priesthood (Aaron; Num. 18.26-28).  Moreover, the Levites were given towns and farmland around the towns (Num. 35.2ff).  But they themselves had no inheritance to pass on to their offspring as other Israelites did.

When ministry is understood in institutional terms, it is possible to consider it as leadership, which in turn is hierarchically arranged.  Power struggles inevitably follow, as described in Num. 16 between some Levites and the priesthood.  The definition of holiness often becomes paramount, as being set apart for ministry involves being particularly holy.  And such a calling at the spiritual level requires support at the physical level by those less spiritual.  These views, it seems, are carried over in various degrees by many denominations today.

Second Model: The Radical Missionary Model

Text: The Gospels
Focus: Travelling Discipleship
Metaphor for Ministry: Kingdom
Opposition: Institutional Religion
Value: Dependency of disciples on hearers rather than the otherway around, sacrificial ministry, no hierarchy, service (not servant leadership)
Remuneration: Hospitality as rightful pay for ministry

Jesus deconstructed the previous model for ministry with his radical missionary model.  Jesus’ antagonism towards the Temple goes beyond that of Qumran: He announces its replacement with Himself (Jn. 2.19-22), or with a religion of Spirit and truth (Jn. 4.23-24), or with faith (Mt. 21.21-22).  He calls the scribes at the Temple people who devour widow’s houses (Lk. 20.46f) and the Pharisees lovers of money (Lk. 16).  And he undermines the authority of each group of leaders within Israel at the Temple (Mt. 21-23).

But he does not replace this leadership with an alternative group of leaders.  His disciples are described as children rather than as leaders (e.g., Mt. 20.20-28).  They have no privileges of ministry.  The travelling band of disciples are cared for by several women (Lk. 8.1-3).  They find some feasting at the tables of interested audiences (especially in Luke’s Gospel).  However, Jesus has no place to lay his head (Mt. 8.20; Lk. 9.58) and requires would-be disciples to sell all they have and give to the poor before following him (Lk. 14).  His hungry disciples pick grain along the road even on the Sabbath (Mt. 12).  He appreciates those who have left their homes and families and even become eunuchs—a reference to singleness, it seems—for the Kingdom (Mt. 19.12).

Some mission agencies have tried this approach.  One mission agency would not permit its missionaries to ask for support from individuals and churches; they just shared their vision for ministry and hoped people would offer to support them.  Jesus’ words in Lk. 9.3 and 10.4 become the paradigm: Take no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no sandals, no extra clothes. 

Yet there is a remuneration of a sort for the radical missionary model of ministry.  Such a minister is to stay in one house rather than move from house to house, and he or she is to accept such hospitality because, as Jesus says, ‘the workman is worthy of his hire’ (Lk. 10.7).  The last supper was held in a guest room (Mk. 14.14), and we see this model later in Acts 10.32: Peter a guest of Simon the tanner in Joppa.  Paul also found himself dependent on early Christian hospitality (Phlm. 22).

Paul knows of this view of Jesus for ministry, for in 1 Cor. 9.14 he says,

In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

This is the exact opposite of Israel’s institutional religion, though.  The models share one characteristic: the one ministering should be paid for ministry, whether in the Temple or on a mission into the towns and villages of Palestine.  Yet ministry is no longer institutional: here now are independent missionary disciples, living off the hospitality of others while they heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the good news of the Kingdom.  For such a model to work, a strong fellowship of concerned, hospitable believers is required.  Luke tells us that several women travelled with Jesus and his disciples, providing for them out of their resources (Lk. 8.2-3).  Close fellowship and private funding (‘individual versus church donors’) did not reject the synagogue outright.  Nor was it opposed to taking the necessary precautions: in the time of persecution the disciples were to carry a purse, bag and even a sword for protection (Lk. 22.36).  Thus our second model is not an ascetic model but a radical missionary model.

Third Model: the Kingdom Community Model

Text: Acts 1-6
Focus: Kingdom Community
Metaphor for Ministry: Jubilee Year
Opposition: Landowners of Israel oppressing the poor
Values: Community, Equality, Voluntarism
Remuneration: None

A third model is offered in the Jerusalem Church, as Acts 1-6 reports it.  Here is a voluntary society living in radical community.  Some sell what they have and put the money into a common pot.  Administrators, identified as ones who serve rather than as leaders, were appointed by the laying on of hands by the apostles (Acts 6.2-6).  They were appointed to distribute things fairly, with particular concern for the widows and ethnic equality.  It may be that this is an ideal model based on the Jubilee Year understanding of redistribution of capital for the sake of equality among members.  It is not a missional model but a Kingdom community model.  Money goes towards the needs of the community, which gathers together for teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.  Church growth comes about by public proclamation of the Gospel and by the attractive nature of the community.  The twelve disciples in the community attend to the ministries of teaching, public evangelism, and prayer (Acts 15.42; 16.4).  They receive no pay for this work.  Peter tells the lame man at the Temple that he and John have no silver and gold to give (Acts 3.6).  Their wealth is the community itself.

This model seems to make particular sense in the social context of first century Palestine, where landowners were amassing land and wealth while many poor lived from day to day as day labourers.  The Jerusalem Church seems to be opposing the socio-economic situation of Palestine with the Jubilee Year notion (Lev. 25; Dt. 15) of the redistribution of the land.

In the sixteenth century, the Hutterite, Anabaptist community in Central Europe was particularly known for reliving this model.  New arrivals at the community gave their possessions to the Hutterite leaders to be used for the community.  Another example of such a model, from the 20th century, was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s attempt to establish a Kingdom community, described in Life Together.  Mission societies tend to pay all their members the same; pay rises or falls depending on how many children a family has or on what the cost of living is in the region of the world where they work.

Fourth Model: the Household Model

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2
Focus: Church planting
Metaphors for Ministry: Members of a household
Opposed to: Sophists and charlatans—flattery, greed, praise from others; use of authority
Value: Gospel for Free
Remuneration: None

There are various ways to describe Paul’s ministry.  I have chosen one image from 1 Thessalonians 2.  Here Paul’s focus is church planting, and his metaphor for the church is the household.  He seems to be worried about his travelling ministry being seen like that of the Sophists or charlatans in the Roman Empire, who used clever rhetoric to attract public groups and received offerings for their antics.  They might pride themselves on arguing both sides of a point: what mattered was rhetorical skill.

Paul’s understanding of the church, meeting in households, is that of a family.  So, he compares himself to a mother or nurse, a child, and a father.  He says:

1 Thessalonians 2:7  we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.
1 Thessalonians 2:11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children,….

Yet Paul can turn this language around.  When Paul and his fellow apostles were forced to leave the Thessalonians, he speaks of this as ‘being made orphans’ (1 Th. 2.17).  Now he is the child and they are the parents.  And he calls them ‘brothers’ in the epistle (e.g., 1 Th. 2.17), thus relating to them on equal terms despite his obvious, apostolic authority.  The fluidity of these familial metaphors in 1 Thessalonians is remarkable, since they require everyone to think less in terms of the partriarchal family hierarchy of the 1st century and more in terms of the love existing between all members of the family.  Hence the familial virtues that Paul exemplifies include gentleness (2.7), caring deeply (2.8), love (2.9), and urging, pleading, and encouraging like a father (2.12).  Needless to say, this familial model for ministry lacks remuneration—one is not paid to be a member of the family but works hard to contribute to the family.

Paul says that he does not want to be a burden to the family, and so he toils night and day to avoid needing remuneration (1 Th. 2.9).

This is the view of ministry and remuneration one meets in Eastern Europe.  In Croatia, where the goods in the shops cost about what they do in the West, the pastor of the largest church in one denomination was paid a monthly salary of about $436.00 in 2006.  A school teacher, by comparison, earned about $785.00 per month.  As a colleague of mine from the Balkans once put it, ‘Most of the pastors do not think of the pastorate as a ‘job’ but rather as voluntary service for the Kingdom of God.’

Fifth Model: The Qualified Household Worker Model

Text: Pastoral Epistles
Focus: Qualified ministry in the church from false teachers
Metaphors for Ministry: Household with qualified overseers, servants, widows, and elders
Opposed to: False Teaching
Value: Right doctrine, right teaching, right qualities in ministers
Remuneration: Pay for services rendered

The Pastoral Epistles give us a fifth Biblical model for ministry and remuneration.  Here we still have the metaphor of a household for the church, with various virtues and vices listed for old and young men, old and young women, masters and slaves, and children.  Here the household is under threat of false teaching, and so a qualified ministry in the church is in focus.  Qualified overseers, deacons, and deaconesses are valued in the church, and the requisite virtues for such appointments are listed in 1 Tim. 3.  Also valued are qualified widows and elders, described in 1 Tim. 5.

We know that overseers and deacons handle money, but remuneration for ministry is only mentioned briefly in 1 Tim. 5.  Older widows are not so much paid for their work in the church but permitted charity because of their work and needs.  Elders who rule well are worthy of double honour, especially those who preach and teach (1 Th. 5.17).  By ‘preach and teach’ Paul probably means evangelistic proclamation and teaching.  ‘Double honour,’ probably means respect plus pay, since Paul follows this direction in the following verse with a quotation from Scripture (Dt. 25.4):

1 Timothy 5:18 for the scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain," and, "The laborer deserves to be paid."

In 1 Cor. 9.13, Paul argues analogically from Old Testament Temple service: those who are employed in the Temple get their food from there.  And Paul already has a place in his thinking for respecting those who minister in what is possibly his earliest surviving letter.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 he writes:

12 Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you.  13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.

This ‘respect’ may well involve remuneration.

Thus Paul argues for the right to remuneration, using the Old Testament to establish a legal argument that Christian ministers should receive pay.  The principle of the tithe per se is not invoked, but people ought to pay the piper for his efforts.

Sixth Model: the Pauline, Tent Making, Missions Model

Text: 1 Cor. 9
Focus: Proclaiming the Gospel
Metaphors for Ministry: Voluntary slavery, athletic training, ‘tent making’
Opposed to: Paid servant
Value: Not claiming rights, whatever wins the most for Christ
Remuneration: None

When discussing his own remuneration in 1 Cor. 9, Paul quotes once again the passage from Deuteronomy that one should not muzzle the ox while it treads the corn (v. 9).  He offers several other examples of paying workers for what they do.  But all this is to suggest a different perspective, given his focus of proclaiming the Gospel.  This alternative perspective on ministry entails the metaphor for ministry of a voluntary slave or an athlete who trains hard and runs to win the prize.  Another metaphor is ‘tent making,’ since Paul worked as a tent maker while involved in his mission work (Acts 18.3).  He freely subjects himself to hardship, not for ascetic purposes but for the cause of the Gospel.  So, while arguing that there are all sorts of arguments for seeing ministers as paid servants, Paul opposes this understanding of his own ministry.

For Paul, the matter of ministerial remuneration is just another topic in 1 Corinthians on which to argue that, while believers have rights, there is a higher path.  In this epistle, Paul affirms that believers have the right to sex within marriage, to marry, to seek justice in disputes with one another, to eat food from the market that has been sacrificed to idols, and to prophesy and speak in tongues.  And those ministering among them have the right to be paid.

Yet he believes that it is better not to marry, it is better to be wronged, it is better not to cause someone to stumble by what one eats, not to create confusion in the church, and not to receive pay for his ministry.  He values not claiming rights.  His reasons vary.  As to remuneration for ministry, he argues that, by offering the Gospel freely, he will win more to Christ (1 Cor. 9.19).  Paul wants to take remuneration out of the equation when offering the Gospel of grace.  This is rather the opposite of the television evangelist calling on listeners to send in their money or buy prayer shawls to keep the ministry going.  Money confuses the issue and possibly corrupts.

It should be said that Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4.15-19  ) makes us aware that he did accept gifts—not support--freely given (possibly also 1 Cor. 16.17).  And the letter to Philemon indicates that he accepts, even requests, hospitality.  He expects the Corinthians to host him—even possibly for the entire winter—on his travels (1 Cor. 16.6).  We must also note that Paul travelled without a wife or family—the cost of hosting him was low.  Still, Paul appears to have done his level best to avoid associating money with ministry.


Today we have other models for ministry, with their attendant views on remuneration.  The different views are somewhat determined by the culture in which people live.  A common model in the West is the ‘professional model,’ where pastoral remuneration is treated in ways similar to other businessmen.  Some large churches and ministries in capitalist countries have even developed this model to the related but quite distinct model of ‘business executive.’  Indeed, whereas the NT terms that predominate for ministry are terms that suggest service and littleness and family, today’s terms come from the business and political world.  ‘Leadership’ has replaced ‘ministry’ as the catch-all term for various functions in the church (with grave consequences, I might add).  One even meets ‘leaders’ in the church or ministry bearing titles such as Chief Executive Officer.  Another model for ministry comes from the entertainment world.  Pay for ministers skyrockets because of someone’s rhetorical skill.  The church is built around and grows to a large size because of these amazing orator-entertainers.

New Testament models for ministry often offer a different picture of the church from the ones favoured today.  Yet there are different models for ministry within the New Testament itself, let alone between the Testaments.  At times, they offer very different understandings of ministry and remuneration, although some models are compatible with one another and overlap.  These models are instructive rather than definitive for us.  What these models leave us with is a challenge to us to place ministry above leadership and the free proclamation of the Gospel above remuneration.  They also challenge us to think about what sort of community the church is before answering the question, ‘How shall we remunerate those who serve among us?’

In conclusion, note Paul’s warning to Timothy in 1 Tim. 6.  Certain false teachers have thought godliness a means to gain (v. 5).  They have wanted to become rich and plunged themselves into ruin and destruction.  Paul calls instead for contentment.  He says:

1 Timothy 6:6-8  6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

There is agreement on the various models for ministry that the minister should be paid.  Just what this means takes on rather different meanings from model to model.  The focus is on proclaiming the Gospel and teaching what is true rather than what excites the audience.  The level of remuneration is tied more to the need for food and clothing than to performance.  Yet, in all these models, the nature of the community is as much an issue as the nature of ministry and the remuneration for it.  What Scripture, particularly the New Testament, offers us today are ways to think about ministry and remuneration so that our practices promote the Gospel and reflect the virtues and values of the community of Christ.