Should Ministers Get Paid?

Teeter Totter1 Corinthians 9:3-7

But if you want to pick a fight with me, this is what I say:

Don’t I have the right to eat and drink like everybody else? Don’t I have the right to get married like the other apostles, like Jesus’ brothers, like Peter? Am I the only one who has to have a second job to support myself?

You don’t ask a soldier to pay his own airfare to Afghanistan, do you? And you don’t expect a wine-maker not to taste her own wine. And you don’t tell a rancher never to eat steak.

Churches have been arguing over how much to pay their pastors ever since churches started. Paul says he’d rather not get a paycheck, even though he has a right to one. That way he can say what’s really on his mind. And, I’ve got to say, from personal experience, I agree that it’s a lot easier to say what you’re really thinking about church when you’re not getting a paycheck from one. From conversations with people who make their living outside the church, I’ve heard the same thing is true of any profession. It’s hard to say what people don’t want to hear when they’re holding your paycheck and might decide to give you a pink slip at the next meeting.

Paul’s way out of the bind was to have another job that made the money while he did what he loved following Jesus. And it’s not just Paul. You can find lots of big names doing the same thing. Hugh MacLeod calls it the “Sex & Cash Theory.”

Martin Amis, the bestselling British author. He writes “serious” novels, but also supplements his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers, or making the occasional television appearance…

Or actors. One year John Travolta will b e in an ultrahip flick like pulp fiction (“Sex”), another he’ll be in some forgettable, big-budget thriller like Broken Arrow (“Cash”)….

It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s creative sovereignty.

My best guess:

  • The church did much better when it didn’t pay clergy. Paul’s churches didn’t pay him. And guess what. They’re the ones that grew into the church we know today. Jesus’ brothers and Peter all took a paycheck, and the churches in and around Jerusalem never amounted to much. (Note: We’re not counting the Roman Catholic claim to be Peter’s descendents. We all know they made that up. Whose letter is that to Rome in the New Testament? Not Peter’s.)
  • The clergy did much better when they did it because they were passionate about it rather than because it was a paycheck. To a great extent, that’s still the case. The happiest clergy I know are the ones who are doing little part-time gigs at churches who don’t really pay them much. They, like Paul, have other jobs (or a retirement income, or a spouse with a real job) to actually pay the bills.
  • We’ll always have paid clergy anyway. Because it’s much easier for both laypeople and clergy to substitute cash for passion.

Like any rule, there are sure to be exceptions. But even if you’re not clergy and don’t belong to a church, it’s worth pausing to consider where the line is between what you do because you’re deeply in love with doing it, and what you do just to make the rent.