Is it okay for pastors to be paid for ministry?

Yes, it is okay for pastors to be paid and receive money for preaching and teaching the gospel.  But it isn't getting paid to preach that is the issue. Rather, it is being supported by the work that the pastor performs (of which preaching is only one part), work that is often 50+ hours a week. But some will say that pastors should not receive any compensation at all and that they should follow the admonition of Jesus who said "freely you received, freely give," (Matt. 10:8).  Furthermore, people also say that pastors who are truly spiritual should decline being paid. These two arguments might sound good, but are they valid? Let's take a look. First, let's examine the context of Jesus' words in Matt. 10:8:

"These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them, saying, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you received, freely give. 9 “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, 10 or a bag for your journey, or even two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. 11 “And into whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it; and abide there until you go away," (Matt. 10:5-11).

The context of Jesus saying "freely you received, freely give," is dealing with healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons. What is interesting is that in the next two verses Jesus said take along no money (gold or silver), then he says in verse 10, "for the worker is worthy of the support." The implication is that those who are preaching the gospel and performing the ministry that Christ has given them should be supported by those people to whom they minister. Also, by looking at similar verses we find the same message. Please consider Luke 9:1-5:

"And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons, and to heal diseases. 2 And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to perform healing. 3 And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece. 4 “And whatever house you enter, stay there, and take your leave from there. 5 “And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them,” (Luke 9:1-5).

Jesus told the disciples to accept the support offered them in their ministry; that is, they were to enter a house and stay there. If they were not being formally paid, then they must be housed and fed. Should we conclude that ministers of the word should stay with the people they preach to and be supported by them? Not at all. Jesus was telling the disciples to trust God as they ministered.  In fact, we find that when Jesus was carrying out his earthly ministry, he and his disciples had a money box (John 12:6; 13:29) that, unfortunately, Judas would steal from.

  • John 12:6, "Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it."
  • John 13:29, "For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, “Buy the things we have need of for the feast”; or else, that he should give something to the poor."

So, Jesus had said, "Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belt" (Matt. 10:9).  But, an interesting change of teaching by Jesus can be found in Luke when later on in his ministry he told the disciples to take a purse, a bag, and a sword.

"And He said to them, “When I sent you out without purse and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” And they said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one. 37 “For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 And they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough,” (Luke 22:35-38).

Why the change? It was because soon the disciples would be without Jesus and they would have to rely on God's provision through people, not through Christ, during their upcoming gospel work. 

What does Paul say?

Paul has several things to say about following Christ and money.  Let's take a look. 

  • 2 Thess. 3:9-10, "not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example. 10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat."
  • 1 Tim. 5:17-18, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
  • 1 Cor. 9:3-18, My defense to those who examine me is this: 4 Do we not have a right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? 7 Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? 8 I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.”  God is not concerned about oxen, is He? 10 Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. 11 If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? 12 If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share with the altar? 14 So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things that it may be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. 16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. 17 For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

Notice that Paul tells us several things. In 2 Thess. 3:9-10 he says that those who don't work shouldn't eat and that we should follow his example of working. In 1 Tim. 5:17-18 Paul mentions how the elders are to be worthy of double honor. But the context seems to suggest a monetary payment since it says the laborer is worthy of his wages. In 1 Cor. 9:3-18 we are asked who serves as a soldier at his own expense, or does not use the milk of the flock he tends (v. 7)?  Finally, in 1 Cor. 9:14 Paul clearly says that "the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel." Can there be any clearer statement supporting the idea that a pastor can indeed be paid for his ministerial work?