The Biblical Teaching
on Support of Preachers with
Warnings and Contemporary
Does the Bible teach support for preachers?
Are there any dangers to this practice?
How do preachers abuse the Biblical teaching?
What do popular preachers financially receive?
Those who are acquainted with American church history are well aware of the poor and deprived Methodist circuit riders who traveled from village to village preaching to the pioneering families on the frontier in the 1800s. They also remember the poor Baptist preachers who farmed six days a week and preached on Sundays. Some of these early Protestant preachers were paid in corn, potatoes, and other crops as they eked out a bare living from month to month. Facing deprivations unknown in our day, these men knew poverty first hand.
Today it is different. Although some preachers are grossly underpaid, many others have sizable incomes, live in luxurious homes, drive expensive cars, and receive nice benefits. Beyond this, well-known televangelists and radio ministry preachers may receive exorbitant incomes. No longer can such preachers say, as did Peter, I do not possess silver and gold (Acts 3:6). Nor can they say, with Paul, We are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated and are homeless (1 Corinthians 4:11). They believe that the deprivation manifested by Jesus and His disciples is a thing of the past. Lets explore what God says in His Word about the financial support of preachers and teachers.
As we examine the Word of God, we are impressed with the numerous passages making reference to the right and wrong view of money. Although many scriptures show the dangers of wealth as well as the proper use of material resources, some of the texts relate to both true and false teachers.
Preachers and Teachers May be Supported
Lets first notice what Scripture reveals about the proper God-sanctioned support of true preachers and teachers. Paul is a primary example of a man of God who communicated truth for the sake of truth and not for material gain. He told the Corinthians, I preached the gospel of God to you without charge (2 Corinthians 11:7). He went on to say, with irony, I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you. . . . In everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, and will continue to do so (vv. 8-9; cf. 12:13). Paul insisted that he did not have monetary motives when he came to Corinth and preached the gospel. The apostle insists that both he and Titus did not take advantage of these brothers by receiving money from them to communicate Gods message (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:14-18). He could affirm, I do not seek what is yours but you (v. 14). He could offer the gospel without charge (1 Corinthians 9:18).
When Paul preached, and particularly when financial support was not received, he was willing to work with his hands, as a tent-maker (Acts 18:2-3). He said to the Ephesian elders, These hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me (Acts 20:33-35).
While Paul stresses that he did not communicate Gods message to people for financial gain, he did often state that Christian workers should be or may be supported. He stated, The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:14). The apostle gives a number of solid reasons why proclaimers should be financially supported in their worthy work (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:3-15).
Paul was grateful that the Philippian brothers were willing to support him (Philippians 1:5-7). They had sent a sizable gift to him while he was chained in Rome for the cause of Christ (2:25, 30; cf. 4:10-18). However, he affirmed that he could live with such support and live without it. He was grateful for financial support, but he was not a slave to itfor he wound be content (4:11-12). If these brothers supported him in his preaching labors, they would be rewarded (v. 17).
When Paul wrote to the beloved saints in Thessalonica, he emphasized that he was not like the pagan traveling teachers who were filled with greed. In contrast, he maintained that his motives were entirely pure and unselfish. Notice his statements: We never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed (1 Thessalonians 2:5; cf. vv. 1-4). He then stated that he was willing to work rather than receive wages from them: You recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God (v. 9; cf. vv. 10-12). The interested reader should read the entire first two chapters of this letter.
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle again emphasizes his willingness to labor and provide a good example to the believers: With labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example (2 Thessalonians 3:8-9). Note that Paul freely acknowledged his right to receive financial support as he preached the gospel, for the Lord Jesus had established this principle (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:14; Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7). In fact, the Lord Himself was supported by interested women (cf. Luke 8:1-3).
Paul also emphasized that elders (overseers or shepherds of the local flock of believers) should be considered worthy of double honorwhich would include financial support (1 Timothy 5:17-18). At the same time, he stressed that they should be free from the love of money (3:3) and not be fond of sordid gain (Titus 1:7). Peter also says that these elders should exercise oversight, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God, and he then warns, and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness (1 Peter 5:2). We can see that God not only provided for their support, but also strongly warned about mercenary motives in receiving this support. This delicate balance must be maintained.
In addition to preachers and elders, other Christian workers could be supported. The apostle Paul stated that teachers may be financially supported: The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him (Galatians 6:6). The good things would include financial support. Further, Paul warns that servants (deacons) are not to be fond of sordid gain (1 Timothy 3:8). While this is not explicit, it may suggest that servants (deacons) could be supported, but must not labor for the purpose of financial remuneration.
A Needed Caution: Not too Little, not too Much
We need to emphasize an important point at this juncture in our discussion. While the scriptures above show the legitimacy of Christian workers being supported in their service, this is not always wise and expedient. There are many conditions and situations that would advise against a preacher receiving full support in his work.
For instance, some may be laboring in a new area and there just isnt sufficient support available for him to devote full time to the work of the Lord. Others may be laboring in an unusual situation composed of people who are reluctant to support anyone in their labors, thinking that this should always be work done without financial help. While this may be faulty reasoning, sometimes one may need to work with the weaknesses and misunderstandings of others for a time.
There may also be situations in which one is working with many people in poverty and it wouldnt be expedient to be supported. There is also the situation where a Christian worker is in a new area without believers at all and a work needs to begin at the very foundation. There just wouldnt be the availability of funds for the support of anyone. In Pauls case, he sometimes supported himself because he wanted to be an example of hard work for the benefit of Christians who needed this example (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).
We can see that while Scripture does teach that preachers and other Christian workers may be financially supported in their work (just as Jesus and His apostles were supported in their preaching), this is not always advisable. Sometimes a preacher must fend for himself, working in an occupation or in some other way earning a living, so that he might be able to serve people. We must acknowledge that this arrangement will necessarily curtail much of the work that he might directly do in preaching, teaching, visiting, writing, studying, and other such work. It will also place a burden in seeking to maintain a marriage and family while earning a living in a secular field and trying to find time to study and teach as well. However, it just must sometimes be done because of circumstances.
Although it is vital that we emphasize the dangers of preachers serving for the sake of money, we must not go to the opposite extreme. Some professing Christians somehow think that a preacher can fully support himself in a secular job and, at the same time, teach both morning and evening on the Lords day, teach a couple more times during the week, visit believers and non-believers in their homes, visit the hospital, study the Scriptures, prepare lessons, help his wife to home-school the children, nurture his wifeand still have an ideal home life! It cant be done!
One poll surveyed the opinions of members concerning how much a preacher should do and how much time he should devote to the ministry. The total was about 60 to 80 hours a week! If he had a secular job in addition, that would be 125 hours a week total! He would get no sleep. His family would suffer and his health would break.
If one must work at a secular job, he simply cannot do all that he would like to do. If an assembly of saints supports a preacher or other Christian worker, they should provide enough income that he will not be under constant duress as he tries to pay the bills. It can be very disruptive and stressful to try to carry on the work of the Lord while knowing that bills are due and there is no way to pay them. If they are unwilling to do this, the preacher simply cannot do as much in the Lords work, even if he would like to do so.
The apostles in Jerusalem found themselves in an impossible situation as they tried to serve the needs of the widows. They choose to solve the dilemma by having the brothers choose seven men to serve the widows. They explained, It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables (Acts 6:3; cf. vv. 1-6). Many worthy preachers have neglected the Word in order to do the work that others could well do. Also, some have neglected their families in order to devote themselves to the Word and people, but the outcome has been tragic.
It is good to realize that God has equipped believers to serve others in the body in various ways. Each person has his own gift or gifts (cf. Romans 12:3-8; 1 Peter 4:11; Ephesians 4:11-16). God has called certain men to serve as teachers, preachers, servants, exhorters, givers, shepherds/elders/overseers, and others. Some of these may be supported either partially or fully in the work to which God has equipped them.
False Teachers and their Greed for Gain
Not only is there much information about what God wants in support of Christian workers, but there are a number of warnings about false teachers whose greed motivates their erroneous message.
Paul, for example, speaks of men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, but he proceeds to characterize them as ones who suppose that godliness [margin, religion] is a means of gain (1 Timothy 6:5). We all know that there are many contemporary preachers who use religion as a means of personal gain. The apostle then says that those who want to get rich [presumably including the false teachers who seek financial gain] fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction (vv. 6-10). Paul warns Timothy to avoid this materialistic perspectiveflee from these things (v. 11).
In his second letter (2 Timothy), Paul speaks of the difficult times of the last days, saying that men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure, rather than lovers of God (3:1-4). Some of these men who have a form of godliness [religion] (v. 5) would be teachers of error and influence households of believers (vv. 6-7).
When Paul wrote to Titus, he speaks of many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially Jews, who must be silenced because they were upsetting whole families (1:10-11). What were they doing? They were teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain (v. 11). Not only were these men false teachers, but they had a materialistic and greedy character.
Peter also speaks of the rise of false teachers, warning the believers that in their greed they will exploit you with false words (2 Peter 2:3). These false teachers will entice unstable souls and will have a heart trained in greed (v. 14; cf. Jude 16). Greed and false teaching are often combined!
What Have We Observed?
We have examined Pauls instructions that preachers, elders, and teachers may be financially supported in their work for the Lord. While this support is not essential or mandatory, sometimes not even expedient, and wisdom would say that it isnt wise or advisable, the apostle does defend the propriety of this in some circumstances.
We have also seen that Paul and Peter warn against wrong attitudes toward money by Christian teachers and overseers. They must not be greedy of gain and must not love money. They must carefully avoid any service for the sake of financial reward.
And, finally, these apostles warn that false teachers often are greedy for gain. They sometimes teach their aberrant doctrines for the sake of financial remuneration. They love money and this shows their wrong motives. As we have noted above, greedy attitudes and false doctrine are often connected.
Current Income of Preachers
In order to get some background on what preachers and pastors do receive in their work, lets notice what research has given us. The Payscale website tells us the following.
Median Income by Years of Experience
1-4 Years $29,688
5-9 Years $33,787
10-19 Years $61,698
20 or more Years $56,803
Another Payscale website (cbsalary.com) says that the average United States salary for a pastor is $57,634.
A final source (salary.com) says that a senior pastor earns $83,196 and an associate pastor earns $60,410.
As we can see, there is some range here, from about $30,000 to $84,000 a year, with perhaps $60,000 the averageall depending on the size of the congregation, the years of service, the location, the denomination, and other variables. As we shall soon see, the ministry leaders and televangelists hardly fall within this range in salary!
If we were to treat this matter thoroughly, we would need to question the very existence of human ecclesiastical and denominational organizations. As a part of this system of unscriptural churchianity, we see unscriptural church positions, filled by unscriptural officers, with unscriptural qualifications, and along with this, a defective salary system that is patterned after the corporate world. At this point, we are mainly treating the matter of yearly income and how this may reflect a right or wrong view of finances.
What about Today?
This problem of greed for money is not merely something found on the pages of Scripture. This inspired instruction of the Lord is very much needed in our own day. Further, we also need to be reminded that true teachers and preachers may be legitimately supported, under careful conditions. We need the reminder that those who are supported must not love money, or teach for the sake of money, or seek earthly riches. Finally, we need the reminder that there are a vast number of false teachers, preachers, pastors, and professing Christian leaders who have a materialistic focus. They major on money, are filled with greed, and fleece the flock as they take advantage of unsuspecting followers who blindly follow these contemporary hypocrites and Balaam-like teachers.
Recently, I consulted Charity Navigator, the website that examines and evaluates the way many charities, religious organizations, and church ministries use the money that they receive. They do this so that would-be donors may receive an unbiased, independent, and accurate evaluation on how well their contributions are handledincluding expenses, fund-raising, and salaries of the leaders.
As I examined this information, I was amazed and dismayed to see how much some of the leading evangelists, teachers, and television personalities receive. Many earn vast amounts of income! We must also keep this in mind: These figures only represent the amounts they receive from the given ministry contribution. Beyond this, they may receive income as a pastor or preacher with a church, they may receive personal gifts for their services, they may have their health insurance supplied, and they may be given a retirement fund, a car, as well as a house (or houses) to use.
Later you will notice that many preachers also have their wives (or other family members) on the payrollthus this increases the family income even more greatly! We find this practice very repulsive and perhaps dishonest! If all of these sources of income were combined, we can see that these well-known personalities would have an extremely high annual incomefar more than the poor follower who dutifully sends in his or her tithe or gift to the ministry!
I can recall some years ago, when Chuck Swindol lived in California, and he built a large mansion of one or two million dollars. Radio listeners and church members were dismayed with his expenditure. However, this kind of situation prevails regularly in the world of public evangelists.
We have all read the newspapers, the news magazines, or listened to reports on the TV or radio. The Prosperity preachers (Word of Faith or Name it and Claim it preachers) are renowned for their lavish lifestyles that bring disrepute on the worthy name of Jesus Christ. Most of us have heard of Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne, James Bakker (deceased), Robert Tilton, Paul and Jan Crouch, Jimmy Swaggart, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Kenneth Hagin (deceased), Oral and Richard Roberts, Creflo Dollar, Marilyn Hickey, T. D. Jakes, Randy and Paula White, Junita Bynum, Rod Parsley, Joyce Meyer, and many others who live like kings and queens on earth because of the contributions of their followers. Seemingly oblivious to the many warnings in Scripture about preaching for gain, these leaders unashamedly seek to live in luxury at the expense of deceived or gullible ministry donors.
In light of this situation, I was struck with how relevant is the Scriptural teaching about money. Remember what we learned in our short Scriptural surveyand how the Biblical teachings relate to the modern situation.
1. Preachers, teachers, and elders may be supported. However, surely these persons were not to receive vast sums of money, much more than most others.
2. Preachers and teachers were to renounce all greed, all love of money, and all earthly riches. They were not mercenary-minded. However, today we do find many big name radio and television personalities and mega-church pastors receiving exorbitant amounts of incomefar more than common pastors in the neighborhood. Some of them receive vast riches in connection with their ministriesoften unknown to the deceived donors.
3. False teachers and preachers often were greedy men who took advantage of those deceived followers who supported them. Today we also observe that many of these popular preachers proclaim a false message, teach a false gospel, promote a false theology, and clearly deceive their listenersmany of whom should know better because of Scriptural warnings.
The organization that weve mentioned above (Charity Navigator) that evaluates charitable and religious organizations and ministries, points out that many religious groups do not report their financial situation to the public. Many of the health and wealth Prosperity televangelists and teachers are not mentioned on the website. We are aware of the vast false teaching of people like Ken Copeland, Benny Hinn, Paul Crouch, Creflo Dollar, Oral and Richard Roberts, and others. For some months now, Ken Copeland has been battling legal authorities, since he refuses to tell the public the vast amounts of money he is given each year, the multi-million dollar mansion he lives in, the luxurious automobiles he drives, and the number of planes that he has through the ministry. We cannot use the Charity Navigator website to obtain information on all of these false teachers.
Although the website above (Charity Navigator) does not provide income statistics for some preachers or evangelists, Russell Kelly does help us with some of this information (see tithing-russkelly.com/id81). Purportedly, the following well-known preachers and teachers encourage the practice of tithing. We have cited these statistics in our booklet, Christian Giving, and we simply lift some of that material and include it below (pp. 45-46):
· John Hagee–$1,300,000 from his ministry and Cornerstone Church.
· Joyce Meyerwith compensation package of up to $900,000 a year and $450,000 for her husband.
· Paul Crouch–$409,306 annual salary, plus Jan Crouch with $361,000; plus $5 million mansion, tennis court, six-car garage, and pool with fountain; plus an 80 acre ministry estate in Dallas worth $10 million.
· Charles Stanley of In Touch Ministries, at $299,512 a year.
· Pat Robertson of CBN at $306,293 a year.
· Wes Stafford of Compassion International at $202,679 a year.
· Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, at $218,614 per year.
· James Robison of Life Outreach International at $195,500 a year.
· Hank Hannegraaf, president of The Christian Research Institute and speaker on The Bible Answer Man broadcast, received $280,331 a year, plus a $66,000 Lexus.
These figures are several years old at this point, thus the present amounts would probably be higher. (There is also a slight discrepancy between the figures given by Kelly and those given by Charity Navigator.)
Now, lets notice the salary of some of these personalities who are cited on this informational website (note that the benefits package would not be included in this in some cases). You will probably recognize some of these men and women. If you listen to much Christian radio or watch much religious television, you may be familiar with a large number of the men and women we will mention below.
Grace to You
Andrew Wommack Ministries
Billy Graham Evang. Assoc.
William Franklin Graham III
William Franklin Graham III
Trinity Boadcasting Network
Paul Crouch Jr
Peter Popoff Ministries
Bob Larson Ministries
Feed the Children
Larri Sue Jones
American Bible Society
Christian Broadcasting Netwk
Family Life Radio
Randy L. Carlson
Crown Financial Ministries
J. David Rae
Focus on the Family
Buford D. Tackett III
Diane S. Passno
Food for All
Intervarsity Christian Fellowsh
Alexander D. Hill
Joni and Friends
Neil Douglas Mazza
Ravi Zacharias Intern. Ministri
Voice of the Martyrs
Walk Thru the Bible
Love a Child, Inc.
Back to the Bible
Christ for the Nations
Christian Broadcasting Net.
Christian Research Institute
Dawson McAllister Assoc.
Educational Media Found.
Eternal Word Television
Family Life Radio
Far East Broadcasting
Gregg J. Harris
In Touch Ministries
Insight for Living
Jack Van Impe Ministries
Jack Van Impe
Rexella Van Impe
Jewish Voice Ministries
Key Life Network
Luis Palau Association
Mario Murillo Ministries
New Life Ministries
Oral Roberts Evang. Assoc.
Radio Bible Class Ministries
Truth for Life
David P. Jeremiah
David M. Jeremiah
Donna M. Jeremiah
Institute for Creation Research
John D. Morris
Answers in Genesis
Lets Make Some Applications
We have examined what Scripture says about the rightfulness of financial support for true servants of God as well as the various warnings of false teachers who would be filled with greed in their ministry. We have noticed the financial support for pastors in the various Protestant denominations, ranging from about $30,000 to $84,000. Now we have noticed the yearly income of some of the leading radio and television teachers and preachers that may range from $100,000 to $600,000 a year.
What conclusions can we draw from these facts?
1. Probably many of these preachers and teachers have additional income. Many of these receive even more material wealth! Some of them are seminary professors or presidents, and would receive income from that position as well as the radio or television ministry. Further, other amenities, such as insurance, housing, savings, automobile, and transportation expense, would push their income even higher. Remuneration given to their spouses would increase there income even more.
2. Probably the majority of these teachers and preachers are false teachers, promoting a wide range of false teachings (health and wealth, ecumenicalism, unconditional security, denominationalism, worldliness, militarism, nationalism, and various other compromises).
3. We cannot see into the hearts of these men and women, but probably many of them are encouraged to teach the compromising doctrines they do because of the support they receive. If donors did not support their ministries, their influence would be minimized or even caused to cease.
4. Probably many poor and needy listeners and followers have been deceived by these speakers and think they are doing something good and pleasing to God in sending their financial support. They are deceived in thinking that they are offering service to God (John 16:2) when the very opposite is the case. Yet, Scripture warns, Do not be deceived (1 Corinthians 15:33).
5. Some of the Prosperity teachers twist Scripture and tell their followers that Jesus was a rich man (yet the Bible says the opposite: Luke 9:58; 8:3; 2:22-24). Others deceive their disciples into thinking that the apostle Paul was very wealthy (again, Scripture says the very opposite: 1 Corinthians 4:11; 2 Corinthians 11:27; Acts 20:33-35; Philippians 4:11-19). When they twist or distort Scripture and deceive their donors in this way, they not only make allowance for their own materialism but also encourage it in others. (See 3 Peter 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Romans 1:32).
6. Probably many or even most of the listeners are not aware of the massive incomes of some of these teachers and preachers. How many are aware that their favorite teacher is living like royalty when they, themselves, live in poverty? How many are aware that their popular preacher receives two, three, five, or ten times what they earn? (My own wages in life have been very low, and some of these preachers earn 10, 20, 30, or even 40 times what I would receive!)
7. Some of these teachers and preachers employ their wife and other family members, thereby increasing their family income even more. When they divide the family income in this way, it appears that the income they receive is not as high. This can be deceptive.
8. We might wonder how it is possible for such teachers and preachers to speak on materialism, finances, poverty, human need, and like subjects, when they have no real financial needs and they are manifesting the very materialism that Jesus condemns. (Just this past week one well-known radio preacher [from our list] was discussing the view of riches found in the book of James and the warning against thisbut the preacher himself is a rich man!)
9. How can they rightly, accurately, and sincerely speak about endurance through financial deprivation and material needs when they receive exorbitant incomes, twice that of the average pastor, or even five or eight times that of the average pastor?
10. A large number of women are involved in public ministry (e.g., preachers or teachers on the radio, in large conventions, in churches, etc.)when Scripture is quite clear that women are not permitted by God to teach, preach, or pray publicly (cf. 1 Timothy 2:8, 11-12; 3:1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:33-37).
11. Amazingly, some of these teachers lead organizations that major on reaching out to the needs of people in dire poverty overseaswhile they, themselves, are living in hypocritical abundance. How can they beg for money to be given to starving people in Africa, the Far East, the Caribbean, or elsewhere when they, themselves, take some of these contributions for themselves to live in affluence?
The Facts are Before us
Lets be aware of the legitimacy of supporting honest, sincere, truthful, and Scriptural servants of God who are devoting their time, efforts, and money to the cause of Jesus Christ and the promulgation of the truths of Scripture. On the other hand, even these God-fearing servants need to be constantly vigilant of the allurement of material things and money that is so often warned about in Gods Word (cf. Mark 10:21-27; Luke 12:16-21, 22-34; 16:1-15; 1 Timothy 6:6-10).
We need to also be constantly aware of the many false teachers in the world who, in their greed, will exploit you with false words (2 Peter 2:1-3). Do not be gullible! Do not be deceived! Do not be greedy yourself! Look at money and possessions in the way revealed by Jesus our Lord and His apostles. Money is a tool to be used for the glory of God!