What lifestyle is appropriate for full-time church workers? I’m thinking about people like pastors, itinerant teachers, and missionaries supported by a church fund or Christian ministry. How much is “too much” for houses, cars, or food and drink? Should I stop donating to a church or ministry if I think that workers are being wasteful?
I started my response to your question in Part 1. I attempted to show the Scriptural basis for paying people who devote their work to the Lord’s service, rather than taking a conventional job. I concluded that Scripture shows a general pattern where the body of Christ supports people in these positions. Also, I suggested that workers should live at about the same level as those they serve. Today in Part 2, I will try to answer your specific questions.
Neither poverty nor riches
In Proverbs 30, a man named Agur wrote:
Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.Prov. 30:7-9
Agur’s words are wise advice for anyone, but I think someone working full-time in spiritual matters can be uniquely tempted if they are either unable to meet their own needs, or are so comfortable in this life that their work seems less urgent.
Here are two more Scriptures. First, Psalm 24:1: “the earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof.” Paul quotes this to the Corinthians to answer a question about food and idolatry (1 Cor.10:25-26). He showed that Christians may freely enjoy the earth’s useful produce, because it always belonged to the creator God.
Second, when writing to Timothy, Paul stated that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim.6:17). The context is cautionary instructions to rich believers. Paul notes that human enjoyment of food and other needs is granted to everyone. We can qualify that with attitudes that should be found in every believer, such as contentment (1 Tim.6:6-8) and dependence (Heb.13:5-6), but all may reasonably enjoy God’s provisions.
How do these relate to your questions? Well, these instructions are given to all believers, and I don’t find special restrictions for the Lord’s full-time workers. Their position might sometimes require extra care regarding public testimony, but they are free to have and enjoy food, drink, marriage, family, and so forth (1 Cor. 9:4-7). They only need to follow the Scriptural patterns for godly use.
For this to work, however, everyone’s heart-attitudes must be godly. Those who give must give willingly and cheerfully, and those who receive should not demand or expect any particular lifestyle (Phil. 4:11-13).
Evaluating your priorities
Okay, so how should you respond to the possibility that workers are being wasteful?
On one hand, we must not judge the Lord’s servants by any standard other than Scriptural principles, including the fruit that is produced (Luke 6:43-45). Prominent Christians who appear wealthy while receiving income from a Christian church or ministry may have other legitimate income sources, such as book publications or multimedia outreach. Is it necessary that they also receive a salary or other income from the church? Simply going by Scripture, I understand that if they are working for the church, then they have a right to accept at least some kind of pay, although “how much” is a complicated question that I can’t take up today.
On the other hand, I do need to be wise about where I donate, and so do you. Given a choice between three ministries, one which seems desperate and two that seem well funded, what should I do? The answer seems obvious, but reality is complicated. Perhaps God is revealing a need in that poor ministry. But then, the Lord may be allowing the two wealthier ministries to prosper because they know how to wisely use His funds. Now what?
It’s possible to overthink these situations, but the first step is to pray for wisdom before giving. The second thing is to do basic homework about the organization(s), and compare those findings to Scriptural teaching. If you begin to feel uncomfortable about a church or ministry, pray about that feeling and ask God to show you what it means. Maybe you are being influenced by misinformation. Or maybe there is some kind of problem forming, and God’s Spirit is gently prodding you to shift your giving elsewhere.
Finally, make sure your perspective is higher than this world’s point of view. The world values some social works very highly, but preaching the true gospel is dismissed as intolerant and evil. The world also floods you with competing demands. Social media, in particular, can helpfully reveal new needs, but can unhelpfully choke you with information overload. I believe the godly Christian recognizes that people have both physical needs and spiritual needs. Physical needs should usually be met in a way that opens a door to the spiritual need. The served person’s willingness to walk through the door, or not, is then in God’s hands.
I want to leave you with this: Always trust God for direction. He never intended you to meet everyone’s needs; only He can do that. God does want you to be wise (2 Tim.1:7), and He wants you to give cheerfully (2 Cor. 9:6-7). Ask Him for wisdom so you can sort through the needs you can help meet today. Tomorrow’s income, and tomorrow’s needs, may be different.
For more help on this topic, I recommend E.A. Bremicker’s short book, “The Labourer is Worthy of His Wages” (2011), ISBN 978-1-894956-85-7, available in English from Believer’s Bookshelf in both the USA and Canada (https://www.bbusa.org, https://www.bbcan.org/). To locate the original German writing, contact GBV Dillenberg (https://gbv-dillenburg.de/eng/).
Thank-you to our readers for considering this question! What is your advice to a person struggling with these concerns? How would you evaluate a ministry for evidence of faithful behavior, versus waste? The PT team would like to hear your feedback in the comments section below this article.