the weblog of Alan Knox

What about work for elders/pastors?

Posted by on Oct 7, 2007 in elders, office | 15 comments

In my previous post (“What about work?“), I said that I was presenting the steps of my argument against paying a pastor based on his position.

The first step begins with Paul’s communication to the Thessalonians. It appears that Paul uses the word “work” in at least two different ways: 1) “work” as a vocation in order to provide support for yourself and others, and 2) “work” as ministry or service.

The second step is presented in this blog post. Specifically, Paul told elders to “work with their hands” (which is separate from their responsibilities to shepherd or care for God’s people) in order to provide for their own needs and the needs of others.

It is important to note that the Thessalonians did (or at least were instructed to) recognize leaders among themselves:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 ESV)

While those “who labor among” the Thessalonians are not called elders or pastors in this passage, the passage itself is very similar to 1 Timothy 5:17, which does mention elders specifically. So, the “leaders” in Thessalonika were either elders, or possibly included elders along with other types of leaders.

So, while Paul recognized that some of the Thessalonians were leaders labor, admonish, and work among the believers there, all of the Thessalonians were instructed to work with their hands in order to support themselves and others. These leaders would have also been instructed to imitate the way that Paul and those with him worked hard with their hands so that other people would not have to provide their bread.

But, there is another passage that seems more clear that Paul expected elders to “work with their hands” (that is, vocationally not ministerially) in order to provide for themselves and others. That passage is found within Paul’s instructions to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20. Paul begins by telling them how they should take care of God’s people. Then he warns them about false teachers. Then Paul says this to that same group of elders from Ephesus:

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:32-35 ESV)

In this passage, Paul appears to tell the elders in Ephesus to work with their hands in order to provide support for themselves and for others who may be weak or in need. Remember that this is presented as following and separate from the instructions to “shepherd the flock of God”.

So, continuing our discussion, does it appear from this passage that Paul wanted elders to “work with their hands” in order to provide support for themselves and others? Does this “working with their hands” appear to be the same as or separate from their responsibilities in “shepherding” God’s people?


Series: Scripturally, we cannot justify paying elders/pastors a salary based on their position.

1) What about work?
2) What about work for elders/pastors?
3) What about honor for elders/pastors?
4) What about the right of elders/pastors?
5) Summary – Should elders/pastors be paid a salary?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-8-2007

    I’m an Acts 20 man. Actually, I work a secular job 30 hours/week and our congregation has decided that they would like to provide regular giving for my family.

    Of course, I am grateful to God for this, but I never asked for it, will never ask for it, and will continue to minister whether I’m given monetary gifts or not. We actually try to shove as much money as possible back into the church funds so that we can meet the pressing needs of those families in our body (i.e., father just lost a job, helping with medical expenses as our church is able, helping fix our widow’s homes, buying them groceries, etc.).

  2. 10-8-2007

    So here’s what it boils down to for me. I work with my hands. In the church. I’m not paid to be “spiritual”. I’m paid to lead the music. The ministry stuff that I do is off the clock, so to speak. If the church can’t pay me to do all the arranging, organizing, rehearsing, etc., then I’m fine being “just” a member. I still give myself spiritually to the church. The music’s just less organized.

  3. 10-8-2007


    Thank you for sharing how God has provided a job for you to support yourself. What would you do if you did not receive support from regular giving from the congregation?


    Actually, I agree with you here. When the church organizes, if they desire to hire someone with particular skills and talents (accounting, for example), then that is a separate issue from what I am discussing. However, the way I have usually seen it done, even the “accountant” is considered a “pastor” – a “business pastor” or “operations pastor”. This pastor is usually paid for pastoring as well as for using his other skills and talents. I am concerned about this, in light of this argument that I’m presenting.


  4. 10-9-2007

    What would you do if you did not receive support from regular giving from the congregation?

    To answer plainly, I’d joyfully keep ministering, teaching, and encouraging those precious people in our body.

    The giving that the church provides for me is purely that of a regular love offering. It varies in size and sometimes includes foodstuffs and other such things instead of money. I am grateful for this giving, but as mentioned earlier, I desire to put as much of this money as possible back into the church so as to build up the resources needed to minister to those in our body with pressing needs (i.e., food, shelter, clothing).

  5. 10-9-2007


    Thank you for sharing about how people honor you. I see what is happening in your case as being different from a “salary”. In fact, I think a “love offering” as you mentioned is a great way for an individual to honor elders because of their teaching and leading. Each person is still responsible for determining how God desires for him or her to honor the elders.


  6. 11-28-2007


    I’ve just discovered your blog and am greatly encouraged by its content.

    I have a question regarding the love offerings. Should that be the mindset of a seminary student/graduate candidating at a local church? He takes no guaranteed salary yet gives the church the option to support him via love offerings whenever they see fit?

    Many of us in seminary have thought nothing of this for most of our academic lives. We must now retool in order to work with our hands while depending on God to supply our needs. Any suggestions would be great. Thanks again for the encouraging writings.


  7. 11-28-2007


    In the past couple years, God has really changed my mindset about vocational ministry. Regarding love offerings, I do not feel that we should ever expect or give it as an option for the church to give. I personally feel it is best to get a job that allows me to support myself (and my family), that way I do not have to burden the church financially. If they decide later to give money, that is completely between them and God… not me and them.

    I find this “tentmaker” attitude is best because it allows a “guaranteed” salary with no expectations from others to support you. If something happens to your job (as with any other church members job) then the church should definitely consider helping out (Or as a need arises).

    I write this comment, as a graduate from Southeastern College at Wake Forest (the SEBTS college). I have my degree in Biblical Studies, which can pretty much hinder my ability to get a well paying job in the secular world. So I understand that your degree will become essentially useless in the “world.” Although, I do not at all think the knowledge gained during your time in Seminary is useless. I am sure that God has a plan.

    I hope this sheds some light on what another “seminarian” has gone through.

    God’s Glory,

  8. 11-28-2007


    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate the predicament that you find yourself in. I’ve talked with many people who find themselves in similar situations. So far, God has provided a way for each one to support themselves and their family, and to have enough to give to those in need. I do not think a seminary education is a waste of time. It is not. However, it doesn’t necessarily help us support ourselves.


    Thank you for putting a personal touch on what can be seen as a theoretical or “ivory tower” discussion.


  9. 10-18-2011

    Is it possible that both options are possible in the church, depending on the circumstances? It is possible that a pastor’s work is being a pastor?

    Alan, in your “argument against paying a pastor” are you saying that it is wrong (i.e. sinful) for a church to pay the salary of a pastor?

    If my church chose not to pay me, I would still function as a pastor in the church. Pay does not change my calling.

    I am not convinced that the Acts 20 passage can be the banner used in all circumstances. I believe there is evidence in Scripture for salaried pastors, even though I do not believe that to be a requirement for every church. And the argument that churches with paid pastors do not emphasis every member being a minister is bogus and does not hold water. You can have all members ministering with paid pastors or not, as well as the opposite, no body doing any ministering. Salary does not change that. If it does, then shame on the church members and the pastor.

    Great message to listen to is the September 25 sermon at The Church @ Brook Hills by Bart Box. He works through 1 Timothy 5 and addresses this very subject. My thoughts are pretty much the same as his. Am I unbiblical for thinking so?

  10. 10-18-2011


    I don’t believe I have ever said this is an issue of sin. I believe that it could be sin for some people. But, I don’t think the practice of paying someone a salary to be a pastor/elder is inherently sinful.

    Also, the Acts 20 passage is not the entirety of my argument. It’s simply one part of the argument. (By the way, do you understand the command in Acts 20:28 to apply to all elders or only to those in Ephesus?)

    Most commentaries that I’ve read agree that the “double honor” in 1 Timothy 5:17 could not (at the time Paul wrote it) refer to a salary or wage.

    If you’re interested, I’ve written several posts on this subject. Several of them show up in the “Related Posts” list at the bottom of this post.


  11. 10-18-2011


    Just wanted to clarify if you thought it was a sin. After reading your other blogs (I had read many of them in the past) on this issue, one can could easily think that is where you stand based on your posts and how you reply to the comments left on your posts. Glad you do not think it is sin.

    I do not think Acts 20 only applies to the Ephesian elders. I also do not think Luke included it to be a prescriptive command for all churches everywhere, especially when compared to other Scripture.

    While many may not think Paul was talking about a salary or wage in 1 Timothy 5, he was surely talking about compensation. So, if that is the case, why is being paid a full salary a bad thing. The percentage of compensation is really ilrelevant. Your comment on Facebook for this blog says `Aren’t elders/pastors exempt from holding down a job like the rest of us?` I find it unkind to those who are giving their best to serve as pastors of churches and just happened to be paid a full salary. Full salaried pastors who are faithful work just as hard as the rest of `us`. Why is it not work being a pastor? Is it because it is in the church? Why is it OK to pay someone to do the music or accounting, but not to be a pastor? If we are all ministers, what makes one role right another wrong? Should not someone do those things without pay too? I guess I just see a double standard. Love offering and salary are made of the same thing…$$$. So, we can debate 1 Timothy 5 till Jesus comes, but at the end of the day Paul was speaking of monetary gifts. Full? probably not. Part? probably. But at the end of the day they are both salaries, whether they give it away or buy a new BMW. The money makes no difference in whether one pastor is serving for the right or wrong reasons. I just think it is VERY wrong to say it is not work. It is hard work, if done well. Just the rest of `us` who work other jobs.

    Sorry for the direct comments, but saying partial is OK, but full is frowned upon does not make sense to me. I just do not get why the percetage (full or part-time) really matters. I know I am one of the few that comment on your blog that hold this position, and I have learned a lot from reading your posts and the comments by others, but I find there is too much `pastor-bashing` going on. I am not saying it is all that way. Most of it is not. But for crying out loud, does anyone have anything good to say about pastors? We are not all lazy Sunday speakers who are more concerned about job security than souls, who play golf every Monday. Some us work hard and we would not trade it for anyhting in the world. Oh, and we get paid for it. Take all the salary away and I would do it anyway. I just would not be able to do as much, cause I would have to go get a `real job`.

  12. 10-18-2011


    The work of being an elder is extremely difficult, which is why Paul exhorted the elders from Ephesus to persevere in this work in Acts 20:28. Of course, Paul also exhorted those same elders to persevere in working with their hands (the same that he had as an example for them) so that they could support themselves. It seems that Paul told them to do both.

    As an elder who also works a “secular” full-time job (and a part-time job as well), I understand the difficulty of doing both. I also understand the benefits of doing both. So, believe me, I’m not “pastor bashing,” but I hope that I am “pastor exhorting”… encouraging pastors to consider the possibility that much of the “work” that they do for the church is not really their responsibility. You would be able to do just as much – perhaps even more – if you had a “real job” because that “real job” provides just as much (if not more) opportunities for service (i.e., ministry) and pastoring as the “church job.” Plus, more people who are part of the church would be required to step up and serve in the way that God has gifted them and given them opportunities.

    I’m not saying that partial pay to be an elder/pastor is okay while full-time salary is not okay. I do recognize (and have been the recipient of) financial gifts (and other types of gifts) from people because of my service and/or teaching. In the same way, I have given financial gifts (and other types of gifts) to others in response to their service and/or and teaching. I do not consider this to be “pay” in the sense of a wage. There is a difference.


  13. 10-19-2011


    First, sorry for my rant yesterday. I did not mean to say you were `pastor bashing`, but the truth is, that many comments from readers of your blog do, and I have found your replies have not helped. That is what I meant.

    From another side, I just disagree with you on 2 different aspects of you last comment. First, you said, `You would be able to do just as much – perhaps even more – if you had a “real job” because that “real job” provides just as much (if not more) opportunities for service (i.e., ministry) and pastoring as the “church job.”` I can not agree with that statement if it is an absolute statement, which it seems to be. While I do agree that secular jobs for pastors can be good, I also believe that it is not always the case, and would argue, the opposite for most cases if a pastor is involved in his community the way he should be.

    Secondly, I find your use of `pay` as playing a bit with words. I would argue that what 1 Tim. 5 says is exactly what Paul`s illustration says it is…wages. Because he says a laborer is worthy of them, which he is referring to elders. It may not be applied like we see it today (check form, income taxes withdrawn, etc.), but it does fit the illustration.

    In summary, I do believe your blog encourages the church. But, I also see it as an open door for those who comment to blast the church, it`s leaders, and it`s organization, without anyone saying much in return. I have just simply decided to be willing to stay something in return. So, as I have time I will continue to read, and as the Lord leads, I will respond with my convictions without trying condemn the responses of others. All this stuff is good dialogue (minus the harsh comments by some readers against God`s church).

  14. 10-19-2011


    Our primary disagreement concerning 1 Timothy 5:17 seems to actually be the purpose of 1 Timothy 5:18. You say that one of the statements is an “illustration” of 1 Timothy 5:17, referring to “the laborer is worthy of his wages.” It seems you take this to literally refer to the edlers and double honor, in the since that elders = laborers and double honor = wages. But, does this work with the other statement in 1 Timothy 5:18? It would seem to be that both statements in 1 Timothy 5:18 are metaphors, not illustrations. Thus, the elders deserve double honor in the same way that the oxen deserves to eat grain while pulling the plow and in the same way that laborers deserve wages.

    While some of my readers may disagree with you about salaries and elders/pastors, I do not think they are against God’s church. In fact, I think most of them are passionate about this point because they are for God’s church.

    Also, just so you can see that I am open to dialog and discussion on this issue, a few months ago I published a post from someone else with a different perspective. It was called “Not salary but support.”

    There is still the important point that Paul told the elders in Ephesus to do both kinds of work… commanded them actually. Most elders/pastors today still hold to the first command only.


  15. 10-19-2011


    Agree with the metaphor response. Semantics for me. That is what I meant. But, I still think that both reach back to v.17 in a way that supports the application of salaried pastors. That does mean they have to take, but I do believe that is the purpose of Paul`s metaphor of wages.

    Also, my comment on readers making harsh comments against the church has nothing to do with comments I have received personally. I am referring to the heartbeat seen in many comments made on many topics (not even just this one) that I have read. I do not comment on all that I read. I do not have the time. But the comments I am referring to do not even involve anything I have said. I am not that sensitive. I have thick enough skin to take it, and I have had good dialogue with several other readers. But it is true that many comments are made that are very harsh against the church. If it is passion, it is misdirected.

    The blog you referred to, I think I read that one.

    Also, I would consider what I do to fulfill both kinds of work you mention that are in Acts 20. I just do not get paid for the `secular` `work`. It`s volunteer basis. And I do a lot of it.