the weblog of Alan Knox

Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits in Acts 20:33-35

Posted by on Feb 28, 2012 in discipleship, elders, scripture | 9 comments

In many sectors of the church, elders/pastors and financial benefits seem to go hand-in-hand. In fact, until a few years ago, I had never heard of a church that did not fall into one of the following categories: 1) already employed one or more people as elders/pastors, 2) actively looking for one or more people to employ as elders/pastors, or 3) could not afford to hire someone as elder/pastor but was working toward that goal.

In this series, I am examining three passages (in four posts) in which elders/pastors and financial benefits are explicitly connected. Those three passages are Acts 20:33-35, 1 Timothy 5:17-18, and 1 Peter 5:2. I think it is important to analyze each passage to determine what it can or cannot mean before synthesizing the information together to help us understand what Scripture says about the connection between elders/pastors and financial benefits.

In this post, I’m going to examine what Luke writes in Acts 20:33-35 regarding elders/pastors and financial benefits.

At this point in the Book of Acts, Paul is making his way back to Jerusalem. He arrived at Miletus, a port city near Ephesus. But, he did not have time to travel to Ephesus, so he sent a message to the elders from that city and asked them to meet him in Miletus. (Acts 20:15-17) He reminded them how he had lived among them while he was in the city of Ephesus. (Acts 20:18-27; see also Acts 19)

Next, Paul exhorted them in a way that is often understood as being normative for all elders of all times in all places:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 ESV)

Paul warned them that dangers would arise from false teachers who would come in among the church. (Acts 20:29-32) This, then, leads to the passage of interest for this post:

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 20:33-35 ESV)

At the beginning of this section, Paul clearly spells out that he is talking about working in a such a way as to provide for himself (and others). Obviously, he also expects the elders to do the work of shepherding and overseeing, since he commanded this kind of work earlier in Acts 20:28. So, here, Paul is talking about another kind of work, the kind of work that Paul calls “working with your hands” in other places (connected with the terms “these hands” in this passage).

This passage also includes the second command in Paul’s exhortation to the elders from Ephesus: “…by working hard in this way we must help…” or “it is necessary to help the weak by working hard in this manner.” “In this way/manner” points back to Paul’s own example of working with his hands to support himself and others. Paul commanded (it is necessary) the elders to work in the same way that he hand worked so that they could support themselves, their families, and others who are in need/weak. (Paul often combines the concepts of spiritual weakness with physical need, as it probably the case here.)

It is perhaps most interesting to me that it is in this context that Paul quotes Jesus (and Luke records it) as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Paul is using that quotation to reinforce to the elders that they should work so that they can give to others (i.e., be a blessing to others).

According to Luke, Paul expected the elders to both work among the people by shepherding and overseeing, and he also expected them to work with their hands to support themselves and others. In this passage, there is no other indication of financial benefit from being an elder other than what the elder earns by working himself. This does not mean that other kinds of financial benefits were not available. Instead, it means that Paul expected them to work even if other financial benefits were present.


Elders/Pastors and Financial Benefits Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Acts 20:33-35
  3. 1 Timothy 5:17
  4. 1 Timothy 5:18
  5. 1 Peter 5:2
  6. Conclusion


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

  1. 2-28-2012

    Well thought out. I’ve heard it said that we shouldn’t charge for what God gives us for free.

    In the early 70s God gave my Church a vision to start sharing ‘all things in common’. The first big house that we bought was a very run down former rectory with a leaking roof and mould growing inside in places. A few pioneers quit their jobs in the building industry to work together on the property to make it habitable and ‘Skaino Services’ was formed. Skaino comes from the Greek for ‘tent maker’ in reference to Paul’s work to suport his ministry.

    Since those days our Community has grown and many more ‘Kingdom businesses’ have grown, which you can read about at

  2. 2-28-2012

    Great post. Thank you. I believe this passage establishes an important Pauline/apostolic precedent which is never later revoked or revised.

  3. 2-28-2012

    Your argument, and the conclusion you are striving for (namely, that Scripture calls elders to work to provide for themselves) is clouded by your failure to distinguish between church paradigms. If your paradigm of Church is corporate and institutional then your argument makes no sense. Should the pastor/elder of a congregation of 2,000 not be paid for the full time work required to oversee the ministry? If I were the senior pastor of said megachurch, I would respond to your argument by simply pointing out that “The workman is worthy of his hire” (1 Timothy 5:18). Not only should he be paid, but so should the other dozen or so “ministry staff” required to run the Church. It is a function of the paradigm. But if your paradigm of Church is an organic house church of, say, 15-20 people, then it is not financially viable for such a small fellowship to support a full-time pastor/elder. This seems to be the paradigm of Church in the New Testament. Within that paradigm, Paul’s instructions to elders/pastors to work to support themselves makes perfect sense. At the same time, the New Testament DOES recognize the responsibility of churches (note the plural) to support the itinerant ministry of those 5-fold leaders (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers) who work full time among the Churches. Paul makes this abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14. The ONLY times Paul worked as a “tent-maker” was when the Churches under his care were too spiritually immature to step up to their responsibilities to support him. Again, correct exegesis of those Scriptures dealing with the financial responsibilities of elders/pastors and the responsibility of churches to support those who minister in their midst does require a clarification as to one’s paradigm of “Church”.

  4. 2-28-2012

    Maurice, the notion that Paul is writing an apologetic for paying elders in 1 Corinthians has been addressed quite ably by Alan in a prior series on elders and salaries. Paul’s reward was to preach the Gospel free of charge and he saw being paid for service as an obstacle to the Gospel.

  5. 2-28-2012


    Thanks for the info and the link. I’m looking forward to reading more about Skaino Services.


    Paul certainly appears to have set a precedent (by his own actions and by his exhortations) for the elders in Ephesus.


    The “paradigm” that I’m using is the one described in Scripture. How many believers do you think there were in Ephesus? By your logic, there must have only been 15-20, since Paul told the elders to work to support themselves. While I could comment on some of the other passages that you mention, I’ll keep it centered on Acts 20 for now. In my next 2 posts, I’ll look at 1 Timothy 5:17-18.


    Interestingly, Peter uses a similar description when he tells elders to shepherd “freely”… I’ll talk about that in a later post.


  6. 3-1-2012

    Check out the qualifications for the rulers of “small matters” in Exodus 18 as Jethro counseled Moses (if God commands):

    1) Able Men
    2) Men that fear God
    3) Men of truth
    4) Men that hate covetousness

    Interesting minimum priorities.

    Pre-old covenant, pre-Aaronic priesthood, no tribe segregation.

    Also, do the math on that. A minimum number would be the rulers over tens. Probably well over 100,000 men selected there. No salaries mentioned…

  7. 3-1-2012


    In that passage in Exodus, we also see that the “elders” were older family members… people who were already known and trusted.


  8. 3-4-2012

    What amazes me is these passages are clear to see, and understand, yet we view them with our “old wineskins”. When we take the time to evaluate our understanding passages such as these come to life, and reinforce our collective foundation.

    Thanks Alan for your use of your gift, and the edification of the church!

  9. 3-4-2012


    I think it’s clear also. Others disagree.