Scripture is not silent about financing ministry.Â Â We have talked plenty about what we donâ€™t see in Scripture, about the lack of any evidence of any sort of modern “deputation,” about the large gaps in Paulâ€™s reported “support.” The Bible tells us very little about the particulars of missions support (I think on purpose). But the Bible does tell us in very certain terms where ministry money is to come from.
I realize that our theme is missions, and that our focus has been (apart from a couple of philosophical posts) primarily on money. But the intention in this post is to address the financing of ministry in general. What the Bible has to say about this applies to local churches all over the world. Since the principles were given to churches in Asia Minor, as opposed to, say, Texas, and since we would expect the churches in Texas to follow these principles, though given to churches in Asia Minor, we can safely assume that these same principles apply to churches in, say, Micronesia. And this universal principle is stated very clearly inÂ 1 Corinthians 9:14â€¦
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
In this brief focus on the financing of Godâ€™s work, I want to explain Godâ€™s plan for the money matters, and then apply that plan to some of the sticky issues facing us today, particularly in the realm of missions.
God intends that we should reap what we have sown. This “law of the harvest” applies in more areas than just evangelism. Certainly, if we sow the seed of the Gospel, we can expect to see fruit in the form of souls saved. And, as we see souls saved, we can expect to see a body of believers form, eventually into a church. But Paul points out some other tangible fruit from the seed sown. If we plant apple seeds, we donâ€™t expect a harvest of apple seeds. We expect, first, an apple tree, and from that tree, a harvest of apples. And apples have seeds in them.
All this to point out that when we sow the seed of the Gospel, we get people, and people have money. And Paul speaks of sowing and reaping in the realm of the preacherâ€™s financial needs.
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
This is what Paul meant when he reminded the Corinthians that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. The shepherd lives off the sheep. The people are the pastorâ€™s living. He sows a spiritual seed, and he reaps (among other things) a carnal fruitâ€¦ money. Paul begins his discourse on this subject by asking a rhetorical questionâ€¦
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?
The answers give obvious enough proof of the principle Paul purports. We donâ€™t expect our soldiers to finance themselves. Nor should we expect our missionaries or pastors to finance themselves. They go a warfare at the public expense. But, in case this argument seems to be lacking, Paul offers even more proof, invoking an Old Testament law to back his claim that the ministerâ€™s support must be maintained by the public.
For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen?
And furthermore, this Old Testament law applies directly to the work of Godâ€™s servants, as well as to their financial needs, which are to be born by the people of God.
Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
Nor is Paul finished. The Old Testament method of supporting the ministry did not end at the cross. Rather, the Old Testament pattern continues in the New Testament Church. Just as the Levites were supported and provided for by the people, even so the ministry must be maintained by the people.
Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar?
Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
God intends for the church to meet the pastorâ€™s carnal needs. When a manâ€™s spiritual ministry consumes enough of his time that he cannot both work and fulfill his ministry duties, then the church must support him. This principle would apply to the full-time staff that the church employs. And, it would include missionaries.
Applications and Mis-applications
The Lord has ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel, and this is in the same sense as the Levites ministered about the holy things, and lived of the things of the temple. The tithe was to be brought into the storehouse, that there might be meat in Godâ€™s house (Malachi 3:10). This meat was first for the ministers. And even so, the tithe is for the support of the minister.
We can make a very obvious application to all who serve the church in a full-time capacity. When a manâ€™s service to the church makes vocational work difficult, the church must step up and support him. Since the tithe supported more than just the High Priest, we can apply this to assistant pastors and to missionaries. Their preaching and ministering of the word requires full-time effort, and it is right that the church should support them.
This is part of the reason why I favor churches fully funding the missionaries they send out. If we send one of our members to serve in a remote place, and this work that we send him to do prohibits vocational work, then we must bear that expense. The responsibility for his provision falls to the sending church, not to a broad swath of like-minded churches. Certainly, other like-minded churches are welcome to jump in and help, especially if they have a desire to do so. But the maintenance of this missionary falls on the church that sent him. That church should send him as an extension of the church, and should supply his needs and maintain him. And he, meanwhile, should act as a full-time, remote staff member, authorized by the sending church, with an office in, say, Thailand.
The verse says that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel. It does not say that those who live of the gospel should preach the gospel. And that brings up another point. Occasionally, a pastor somewhere will get the idea that his church would grow more if he had a youth pastor. So, he will hire himself a youth pastor and commission that youth pastor to go get himself a youth group. This is backwards. The church does not function as a Socialistic-Welfare state. We arenâ€™t creating jobs in a consumer market. The whole idea of hiring a man and hoping that he will eventually pay for himself is contrary to the principles Paul laid out. We hire him when he can no longer perform his spiritual duties adequately without losing his job. In other words, treading the dirt won’t produce any corn.Â You can leave the ox unmuzzled while heÂ treads theÂ dirt, but he won’t eat well.
Our text also applies to tentmaking, and Biblical tentmaking will include a recognition of Paulâ€™s principle. Some men have the ability to make piles more money in a secular job than any church could ever pay them. But tentmaking does not serve as an excuse to go make as much money as possible, even if it might benefit the church. If tentmaking is a necessity for the time being, then certainly the pastor should strive to make as much money as possible. But he also must approach that tentmaking with a right spirit, lest he be found guilty of being “greedy of filthy lucre.” In other words, he should be able to walk away from his tentmaking without a momentâ€™s hesitation. And when he does, he should not miss the money at all. If he just canâ€™t walk away from all that money, then he should quit the ministry and go into business. They which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
A Biblical recognition of Paulâ€™s principle will include a desire to quit “tentmaking” as soon as possible, in favor of a full day at the office. We are told once that Paul made tents. We know that he did not make himself chargeable to those he ministered to, and we know that he did not receive any sort of regular support the way we do today. We can assume then that he made tents more than occasionally. But our goal should be that the church would support us. This is the churchâ€™s first calling, and first responsibility. Malachi gave this reason for commanding that the tithes be brought into the storehouse (Malachi 3:10). And a right application of I Corinthians 9 means that the pastor is leading his church up to the place where they will support him full time. Even if he has a really lucrative tentmaking business going. The Lord has ordained that this should be so.
Since the Lord has ordained this, it is wrong for the pastor to seek ways of “freeing up the church” in order to do other things. Tentmaking, again, should only be a short-term means of meeting temporal needs. The permanent status should be that the church supplies the pastorâ€™s need. Nor should the pastor allow his personal ambitions to reach beyond the ability of the church.
Certainly, if I as a pastor would go out and solicit support from other churches, and if those other churches would support me, it would free up my church greatly. For that matter, if I would open up a hamburger stand down at the mall, it would free up my church greatly. Thinking of all the things we could do with all of that money makes me shiver with sheer delight. We could support more missionaries, for one thing. We could help start churches all over Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah, for another. And there is a desperate need for this.
But the Lord has not ordained this way of financing ministry. The money matters, and where the money comes from matters. If missionaries sought corporate sponsorships, no doubt they would find things much easier on the mission field. And it would greatly free up the church for other things. But we donâ€™t send our missionaries on deputation to businessmen, Christian or otherwise. Business supports Godâ€™s work the same way laboring men support Godâ€™s work. The businessmen bring all their tithes into the storehouse. And the tithes are distributed from there.
This brings us to the issue of whether or not a mission church should be supporting missionaries when they are not supporting their pastor full-time. Let me say first that I can appreciate the special affinity a missionary and a mission church shares with other missionaries. Nobody understands the challenges a missionary pastor faces quite like another missionary. And yes, I say that as one who has never been a missionary on a foreign field. Frequently now, missionary churches make the decision to support other missionaries before they support their pastor. The most common reason missionaries give for doing this is that it “frees up the church” so they can support other missionaries.
Besides the fact that Paul clearly makes the support of the pastor the churchâ€™s first responsibility, I have to ask another question. When we look at the big picture, are we really making the money run more smoothly? Here is what I mean. If Missionary Jones is supported by fifty churches, and the mission church he pastors in Japan grows to the point where they are sending $40,000 U.S. dollars a year to missions, how is it helpful to all of Missionary Jonesâ€™ supporting churches that Missionary Jones doesnâ€™t take a salary from his church? And how is it helpful to Missionary Jonesâ€™ mission church in Japan that, every four years, he must come back to the states to report and raise additional funds? By staying on missions support, he frees up his mission church to support missions, but he hinders his supporting churches from being involved in other needy areas.
No doubt, the desire to “free up the church” is well-intentioned, and those who do it have their heart in the right place. But when any church, whether here in the states or in Tanzania, decides that they will support missionaries before they support their pastor, that church is disobeying Godâ€™s clear command. God requires the church to provide for their pastor first. Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. The surplus can go towards missions or other things. But Paul says, if we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?
When we return to a Biblical vision for the financing of missions, I believe we will find that our efforts will be blessed to the furtherance of the gospel in greater ways than we ever imagined. When manâ€™s inventions displace Godâ€™s, they always hinder, and never help the work of the ministry. Right now, many missionaries all over the world are under a great deal of distress due to the falling value of the dollar. This could be answered very simply if their sending churches fulfilled their obligations towards their own missionaries, who act as an extension of their church. Perhaps the fault lies at the door of those who, in their zeal to “free up the church,” have disregarded Godâ€™s intention.