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Money Matters

January 19, 2008

Scripture is not silent about financing ministry.  We have talked plenty about what we don’t see in Scripture, about the lack of any evidence of any sort of modern “deputation,” about the large gaps in Paul’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 in 1 Corinthians 9:14…

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 God’s work, I want to explain God’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’s Plan

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 don’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 preacher’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 pastor’s living. He sows a spiritual seed, and he reaps (among other things) a carnal fruit… money. Paul begins his discourse on this subject by asking a rhetorical question…

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 don’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 minister’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 God’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 pastor’s carnal needs. When a man’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 God’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 man’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 aren’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.  You can leave the ox unmuzzled while he treads the dirt, but he won’t eat well.

Our text also applies to tentmaking, and Biblical tentmaking will include a recognition of Paul’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 moment’s hesitation. And when he does, he should not miss the money at all. If he just can’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 Paul’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 church’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 pastor’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 don’t send our missionaries on deputation to businessmen, Christian or otherwise. Business supports God’s work the same way laboring men support God’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 church’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 Jones’ supporting churches that Missionary Jones doesn’t take a salary from his church? And how is it helpful to Missionary Jones’ 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 God’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 man’s inventions displace God’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 God’s intention.

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  1. January 19, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    You wrote:
    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.

    Comment:
    I have identified 25 OT tithing principles and NONE are followed by any Church today. (1) OT tithes were always only food from inside Israel. (2) OT tithes were paid to the Levites who were only the servants to the priests (Num 3; 18:21-24; Neh 10:37b). (3) OT Levites only gave a tenth of the tithe they received to the priests (Num 18:25-29; Neh 10:38-39). (4) OT Levites and priests who received tithes were not allowed to own or inherit property. (5) OT tithes were never used to support missionaries. (6) OT tithes supported singers, musicians, guards, bakers, bankers and politicians (1 Chron 23 to 26). The OT pattern of Levitical support included many kinds of support which are not followed by churches today.

    You wrote:
    God intends for the church to meet the pastor’s carnal needs.

    Comment:
    There is no Bible text which says that God intends for the church to meet ALL of the pastor’s carnal needs. Otherwise Paul is in opposition to the ordinance. While quoting 1 Cor 9:14 don’t forget 9:12; 9:15-19 and Acts 20:29-35.

    You wrote:
    When a man’s spiritual ministry consumes enough of his time that he cannot both work and fulfill his ministry duties, then the church must support him.

    Comment:
    I would re-word that and say “If the church expects a man’s ministry to take up all of his time then it must support him all of the time. But there is no biblical burden for them to expect him to work full time as a minister.

    Biblical Levites and priests did NOT work full-time in Temple ministry. In fact they lived in 48/13 Levitical cites and were divided into 24 courses of families which normally worked one week at a time at the temple. While not at the Temple they (1) farmed and fed tithed animals on borrowed land, (2) learned and practiced skills and trades for maintaining the Temple, (3) learned skills such as singers, musicians, bakers, carpenters, weavers, sculptors, guards, treasurers and political representative of the king (Num 3; 1 Chron 23 to 26).

    You wrote:
    This principle would apply to the full-time staff that the church employs. And, it would include missionaries.

    Comment:
    Yes, but not to tithing.

    You wrote:
    The tithe was to be brought into the storehouse, that there might be meat in God’s house (Malachi 3:10 ).

    Comment:
    The first whole tithe was brought to the Levitical cities where 98% of those it was legislated to feed lived most of the time (Neh 10:37b). As the 24 courses of Levites and priests took turns ministering in the Temple they brought up what they needed to the two tithe-storerooms in the Temple (Neh 10:38-39; 2 Chron 31:15-19; Neh 13:5-10). The “you” of Malachi 3:10 refers to the dishonest priests of 1:6; 2:1 and 3:2-3. It makes no sense to bring 100% of the tithe to the temple when 98% of those it was intended to feed were in the Levitical cities.

    You wrote concerning Mal 3:10:
    This meat was first for the ministers. And even so, the tithe is for the support of the minister.

    Comment:
    The tithe was first for the Levites who were NOT the ministers. And no tithe principle is followed by any church today. Tithing is a legal leg-iron used by those who are afraid to step out in faith and live by better NT principles of giving.

    You wrote:
    Since the tithe supported more than just the High Priest, we can apply this to assistant pastors and to missionaries.

    Comment:
    Again the tithe did not support missionaries. Sounds good though. Why don’t you follow the OT pattern and use the tithe to pay doormen (guards), ushers, deacons, singers, musicians, maintenance men and politicians like in the OT?

    You wrote:
    The verse says that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.

    Comment:
    Verses 7-14 must be looked at together. Each vocation contains its own principles of support and reward.
    (1) soldiers get small daily pay plus spoils
    (2) herdsmen drink milk from their herd
    (3) vine-dressers eat grapes and drink wine
    (4) temple workers eat and drink from the many OT offerings they received from the law
    (5) gospel workers survive from principles of grace and faith and trust in God to provide; don’t forget verses 12 and 15

    You wrote:
    The whole idea of hiring a man and hoping that he will eventually pay for himself is contrary to the principles Paul laid out.

    Comment:
    You are putting your own thoughts into Paul’s mouth. As a Jewish rabbi it was repugnant for Paul to teach God’s Word for profit. See about 100 church historians who all agree. The earliest church leaders boasted about being self-supporting.

    You wrote:
    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.

    Comment:
    And, according to Acts 20:29-35 he never changed his mind.

    You wrote:
    Tent making, again, should only be a short-term means of meeting temporal needs. The permanent status should be that the church supplies the pastor’s need.

    Comment:
    This is not what Paul said.

    Russell Earl Kelly, PHD, author of Should the Church Teach Tithing?

  2. January 19, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Dave,

    I’m going to let you deal with Mr. Kelly. I’ve read some of his stuff when he commented elsewhere. Personally, I was very interested in and open to what he said, but I found it wanting very much and then I wondered what the agenda was.

    Regarding what you wrote, I basically agree with you and we actually overlap, but not that much. I had one thing that I have a question about though. If the axiom is that they which preach the gospel, live of the gospel like the ox lives from his results, how does this apply to a missionary who has seen no results?

    I think that a church can decide to send someone missions. The church at Philippi, Paul started, so they were a result of his preaching. We started here, preached, people were saved, a church, then the church supported me. I have a basic thing here at our church for requirements for someone going to the field, home or away. They need to produce something here before they go somewhere else to produce. They must make at least one disciple.

    I’m just thinking here. A good read though.

  3. January 23, 2008 at 9:14 am

    Maybe Russell hopes to hawk some more of his books on our blog. And, I suppose that if anyone finds his arguments compelling, they will be all over his book.

    The point of my post was not to argue for tithing, as opposed to the NT concept of giving. I suppose that I could get into a point-by-point answer to all that Russell says, but that would de-rail the conversation. My point was that God specifies the way that ministry should be supported, and he is arguing against “tithing.” These are two different things, entirely.

    So, I’ll ask Mr. Kelly to kindly move the tithing debate over to our “discussion” forum, which is conveniently located at the top of our banner under the tab that says “discussion.” He is welcome to start a thread there on the merits of “tithing” vs. NT giving.

    From what I can see, his disagreement is with the idea of tithing, and we are working from two very different sets of premises on that… his presupposition is different, and that is why he disagrees with what I have written here.

    That being said, here are my answers to Mr. Kelly…

    Disagreement #1:
    NT tithing naturally differs from OT tithing. For instance, we don’t have Levites today. Giving is not a leg-iron, whether you call it tithing or giving. Either way, we are commanded to give “not grudgingly or of necessity.”

    Disagreement #2:
    I said that God intends for the church to meet the pastor’s carnal needs. And you replied, “There is no Bible text which says that God intends for the church to meet ALL of the pastor’s carnal needs.”

    My! My! My!

    Well then! Really, there is no argument here. You inserted “ALL” and argued against that.

    It is the equivalent of a husband telling his wife, “Since your priority is in the home, God intends for you to fix the meals.” To which the wife replies, “Nuh-uh! There is no Bible text which says that God intends for the wife to fix ALL of her husband’s meals.”

    Can’t argue against that. Wasn’t arguing for it to begin with.

    Disagreement #3:
    I think we’re both saying the same thing here, except that you want to insist that since the Levitical office differed in the details from the NT church, therefore there is NO relationship between the two. But Paul clearly draws a parallel between the two in I Cor 9:13-14. “Even so…”

    Disagreement #4:
    Yes to tithing.

    Disagreement #5:
    That depends on what your definition of “ministers” is. And yes, tithe principles are followed by churches today. The principle remains the same, despite the differing mediums.

    Disagreement #6:
    You are making my point here. For which I thank you. Since the OT tithe was used for “doormen, ushers, deacons, etc… (though you didn’t offer any evidence for all the creatures on your list), I think we can extend the use of the NT tithe to all full-time workers.

    Disagreement #7:
    I looked at verses 7-14 together. Didn’t I? At least, it felt like I did. I was sure I quoted all of those verses, related them to each other, explained the argument Paul was putting forth. And (gasp!)… looky, looky! I think that Paul was correlating the OT tithing principle to the NT giving principle! Great news!

    And yes, you are right! (5) gospel workers survive from principles of grace and faith and trust in God to provide; Well now! That would mean that those who serve the NT church in a full-time capacity must live on the provision supplied by the church they serve. WHICH WAS THE POINT OF THE ENTIRE POST!!! That’s great news. And I’m thrilled that you are agreeing with me on this!

    You are reminding me of the guy who visited the Redwood forest, and staring intently at one particularly unique tree, said, “this isn’t a Redwood forest… this is a Redwood tree!

    Disagreement #8 (&10):
    I suppose it is interesting to take one statement out of the entire post, isolate it, and beat it for being in there in the first place. And when you do that, it certainly distracts everyone from the discussion long enough for them to say, “Look! A red herring!”

    I suppose I could do something similar. For example, you said, “There is no Bible text which says that God intends for the church to meet ALL of the pastor’s carnal needs.”

    To which I could reply (with similar flair): “You are putting yoiur own thoughts into Paul’s mouth.

    This debate tactic could be compared to the lumberjack who, in order to prove that it wasn’t an Oak forest, hunted down a solitary pine tree, hewed it down, and dragged it out as proof.

    I am saying that Paul’s teaching implies these things.

    And finally, Disagreement #9:
    Yup!

  4. January 23, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Kent,

    I think what you are saying is that the pastor earns his “living” so to speak as he adds disciples to the fold. And I would agree with that. I agree with you that there should be a pattern of discipling converts before we lay hands on a man and thrust him into full-time ministry. But I would also apply that in a fairly broad manner (perhaps more broadly than you might?).

    If I see that a man is discipling his wife and children in a Biblical fashion, I am going to say that he is fulfilling this qualification. If I see that he is dedicated to teaching his SS class, pouring out his soul, impacting lives, making a difference, and that his class is well-taught, then I am going to say that he is fulfilling this qualification.

    We through the corn under his feet and compel him to tread it out. The ox is not responsible to go out and get his own corn. He treads out the corn that is put under his feet.

  5. January 23, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Russell:

    Judas was worried about how the offerings was being given to the Lord too. I hope you’re not like him.

  6. January 23, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Hey, Dave, when are you going to write a Wikipedia page about yourself and your accomplishments, and mention Elvis, but never mention Jesus? Is that the key to Russell’s success?

  7. January 23, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Dave,

    I agree with your comment to me.

    Kent

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