Church Leaders Receiving Financial Support from Their Congregation

The Apostles labored day and night in order to support themselves and not have to receive financial support from the members of the churches which they started.  

Here the Apostle Paul’s own testimony about this.

1 Thessalonians 2:6-12: “Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.  But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.  For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.  Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe: As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory.”

Yet the Apostle Paul did testify at another time of how it is logical and righteous for a Christian minister to receive support from the Christians whom he is ministering to.  

1 Corinthians 9:7-12a: “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?  Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?  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?  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.  If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things?  If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather?”

Was Paul writing something here to the Corinthians which was inconsistent with his own life or in contradiction to what he wrote to the Thessalonians?  Certainly not.  Paul strove for excellence; he strove to do the best he could for the Lord.  There are potential snares in church leaders being supported by those in their congregation, as well as great benefits in avoiding that if possible.  Since he had a heart to please God and to have the most effective Gospel ministry possible, Paul sought to avoid these snares and have these benefits in his ministry.  In many things, not just in this area, there is frequently a better choice than the choice that could simply be summed up with “there is technically nothing wrong with that.”  Consider how the passage which was just looked at from 1 Corinthians chapter 9 continues.

1 Corinthians 9:12b-18: “Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ.  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.  But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.  For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!  For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me.  What is my reward then? Verily that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel.”

Even though it would have been lawful for Paul to receive financial support from the churches he founded, he knew it is evidently best to not take advantage of that due to the potential dangers involved in that and the potential diminishing of his testimony of Jesus Christ which this could easily bring about.  Being a faithful Christian means serving others for the Lord’s sake and doing our best to be profitable to Him in our labor for Him (think of the three examples Jesus used along these lines in Matthew chapter 25, especially the parable of the talents- but remember that the parables of the Ten Virgins and of the Sheep and the Goats are directly related to the parable of the talents).  We have to run our Christian unhindered from every weight as well as the sin which so easily besets us (as Hebrews 12:1 says plainly).  Paul made these things clear as he continued in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, and he spoke these things directly in relation to why he didn’t receive the financial support from the Christians he ministered to in the churches he founded like he technically could have without sinning.  There are other principles in God’s Word which are weightier that must be factored in in order for us to be faithful to Jesus Christ and finish victoriously in the Christian race.  Those principles are alluded to as Paul continues further in 1 Corinthians chapter 9.

1 Corinthians 9:19-27: “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.  And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.  Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?  So run, that ye may obtain.  And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.  Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.  I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (that is, disqualified and rejected).”

It is surely essential that a Christian who ministers God’s Worddoes not regard potential financial gain from their hearers the slightest bit.  That is very hard.  Anyone who says that it isn’t hard is inexperienced at best.  It is also true that it is not the best testimony when someone starts a church or starts ministering at a church- and then they are receiving financial support from that congregation.  People can easily question the minister’s motives, even people who aren’t just looking for any excuse to accuse Christians of evil and blaspheme Christianity.  It is better for the minister to labor constantly to both minister God’s Word and to support himself and those under his care.  Yet that can come with its own set of problems and with loss of benefits in terms of the testimony of the Gospel.  Free time, though very dangerous if not put to good use, is often very valuable to have in order to best minister to Christians under one’s care and to witness Christ to the community around them.  

There is a solution to this dilemma which some have the advantage of implementing so that they are not helped financially by those whom they are ministering to, yet they are still receiving whatever financial help they need in their circumstances without having to work a full-time job to support themselves financially.  

What is that solution?  It is alluded to in 3 John 5-8 (as the Apostle John is writing to Gaius, a faithful Christian in fellowship with Christ’s first century Apostles): “Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest to the brethren, and to strangers; Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: Because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.  We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth.” 

In this situation the Apostle John is writing to a mature Christian whom he is encouraging for financially helping Christians sent forth by Apostolic churches to plant new churches among the gentiles.  These faithful preachers had gone forth from established churches to preach the Gospel of Christ and establish a Christian testimony where none had existed before.  They were supported in their ministry endeavors by faithful Christians whom they were sent out from and whom they were partners in ministry with already anyways.  These had the resources and the willingness to help with financially supporting the Gospel ministers they sent out to new ministry fields.  This freed up the time of those whom they sent out so they could focus on having the best possible ministry for the Lord, both in terms of time and in terms of eliminating, or at least greatly minimizing, the potential problems which receiving financial support from new Christians in newly founded churches can bring.  

These new Christians should of course still be taught and commanded regarding tithing and Christian giving for their own sake.  When those teaching these things are not personally benefiting from this tithing and giving themselves, it makes a tremendous difference for obvious reasons.  This money can (and should) be used to minister to the poor in the church, the poor in the local community or elsewhere whom the people in the church know are in great need, and/or for the other ministry projects which the church does.

Aaron’s email is: [email protected]