This might be one of the hardest places on earth to be…to be pastoring a church and not getting paid enough for all the work you do. I know of one man who pastors a very small church and he gets paid nothing. They use their offerings to pay their utilities and that is all that they have. They don’t have enough to pay him anything. That is as underpaid as you can get. Others get paid very little so some churches help their pastor by giving him produce from their gardens; some can help him with auto repairs or mechanical work. Still others help them pay some of their utilities or help them defray the cost of health insurance. A large portion of those pastors who are underpaid are also bi-vocational and I know how hard that is. This is not for the spiritually weak or those who are uncertain about their calling. The man of God who pastors a church for little or nothing has to rely on and trust in God more than almost anyone else, so what advice could we give to an underpaid or non-paid pastor? What could you tell them?
Treasures in Heaven
It doesn’t help in the present time of course but we know that our full rewards are not coming in this life. I am not saying that there aren’t any rewards or benefits for a pastor who is underpaid or not paid at all today because there is a joy in finding what a man of God is called to do and then being able to do that. What some might call the “little things” that happen in church and among the congregation have been some of the most joyous occasions that I have ever had in my life. A pastorate is unlike most vocations…it is an unquenchable and irrepressible call from God that cannot be resisted and there is no joy in doing anything else. We work for our Lord but we don’t receive the full rewards until He returns to give to every man his treasure from what he has done for the Lord here on earth. Sadly, I know of a couple of pastors who are pastoring a church while being at the poverty level but you couldn’t tell that from the way they fulfill their calling or the joy they portray in their lives. They have already discovered that things do not bring happiness. God’s goal in our life is not happiness but holiness and there is joy in teaching others about the deep things of God.
That Someday is Not Today
Someday Christ will return and say “Well done, good and trustworthy servant! Since you’ve been trustworthy with a small amount, I’ll put you in charge of a large amount. Come and share your master’s joy” (Matt 25:21). Can any amount of money or things compare with the joy of that moment? No! Jesus tells us that “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10). I believe those who will receive the greatest rewards are those who have little to work with…those who labor for the Lord and yet are unseen by most people and doing things for Him in relative secrecy. Our Lord will tell them “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me” (Luke 22:29). God proclaims “Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (Rev 21:7) and “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev3:21). The truth is that “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 3:13).
Ask and you shall Receive
There is no shame in asking for help from the congregation. For example, I know of an unpaid pastor who had a mechanical problem with his truck. He had to swallow his pride and simply ask for help. There must have been someone in his small church that had mechanical aptitude or skill that they could use to help him. Maybe they had the tools he needed to fix the problem. Maybe they even offered to work on his truck to fix it. Maybe an underpaid or non-paid pastor can suggest taking an offering of canned and non-perishable foods, or even a monetary offering. Many churches that have a non-paid or underpaid pastor could have at least some members who could offer some kind of assistance. This type of pastor is also likely a bi-vocational pastor. Maybe someone in the congregation could help him find a better paying job…maybe a place where one of the church members works. Above all, ask for prayers so you can have wisdom in running a household with little or next to nothing. James said “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2b) so why not ask? What’s the harm? Who cares what people will think? Ultimately you answer to God, not that you aren’t responsible or will be held accountable to the church also, but your vocational calling is from God and you are responsible to Him. You can certainly ask for commodities if they are available in your community as they are in many. These are governmental food commodities that are distributed around the nation that are sometimes available for poor or low income families.
New is Better than Used
There is nothing wrong with buying used things like clothing or appliances. I have found that some of the best clothing, tools, and appliances are found in thrift stores and at garage sales. The old phrase “They don’t make em’ like they used to” is certainly truer today than in the past. Again, the underpaid or non-paid pastor might have to swallow his pride and consider buying those things that they need that are used. Newer is not always better but sometimes used is actually better than new. Maybe someone in your congregation even has a rental home that they can get for you at a lower price. I suggest the congregation knows about the pastor’s financial difficulties and tries to help them out when and where they can. They should remember that the pastor is laboring in the Word for them. Paul states “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17). Paul said “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you” (1 Thess 5:12). Remember that “the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Tim 5:18).
I would do anything to help a man who is serving the Lord and is just getting by on next to nothing. I know how hard this is. I have been there. Feel free to add some advice or offer a suggestion in the comments below to encourage the underpaid pastor. Please pastor, stay in the Word regularly and consistently, be in prayer continually, knowing that you are really fully dependent upon God for all your sustenance, don’t be afraid to ask the congregation for help when you need it because the person giving receives a blessing, and newer is not always better. Finally, know that you have the greatest reward yet to come. You can say what Paul said in his final days, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8) and so it will be “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Pet 5:4).
Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.