When recently presented with this question, I initially laughed because I know that a limited being with finite thoughts could never speak on behalf of His Creator. I later learned that the question about astronomical salaries for preachers evolved from a recent New York Times article that outlined a biographical sketch of Bishop Eddie Long. In this respective article, the writer utilized information from a historical piece in The Atlanta Journal Constitution that cited tax records showing a $3 million salary for Bishop Long during the years of 1997 through 2000.
A number of current articles have criticized Bishop Long not only for the recent allegations involving at least four of his “spiritual sons” but also for his lavish lifestyle (i.e., private jet, Bentley, mansion, “bling,” bodyguards, etc.). Some of these editorials have even compared Bishop Long to hip-hop moguls and pimps and have labeled him as a false prophet and a wolf, as a result of his materialism. Rather than casting quick and unsubstantiated judgment about Bishop Long or engaging in vain Scriptural battles, I would prefer to focus on the more reasonable and value-adding question, “How should the church compensate God’s messengers?”
Should a messenger of God be paid a Herculean salary (e.g., $3 million) for imparting the Word of God and for implementing their called task to help lost souls experience the great salvation of the Lord? Resoundingly no! To be sure, I do believe that God’s messengers should receive a salary to help provide for their families and to meet their necessities- not opulent desires and wants. As always, there will be some negative critics and antagonists who believe that preachers should not receive anything and, of course, erroneously apply portions of Scripture as their support. But, a salary for a pastor is not a novel concept or idea. According to a 2010 survey performed by the Leadership Network, “The average salary for a lead pastor in a mega-church is $147,000. Salaries for lead pastors go as high as $400,000 to as low as $40,000.”
Conversely, there will also be some individuals in the evangelistic community who strongly feel that their pastor should live with materialistic abundance, because they believe in the “Jesus was not poor” theology. But, the truth is that Jesus (“Yeshua”) was neither rich nor poor accordingly to worldly concepts. Biblical scholars across the board, both reformed and charismatic, agree that Jesus was a member of the middle class in Galilean Nazareth based on a number of factors (i.e., his trade, educational level, wedding at Cana, etc.).
For a number of years, many commentators have stated that the mega-church movement and televangelism are largely responsible for the transition of Christianity that focuses on the poor, brokenhearted, sick, weary and the captives into a marketplace theology that is enamored with power, greed, immediate pleasure and immense property.
To a large degree, I do agree with this assertion. But, marketplace Christianity can not only be found in large churches but also in relatively small places of worship. To prevent paying mammoth salaries to God’s messengers, I think that churches should consider one of the following three options with transparency and honesty and decide on what works for their particular congregation.
1. Pastors’ salaries should be the average salary of the congregation. One option that churches should consider is the analysis of the average salary of the congregation. In theory, local churches should not only be filled with wealthy parishioners but also with poor and middle class believers that operate in unison and with different giftings. Applying this option should prove to be relatively fair and prudent and should assist in preventing pastors from making monolithic salaries.
2. Pastors’ salaries should be slightly less than the average salary of the congregation. Another option that churches may want to assess is paying their pastor slightly less than the average salary of the congregation. Again, there may be some churches, as a whole, that do not believe that pastors should have any salaries. A common ground to avoid this type of unnecessary strife and bickering is to ensure that the pastor makes slightly less than the average salary of the congregation.
3. Pastors’ salaries should be slightly higher than the average salary of the congregation. The third option that churches can consider is paying their pastor slightly more than the average salary of the congregation. As previously discussed, there may be some churches, as a whole, that still believe in the “Jesus was not poor theology.” For those churches who believe that their pastors should have more than basic necessities, their messenger can be paid a salary that is slightly higher than the average salary of the congregation, which should allow for a limited amount of materialism in some cases.