Integrity In the Ministry

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We turn now to the ministry.

That’s my greatest concern. That’s the thrust of practically everything on this blog. After nearly six decades in the ministry, my strong hope is to say something to help church leaders do a better job in serving God’s people.

“Be on guard for yourself,” Paul told the leaders of the Ephesus church in Acts 20:28.

The Apostle Peter reminded another group of such leaders that “your adversary, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Therefore, they were to “be self-controlled and alert.” (I Peter 5:8)

Here are my top ten suggestions for pastors and staffers of local churches. In fact, they are more than suggestions. They are great concerns.

1. Learn to live within your income and do not fall prey to the lie that “pastors of my stature are expected to live at a certain level.” It’s not so much the love of money that has driven many a pastor to cross the ethical line, in my opinion, but a need for money to sustain the way of life they have chosen for themselves.

Learn to live simply.

2. Set the example for the rest of the staff and the church leadership.

The inimitable Tony Campolo has infuriated a lot of preachers by saying, “No pastor should ever drive a Mercedes.” He’s not picking on a particular car, but making a point about materialism and our example.

Drive what you can afford, preacher.

3. Give so generously to the Lord’s work in your church that you would not mind if someone laid out your record of contributions for everyone to see.

I guarantee you someone knows how much you are giving. They know whether you are living what you preach.  Most of all, God knows and you do.

4. If you need to earn some income on the side, pull in the official church leadership and tell them before you do it. Keep them informed. And as the leadership changes each year, continue to do so with whoever happens to sit on that board or committee.

It’s not that “they have a right to know”–which they do not–so much as you want to walk circumspectly and give the enemy no occasion to attack.

Some pastors have gotten in trouble because while they did inform a few people of what they were doing on the side, it was the same few people year after year, the list never changing. When the news became public, it appeared that the pastor’s buddies were rubber-stamping his requests.

If you cannot tell your church leadership what you are doing, you shouldn’t be doing it.

5. If you take a trip to the Holy Land or any mission field, and earn commissions from those who accompany you, tell everyone involved. Once they know that this requires extra work from you and that the travel agency (or tour leader) gives you this in appreciation, most will be fine with it. If they find out later that you received a hefty check, they’re going to feel used and you will suffer needlessly.

6. If you are repaid travel expenses for work for the denomination–a board you sit on or a speaking engagement–do not double-dip and also turn in the same receipts to your church.

I knew a pastor who did that. The total amount probably came to no more than a couple of thousand dollars a year, which makes one wonder why he would risk a ministry position that paid a handsome amount for so little.  When the leadership discovered it, he was promptly out of a job.

7. Some pastors’ salaries are getting out of hand. The same goes for denominational leaders.

A small news item told how the head of a major and well-known mission agency (non-denominational) was making a salary of $500,000 from one position he held and over $1 million from another. Once the news got out, he had to choose. I’ll let you guess which salary he selected. What irks me about this is that over the years I have regularly sent my $20 or $50 to that organization for their evangelization work.

Twenty years ago, a friend in a mega-church told me his pastor was pulling down nearly a half-million dollar salary.

Now, having said that, I am confident many pastors who read this are saying, “Well, I don’t make anything like that, so this point is not for me.”

When I began in the ministry, the pastors’ salaries would be listed in the annual associational bulletin. The full-timers were making from $5,200 to $7,500 a year, in addition to a house being provided. But, the world has changed.  I can happily report that most people in the ministry and on the mission field (in my denomination, the only one I’m knowledgeable about) are receiving adequate wages.

I’m not against “adequate.” I’m against “excessive.”

One line a pastor should never, ever use in talking with the lay leadership of his church: “With my education and training and years of experience, I think I should receive a salary in keeping with what people make in your line of work.”

You are not a medical doctor, not a college professor, and not a plant manager. You are called by God to be a shepherd to His people. He is your portion.

If you cannot handle that, you’re in the wrong line of work.  In Luke 17:10, Jesus said you should say to yourself, “I am an unworthy servant; I’m just doing my job.”  You are not “entitled” to anything, friend.  Get clear about this or you will forever be miserable.

8. Pastors are pressured sometimes–not always, thank the Lord–by their family to buy certain kinds of cars and clothes and live to a standard higher than they can afford. Send the children to this school, vacation at this resort, furnish the house in this way, entertain at that level.

Early in his ministry, let the pastor become the head of his house. Let him love, serve, and lead his wife in this area before they bring children into the world. (And let him applaud her as she does well.) Then, the children can be taught not to measure their lives by the toys in the playroom or clothes in the closet.

It can be done.

9. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for a pastor to turn down a raise in next year’s budget. The problem in doing it, in many cases, is that it tends to keep the rest of the staff salaries low.

The finance committee will not put the staff’s salary above that of the pastor, or even close to it, as a rule. Generally it’s not done.

In order not to penalize the rest of the staff, the pastor could decide to receive the raise even though he can live without it. Then, let him become a more generous giver to the Lord’s work.

10. Finally, never, ever hint to well-to-do members of your church that you need money or that the children need something which you can’t afford.

People aren’t stupid. They know when they’ve been hit up for a contribution.

A pastor told me how it works. “I can say to a deacon, ‘How do you like my new suit? Deacon Johnson gave it to me.’ Then, that deacon goes away thinking, ‘Oh. I didn’t know people gave suits to the pastor. Wonder what I can give him.’”

Many an idealistic, godly, Spirit-filled young minister has started well in the Lord’s work, only to crash and burn, the victim of greed and a love for money.

Don’t let it happen to you.

Wear last year’s suit another season. The house you’re living in is probably fine; you can get by without a nicer one. Learn to say ‘no’ to the kids.

Paul did not call money “unrighteous mammon” or “filthy lucre” for nothing.

It’s powerful, dangerous stuff. Handle with care.

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