For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. (ESV)
When should a minister of the Gospel, whether a local pastor, traveling evangelist, or long-term missionary supply all of their own financial needs? From 1 Thessalonians 2:9, it is apparent that Paul and his companions were not dependent on support from the local people and didn’t necessarily have any significant support from other believers at this time. Paul’s support varied in different situations.
And because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:3-4 NIV)
Paul did what was needed to support himself and his companions (Acts 20:34). He was willing to live as a poor person so that he could share the Gospel without burdening the recipients or being accused of spreading the Gospel for gain (1 Cor 4:11-12; 9:12-15).
Tentmaker ministries were once the norm for rural churches. Two retired pastors that I know both had pastorates in their younger years and both worked in construction so that they could provide for their families and still serve as pastor of their small churches. With today’s mega-churches, we don’t hear much about families who are so devoted to their ministry that they work two full time jobs, one to care for their flock and the other to provide for their family. There are also many Christian missionaries who are doing the same thing in countries that do not permit any proselytizing. They can’t get a visa unless they are establishing some kind of business or are attending school as students. They spread the Gospel by conducting their businesses with integrity and fairness toward their employees and clients. And, yes, they also find opportunities to share the Gospel with their neighbors. Now that sounds just like what we should all be doing.
So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. (1 Cor 9:14 NASU)
In 1 Corinthians 9:3-14, Paul delivers a concise argument that those who are called to spread the Gospel should be supported by their ministry. He first appeals to general revelation by pointing out that soldiers are paid and farmers receive the benefits of their work (1 Cor 9:7). He appeals to specific revelation by quoting the Old Testament and explaining its meaning and application to spiritual work (1 Cor 9:8-12). He also applies God’s provision for the Levites who partake of sacrifices for their own food to sharing material blessings with those who dispense spiritual food (1 Cor 9:13-14). Paul couldn’t have made it any clearer yet there is a tendency in some churches to make sure the Pastors and staff are not paid according to the same standard of living as their congregation. They must always be poorer for some reason (it keeps them humble). Then there are the churches that run their organization like a business with formulas and job performance standards just like any corporation. These are not necessarily related to spiritual content. Finally, we find the mega-churches that reward their top pastors with mega-bucks, private planes, and other benefits. I don’t think these patterns are what God had in mind when He inspired the Bible. I pray that we do a much better job.
Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. (Phil 4:16-17 ESV)
One thing is for certain, if we feel that supporting our pastors and missionaries is a burden, then we don’t understand God’s economic system. Paul received support from the Philippians while he was in Thessalonica and he said that the reason he wants to see support is so that their fruit may increase. Was he referring to their material prosperity as some distorted preachers of the Gospel claim? No, because the fruit that will abound is the “riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19 ESV). This echo’s what Jesus said when He told us not to store up treasures on earth but in heaven (Matt 6:19-21). If we don’t have a proper perspective of supporting those in full-time Gospel work, then we are only cheating ourselves for eternity.