Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

This is simply cheating. Ben, a podcast listener writes in with a bundle of three questions for the price of one: “Dear Pastor John, I recently came across a website called: ‘We Are Church,’ Francis Chan’s new calling, in which we read the following question: If someone asked you to describe ‘church’ using only the Bible, what would you say? Then it’s explained that their church structure includes no salary for pastors. Tithes and offerings are collected, but all money is set aside for missions, and people meet in homes. I have great respect for Chan, and I know you do too, but it forces me to ask three questions: (1) Is it biblical for a pastor to draw a salary from the church? (2) Is it biblical for the church to gather together in a church building? And (3), is it biblical to use a weekly rhythm for sermons?”

Let’s leave aside any specific person or website. I like Francis Chan a lot. I count him as a good friend. We have overlapped in lots of places and I like him, and I don’t want to pick on him at all. So I am just going to pose the very specific questions: 1) Should there be a salary for pastors? 2) Should preached sermons be a part of regular church services? 3) Should you do that weekly? Are those biblical concepts?

1) Is it biblical for a pastor to draw a salary? Consider these three or four texts: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). And I think that probably means those who are giving themselves to it a lot more than the others — maybe full time. And then he says, “For the Scripture says,” — so this is the reason why you give double honor to those who labor in preaching and teaching — “for the Scripture says, ‘You must not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18). So, part of the “double honor” seems to be payment — what the ox eats — payment for the fact that they are giving themselves to preaching and teaching rather than other gainful employment.

Here is another one. This is from 1 Corinthians 9:6–9. Paul asks, “Is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” In other words, he is making the case that he and other ministers of the word have a right given by the words of Jesus, we will see, and the Old Testament to refrain from other gainful employment in order to give himself to the ministry of the word. That is what he is arguing for. That right has been given to the preachers, to the ministers of the word. And then he goes on, “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned?”

And then Paul gets specific about where the money comes from. He says in Galatians 6:6, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” So, he is kind of working out the details of how the teacher who is giving himself not to gainful employment in the community, but rather to teaching and preaching the word of God, would come by his food, his wherewithal.

And then one more. Jesus sent his disciples out with these words: “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). And that is what Paul quoted earlier in 1 Timothy 5:18. So, I think the outworking of that statement, “the laborer deserves his wages” in the mouth of Jesus, was to be carried into the early church as a warrant for why full time people who labor in preaching and teaching should receive their resources from the church. So, my answer is that, yes, it is a biblical principle that paying a pastor is a good thing.

“People who labor full time in preaching and teaching should receive their resources from the church.”

2) Is gathering together for the weekly preaching of a sermon a biblical concept? Well, I think the question is not weekly mainly, but is preaching part of the service a biblical idea? Now every generation has its voices that cry down preaching and announce its demise and its unbiblical nature. I have been alive long enough to see two or three of these waves go through the church. For 2,000 years, these voices have failed to undo the preciousness and power of preaching among the gathered people of God. Now, why is that? Why have all these recurrent naysayers never been able to remove preaching from the church as a whole? I will mention two reasons.

“The New Testament distinguishes preaching from teaching and discussion, and commands that it happen in the context of the church, not just the city square.”

One is that the New Testament distinguishes preaching from other forms of communication, like teaching and discussion, and commands that preaching happen in the context of the church, not just the city square. Second Timothy 3:16–17 is a very familiar text where Paul describes the inspiration of the Scriptures and its value for teaching and godliness and then — get rid of the chapter break because there is no break in the thinking — then Timothy is commanded, with one of the most amazing and weighty introductions to preach the word like this:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1–2).

Now, the word preach — “preach the word — is not the same word as teaching. It is the word for herald: a town crier, a herald of the word, announcer of the word. And the context in 2 Timothy is not evangelism on the street corner, but the church in need of doctrinal clarity and protection and teaching. That is where Timothy is told to preach the word.

“It is the nature of God and the nature of his truth that creates preaching in every generation.”

The other reason I think preaching lasts from generation to generation is that there is something about the nature of biblical truth — indeed, I would say the nature of God and biblical truth and the gospel in particular — which presses the human soul to want preaching and to do preaching. There are glories in the gospel that are so wonderful, they create their own mode of communication. It is called preaching. They insist, these realities insist, they force themselves out into preaching. They resist being limited to mere teaching or discussion or sharing. They beg to be heralded. It is the nature of God and the nature of his truth that creates preaching in every generation.

3) And as far as the last question goes about weekly — I don’t know if that was being specifically asked or not — but I would say I think God would be fine with us worshiping every day and preaching every day, but that would probably not be practicable for a lifetime. Rather, there are glimpses in the New Testament, three of them at least, where the early church seemed to move the day of weekly worship from the last day of the week, the Sabbath, to the first day of the week — different from the Old Testament pattern — in order to honor the Lord’s resurrection and then call it the Lord’s Day. For example, Acts 20:7 says, “On the first day of the week . . . we were gathered together to break bread.” Or 1 Corinthians 16:2, “On the first day of every week, each of you put aside something.” And then in Revelation 1:10, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”

“The early church moved the day of weekly worship from the last day of the week to the first day of the week to honor the Lord’s resurrection.”

So, my answer is: Yes, pastor’s salaries are biblical. Yes, preaching regularly in gathered worship is biblical. And, yes, meeting weekly if possible on the Lord’s Day would also be the way the apostles began to do it. I would say normally. I don’t think I would want to be picky and say you couldn’t sing all day on Sunday or have three sermons in on service. I just think the nature of the truth has proved to be normative, and the command to Timothy has produced a normative pattern that has endured from century to century.


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