Should Pastors Have A Salary Cap?

*Posted by Joe Wooddell

Versions of this question typically come up at some point in my ethics classes, and the discussion and arguments become heated to say the least. When the topic ensues, someone usually begins with comments like, I just dont think pastors should make huge salaries; they shouldnt drive Cadillac Escalades; and they shouldnt live in million dollar homes. The responses seem obvious to me: Why not? What constitutes a huge salary? What sort of vehicle is acceptable for them to drive? How pricey a home is too pricey? All this varies across America and around the world.

Convincing answers are not usually forthcoming. I am not necessarily saying pastors should do these things, and I am certainly not a proponent of the TV health/wealth gospel. I simply believe there is no biblical material mandating a certain maximum dollar amount pastors should be paid or that they should spend on certain things. In such discussions, I sometimes ask students: Is a million dollars too high a salary? Typically they say yes, its too high. I then ask: What about half a million? Still too high. Two hundred and fifty thousand? Maybe, depending on the neighborhood and the size of the church. A hundred thousand? Much more reasonable, but still too high in many contexts.

Seriously? Are these supposed to be sound, valid, biblical arguments? The question of how much pastors should be paid should be left up to the local church, and the question of what sorts of homes or vehicles pastors should purchase should be left up to pastors themselves. Of course, both parties (pastor and church) should be prudent in making these decisions. It might not be unethical or immoral to pay a pastor half a million dollars, or for him to live in a large, luxurious home, but it might be unwise. Personally, I think its wonderful when a church thinks enough of a pastor and his family to pay him sufficiently that he need not worry about paying his light bill, feeding or clothing his family, or unashamedly having people over to a clean, comfortable home. 1 Tim. 5:18 says the laborer is worthy of his wages.

These questions are similar to many other questions in the Christian life, and not only with respect to pastors but to all believers. For example: Should believers spend money on teeth whitening, hair highlights, manicures, pedicures, expensive jewelry or clothing, luxury vacations, and the like? I cant think of any way of answering such questions with specific dollar amounts. I can only say leave it up to the individual family or believer. The same is true for pastors. Pray. Read and study Gods Word. Ask God to guide you and your family. Seek wise counsel. Then make your decisions. Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can (John Wesley? I cant remember who said this).

Those of us who are American believers could probably always cut more corners or give more to church and charity. Christian entrepreneurs tend to invest their profits and savings into their businesses as an act of worship and stewardship, ultimately creating wealth and jobs, and lifting entire segments of society out of poverty. 1 Tim. 6:17 says we shouldnt place our hope in riches, but that God does supply us with all things to enjoy. The fact is, God guides believers in multiple ways. In Mark 10:21 Jesus told the rich man to sell everything and follow Him, but He didnt instruct everyone else similarly. Sometimes it seems obvious that a pastor is making too much or flaunting what he has. If you feel this way, you might choose not to attend his church, but also be careful of casting stones. Instead, look at your own life and see what God might be leading you to do differently with what Hes entrusted to you.

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