How Should We Fund Itinerant Ministry? image

How Should We Fund Itinerant Ministry?

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How should we fund itinerant ministry? It's a question that is not often asked or thought through in any detail, but it should be. The vast majority of people reading this will come from churches which receive teaching, preaching or other ministry from beyond their congregation every year, yet a sizable number of those churches will not have thought through how best to support such ministry financially. At the same time, a number of us will come from churches who send teaching, preaching or other ministry beyond their congregations, and a sizable number of us will not have thought through how best to run things, so as not to under- or over-remunerate either the pastor or the church. Both of these can cause significant issues between churches.

Basic Problem

The problem is simply stated. A local congregation releases one of their pastors to serve another local congregation, but there is no widely accepted means by which the sending church, and/or the pastor, can be remunerated for their work. Usually, the receiving church simply gives a financial gift, which (a) may not cover the true cost of the pastor’s time, travel, preparation and so on (in my experience, it rarely does), and (b) may not end up in the right hands (either it goes back to the church when it should go to the pastor, or, more commonly, it goes to the pastor even though the church is still paying their salary).

This, in turn, can cause various types of resentment. For instance:
- The pastor ends up out of pocket because the gifts he/she receives are not sufficient to cover their costs, and resents this; or
- The sending church ends up out of pocket because they are paying the pastor, even though he/she is working for the receiving church, and resent this; or
- Both churches are both paying the pastor for his/her time, which means his/her income is disproportionately high, and they resent this; or
- The receiving church is required to pay a certain fee for the pastor’s input, and/or to buy lots of resources to subsidise him/her, and/or take up specific offerings for him/her, and feel this is unspiritual / mean / prosperity gospel-lite / a slippery slope, and they resent this; or
- The receiving church’s gift for the pastor covers their time teaching, but not their preparation time, and as such undervalues it, and either pastor or church resent this; or
- Something else.

The result can be either that local churches do not release their pastors to serve in wider contexts, or that they do, but their people end up suffering overall for having gifted leaders. Neither of these seem right.

Biblical Principles

Jesus and Paul, in particular, talked a fair bit about the funding of gospel ministry, including the following:

1. Local church elders, particularly preachers and teachers, should be paid by their local churches. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17; v18 shows that money is clearly in view here).
2. Leaders are entitled to be paid by any church they serve with the gospel, although they may renounce it in order to preach the gospel free of charge, if they choose to. “The Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should make their living by the gospel. Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right” (1 Cor 9:14-15).
3. Christians who benefit from teaching or preaching ministries should support them financially. “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal 6:6).
4. Preachers and teachers can be funded by churches other than the ones they are serving in, if those churches choose to support them. “When I was with you and in need, I didn’t burden anyone, for the brothers from Macedonia supplied my need” (2 Cor 11:9).
5. It is appropriate for churches who receive itinerant ministry to cover all the needs of the individual preacher/teacher while they are with them. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe ... that you may help her in whatever need she may have from you” (Rom 16:1-2). “When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you ... Help him on his way in peace” (1 Cor 16:10-11).
6. It is appropriate to ask/urge/insist that churches do so. (As above).
7. When churches do so, they are blessed. “If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it” (Matt 10:13). “The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward” (Matt 10:41).
8. Individuals should give what they have decided to give, not what they are ordered to give. “Each should give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).
9. Nonetheless, congregations as a whole can be asked to give generously towards specific needs. “So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift and not an exaction” (2 Cor 9:5; the context is poverty relief, but I doubt this undermines the point, as in 1 Cor 9, Gal 6, 1 Tim 5, etc).
10. Individuals who teach false doctrine should not be funded or welcomed. “If anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works” (2 John 11).

Best Practice?

This is the tricky bit. There are countless models – gifts can go to the church or the individual; there can be specific offerings, profits from sales of resources, or gifts from the treasurer in brown envelopes; gifts can be stipulated in advance, recommended as a guide, or entirely at the discretion of the local leadership; and so on – and gifts can vary dramatically. (Last year, as I have mentioned before, my largest gift for one day’s ministry was 13x the size of the smallest, and the variations can be considerably larger.)

None of these models are necessarily wrong, or sinful, but at the same time, there are some obvious ways in which some of them can produce bad fruit. Stingy gifts are an obvious example, honouring neither the speaker nor the sending church (and depriving the receiving church of blessing, as per #7, above). Taking up offerings for the teacher/preacher, or encouraging the teacher/preacher to make ends meet through the sale of resources, could easily encourage extended sales pitches, and/or exaction or compulsion, and/or remuneration on the basis of perceived performance (which incentivises messages that church members most want to hear, which may not always be what they need to hear.) Allowing a teacher/preacher to keep all ministry gifts, even while they receive a salary from their local church, de facto encourages the individual to travel more and serve their church less – if your car is broken, just add a few more trips and you can pay for it - which is bad both for the pastor and the local church they serve. And so on.

So a proposed model could look like this:

A. The home local church pays the salary of the teacher/preacher, as per #1, above.
B. When the teacher/preacher serves elsewhere, the true cost of their time is calculated (which would include preparation time, office costs, ministry time, travel time, travel and accommodation expenses, etc). In my case, that works out at about £250 per day plus reasonable expenses; if preparation time is required, this would increase pro rata.
C. All ministry gifts go back to the sending church, assuming they are already paying the individual a decent salary.
D. If the sending church is releasing the individual as a gift – which is often the case – then the sending church is prepared to get nothing back, or to receive derisory gifts, on occasion. This is part of their serving the wider church, and they think nothing of it.
E. If, however, the sending church releases staff for a substantial number of work-days in a year, whether through one individual or many, they may not be able to afford to keep on giving out their staff’s time without receiving payment. As such, they should write to the receiving church with a suggested figure (as per B). (This often has the added benefit of sifting the wheat from the chaff when it comes to invitations!)
F. If this letter comes from the church (whether via the trustees, the elders, or whomever), and not the individual, it has two benefits: it stops the individual from looking like a money-grabber, especially since the money doesn’t go back to them anyway, and it helps the church leadership to feel connected to what the individual is doing, and to shape their ministry decisions if needed.
G. If an individual is writing or producing resources to sell as part of their church employment, then the proceeds from this (royalties, direct sales, or equivalent) should go back to the local church. If not, then it is at the individual’s discretion. (This, again, has been what I’ve done.)
H.  Receiving churches are, of course, at liberty to increase gifts if they so choose.

Given the wide variety of ways in which different churches handle this, and the sensitivities about financial models which (let’s admit it) are not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, not to mention the prickly responses of many British people to discussions about money, I wouldn’t be surprised if this post annoys or even alarms a number of people. In mitigation, I can only say that I am trying to provide some guidelines in a notoriously nebulous (and sometimes tricky) area, and that if I was American, I’d probably charge a lot more and talk about it a lot more. Hopefully, though, it might help some of you. And stop you being so shocked if you get a letter about it.

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