“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. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.”
Many churches are able to hire one or more full-time pastors and to support them with tithes and offerings. Other churches, however, cannot afford to pay their pastors, or at least they cannot provide their pastors with a sufficient income to meet their needs. In such cases, many pastors continue their work in the church while also working a second job to make ends meet. We often call these ministers bivocational pastors because they work two vocations.
Ideally, every pastor would receive a sufficient income from his church so that he would not have to take up a second vocation. But those who must work as bivocational pastors are actually part of a noble lineage that stretches all the way back to the Apostle Paul. As we learn from Acts 18:1–3, Paul was a tentmaker by trade, and he worked with leather to earn an income to meet his needs and fund his ministry, at least at certain points during his missionary career. We see in 1 Thessalonians 2:9–10 that Paul engaged in tentmaking during his ministry in Thessalonica.
Although the Philippian Christians provided support to Paul during his time in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:16), it was evidently insufficient to meet all the Apostle’s needs. Rather than seeking support from the Thessalonians, the Apostle labored day and night—a reference to his work as a tentmaker—to fund his ministry (2 Thess. 2:9). Importantly, Paul voluntarily gave up asking the Thessalonians for support. He makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 9 that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living—their wages—from their work in ministry. But in the same text, Paul also says that those who proclaim the gospel are free to voluntarily surrender their rights to financial support from their work. The lesson for the church is that while gospel ministers may choose not to receive financial support from their work, the church ought to pay said ministers when the church has the means to do so.
Paul’s surrendering of his rights to be supported by the Thessalonian church demonstrated the falseness of the charges against him. He was not just another religious teacher looking to enrich himself at the expense of others. It provided further evidence that Paul was holy, righteous, and blameless (1 Thess. 2:10)—not that he was sinless but that he had sincerely good motives for engaging in ministry and that he was a true servant of God.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Those who labor in preaching and teaching God’s Word may voluntarily give up their right to financial support, but churches and Christians must not force them into a bivocational situation by withholding support when they are able to pay them. Let us strive to make sure that those who work in gospel ministry can earn a living from their labors through our tithes and offerings.