Mailbag #79: How Should Vocational Pastors Approach Their Own Giving to the Church? . . . How Do Deacons Relate to Elders?

Mailbag
03.29.2019

Should vocational ministers tithe? Should a church then count on 10% of that staff member’s salary toward the budget? »
Are deacons there just to “do what they’re told” by the elders? Should deacons be used as a means to develop future elders? »

Dear 9Marks,

I have a few questions about how pastors should understand their own giving to the church:

  • Should vocational ministers tithe? Or should a church expect their pastors NOT to give?
  • If so, what is a recommended amount/percentage?
  • Should a church pay a minister’s salary, only to return 10% of that salary to the church? Should the church then count on this pastor’s 10% for the church budget?
  • Should a minister tithe to set the example to his people and guide his heart against covetousness?

—Jeremy

Dear Jeremy,

I’ll answer three of your questions and hopefully, in doing so, I will have addressed all of them.

1. Should vocational ministers tithe?

I would encourage the paid staff of a church to give to their church and for the church to keep this in mind as they determine compensation. Paul’s exhortation to “share all good things with the one who teaches” applies to all Christians, even the main teacher in a church, since he is still taught by others. One primary purpose in our work is to be generous with others (Eph. 4:28) and elders/pastors are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). The fact that this has a slight tax disadvantage in some countries such as the United States would not seem to obviate these principles. After all, Jesus told us to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21).

2. If so, what is a recommended amount/percentage?

Some Christian denominations insist on a requirement of 10% of income. I would not subscribe to that view since the tithe, as part of the temple system, was fulfilled in Christ in a way similar to other aspects of temple worship. And even for Old Testament Israel, obligation did not stop with the tithe (Mal. 3:8), and nowhere in the New Testament are Christians commanded to tithe. Yet given that Paul exhorts us to give proportionally (1 Cor. 16:2, relating to a special offering), that the tithe predates Mount Sinai (Gen. 14:20, 28:22), and that pastors are to be an example, I would suggest that pastors normally give at least 10% of their income to the church.

3. Should a church then count on this pastor’s 10% for the church budget?

Unless a church knows the income of every member of the church (a practice I would strongly discourage), it would not help the church’s estimation of income to include the pastor’s giving in its budget unless it was an extremely small church.

Answers to the last two questions are included above.

—Jamie Dunlop

Dear 9Marks,

I would enjoy some perspective on the relationship between elders and deacons—how their roles and responsibilities interact.

To be more specific:

  • Are deacons there just to “do what they’re told” by the elders? Or are deacons there for the elders to delegate tasks to so that ministry might be executed while elders focus on their primary responsibilities?
  • Can/should deacons be used as a means to develop future elders?
  • When is the “right time” to bring deacons into a certain topic? For example, should they be aware of next year’s budget proposal or other key decisions before they’re rolled out to the church body for discussion/vote? Or should deacons be “treated” the same as any other member??

—Brian

Dear Brian,

It seems the questions here are around two different ideas: development and initiative.

1. Development: Can/should deacons be used as a means to develop future elders? 

Can? Yes . . . but Scripture doesn’t articulate this as a necessary path. Elders and deacons serve two distinct offices in the church. Here’s how we explain it at our church: “Elders serve by leading, and deacons lead by serving” (1 Tim 3:1–13). The Bible doesn’t describe deacons as junior elders, but there’s no inherent reason a deacon can’t become an elder—nor is there any reason an elder must first be a deacon.

However, because the qualifications overlap significantly (“apt to teach” [2 Tim 2:24] and “not a recent convert” [1 Tim 3:6] are the principal distinctions for elders) it’s reasonable and practical that some deacons (especially younger ones) may develop over time to become excellent elder candidates once they flourished in that particular sphere of ministry.

2. Initiative: Are deacons there to be the “do what they’re told” by the elders … or [something else]?

The answer to how much initiative should be entrusted to deacons and in what areas may vary in different circumstances. Often, situations arise in which deacons “do what they’re told” by elders because the circumstances are unique, sensitive, and require a very precise handling. Other times, it makes sense to afford lots of freedom because deacons may be the people who possess the time or expertise to think through practical solutions. The apostles entrusted a high level of decision-making freedom to the men of Acts 6, which many consider the beginnings of the deacon office.

Given that deacons should already be tested Christians (1 Tim 3:10) and that their role is meant to off-load disruptive practical problems away from those focused on spiritual leadership (Acts 6:2), it seems wise for elders to entrust increasing amounts of initiative and information to deacons. If, however, a deacon over-reaches, then it will create disruption and division instead of smoothing out difficulties and cultivating unity. This would undermine the whole purpose of the deacon office. So the answer to this second questions really must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, and it highly depends on the quality of your elders as well as your deacons.

I also recommend Jamie Dunlop’s excellent article “Deacons: Shock-Absorbers and Servants.”

—Josh de Koning

By:
Jamie Dunlop

Jamie Dunlop is an associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D. C.

Josh de Koning

Josh de Koning is the senior pastor of Crossway San Antonio.