Pastoral Gifts, Gratuities, and Honoraria
Q: A pastor of an Assemblies of God church led my mom’s memorial service and I wanted to make a donation to his church. Now, I am not a wealthy person, so I was trying to figure out how much is not enough or how much is too much. Thanks for your help!
A: Many people wonder what is an “appropriate” thank-you gift, gratuity, or honorarium for pastors performing funerals, weddings, and the like. I’ve heard of some pastors who insist upon a certain amount before they officiate while others steadfastly refuse any financial gift under any circumstances.
If churches always heeded Scripture, pastors constantly would be able to devote themselves to their office. The apostles, burdened by administrative tasks, “summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.... Pick out from among you seven men ... whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. (Acts 6:2-4)”
Likewise, adequate fiscal support enables us to focus on our pastoral duties without worrying about supporting ourselves and our families. God commends (and commands) this practice in the Church. Paul wrote, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’ (1 Timothy 5:17-18)” In Galatians 6:6, he said, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.”
At the same time, we recognize that pastors may sometimes provide services “above and beyond” the norm. This may happen when one member of a wedding couple isn’t a member of his church. It also occurs when a pastor conducts a funeral for someone whose family worship elsewhere (or, sad to say, nowhere). Many want to provide a special “thank you” even if all those involved in a wedding or funeral are of the pastor’s flock.
Generally, honoraria are reserved for these special occasions. They likely take into account the time a pastor spends preparing an additional sermon plus counseling sessions with an engaged couple or additional visits made before and after a death. Also, our society tends to equate thankfulness with financial recompense. Even if a pastor adamantly opposes such a gift, those to whom he has ministered often would feel guilty if they didn’t give him “something.”
In this case, keep in mind that you owe nothing — this is a gift. However, in the case of a funeral or a memorial service, you have an extra resource. You can discreetly ask one or more funeral directors what is normal in your area. Often, families are given the opportunity to include such an honorarium as part of the total bill with the funeral home and people frequently ask funeral directors what they should give.
These next comments don’t apply to your situation. However, others may come across this post, so I find myself compelled to include a caveat about pastoral involvement in “special” services. I think that I speak for most Christian pastors here when I emphasize that no gift is large enough to cause us to perform a marriage or funeral that goes against Scripture or conscience.
My previous comments about refusing to officiate funerals under certain circumstances can also be applied to weddings and other occasions where folks desire a pastor or a church for all the wrong reasons. We are not window dressing and improper participation equates in my mind to providing a fresh coat to the “whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27)” of these hypocrites.
And now my final, personal thoughts and feelings: Whenever someone asks me ahead of time how much they need to pay, I say, “Nothing.” If they press the issue, I tell them that if they must give me something, the amount is up to them. Whenever anyone presents me such a gift, I first say, “You don’t owe me anything.”
I usually hear an answer along the lines of, “I know, but....”
I If the giver insists, I respond, “Thank you very much.” I also say that I’ll “plow it back” into my work. This generally means that I add to my library or buy some new clergy apparel.
Related posts include Clergy Appreciation and Supporting Your Pastor
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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