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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

21 November 2008

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!

HearseA: 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.”

TombstoneAt 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.

Pile of MoneyThese 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.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

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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Newspaper column #567:3


Anonymous Letina Day said...

Dear Ask the Pastor...

thank you for your input and ministerial wisdom that you shared in this article... It was fair across the board to families , members and ministers abroad... I had been researching about the service of a minister and what was equal, fair, just and right... Needless to say, my heart was on target with the information that was given in this post... Thank you... Information was very helpful...

Tina Day, Chgo, Il

03 February, 2011 17:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Snyder,
I also wanted to thank you for this 'timely' article about a subject 'within the church', that I just recently found out about which is causing a host of 'problems' within the body of Christ.
A friend of mine who's also a prophetess had a very ugly and disturbing incident happen to her church, when it came to the Honoraria which was given to a Pastor who'd come to speak at their church for several years, but who recently decided "she hadn't been given enough money for her services", $500 was too little an amoung, when her 'contract' (which the Pastor who asked her to speak knew nothing about)states $1,000 or more. My friend was deeply saddened and managed to draw up enough 'extra' to give it to the other Pastor, but will no longer be using her services.
Mister Snyder, I realize you can not only take my word for this, since you weren't there and know nothing about this incident or me, but it makes me wonder why Pastors, Prophets, etc. are "putting a price on the free Gospel and Word given by the Lord, which IS NOT theirs to charge for in the first place"?
I've also heard this is an extremely big thing going on especially in the 'south', and is now working its way towards the eastern parts of the U.S.
I deeply apologize for going on and on here, but I keep asking myself is this something that the Lord Himself would be proud of, when he suffered and died to give us our heavenly Father's Word "for free"? I also realize that Ministers, Prophets, etc. can not survive off of our 'thank you's and God bless you's', but having 'contracts and charging $1000 or more', makes them look dishonest when "too many" who are struggling can't afford it themselves.
May the Lord step in and have 'His way', in an issue that is bringing disharmony and strife to the body of Christ. Thanks once again for your post.
A concerned sister in the Lord.

15 April, 2011 08:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good question. I recently found out that a guest pastor is charging $20,000 to speak at our church, and another $20,000 to go to fuel for his private jet! This is a well known speaker that most people across America probably know. Although I know that pastors should be taken care of when they come to speak at a church, the real question is where does the absurdity stop. This pastor has more than enough money to travel to my church and speak for free. He is a multi-millionaire that can run circles around the income of my small, inner-city church.

I suppose that this "honorarium" the pastor is charging us will be tax free income. Is it right that he should not have to pay taxes on this money? No. The money more than likely will be used by him personally, however, it will probably come under the cloud of the church income. No one should make a mockery of the Word, and all will be held accountable in the day of judgment. Pastors included.

05 May, 2011 07:40  

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