An Apology to Part-Time Preachers

I need to apologize.

I’m a preacher. My daddy was a preacher. His daddy was a preacher. Preaching is what I know. It’s in my blood. I love it, and I’ve never seriously considered doing anything else.

But because of that, I’ve developed a sinful prejudice against a certain segment of preachers. And I want to come clean, confess my sin, and apologize.

For too long, I’ve harbored an arrogant, elitist, selfish prejudice against those preachers not employed full-time by a congregation. In other words, I looked down on those who labored only part-time, scornfully concluding that they somehow “couldn’t cut it” as a full-time minister, that their talents were not “up to par.” Such prejudice was based on the (faulty) assumption that a man worked part-time as a preacher/minister only if his talents were not good enough for a full-time gig or if his heart wasn’t truly in it.

For such prejudice and arrogance, I want to say that I’m so very very very sorry.

In the last couple of years, I’ve come to know many men who labor in the kingdom part-time, but only in terms of their financial compensation from a church. The reality is that they are indeed “all-in” and their talents far surpass other men who labor full-time. It is, believe it or not, a myriad of circumstances that dictate their need to work “part-time.” Perhaps he is forced to work elsewhere so that his family has health insurance. Or perhaps the congregation is going through financial difficulties and simply cannot pay him what he is worth. Or maybe he finds plenty of evangelistic opportunities by holding a secular job (when I tell people that I’m a minister by profession, a lot of walls go up, and I find personal evangelism becomes more difficult; having another profession to claim keeps people more receptive). For so many reasons, a man’s part-time work with a church should never be taken as indicative of his talent or commitment.

But there’s another reason I want to go public with my sin and confess my prejudice: I fear that the day is coming sooner than later (but when, I do not know), when more preachers in the church will be forced to take on work elsewhere to supplement whatever salary they receive from ministry. As the Lord’s church becomes more oppressed by our culture, we must entertain the possible scenario in which our churches lose their tax-exempt status. If we are forced by Uncle Sam to send half our weekly contribution to the IRS, many churches will simply be unable to support a minister (or ministers) full-time. At that point, an abundance of part-time ministers will be indicative of a quickly shifting economic situation for our congregations, not a man’s talent or commitment to the purposes of the gospel.

I do not intend to sound alarmist, but I believe this scenario could become a reality very soon, especially if churches feel growing pressure to recognize same-sex marriages and lose their tax-exempt status if they do not. Only God knows the future, but we must prepare for the worse while praying for the best.

To my preaching brothers, whether they receive full-time, part-time, or no pay for their kingdom work, let me encourage you to begin thinking about how you will provide for your family should your church’s economic situation change. Some in the church look down on preachers who seek to secure additional sources of income in order to support their families. It is certainly true that the love of money is the root of all evil, and we must guard against greed as much as anyone. But it is not wrong for a man to work diligently and with ingenuity in order to provide for his family—in fact, it is commanded that we do so. Some would have the preacher and his family live near poverty level, but this is wrong. In fact, a financially-secure preacher can be a great blessing to a congregation in many ways. As in all things, seeking and doing the Lord’s will in this matter is what’s most important.
Also, let me assure you that no one has the right to look down on you based on how well you are compensated for your ministry. The greatest missionary the church has ever known believed it was his right to receive financial aid from churches, but nonetheless served as tentmaker by day so that he could bless Lord’s church at all times. I’d say Paul did OK for himself with this arrangement.

To my brothers who have served as vocational ministers for many years, I want to say again how sorry I am for my attitude. And I now want to honor you with the realization that you are far ahead of the curve compared to the rest of us. Let us learn from you.

To all ministers, your labor is never in vain in the Lord. Thank you. And may God continue to bless his people.

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Michael Whitworth is the founder of Start2Finish and author of several books, including the award-winning "The Epic of God" and "The Derision of Heaven." In his spare time, Michael enjoys reading and drinking coffee, watching sports, and spending time with his awesome family and furry golden retriever.

  1. Reply
    Brian Humek May 2, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    I don’t think it was necessary, but as a part-time minister, I accept your apology. I hope you’re wrong, really wrong, about churches losing their tax exempt status simply because of the government trying to force churches to sanction and accept same sex marriage. I wouldn’t be totally upset if that exemption goes away one day, but I wouldn’t want it to happen because of blackmail.

  2. Reply
    Warren Baldwin May 3, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Well said. I preached for almost 10 years in the Northwest, and for 15 years since have continued to preach and teach there. Many of the preachers in Wyoming and other NW states had to have have outside support or have a second job to make it. I actually had 2 outside jobs. Like you say, these preachers are ahead of the curve of what could come to pass in America. Political action against churches or the continuing decline in membership could well result in more preachers being tent makers.

  3. Reply
    Fred Myers May 7, 2015 at 8:49 am

    You must understand that you are not the only pastor that holds this attitude. Your apology is appreciated, but you must remember all sin is forgiven but not undone. No sin is ever undone once committed. You stand responsible for the damage your attitude has done to God’s Kingdom. Preachers believe in words and write and speak many, but it is true attitudes and actions that speak louder than words. Attitudes and actions accomplish more than words whether for good or for evil…this is exactly what the Bible teaches throughout.
    Let me give you an insight that might help you going forward. I sold all I had and went into ministry 15 years ago. In the fifteen years, I have worked with a number of pastors and churches and they all held your attitude. During that time, I charged no one and asked for nothing. And oh yes I received nothing. Also during that time my witness has led more people to Christ than all of those churches combined. I say this not as any boast, but to remind you that God raises up Godly men and women outside the church to seek His people and He has done so throughout the ages when the church fails. The old circuit riders took the Gospel throughout the west before paid pastors ever saddled up. Men such as Billy Graham have witnessed to millions.
    D.A. Carson wrote 30 years ago in his book “Gagging God” that the church refuses to be corrected by scripture and nothing has changed in the meantime. Preaching for preaching sake, even if you have the pride of payment, does not change a thing. The Holy Spirit rode with those old circuit riders as they went west. That same Holy Spirit walked with Paul and the Spirit was not checking pay stubs, but He was checking attitudes and actions.

  4. Reply
    I've preached over 50 years. About half of that time I also taught school. The rest was in fully supported work. I can testify that working in secular work often provides more prospects to teach but less time/convenience to do so. If all a man wants to d June 10, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve preached over 50 years. About half of that time I also taught school. The rest was in fully supported work. I can testify that working in secular work often provides more prospects to teach but less time/convenience to do so. If all a man wants to do is sit in an office and study until someone knocks on the door, his sermons may be great but he will not win many souls. However if a man has to spend long hours making a living elsewhere, his sermons MAY not be as good due to a lack of time for preparation. But the interaction with people in a secular world often supplies illustrations and a motivation for passionate soul-winning that the full-timer may never experience.

    I’ve always felt that the part-timer was somehow scorned by the full-timer, but never heard anyone admit it. On the other hand sometimes the part-timer sees tendencies that make him feel that the full-time preacher is a hireling who is looking for a check and would not preach otherwise. We need to appreciate the lighthouses that shed light to the lost, no matter whether their light is seen by the multitudes.

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