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Your web page is one of the very best. It demonstrates a superior grasp on 21st century problems facing  brethren today. It also displays wisdom in addressing the matters. Your Answers: Preacher is on target. I am in urgent need for something addressing whether or not a preacher is an employee of the church. Can you send me something, or head me to a source that deals with this?


Thank you so much for the kind words. I do what I can and often feel that it will never be enough. Just yesterday I was congratulating myself that I managed to answer seven questions and today I find fourteen waiting for me. I'm beginning to better understand Jesus' words that the fields are white unto harvest (John 4:35). It appears I found a niche where I can serve the Lord well.

There are two ways to view your question: Is a preacher an employee of the church in the eyes of the government or is he an employee in the eyes of the congregation? We understand that governments exist by the will of God (Romans 13:1-2). So long as their decisions do not conflict with their Maker's laws, we are to submit to their ordinances. In the United States, preachers are in a strange class where some laws treat them as employees and others treat them as independent contractors. I've stop trying to make sense of it and just do my best to comply with their regulations. For example, from my understanding I get a W-2 (employee) from the local congregation because they pay me a regular wage with no definite terms of service (no end date), but I get 1099's (contractor) from other congregations because they are supporting a service for which they do not receive direct benefits.

But to answer better, we need to address what is meant by an employee. An employee is someone is a person in service to another and under a terms of hire, whether directly stated or implied. The employee receives payment or benefits from his service and the employer gives direction as to what tasks are to be done; that is, the employer controls the duties performed by the employee. In other words, an employer defines the work to be done, how it is to be done, and when it is to be done and an employee supplies the labor to accomplish the work.

In our country's terminology, an independent contractor contrasts to an employee in that the entity receiving the benefit of a contractor's work is seen as a client of the contractor. Clients pay for the result of a contractor's work, but do not direct how the work is accomplished.

Now, let's look at what the Bible says. "My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink? Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk of the flock? Do I say these things as a mere man? Or does not the law say the same also? For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain." Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship. What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge, that I may not abuse my authority in the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:3-18).

Churches benefit from the labor of a preacher. The preacher supplies teachings and works in a community to bring lost souls to Christ. These people, in turn, become members of the church -- enlarging its numbers and strengthening its members. Because Christians benefit from a preacher's labors, a preacher has the right to receive compensation for his work. "Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches" (Galatians 6:6). As Paul said above, "If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?" (I Corinthians 9:11).

Preachers serve the church by teaching its members. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12). This is why the word "minister" is an appropriate name for a preacher's work -- he is a servant. But here is were many become confused. The word "preacher" means a herald or town crier. The word "evangelist" means messenger of good news. To whom is a preacher serving? "If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed" (I Timothy 4:6). A preacher serves Christ; he does so by teaching Christ's words. Thus he serves Christ by giving service to other people. "I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you" (II Corinthians 11:8).

If you look at the government's rules about employee versus a contractor, their primary concern is over who has control of the person's duties. "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (II Timothy 4:1-5). This is perhaps key to the idea of whether a preacher is an employee of the local congregation. When a preacher is doing his duty to Christ, he does not take his direction from what the local congregation wants to hear. His duty is to teach people what they need to hear. There are going to be times when what people need to hear and what they want to hear are going to be in conflict.

I've known of congregations that "fired" a preacher for teaching that remarriage after a divorce, except for fornication, was a sin (adultery). I heard of one that dismissed their preacher because he taught that dancing and drinking alcohol was wrong. But the truth of the matter is that no congregation can fire a preacher. They can choose to stop supporting his work because they think he is teaching falsely. They withdraw their fellowship from a man (that is, no longer consider him a member of the congregation), but a congregation can't stop a man from being a preacher.

Now practical matters are that if a man no longer has the support of Christians in his area, his freedom to preach the truth is severely impacted. He might choose to move on to another area. Or he might remain to continue his work while working a secondary job to support himself. That becomes the preacher's call -- not the local congregation.

Many congregations, when asking a man to come to their community to work with them, will ask for terms of service. For example, they may ask that he limit his trips to other congregations to hold meetings or the number of weeks he takes off for vacation. These are a congregation's expectations of a man whom they are willing to support. A preacher may choose to accept those terms or not, but if he does accept them he needs to be a man of his word. One thing I would never personal accept is any dictation as to what topics I may or may not cover -- that is not in a congregation's authority. I'll gladly take request for topics, as it is often hard to come up with topics week in and week out, but the scheduling remains my own.

Therefore, in our current terminology a preacher is an independent contractor. Yes, people talk of "hiring" and "firing" a preacher, but they are using the terms loosely. Other terms are more precise, but it requires a better understanding of the relationship of a preacher to a local congregation.

In the end, it doesn't really matter what people call the relationship. What matters is that the relationship is defined by the Scriptures and that people follow Christ's dictates.


See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Preachers