Standard of Living: What Should it be for Christian Workers?

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By on February 1, 2006   /   2 Comments

Fresh out of seminary, I found myself encircled by a distinguished board of successful doctors, lawyers, and businessmen quizzing me about my expectations for my starting salary as a new staff member at their church. Taking the “spiritual” route, I said I wasn’t there for the money—so they paid me only 60% of what my contemporaries made! Looking back, I should have said, “I’m not here for the money. Just pay me a moderate salary. Why don’t we just take the average of everyone’s salary on this committee and pay me that? Not a penny more.” I would have given a year’s salary just to see the look on their faces!

How much should a Christian worker make, and what should be our standard of living? The unwritten rules of the game seem to say it’s OK for church staffers (especially of larger churches) to live at a higher level than missionaries who live on support. Deep down, many believers view support-raising as begging, and of course, beggars should barely get by. I wish I knew who made up these double standards!

Raise enough to maximize the fruitfulness of your family and ministry. -Scott Morton

Meanwhile, author Randy Alcorn claims we’re all rich: “If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house that keeps the weather out, and own a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy. If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you’re in the top 5%.” So, really, what we’re talking about here is whether our staff will be in the top 3, 4, or 5% of the world’s wealthy, right? I seek to abide by two principles:

1. Live a Spartan Lifestyle

This wartime way-of-life (not just a primitive simplicity) that is unencumbered with the non-essentials is, according to Pastor John Piper, a “glad hearted austerity that will make any sacrifice for the joy of being on the cutting edge of God’s kingdom.” Jesus stripped Himself for spiritual battle—so should we. But making lots of money is not the same as amassing wealth. John Wesley said, “make as much as you can and give as much as you can.

2. Maximize Your Fruitfulness

Scott Morton, VP of Development for The Navigators, was asked how much support a Christian worker should raise. He said, “Raise enough to maximize the fruitfulness of your family and ministry.” This is not a health and wealth theology, but neither is it a “poverty = spirituality” mindset. To “maximize fruitfulness” will be different for everyone. It may mean sending kids to a private school or having a high-powered computer or taking a nice vacation—and we should not judge others by our personal choices.

So, should you drive a ‘69 Subaru or a ‘06 Lexus? Probably neither, but let God—not the expectations or standards of others—help you decide!

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