A church should definitely provide for the financial needs of its pastor(s) and any other full-time ministers. First Corinthians 9:14 gives the church clear instruction: “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” We pay people to prepare and serve our physical food; shouldn’t we also be willing to pay those who see to our spiritual food? And, honestly, which is more important—physical food or spiritual food—based on Matthew 4:4?
First Timothy 5:17–18 says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’” There are several points made in this passage. Church elders should be honored, and this honor includes wages. Those elders who serve the church well—especially teachers and preachers—should receive double honor. They have earned it. It would be cruel to work an ox while denying it grain, and we should take care not to treat our pastors cruelly. Let them share in the material blessings of the congregation they serve. Our pastors are worth more than many oxen.
There is nothing spiritual about making a pastor “suffer for the Lord.” Yes, a pastor has been divinely called to his ministry, but it does not follow that a congregation should say, “Let God take care of him.” God says the local church is responsible to take care of him and his family. Caring for the spiritual needs of a congregation is an important work—probably more important than other things we normally spend money on, such as meeting our physical needs, maintaining our vehicles, and entertaining ourselves. See 1 Corinthians 9:7.
It is true that the apostle Paul supported himself as he ministered in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:12). He drew no salary from the Corinthians. But he made it clear that he did this as a voluntary sacrifice on their behalf, “that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel” (verse 18). Paul did take wages from other churches (2 Corinthians 11:8). His arrangement in Corinth was the exception, not the rule.
Sometimes a church is just not able to provide sufficient finances for a pastor. The pastor in such cases is forced to be bi-vocational, having no choice but to work outside the church to support his family. This is regrettable but sometimes necessary. It is usually better for a pastor to be paid full-time so he can fully dedicate himself to the Lord’s work of ministering to and shepherding the congregation God has entrusted to him.