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Paid and unpaid Church leaders
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Paid and unpaid Church leaders
- What do the scriptures teach about paid ministry?
- Are local Church leaders paid?
- Are general Church leaders paid?
- What about Church employees?
What do the scriptures teach about paid ministry?
The scriptures mention circumstances in which a paid ministry is appropriate, and also provide several cautions about the practice. Having a paid clergy is not in and of itself a terrible thing. Problems arise when the issue of money becomes a greater motivator than the things of God (and this can happen to any member). So the members support those who are engaged full time in the work of the Church if necessary, but we also do not have a system where one can simply choose to become one of these full-time workers (for example, by getting a degree and looking for a job as a clergyman). This lack of a professional clergy acts as one of the checks on helping to make sure that it is not the financial reward that drives those who serve in the church.
In general, the most explicit statement about it comes from 1 Corinthians 9:7-14:
Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?
For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope.
If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? If others be partakers of this power over you, are not we rather? Nevertheless we have not used this power; but suffer all things, lest we should hinder the gospel of Christ. Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things live of the things of the temple? and they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.
The King James language can be a bit archaic; the NIV translation of the last two verses (13 and 14) may be more clear:
Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.
Book of Mormon
Perhaps the most explicit scriptural statement about this issue from a negative perspective comes from 2 Nephi 26:31 (cited above).
Church members have a particular sensitivity to issues surrounding paid ministries particularly due to admonitions in the Book of Mormon relative to a practices known as priestcraft, which is "that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion" (see 2 Nephi 26:29). It is warned against and decried repeatedly (see Alma 1:12,16, 3 Ne 16:10, 3 Ne 21:19, 3 Ne 30:2, D&C 33:4). For this reason, the idea of compensation for service seems contradictory to strongly held values of the Latter-day Saint community. However, it should be noted that priestcraft as it has been defined is a condemnation of intent (to get gain and praise, and not for the welfare of Zion), and not about an individual receiving support. Living stipends are not compensations for service, but recognition of a practical reality that individuals who dedicate their full time to Church service are sometimes unable to simultaneously provide for their own modest living needs.
The example of King Benjamin adds to the LDS value of self sufficiency of leaders in particular. Benjamin, while king, still labored for his own support (see Mosiah 2:14). This is a very admirable demonstration of humility on the part of the king. However, this example was being used in the context of his political position as king, and would be comparable to a President refusing to accept his salary for his service. It should not be used to condemn the practice of helping provide for the modest living needs of full time leaders who are unable to dedicate time to earning a living.
Doctrine and Covenants
When instituting the law of the Church, the Lord directed that the general Church leaders responsible for handling the temporal affairs of the Church should be compensated for their service:
And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop, for the good of the poor, and for other purposes, as before mentioned; or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services, either a stewardship or otherwise, as may be thought best or decided by the counselors and bishop. And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.
The Lord also directed that the compensation be sufficient to care for the leaders' families:
Let the bishop appoint a storehouse unto this church; and let all things both in money and in meat, which are more than is needful for the wants of this people, be kept in the hands of the bishop. And let him also reserve unto himself for his own wants, and for the wants of his family, as he shall be employed in doing this business.
The Doctrine and Covenants Student manual notes:
In addition to his many responsibilities in the Church, Joseph Smith had a family, and he could not neglect them, although his responsibility was chiefly a spiritual one. Although not completely relieved from responsibility for his temporal needs at that time, the Prophet was told by the Lord to look to the Church for temporal support. Elder Bruce R. McConkie commented about those who are asked to give full-time service to the Church:“All our service in God’s kingdom is predicated on his eternal law which states: ‘The laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.’ (2 Nephi 26:31.)
“We know full well that the laborer is worthy of his hire, and that those who devote all their time to the building up of the kingdom must be provided with food, clothing, shelter, and the necessaries of life. We must employ teachers in our schools, architects to design our temples, contractors to build our synagogues, and managers to run our businesses. But those so employed, along with the whole membership of the Church, participate also on a freewill and voluntary basis in otherwise furthering the Lord’s work. Bank presidents work on welfare projects. Architects leave their drafting boards to go on missions. Contractors lay down their tools to serve as home teachers or bishops. Lawyers put aside Corpus Juris and the Civil Code to act as guides on Temple Square. Teachers leave the classroom to visit the fatherless and widows in their afflictions. Musicians who make their livelihood from their artistry willingly direct church choirs and perform in church gatherings. Artists who paint for a living are pleased to volunteer their services freely.”
- Doctrine and Covenants 42:71–73
- Doctrine and Covenants 51:13–14
- Bruce R. McConkie, Conference Report (Apr. 1975), 77.; or "Obedience, Consecration, and Sacrifice," Ensign (May 1975), 52.
Are local Church leaders paid?
The Church does not have a professional clergy. Consider:
- the Church does not graduate individuals with degrees in theology for the purpose of being used in an employed position as an ecclesiastical leader.
- the vast majority of leadership positions in the Church are filled by those who receive absolutely no financial assistance and who have no formal training in theology or Church administration. This includes bishops, stake presidents, Area Seventies, Relief Society presidents, priests, teachers, deacons, and elders, etc.
- Missionaries or their families typically pay for the costs of their missions.
- the Church has no professional ministry — one does not "go into" the priesthood in Mormonism as a form of employment. The Church believes that "a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof." No one can enter Church ecclesiastical government or administration as a career.
- those few Church leaders who receive a living allowance, have already served for many years in unpaid volunteer positions of Church leadership, from which they derived no financial gain, and from which they could have had little expectation of making their livelihood by being elevated to high positions in Church administration.
- the Book of Mormon makes provision for Church leaders to be supported by donations if they are in a position of financial need: "all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God."
- the Doctrine and Covenants makes provisions for Church leaders to be supported by donations (see DC 42:71-73).
- General Authorities previously sat on the boards of Church-owned businesses. This practice was discontinued in 1996.
Ward and Stake Leaders
Much of the day-to-day “ministering” that goes on in the Church takes place at the local, i.e., ward and/or stake level. Leaders at the local level -- that is, bishops, stake presidents, relief society presidents, elders quorum presidents, and other leaders or auxiliary workers -- do not receive any kind of pay for the temporary, volunteer service they render. They likewise do not receive any kind of scholastic training to prepare them for their service. A bishop usually serves for a period of 5 years, for example, but he remains in his normal occupation (accountant, welder, business owner, etc.) while he serves as a bishop. Early morning or release-time seminary teachers are an exception, but they are considered employees of CES (Church Education System).
Mission and Temple Presidents
Mission and temple presidents are called by General Authorities to serve for a period of 3 years. As a result of this call, some presidents leave full-time employment before they retire. Therefore, they may receive a living allowance during their period of service, if it is required. Many such presidents are financially able to take time out of work to support themselves during their service (and return to their vocations when their service is complete) and do not require a living allowance.
In 2011, the Church's official magazine noted:
Serving as a mission president is both a challenging and a spiritually exhilarating three-year assignment. In dedicating themselves to this call, many couples essentially put their old lives on hold, including their jobs and families.
The interruption to professional employment can in some cases mean financial loss. While the Church provides mission presidents with a minimal living allowance, the couples usually have the financial means to supplement that allowance with their own funds.
- Articles of Faith 1:5
- Mosiah 27:5
- Lynn Arave, "LDS programs evolve over the years," Deseret Morning News (30 September 2006).
- Heather Whittle Wrigley, "New Mission Presidents Blessed for Exercise of Faith," Liahona (December 2011)..
Are general Church leaders paid?
As directed in the Doctrine and Covenants, at least some General Authorities receive a modest living stipend.
The fact that this stipend exists has not been hidden. As President Hinckley noted in General Conference: "I should like to add, parenthetically for your information, that the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from this business income and not from the tithing of the people."
If provision did not exist for allowing those who are not "independently wealthy" to provide full-time Church service, the Church could be seen as "favoring the rich" because it would not allow those of lesser means to serve. The Church has noted:
General Authorities leave their careers when they are called into full time Church service. When they do so, they are given a living allowance which enables them to focus all of their time on serving in the Church. This practice allows for far more church members on a worldwide basis to be considered for a calling to serve as a General Authority, rather than limiting considerations to only those who may be financially independent. The living allowance is uniform for all General Authorities. None of the funds for this living allowance come from the tithing of Church members, but instead from proceeds of the Church's financial investments.
Without some mechanism for providing for the needs of those giving full-time service, only the worldly elite would be able to serve. This factor becomes increasingly important as the Church expands out of North America, especially into nations in the Southern Hemisphere who are less materially well-off than the industrialized west. As noted in a 2013 manual for Church teens, "In our day, General Authorities of the Church give up their livelihoods to serve full-time, so they receive a modest living allowance—enough for them to support themselves and their families." </blockquote>
What financial sacrifices do general Church leaders make?
Dedicating themselves full time at the sacrifice of substantial careers, many general Church leaders live modestly, work tirelessly, keep grueling travel schedules, and continue doing so well past an age when others retire. They are also demonstrably men of education and accomplishment; one can hardly claim that they were unsuited for work in the world given their accomplishments prior to being called to full-time Church service.
Michael Otterson, formerly head of Church Public Affairs, observed:
I can hardly believe it when I hear people question the motives of the Brethren for the work they do, or when they imply there is somehow some monetary reward or motive.
Let me share the reality. Not all the Brethren have been businessmen, but most have had extraordinarily successful careers by the time they are called to be an apostle. As President Spencer W. Kimball once pointed out, the ability to lead people and an organization is a more-than-helpful attribute in a Church of millions of people, especially when combined with spiritual depth and a rich understanding of the gospel. Because several have been highly successful in business careers, when they become apostles their stipend and allowances may literally be less than a tithe on what they previously earned.
Some of the Brethren have been educators. Elder Scott was a nuclear physicist, Elder Nelson a heart surgeon. Several were highly successful lawyers. Right now we have three former university presidents in the Twelve. President Boyd K. Packer was also an educator by profession, although in his spare time and in his earlier days he loved to carve beautiful things out of wood. That sounds curiously related to another scripturally honored profession — that of a carpenter.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be called to the Twelve? In most cases you have already had a successful career. You know you will continue to serve the Church in some volunteer capacity, but you have begun to think of your future retirement. The First Presidency and the Twelve, of course, do not retire. Neither are they released. With their call comes the sure knowledge that they will work every day for the rest of their lives, even if they live into their 90s, until they literally drop and their minds and bodies give out. Their workday begins early and does not end at 5:00 p.m. The Twelve get Mondays off, and those Mondays are frequently spent preparing for the rest of the week. If they have a weekend assignment, they will often travel on a Friday afternoon. Periodically, even though in their 80s, they face the grueling schedule of international speaking conferences and leadership responsibilities.
What about when they are home? I have the cell phone numbers of most of the Brethren because I sometimes have to call them in the evening, on weekends or when they are out and about. I’m not naïve enough to think that I am the only Church officer to do so. So even their downtime is peppered with interruptions. I invariably begin those calls by apologizing for interrupting them at home. I have never once been rebuked for calling. They are invariably kind and reassuring, even early in the morning or late at night.
Their primary time off each year is from the end of the mission presidents’ seminar at the very end of June through the end of July. And while this time is meant as a break, most of the Brethren use this time to turn their thoughts, among other things, to October general conference and preparation of their remarks. During Christmas break they do the same for April conference. Every one of them takes extraordinary care and time in deciding on a topic and crafting their messages. The process weighs on them for months as they refine draft after draft.
This is not a schedule you would wish on anyone. Yet they bear it with grace and find joy for some overwhelmingly important reasons — their testimony and commitment to be a witness of the Savior of the world and their desire to strengthen His children everywhere. They would be the very first to acknowledge their own faults or failings, just as we can readily point to the apostles of the New Testament and see imperfect people.
How much do general Church leaders receive?
In 1996, the church altered some of the responsibilities given to General Authorities. Prior to this point in time, they also served on corporate boards of church-owned companies and for these positions they received a stipend. At that point in time, some of the financial information was disclosed, indicating that the stipend was in the neighborhood of $50,000.00 a year.
To give a sense of proper comparison, US Department of Labor statistics list the 1996 average salary of a civil engineer at $52,750, that of a computer programmer at $50,490, and that of the average junior college teacher at $49,200. Therefore, the living allowance, which provides for most of the normal day-to-day expenses of a full-time authority and his family (including house payments, personal transportation, food, clothing, entertainment, etc.), is in line with that of a professional employee. It is far lower than the large management salaries that might be expected for someone with the skills that these General Authorities must have and the responsibilities that they must shoulder.
In 2014 the stipend was increased from $116,400 to $120,000.
Do general Church leaders sign non-disclosure agreements about finances?
It is possible that general Church leaders sign non-disclosure agreements about their finances. This may be in connection with a general non-disclosure agreement about Church operations generally. Non-disclosure agreements are common in most businesses, in which someone in the organization who has access to sensitive information agrees not to publicly disclose that information. Including financial compensation for executive leaders is likely very common among private businesses in the United States of America, where the amount paid to the executive officer does not need to be reported to federal tax authorities.
- See above Doctrine and Covenants, which cites Doctrine and Covenants 42:71–73 and Doctrine and Covenants 51:13–14.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, Questions and Answers "Questions and Answers," October 1985 general conference. See also Royden G. Derrick, "The True Value System," BYU address, 15 May 1979).
- "Do General Authorities get paid?", Learn More About the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), accessed March 2, 2023.
- Unit 15: Day 4, D&C 69-71," Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (Salt Lake City, UT: Intellectual Reserve, 2013).
- "FULL TRANSCRIPT: Michael Otterson addresses FairMormon Conference," lds.org (7 August 2015).
- Lynn Arave, "LDS programs evolve over the years," Deseret Morning News (30 September 2006).
- , "How much do top Mormon leaders make? Leaked pay stubs may surprise you", Salt Lake Tribune, 26 January 2017.
What about Church employees?
To provide administrative support to ecclesiastical leaders and members worldwide, the Church employs a small number of Church members in various job capacities, such as meetinghouse facility managers, temple facility managers, and Church department staff. These members are compensated only for their employment activities—they are not compensated for ecclesiastical leadership or Church service.