Some churches give lavish compensation packages to their pastors, complete with multimillion-dollar mansions, private jets, and a budget for luxury clothes. Other churches insist that the pastor receive no financial compensation at all, even if it is a full-time vocation. Some are bound by denominational guidelines for ministerial salaries; others try to make sure their pastor can earn a median income for the area in which the church is located.
Interestingly, New Testament teaching about providing for the church’s pastors is rooted in the Old Testament rules for taking care of the Levitical priesthood: “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” (1 Cor. 9:13–14). One way that God provided for those who served His people under the Law of Moses was to assign the priests cities in which to live. Scattered throughout Israel, these Levitical cities salted the land with those who provided biblical instruction and spiritual care to God’s people. Six of these cities also served as cities of refuge where those who had unintentionally killed someone could be safe from retribution until the case was adjudicated.
Unlike the rest of the tribes who received land as its inheritance, Israel’s priests had the promise that God Himself would be their inheritance and would provide for them. He provided for their daily needs by allowing them to eat food from the sacrifices and to share in the tithes that God’s people brought to the tabernacle and temple (cf. Num. 18:20–21). This kind of provision was not charity but was due for their service.