Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

June 1, 2003


All you ever wanted to know about why people pay the preacher


            Fifty years ago, on the first Sunday in September, I became the pastor of four small churches near Milstead, Alabama. The position was offered me because the pastor of these churches left the ministry.

             Six weeks was enough for him. He left in the middle of a hot August night without even saying goodbye. No one ever understood why. Nobody seemed sorry that he had hit the road.

            Still a student at Auburn, I had received no training for the ministry. I had read four books and been granted a license to preach by the Methodist Church. I guess the hierarchy figured I could learn on the job.

            Learn I did. One of my churches was the old LaPlace Church, one of the earliest Methodist churches organized in Alabama. The church was just off Highway 80 in Shorter, now the home of the famous Dog Track. On a good Sunday 30 to 40 people showed up for worship.

            One of the men who attended regularly was Mr. Wright Noble. He appeared to be a pillar of the church so I decided one Sunday morning to call on him to pray. At the time, I was not comfortable praying or preaching. I figured I could use some help.

            I learned that day never to call on someone to pray in church without asking permission beforehand. From the pulpit, I asked politely, “Mr. Noble, will you lead us in prayer?”

            Without a moment’s hesitation, he and up and replied in a strong, firm voice, “I beg to be excused; that’s what we pay the preacher for!”

            Embarrassed and caught off guard, I stumbled through a prayer and continued leading the worship service. I had no doubt that Mr. Noble was a Christian. I am sure he was a praying man. However, I never heard him pray.

            My training for pastoral work had begun. Mr. Noble and others like him made sure that I understood why they paid my salary. There were certain things I was expected to do, none of which was ever explained to me in a “job description.” They were quite willing for me to learn my duties, one at a time, in one embarrassing moment after another.

            People pay the preacher for many different reasons. Some pay him to mind his own business, and that does not include “running the church.” I had it explained to me more than once like this: “You stick to preaching the gospel and let us run the church.”

            In one of my churches, I asked the church treasurer for a report on the offerings. He said, “We are fine, preacher, just fine.” I asked, “Do you make a monthly report to the Board?” He replied, “No, I just let everybody know if we get behind. Right now, everything is fine.” I think he kept the church’s money in a cigar box, but I never found out.

            It was his way of letting me know it was none of my business how much money the church had in the bank.

            That incident occurred 50 years ago. I remembered it last month when a pastor told me a similar story. He is being reassigned partly because of a bitter struggle with his church treasurer. In this case, the treasurer has refused to let anyone see the books.

            Most preachers feel like I do about being paid. I was always amazed that I could be paid to have so much fun. Our work is not drudgery, and we are not in the ministry for the money. Many of us also feel that we are paid far more than we deserve. And some of our parishioners feel the same way!

            A retired preacher, who is a friend of mine, was asked by a senior pastor to come on his staff as the minister of visitation, mainly to care for the sick and shut-in persons.

            He replied, “You don’t have enough money to hire me to visit the hospitals. When I was a pastor, the church paid me my full salary to visit the sick; I preached for free!”

            A preacher gets paid to do many things. People have a thousand different expectations of their preacher. Some people feel like they are not getting their money’s worth out of what they pay the preacher. Others wish they could pay the pastor more.

            What seems best is for the preacher and the people to work together as a team, in love and unity, caring for people as Jesus did. Key leaders who don’t trust their pastor should find one they can trust – or join another church. Teamwork is essential.

            The pastor, after all, is not a hired hand and he must never allow himself to become the private chaplain of the wealthy “power brokers” – no matter how much he is paid. + + + +