What is a proper housing allowance for a pastor? Is the idea biblical?
Not Muzzling the Ox
The Bible is clear, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages” (1st Tim 5:18) but what is the context of this verse? It is about “the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1st Tim 5:17). In 1st Corinthians 9:3-6 Paul writes in “defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living?” He asks “Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk” (1st Cor 9:7)? Again, Paul asks “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more” (1st Cor 9:11-12)? The obvious answer is yes, they do have every right to be supported since they also labor like anyone else, just as a soldier or a vineyard worker does.
I am a bi-vocational pastor that has to work to support myself since the church I pastor at is small and doesn’t have the money to pay me a salary but churches that are large enough to support their pastors and his families should do so. The church I am at has a parsonage but since I have my own home, I refused to move into it and suggested that the church sell it. If the church had the funds to support me, then I might consider using the parsonage. In the priesthood of the Old Testament, the priests were not allowed to own land and so the nation was expected to support the priesthood since that is their full time occupation. It is a holy occupation but an occupation nonetheless and so it is every bit fair to support those who labor for the church. Paul also asks, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1st Cor 9:13-14). This is a command from God that all who proclaim the gospel should receive their living by the gospel and those who are employed in the temple (today, the churches) should get their food (or living) from the temple.
The federal government allows for tax-exempt allowances such as a minister’s housing allowance (sometimes called a parsonage allowance or a rental allowance). This is excludable from gross income for income tax purposes but not for self-employment tax purposes. According to the IRS, if you receive as part of your salary (for services as a minister) an amount officially designated as a housing allowance, you can exclude from your gross income the lesser of the following amounts: the amount actually used to provide or rent a home; the fair market rental value of the home (including furnishings, utilities, garage, etc.); the amount officially designated (in advance of payment) as a housing allowance; or an amount which represents reasonable pay for your services. Clergy housing allowance is a tax deduction allowed by the IRS and is based on the assumption that pastors do a lot of their work at home and use their homes to study for sermons, read ministry related books, hold meetings, host both casual and formal get-togethers, provide meals, plan, pray, and counsel. This is why the IRS classifies a pastor’s home similar to a home office and it doesn’t matter whether the pastor owns his home, rents or it is provided by the church. Deductions or allowances are made for furniture, appliances, pictures and other decorations, some cleaning supplies, utility bills, ministry related phone calls, carpet cleaning and even a dollar amount per meal served to church guests.
I don’t care if you recognize the need for a pastor’s housing allowance or not; it is the law and support of a pastor and his family and expenses if biblical. This is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. What other occupation is there where a man labors does so for nothing? So “If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more” (1st Cor 9:11-12)? The obvious answer is yes.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.