The consistory with the deacons, as representing the congregation, shall be bound to provide for the proper support of its minister(s).
For several provisions in our Church Order no Scripture passage(s) can be quoted as direct or even indirect proof. It is different with the matter with which Article 10 deals: the matter of the proper support for the minister and his family.
The support referred to here is not the moral support and the brotherly assistance to be given by the consistory to enable the minister to do his work. Article 10 speaks of the financial support. The Lord Himself has given directives for this support. In 1 Cor. 9: 14 we even read that “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” Even if this had been the only place in Scripture where such a command is given, it would be sufficient. We can mention more places, such as Mat. 10: 10 or Luke 10: 7 or Gal. 6: 6. Then we do not even speak of the provisions regarding the support of the priests and levites who served in the Old Testament dispensation. We do realize that there is a difference between the old and the new dispensation, but we also maintain with Art. 25 of our Belgic Confession that the “truth and substance” is still with us.
One wrong thought should be dispelled right away. It is the thought that ministers “get paid” for their work. Once in a while we heard the remark “He has to work for it first,” when the monthly stipend was given at the end of the month instead of at the beginning, as would have been proper. Ministers do not receive a salary as compensation and reward for what they are doing. What they receive is the support which enables them to dedicate all their time and attention to the congregation that has been entrusted into their care. Ministers should not hold a position from which they receive wages beside their work as a minister, at least not as a rule.
This has nothing to do with a sort of Romanist or Anabaptist view that “spiritual” and “worldly” positions may not be matched or mixed. It is the result of the simple fact that, in general, ministers need all their time and attention for the preparation of sermons, for catechism classes, for taking care of the flock and for general study, so that they have no opportunity to hold a job, either full-time or part-time, to guarantee sufficient or additional income. If a church were unable to support its ministerial family sufficiently and if no help from others could be obtained, a minister would have to look for a part-time position to supplement what the church provided. It would even be to his honour if he did so. The apostle Paul did not wish to give up his claim that he had always provided for his own needs and for the needs of those who were with him.
As it is the minister’s duty to take proper care of the flock, so it is the duty of the flock to take proper care of their minister. They do so through the office-bearers, the consistory with the deacons.
There is nothing against it when members of the congregation surprise their minister once in a while with something extra. When a farmer has butchered a cow or a pig and has a few pieces brought to the parsonage, this will be appreciated as a friendly gesture. Or when, in the period when vegetables are plentiful, a family asks the minister whether he would like to have some for the freezer, this will be a very welcome gift.
No one should underestimate, however, the dangerous situation to which this could lead if it became custom and were considered part of the “proper support” of the ministerial family. It is not without reason that, while referring to the congregation as the body that has the duty to provide it, we mention the “consistory with the deacons” as the body that is to fulfil the obligation.
A minister should not depend upon the goodwill and benevolence of individual members of the congregation. Being a normal human being, he might be influenced in work, judgment, preaching, admonition or even discipline by what he might — or might not — receive from brother A. or sister B. That the danger is far from imaginary may appear from the case of the minister who was approached by a brother who stated that he was so happy with his minister and with his sermons, that he wished to show his appreciation by giving an envelope containing a substantial amount of money. Sensing the danger, the minister asked the brother to give it to the consistory with the request to pass it on to the minister as an extra gift. The brother took his envelope back home. It never reached the consistory. What did reach the consistory some months later was the knowledge that the brother was living in sin and had to be placed under discipline.
From history examples could be quoted which clearly show that ministers sometimes were made dependent on the willingness of members to contribute towards support or towards an increase. Believe it or not, it did happen that a certain consistory made a minister go to some church members who were the largest contributors to ask them whether they had any objections to his receiving a raise.
Should a time come in which the proper support of the ministerial family has to be given, at least for the larger part, in the form of products of the soil or of the farm or of the home industry of the members — and this is not an imaginary situation either! — then it still would have to be the responsibility of the consistory with the deacons to arrange and supervise it, to take care of it and to determine it. No minister should ever be made dependent on a few or even several individual members.
Art. 10 states that the consistory with the deacons shall provide for the “proper” support of its minister(s).
It has always been a big question what that “proper support” is. Is that what the minister asks? Or is it what the congregation can afford? Should it be what the average income of the congregation is, with a few things added here and there? Or is it, perhaps, what persons with comparable academic standing and social position enjoy?
The “proper support” is what is needed to provide for all the needs of the ministerial family. It will have to be more when a family is large and growing; it can be less when the family is small or getting smaller as children grow up and leave the parental home to form their own families. Thus, if a church is served by two ministers — preferably not — it is definitely not so that the support for their two families must be identical even when their family circumstances are quite different. “Proper support” does not exclude but rather includes the possibility of differentiation.
Differences should, of course, be determined by need and not by any other circumstances, such as likes and dislikes. Even if two ministerial families are exactly the same in number, ages, and so on, it is not necessarily so that the support for both is exactly the same. If there is much illness in the one family and thus the need for extra help or extra medicines, the consistory with the deacons would not discriminate against the other family when providing additional funds to help carry the extra expenses.
No rigid rules can be given and no rigid schedules can be drawn up. In general, the consistories have a fair idea what a family needs. Do they as a rule not have families of their own? They are also aware of it that the one can stretch a quarter farther than the other a dollar. No consistory is obligated to fill all the holes if a minister's family cannot manage their affairs. Then other measures should be taken. Should there be extravagance and waste, it must be made clear that the church is under no obligation to feed these habits. On the other hand, it should be realized that a ministerial family has special expenses to meet. Without trying to spell them all out, we shall mention a few of them.
A congregation would expect their minister and his family to appear to the outside world dressed properly and neatly, wouldn’t it? Extra expenses, as every family knows. Members expect to be received well, to have something to drink when they visit and not to be treated to the cheapest cookies available, don’t they? Extra expenses, even when it is home baking. When a couple gets married and, of course, invites the minister and his wife to the party, do you think that the latter go empty-handed? When a baby is born or when there is a wedding anniversary or some other festive occasion, something is taken along so as not to appear empty-handed here either. Other members do not have these expenses to the same extent, for they may confine their attention to their special friends; a minister may not “discriminate.”
Adding the costs of driving, books, extra heat and light needed, we are well able to see that many things have to be taken into account. Some may even still have to pay off loans they took out to pay for at least part of their studies. In determining the level of support needed a consistory will also have to take into account the general level of the congregation.
Setting a certain amount per child will help a consistory arrive at a fair level. This will also prevent the need for adjusting the promised amount every time, should some consecutive calls be declined. In addition to this, it will enable a consistory to adjust the amount of support when a child leaves the home and becomes independent and, as a result, the cost of living goes down for this family.
For a comparison we may point to the amounts set by the churches in their Foundation for Superannuation. There, too, the underage children are mentioned separately, while the child allowance is discontinued after the child has reached a certain age.
Help from Sister Churches
Which way is to be followed in case a church is unable to fulfil its obligations as described in this article? Should a consistory say to their minister, “Sorry, we cannot do more, so this will have to do even though we are convinced that it is not enough?” Everyone will agree that such an attitude would be completely wrong.
The way to follow in such a case is that the sister churches in the classical area are approached with the request to help the church meet its obligations. As sister churches we are under obligation to help and assist each other when this is necessary and whenever we are able to do so.
In case the churches in that classis are unable to lend sufficient support a wider circle will have to be engaged, and a request will be directed to the churches in a neighbouring classis, with observation of the ecclesiastical boundaries. For example, it would not be proper for the churches in Ontario North to approach those in British Columbia or even Alberta/Manitoba. Their proper address would be the churches in Ontario South.
More than once it happened in the past that a consistory refused to ask for support, for they did not want to carry what they considered to be the “stigma” of being a needy church. The result was that there was a needy minister, which circumstance amounted to a violation of the promises made when calling the brother to serve that church and to a violation of Art. 10 of our Church Order.