Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How to Survive on a Paycheck from Heaven

by Kimber Albrechtsen
"Elijah in the Desert" by Washington Allston
Many people claim that their religious leaders need to be paid because supporting themselves would be impossible otherwise. I disagree.

I believe the truth taught by Nephi applies to this issue: "...the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7).

God has repeatedly established that His servants should labor with their own hands in order to support themselves (or, in the case of apostles and missionaries, make no provisions for their support, instead relying upon God), and that they should not receive any money for their ecclesiastical labors.  See Alma 1:26, Alma 1:20, Mosiah 18:26, 3 Nephi 13:25, 3 Nephi 13:31-34, Matthew 20:26, Alma 30:32-34, Mosiah 6:7, 2 Nephi 26:29, Alma 1:16, Alma 1:3, Helaman 13:28, Mosiah 11:4-6, 1 Nephi 22:23, D&C 84:86-91, D&C 84:81, D&C 24:18, Matthew 10:9-10, Matthew 6:19-34, and more I'm sure.

If the Lord has commanded His servants to not seek payment for ecclesiastical services, then what is the way prepared for them to obey this commandment? There must be a way for God's servants to do His will while not receiving a paycheck, living allowance, modest stipend, or whatever you want to call it from the church.

In fact, there are at least four ways for God's servants to accomplish their duties in the church while also surviving on resources not extracted from church coffers or constrained church members.

1. Labor with their own hands

Heaven forbid? Just the opposite; heaven commands!
"Let the residue of the elders watch over the churches, and declare the word in the regions round about them; and let them labor with their own hands that there be no idolatry nor wickedness practiced" (D&C 52:39).
The concept of religious authorities working outside the church to support themselves and their families occurs frequently in the Book of Mormon, and not just in regards to those serving in "local congregations." Alma the Younger received no pay for his service as High Priest of the entire Nephite church, instead relying on the salary he received from his secular employment as Chief Judge (Alma 30:32-33). There are many others specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon as men who labored with their own hands to support themselves: King Benjamin (who didn't even receive money for his labors as king!), King Mosiah, Alma the Elder (after his time living off the labors of the people of King Noah he specifically rejected the practice of receiving pay for ecclesiastical service), the priests of the church of the people of Alma, and Alma the Younger.

There are also several mentions of men who did receive pay for their religious services: Nehor, the priests of King Noah, the priests and teachers of the people of Ammonihah, and Zoramite priests.
"And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God" (Mosiah 18:26).
What if a man's religious duties leave him no time to have a job? God certainly has a right to ask His servants for as much of their time as He likes, but tasks that have not been specifically commissioned by God should not interfere with the mandate that spiritual leaders are to "labor with their own hands." If heading a church project prompted by a good idea or a committee's mandate rather than revelation would jeopardize a man's ability to support his family, he should not pursue it. Bloated programs and sprawling bureaucracy that consume too much time of church leaders should be eliminated if not based on a specific mandate from God. Aversion to priestcraft should outweigh the desire to please the Lord with unasked-for sacrifices. Nephi didn't decide to kill Laban because he thought it was the best way to get the job done, Abraham didn't come up with the idea of sacrificing Isaac because he thought God would be impressed by his devotion, and church leaders shouldn't feel justified in breaking God's commandments against idolatry and priestcraft just because they've come up with well-intentioned church busy work to occupy their time.
"Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 
9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us. 
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread" (2 Thessalonians 3:8-12).
If a man's God-ordained duties legitimately interfere with his ability to support himself, the Lord has provided the remaining three methods to make sure his servants are provided for.

2. Duty of the church to support the poor

"Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda" by Carl Bloch

There are at least three instances in scripture where the ideal of clergy laboring for their own support is directly followed by the teaching that the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, should be cared for by the members of the church (2 Nephi 26:29-31, Alma 1:27-26 and D&C 52:39-40). I don't think this juxtaposition was by accident.
"He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are 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 welfareof Zion. 
30 Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish. 
31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish" (2 Nephi 26:29-31).
If someone's duty to God truly interferes with their ability to feed and clothe themselves and their family, then it is the duty of church members to aid them. This is no different from the obligation church members have to provide for any who are poor for other reasons.

In February 1831, Joseph Smith and his pregnant wife, Emma, were homeless and living with friends, having recently arrived in Kirtland, Ohio. The following are excerpts from revelations Joseph received just a few weeks apart, directed to the church:
"And again, it is meet that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., should have a house built, in which to live and translate" (D&C 41:7).
"And if ye desire the glories of the kingdom, appoint ye my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and uphold him before me by the prayer of faith. 
13 And again, I say unto you, that if ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide for him food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him;" (D&C 43:12-13).
Joseph had been commanded to translate the Bible, a task which would occupy enough of his time that the Lord specifically called upon the members of church to provide him with shelter, food, clothing, and anything else necessary to complete his work (I imagine this is referring more to office supplies and printing costs than to luxury carriages, a 90th percentile salary, and college tuition for his children). 

Did Joseph take these revelations as permission to use his authority to set up a recurring paycheck drawn from church coffers? No. Instead, he and his wife moved into a small cabin Isaac Morley built for them on his farm, and for a time were presumably fed and clothed through the charity of others.

The difference between a paycheck from the church and charity from church members is one of agency. In the case of a paycheck, the church authority is the one who decides when and how much he will be paid (conflict of interest much?). In the case of charity, the church members are in control; their funds are not extracted as a condition of church membership or temple worthiness, but freely given out of a willingness to support those in need, regardless of the recipient's rank in church hierarchy. The paycheck model breeds entitlement, pride, idolatry, and vain teachings. The charity model encourages humility, faith, generosity, and accountability.

Any notion that a man's call to the Lord's ministry comes with a guarantee that his comfortable lifestyle should be preserved is not supported by scripture. A church leader's past or current earning potential should have no bearing on how church members perceive their duty to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the poor.
"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 
8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 
10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:7-10).
3. Charity of those ready to hear the gospel

The duty of an apostle (or any missionary) is "to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature" (D&C 18:28). It is understandable that the itinerant lifestyle required by such duties would likely preclude holding down a steady job. Oliver Cowdery was called on a mission, and the Lord commanded:
"And thou shalt take no purse nor scrip, neither staves, neither two coats, for the church shall give unto thee in the very hour what thou needest for food and for raiment, and for shoes and for money, and for scrip" (D&C 24:18).
Note that the Lord did not say the the church would provide for Oliver's needs beforehand or reimburse his expenses after the fact; rather, Oliver was to operate on faith, trusting that his needs would be met "in the very hour."

The Lord's call might also put apostles into areas where there is little or no church membership to administer to their needs. The Lord has a wonderful system in place for these servants; he presented it to his apostles in Israel, the twelve chosen among the Nephites, and again to the apostles of the Latter-day Church in a revelation in 1832. Don't be lazy, read it all below:
"And again I say unto you, my friends, for from henceforth I shall call you friends, it is expedient that I give unto you this commandment, that ye become even as my friends in days when I was with them, traveling to preach the gospel in my power; 
78 For I suffered them not to have purse or scrip, neither two coats. 
79 Behold, I send you out to prove the world, and the laborer is worthy of his hire. 
80 And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst. 
81 Therefore, take ye no thought for the morrow, for what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, or wherewithal ye shall be clothed. 
82 For, consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin; and the kingdoms of the world, in all their glory, are not arrayed like one of these. 
83 For your Father, who is in heaven, knoweth that you have need of all these things. 
84 Therefore, let the morrow take thought for the things of itself. 
85 Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man. 
86 Therefore, let no man among you, for this commandment is unto all the faithful who are called of God in the church unto the ministry, from this hour take purse or scrip, that goeth forth to proclaim this gospel of the kingdom. 
87 Behold, I send you out to reprove the world of all their unrighteous deeds, and to teach them of a judgment which is to come. 
88 And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up. 
89 Whoso receiveth you receiveth me; and the same will feed you, and clothe you, and give you money. 
90 And he who feeds you, or clothes you, or gives you money, shall in nowise lose his reward. 
91 And he that doeth not these things is not my disciple; by this you may know my disciples" (D&C 84:77-91).
In summary (for those bums like me who skim scripture quotes in blog posts): the Lord is commanding His apostles to go on their missions without money, extraneous clothing, or even prepared sermons. Instead, He wants them to trust that God will provide for His servants. He also provides a way for them to identify those whose hearts are already turned to Christ and who are ready to hear their message: those who feed them, clothe them, and give them money.

I love this system! Apostles aren't supposed to parade around in first-class accommodations provided for by the widow's mite to deliver prepared sermons that flatter their listeners. They're supposed to travel not on a corporate credit card, but on trust in God and a reliance on the charity of strangers. Imagine the faith and humility that would be fostered in those servants, and the integrity that would shine through their message when listeners knew they were motivated only by the grace of God and willing to sacrifice all for the sake of their mission.

It's okay for servants of God to sleep on couches, wear secondhand clothing, and eat leftover chili.
"And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
19 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matthew 18:19-20).
4. Miracles and suffering
"Miracle of the Manna" by Tintoretto
What happens if apostles or missionaries are sent to an area where none are inclined to offer them aid? Let's look to Alma 8 to find the answer (this example also overlaps with #3). Alma's first efforts to convince the people of the city of Ammonihah to repent did not go well. He was cast out of the city, and as he dejectedly travelled to another town, an angel appeared and told him to go back to Ammonihah. This is what happened next:
"And as he entered the city he was an hungered, and he said to a man: Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat? 
20 And the man said unto him: I am a Nephite, and I know that thou art a holy prophet of God, for thou art the man whom an angel said in a vision: Thou shalt receive. Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house. 
21 And it came to pass that the man received him into his house; and the man was called Amulek; and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma. 
22 And it came to pass that Alma ate bread and was filled; and he blessed Amulek and his house, and he gave thanks unto God. 
23 And after he had eaten and was filled he said unto Amulek: I am Alma, and am the high priest over the church of God throughout the land. 
24 And behold, I have been called to preach the word of God among all this people, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy; and I was in this land and they would not receive me, but they cast me out and I was about to set my back towards this land forever. 
25 But behold, I have been commanded that I should turn again and prophesy unto this people, yea, and to testify against them concerning their iniquities. 
26 And now, Amulek, because thou hast fed me and taken me in, thou art blessed; for I was an hungered, for I had fasted many days" (Alma 8:19-26).
First, Alma's initial rejection and subsequent traveling presumably prevented him from having access to sufficient food. I'm persuaded that he didn't have money to purchase provisions, either, because the first thing he did upon reentering Ammonihah was to ask a stranger for food. Alma used the lack of food as an opportunity to fast, even for "many days" and while traveling! Sometimes God's servants have to endure suffering (Luke 6:22); this suffering works for the ultimate good of the righteous (D&C 98:3). Those who do not experience suffering and persecution while doing the Lord's work may not actually be doing the Lord's work.

Though suffering and death is sometimes required, God will often perform miracles to preserve His servants and further His work. As Alma's mission was not finished, the Lord sent an angel to Amulek, setting off a chain of events that would not only provide Alma with food, but also with a mission companion whose second witness would help in convincing many of the people of Ammonihah to repent. Amulek also accompanied Alma on subsequent preaching missions, and was instrumental in bringing many souls to Christ. Would this story have played out differently if Alma had been a Marriott Platinum Elite Rewards member with a per diem?
"And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God" (Alma 26:28).
 Besides angels, God has also provided the following through miraculous means:
  • manna for the Israelites (Deuteronomy 8:3)
  • quail for the Israelites (Numbers 11:31-32)
  • ravens to feed Elijah during a drought (1 Kings 17:4-6)
  • a never-empty barrel of meal and cruce of oil for Elijah and the widow who fed him (and also the widow's son, whom Elijah later raised from the dead) (1 Kings 17:9-24)
  • strength for Nephi's family in the wilderness as they lived off of raw meat; women able to breastfeed their babies despite this diet (1 Nephi 17:2)
People claim that "it's different these days," or "these methods just wouldn't work in today's world." Really? Moroni wrote,
"For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variablenessneither shadow of changing? 
10 And now, if ye have imagined up unto yourselves a god who doth vary, and in whom there is shadow of changing, then have ye imagined up unto yourselves a god who is not a God of miracles. 
11 But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are" (Mormon 9:9-11).
Mormon said, "...has the day of miracles ceased? is by faith that miracles are wrought; ...wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain" (Moroni 7:35,37). If we aren't willing to take the Lord at His word when He says He will provide for His servants, we have unbelief. Wo unto us. 

Jesus said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23). All things! If we believe that God can have ravens bring food to His servants or cause food to literally fall from the sky, why don't we even trust Him to inspire someone to buy a burger for a hungry apostle?

Check out this book for a collection of amazing modern-day miracles.


Ultimately, this issue is about faith. Do we have the faith to trust that God will provide a way to be obedient to His commandments? Are we willing to endure hunger, discomfort, and second-hand shoes for the sake of obedience to the Lord? Or will we insist that God's miracles have ceased, that we are an exception to the rule, or that we've thought of a better way?
"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, even so will he clothe you, if ye are not of little faith" (3 Nephi 13:30).
*Note: Could the Lord have since revealed another, completely contradictory system in which His apostles are entitled to a regular paycheck drawn from the church's investment income? Sure. I'd be interested to see such a revelation, which should be published in accordance with the Lord's instructions in D&C 104:58.


  1. I agree with your sentiments generally and have always had major issues with CES / institute instructors getting paid to teach religion...

    But in terms of the leaders of the church, two things. First, quoting from SL Trib, “No funds for this "living allowance," the spokesman said, "come from the tithing of church members but instead from proceeds of the church's financial investments."

    One thing that I’ve always been curious about is the beginning of the investment arm of the church. Who started it? Was it started with tithing funds? Either way i suppose they make the argument that they are ‘laboring with their own hands’ to the extent that semi-passive financial investments are laboring with your own hands.

    I think the other point is that if someone is called to the work, it would be challenging to meet the demands of an international church (or even on a domestic level in a smallish country) for someone who is living in extreme poverty.

    In sum, i wish they would lower the living standard because 120k is excessive. I wish they would require that they pool a % of assets when called as a general authority and use that pool exclusively for reimbursement of living / travel expenses during their time as full time GAs. I agree that many miracles would proceed from a dedication to the principles you talked about, but the lord’s house is a house of order and i don’t know that we should expect a miracle every time someone needs to catch a flight to stake conference. So perhaps the compromise they’ve made is the best compromise they could come up with and they feel the Lord approves.

    1. I think the foundational problem illustrated by this and all Kimber's other posts is your final sentence: "So perhaps the compromise they’ve made is the best compromise they could come up with and they feel the Lord approves."

      This is me putting words in her mouth, but I think her point is that that's not how we've been commanded to live, nor is it how we're told things are done. But it certainly looks like that is, in fact, what's happening. And that's exactly what the scriptures warn us about, so when it's pointed out to us, it should make us uncomfortable, in my opinion.

      We're supposed to be intimately connected to heaven, not following orders from those who say they are, especially when they contradict scripture.

    2. Jeff, thanks for your comment. Because the church doesn't release financial records, we cannot know where "investment income" comes from. But even if those funds have no connection to tithing (which I doubt), to me it doesn't really matter. No published revelation justifies that general authorities are entitled to regular paychecks from the church, regardless of how those funds were acquired.

      If GAs want to maintain a business/investment arm to fund their living expenses, they should go for it!...But it should be separate from the church, in my opinion.

      I believe I've addressed your concern about those living in poverty being called into leadership positions. They have just as much claim on church welfare as any other poor member. Might it still be challenging? Sure. I don't think God's work comes with a guarantee that sacrifices won't be asked.

      I'm not sure about how stake presidents should be reimbursed for travel, but the Lord's published revelation to the 12 on the matter of travel expenses is very clear to me: take no purse or scrip. I believe the Lord meant what he said, and will stand by His promises if we are faithful enough to trust Him.


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