The Killer Bs: Idols of the Minister’s Heart

An HB Classic

There are three great idols that all ministers must tear down daily cast into the fire for scrap: buildings, bodies, and budgets. These are the three things that almost invariably come up in conversation with pastors and, I must confess, I’ve too often been a part of the problem. When I go to classis (the regional gathering of pastors and elders) I often ask pastors, “So, how’s it going?” by which I mean, “How’s your attendance?”

I’ve felt guilty asking it but I want to know because that’s how we measure how well or ill things are in a congregation. The other two, of course, flow from the first. If the pastor reports “good numbers” then the budget will be in good order and building plans in the offing.

I’ve coveted nice church buildings and complained against the Head of the Church for not providing more richly for the select of elect. Why does he provide so abundantly for churches that seem to have so few (or none at all) of the marks of a true church? If attendance is high then everything is thought to be in order. Never mind the sanctification of the people or the mission of the church.

Is “idol” too strong an adjective? Well, challenge these reigning gods or dare to remove them from their pedestal and see what happens. Propose something that might affect adversely the building, bodies, or budget and see what becomes of the proposal.

These are the things by which ministers often define themselves. These are the things they covet. These are the status symbols: a growing budget, increasing attendance, and a bigger building. These are the idols that shape the program-driven church. These are the gods that drive the liturgy and the gods that promise rewards to those who serve them faithfully.

“Ah, you’re just jealous because you’ve never had any of these.” Maybe so. God forgive me, I’m a wretch. I may be jealous and I might even find a way to rationalize the killer Bs should they be given to me, but that doesn’t make it right. I may be jealous but so is God and he’s the one about whom you should worry.

The good news for pastors today is that the Lord of the church is also the Savior of the church and of his sinful ministers. He knows your heart and he still loves you. He obeyed and laid down his life for you. His righteousness is imputed to you who believe by his grace alone, through faith alone. By his grace you can repent again today, turn from the killer Bs to the living Christ who is using you to build his church and to glorify himself.

[An earlier version of this post was first published in 2008 on the HB. ]

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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  1. Scott,

    Sadly, we have actually institutionalized this problem. For example, the Mississippi Valley Presbytery (PCA) Guidelines for compensating pastors includes this footnote:

    “A minister’s salary (base salary + 1 housing allowance) should be within the salary range of the congregation. Ministers in metropolitan areas should receive salaries greater than the minimum. Senior ministers serving churches having Sunday morning attendance greater than 300 should receive salaries significantly greater than the minimum.”

    I don’t include this to single out this particular Presbytery but because I believe the view contained in this footnote is simply taken for granted in most churches and presbyteries. But why should pastors of larger churches be paid more, and significantly more according to this guideline, than pastors in smaller congregations?

    Best wishes,


    • May a layman offer one reason? “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”A pastor of a larger church (150 or above) will face significantly higher pressures and living costs (housing) if resident in a city rather than in a smaller town

  2. Here’s a pet theory that I’ve nursed for years: The boldness of the preaching from a church’s pulpit is in inverse proportion to the percentage that the church’s mortgage payments bear to the total budget. As the mortgage becomes more burdensome to service, the preaching (more often than not) becomes weaker and less direct, downplaying the seriousness of sin and the glory of grace.

    To be more blunt, Give ’em what they want to hear, and they’ll pay handsomely for it.

    Preachers, feel free to hurl sticks and stones. I know this is not a universal rule. In God’s good providence, you may have avoided this trap. I’ve seen it enough in the “real world,” though, to believe there just may be something to it.

  3. Maybe they should use St. Paul for a model, or how about Jesus himself.

    How many were left at the foot of the cross? One, maybe, and he was just there because of Jesus’ mother.


    These big barn churches look pretty pale in comparison to their local pro-football teams attendance on any given Sunday.


    If someone tells me that their congregation is really big and growing by leaps and bounds, I usually say, “I wonder what you guys are doing wrong? The pure gospel has never really been all that popular with people.”

    • I hope you meant that in jest for it is the same overreaction in reverse. Sometimes in God’s providence the real gospel catches hold of larger numbers of people than average.

  4. Dear Tim,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I respectfully disagree with your assessment that pastors of large churches should be paid more because they are under greater pressure. A few clarifications:

    (1) I do think that pastors should be paid well. I define this as being able to live within the community in which he pastors at a generally middle class lifestyle. You could look for public comparisons by seeing what an Assistant Principal in the community is paid or a Captain in the Army with seven or eight years in the service is paid (remember to include the military officer’s housing allowance and BAS). Both reflect adequate financial support for pastors.

    (2) Housing allowances should be adjusted based on where the pastor lives. This is not particularly driven by the church being larger. The pastor of a small church in Boston will have much higher housing costs than the pastor of a larger church in Plano, Texas. One easy way to see the relative cost of housing is to look at military housing allowances for an O-3 or an O-4 with a family. This information is public and adjusted from area to area around the country depending upon the cost of housing.

    (3) It is not necessarily more difficult to pastor a larger church. While the congregation where I pastor is relatively small, it is three times the size it was when I first came here. In many ways it is less stressful to pastor the congregation now that it has tripled in size.

    (4) I have nothing against large churches. In fact, I have friends who pastor some very large congregations that are wonderfully faithful. Yet, because of the staffs that these congregations have, my friends at these churches generally have meaningfully more time off than solo pastors do. If you don’t realize that this is so, you may want to consider the conferences that go on throughout the Reformed world and ask yourself: “How does a pastor of a large church find time to speak at eight to ten of these every year?”

    (5) Paying pastors of large churches more (“significantly more” to use the language of the MVP which I quoted above) simply encourages pastors to move to larger congregations. The odd thing is that we complain when pastors leave a smaller church to go to a larger church “just for the money.” But if it’s not about the money – why are we choosing to pay the pastors of large churches so much more?

    While there may not be a simple approach to compensating pastors that satisfies everyone, it is difficult to see how paying some pastors two and three times what other pastors make (in the same denomination) reflects Scripture rather than prevailing notions from the corporate world.

    Best wishes,


  5. Scott,

    Thank you for this gentle but firm reminder of the danger of the killer B’s. Even as a new pastor, I know the lure of these.

    I also wanted to commend you for your humility in addressing this problem and for ‘preaching’ the Gospel to ministers who fail in these areas. As you say so well, pastors are sinners saved by grace, too. One thing that disturbs me about what I find in the Reformed blogosphere is the sheer volume of these “10 things your pastor should say in his next sermon… 7 things your pastor should never say to you…. 5 signs your pastor doesn’t really love Jesus…” To new (and I would also imagine seasoned) pastors, these laundry lists are a yoke of bondage. We’re doing the best we can, but, God help us, we’re sinners, too.

    What I’m trying to say is that I appreciated the way you addressed this area of common failure among pastors, but then showed us the grace of the Gospel. Would that all people that feel the need to critique Christ’s ministers would be as gracious.

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