One of my neighbors is an LDS bishop. I have not talked to him about the topic at hand, but I have an inkling of how much time and effort he must devote to his local congregation of about 200 people. I know that he gets plenty of respect from the local community—most of our neighbors are a part of his flock—and when the missionaries in white shirts walk by his home on our neighborhood street and he’s standing outside, they make a special effort to say, “Good evening, bishop.” I’ve seen it.
But while the many bishops work very hard managing their flock by (among other things) managing the church services, applying church discipline, interviewing members for temple recommends, visiting the sick and elderly, preparing an occasional message, and who knows what else (besides the bishops themselves), these men are not financially compensated for their efforts. In effect, they are volunteers in what must be a full-time job.
I realize that many Latter-day Saints would shudder at the thought of “paying” the bishops. For some reason, these folks have romanticized the idea that someone who serves with no compensation must be more dedicated and pure than a person who receives income from his or her labors. The words “paid hireling” are often associated with Christian pastors. This is especially true for those older Mormons who experienced the pre-1990 temple ceremony and remember the part when Lucifer made a financial offer to the Protestant minister for doing Satan’s work, saying “I will pay you well.” Paying the bishop a salary would be nothing less than heretical for these members.
We must understand, though, that the bishops are given a HUGE responsibility. Check out what former President Gordon B. Hinckley said at a general conference from a decade ago:
“We have more than 18,000 bishops in the Church. Every one is a man who has been called by the spirit of prophecy and revelation and set apart and ordained by the laying on of hands. Every one of them holds the keys of the presidency of his ward. Each is a high priest, the presiding high priest of his ward. Each carries tremendous responsibilities of stewardship. Each stands as a father to his people” (“The Shepherds of Israel,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2003, p. 60).
Because of the “tremendous responsibilities” it takes to run this organization at the local levels, it seems that “the father(s) to (their) people” have every right to receive financial compensation for their dedicated efforts. Consider what Doctrine and Covenants 42:70-73 says:
“The priests and teachers shall have their stewardships, even as the members. And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop, for the good of the poor, and for other purposes, as before mentioned; Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services, either a stewardship or otherwise, as may be thought best or decided by the counselors and bishop. And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.”
What exactly does “just remuneration” mean? I suppose this is open to interpretation. As I wrote in an article earlier this year, apparently “just remuneration” for mission presidents in Utah begins at about $100,000 (or more)—and that’s a conservative figure. The number could be more or less depending on the location. We can quibble all day long about whether their compensation should be called a “salary” or just “living expenses.” The wording doesn’t matter. The point is that mission presidents are paid for their work. Of this, there is no doubt. (For more information on this issue that many Mormons have never thought about, see What does “unpaid ministry” look like? at mrm.org)
I recently came upon the following quote in a church teacher’s manual discussing D&C 70:
“Doctrine and Covenants 70:12–16. Church leaders who are called to serve the Lord full-time are to have their needs supplied by the Church. (5–10 minutes). Ask students who among them has a Church calling. Ask:
• How much time do you spend each week fulfilling your calling?
• How much time do you think the Relief Society president and bishop spend on their callings?
• How much time do you think the prophet spends on his calling? Divide the following questions among the students. Have them read Doctrine and Covenants 24:3, 7; 70:12–16 and look for answers.
• How much time did the Lord expect these servants to work? (see D&C 24:7).
• How did the Lord provide for these servants’ material needs? (see D&C 24:3).
• What does it mean that ‘he who is appointed to administer spiritual things . . . is worthy of his hire’? (D&C 70:12). (Church leaders who are called to serve the Lord full-time should have their needs supplied by the Church.)
• According to Doctrine and Covenants 70:16, what should be provided for these Church leaders?” (Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, pp. 120-121. Emphasis in original.).
Notice these words once more: “Church leaders who are called to serve the Lord full-time should have their needs supplied by the Church.” I can’t say for sure how much time my neighbor spends on his calling, but I guarantee you it’s not “part-time” hours. And I’m sure he feels that he could spend much more time—if he had it—on issues involving both his congregation as well as his family.
This is a “Norma Rae” moment if I’ve ever seen one! (If you haven’t seen the 1979 movie with Sally Field, rent it.) Bishops, unite! If you are expected to fully “administer spiritual things” to your congregation, the church manual I’ve cited says that you are “worthy of (your) hire.” Your needs—in context, this refers to physical needs and not just spiritual—ought to then be “supplied by the Church.” If mission presidents are getting six figures—a number from which they are not required to tithe—shouldn’t you get at least half?
Perhaps it is time for the thousands of bishops to request their church leaders to follow through on the teaching of this LDS scripture. At the same time, my advice is for them not to hold their breath.
For more information on this topic, see chapter 10 (“Why are your clergy members paid?”) in our book Answering Mormons’ Questions (McKeever and Johnson, Kregel, 2013).