LDS Church Has No Paid Ministry

MYTH: The LDS Church does not have a paid ministry.


The policy of not having a paid ministry has long been a much emphasized tenet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as a point of distinction. It has also been referenced as evidence of the truthfulness of the restored gospel emphasizing volunteer leadership with no laity (a congregation of worshippers distinguished as separate from the clergy).

Elder Boyd K. Packer stated:

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there is no paid ministry, no professional clergy, as is common in other churches. More significant even than this is that there is no laity, no lay membership as such; men are eligible to hold the priesthood and to carry on the ministry of the Church, and both men and women serve in many auxiliary capacities. This responsibility comes to men whether they are rich or poor, and with this responsibility also comes the authority. There are many who would deny, and others who would disregard it; nevertheless, the measure of that authority does not depend on whether men sustain that authority, but rather depends on whether God will recognize and honor that authority.[1]

In 2006, President Thomas S. Monson recounted a story wherein he was asked why the Church was so wealthy. He explained that the Church was not necessarily wealthy, but it was able to build church buildings and temples because of two reasons: Tithing and no paid ministry. He explained:

I answered that the Church is not wealthy but that we follow the ancient biblical principle of tithing, which principle is reemphasized in our modern scripture. I explained also that our Church has no paid ministry and indicated that these were two reasons why we were able to build the buildings then under way, including the beautiful temple at Freiberg.[2]

But although it has often been repeated that the LDS Church has no paid ministry, the question is whether that claim is actually true. Many critics argue that it is not true, based on the fact that General Authorities as well as some mission presidents receive a living allowance,[3] claiming that the top 85 or 90 leaders (General Authorities) do quite well: they allegedly receive a salary, allowances, and are also paid as board members for a vast number of church-owned corporations.

The answer to this question might very well lie in our definition of a “paid ministry.”
Generally speaking, a paid ministry includes any form of financial gain or incentive that would result from ministerial work and would be subject to federal tax law. These monetary incentives include, but are not limited to, a salary, a living stipend and/or gifts received by the official church organization or its members as a result of a specific position or service related to the church organization.

Some ministers in the Christian world, such as Catholic priests, receive monetary compensation through a living stipend and housing. Other ministers sit on a board of directors and receive compensation for that position while others receive a straight-forward salary and/or percentage based on growth or revenues. Any form of payment, compensation or reward for ministerial work would be subject to federal and state taxes and therefore must be considered as income.

The LDS Church has consistently set itself apart from these organizations and practices, and sees ministerial work for gain as a form of corruption. The Book of Mormon defines "priestcraft" as teaching “that they may get gain and praise of the world” while not seeking "the welfare of Zion."[4] Just as the ancient apostles and teachers had their own professions to support themselves and did not rely solely on payments or gifts from the people, the same should be true of the restored church.

But there are allegations that this claim is not true, at least in regards to the General Authorities (specifically the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles).

And those allegations are correct.

It is common knowledge in the LDS community that the General Authorities receive a living stipend to meet their expenses while they serve the Church, but the amount of that stipend is unknown.

President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the question of the living stipend, stating that it is a modest compensation for their work and that it does not come from the tithing of the people, but rather business interests held by the LDS Church:

Merchandising interests are an outgrowth of the cooperative movement which existed among our people in pioneer times. The Church has maintained certain real estate holdings, particularly those contiguous to Temple Square, to help preserve the beauty and the integrity of the core of the city. All of these commercial properties are tax-paying entities.
I repeat, the combined income from all of these business interests is relatively small and would not keep the work going for longer than a very brief period.
I should like to add, parenthetically for your information, that the living allowances given the General Authorities, which are very modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry and the professions, come from this business income and not from the tithing of the people

In addition to a living stipend or allowance, it is rumored that these General Authorities also serve on various boards or committees – in addition to, or perhaps as a function of, their apostolic calling – overseeing the activities of all business as well as ecclesiastical endeavors of the LDS Church, for which they receive financial compensation.

There have also been numerous stories on various message boards and blogs on the internet claiming that various General Authorities were given gifts by members including travel expenses, food and even property as a result of the office or position they held within the Church.

One online blogger claimed the following:

My wife's uncle is a GA [General Authority] …He came up thru the CES system, and has always been an employee of the church, making a very meager salary in my opinion over the years, considering trying to live in a decent house for a family of 7 in SLC. He's been a mission president and is now First Quorum of the Seventy. He's always lived off the "stipend" which like I said is very conservative, before he was made a GA, it was somewhere around 50-60K per year as CES administrator. His kids (my wife's cousins) went to BYU for free, one of the other perks of GA-hood. I never heard exact numbers of his stipend when he became 2nd Quorum GA, but my wife heard "ballpark" figures of 60-70. That was over 15 years ago. She remembers her dad discussing with his brother his finances because they (GA family) wanted to buy a bigger house (a very average sized semi-custom house in SLC suburb, not fancy at all), but were afraid to commit because as 2nd quorum, there was no guarantee that position would be for life. So his brother (my father in law, who has financial means), basically told him "don't worry, go for it, I'll cover you". She remembers her dad using the phrase: "take the step of faith"... When he became 1st quorum, it solved the concerns, I assume because of a "raise" and the life-time assignment. We've always guessed with adjusted inflation, most GA's stipend's [sic] are getting close to six figs. That really isn't rich anymore, just comfortable without making the wife work. Stipends are "modified" to each individual, with many not taking any at all because they are financially independent. And yes he pays tithing on his stipend.[6]

Certainly a six-figure income would no longer be considered a living allowance, but constitutes a rather nice salary. Most people in America would love to have a six-figure income. Additionally, free tuition at BYU for family members would constitute as a form of pay as those same benefits are not offered to other members, but are the results of the specific Church calling.

To find answers to these allegations, I decided to go directly to the source and contacted the headquarters of the LDS Church. Although it was acknowledged that the General Authorities received a living allowance, I was informed that the financial information of its leaders was strictly confidential.

However, I did learn that in addition to General Authorities, some mission presidents also receive a living allowance during their three year period of service, if required. However, “Many mission presidents are financially able to take time out of work to support themselves during their service (and return to their vocations when their service is complete), and do not require a living allowance.[7]

Additionally, in the past General Authorities sat on the boards of Church-owned businesses for which they were financially compensated. However, in 1996 this practice was discontinued.[8]

Although the top leadership of the LDS Church does receive compensation for their service, to which they dedicate their lives, when the LDS Church refers to “no paid ministry” they are usually referring to leadership on the local level. Elder M. Russell Ballard stated, “…local congregations are led by volunteer, unpaid members. Both men and women serve in assigned leadership positions.”[9]

Being led by volunteer, unpaid members on the local level is an important distinction for the LDS Church. The LDS Church has no professional ministry in the traditional sense. There is no schooling or education that sets one apart for a leadership position.

A man cannot enter the LDS Church and expect to become a Bishop or Stake President, both of which are volunteer positions. And that person certainly would have very little hope of becoming a General Authority and making a career of his leadership aspirations. A call to serve as a General Authority usually comes later in life and the General Authority position did not serve as a life career for any of the men that currently hold that position.

Former President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized the fact that there is no professional ministry, but rather a lay leadership. He stated:

I need not tell you that we have become a very large and complex Church. Our program is so vast and our reach is so extensive that it is difficult to comprehend. We are a Church of lay leadership. What a remarkable and wonderful thing that is. It must ever remain so. It must never move in the direction of an extensive paid ministry.

The LDS Church heavily emphasizes the importance of the involvement of every single member, upon whose heads the local teaching and ministering falls. President Hinckley claimed,

The Church will ask you to do many things. It will ask you to serve in various capacities. We do not have a professional ministry. You become the ministry of this Church, and whenever you are called upon to serve may I urge you to respond, and as you do so your faith will strengthen and increase….[11]

Elder Franklin D. Richards made a similar statement two decades earlier. “Inasmuch as there is no paid ministry in the Church, service opportunities are available to men, women, and children of all ages.[12]

In reality, all local leadership – Bishops, Stake Presidents, Elders Quorum presidents, Relief Society presidents and all other auxiliary leaders or workers – receive no form of financial compensation and each person financially supports himself/herself during their period of service through their own full-time occupations. The only exception would be seminary or institute teachers who are considered employees of CES (Church Education System) and are not positions of leadership.

The Book of Mormon supports this practice claiming that "all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want;"[13]

But interestingly, the Doctrine and Covenants actually states the exact opposite. Section 42 states:

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. [14]

In the end, the modern LDS Church is made up of a lay leadership that is not paid for their service. There are no colleges where one can go to train to be an LDS Bishop or General Authority, and no one in the LDS Church can decide that they are going to be a Bishop, Stake President, or General Authority, or any other position in a ward or stake in general. Certainly there are no opportunities to make such leadership positions a career choice.

So, in terms of general, local leadership, the LDS Church has neither a professional nor paid ministry.

However, the top General Authorities (the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve apostles and the First Quorum of the Seventy) do in fact receive financial compensation for their service. As a result, the LDS Church should stop making the claim that they have no paid ministry.

Just like most priests or ministers, the General Authorities of the LDS Church give up other employable options and dedicate themselves to the gospel, for which they are financially compensated. Aside from popular opinion, most Christian ministers receive a modest income for their work and should not be disparaged or condemned for it.[15] Instead, they should be respected for their dedication and desire to serve, whether they receive financial compensation or not.

And like the LDS Church, there are many members of other faiths who devote time and energy to their churches without any monetary compensation. They too should be respected for their dedication to their beliefs.

[1] Boyd K. Packer, “Follow the Brethren,” Tambuli, Sep 1979, 53
[2] Thomas S. Monson, “Our Sacred Priesthood Trust,” Ensign, May 2006, 54–57
[4] Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:29
[5] Gordon B. Hinckley, "Questions and Answers," Ensign (November 1985): 49.
[6] Online message board, message left on Oct. 15, 2008. Retrieved March 19, 2009
[8] Lynn Arave, "LDS programs evolve over the years," Deseret Morning News (30 September 2006).
[9] M. Russell Ballard, “Faith, Family, Facts, and Fruits,” Liahona, Nov 2007, 25–27
[10] Gordon B. Hinckley, “To Men of the Priesthood,” Liahona, Nov 2002, 56–59
[11] Gordon B. Hinckley, “Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, Jun 1999, 2
[12] Franklin D. Richards, “Q&A: Questions and Answers,” New Era, Mar. 1977, 11–12
[13] Book of Mormon, Mosiah 27:5
[14] Doctrine and Covenants 42:71-73

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