As a missionary, I occasionally found myself in the uncomfortable experience of listening to my companions talking about how proud they were to be part of a Church where every calling is performed on a voluntary basis, with no compensation—from the top leaders on down to the local level. My discomfort was caused because, in general, the missionaries in question were not aware that general authorities do receive a stipend—something that Church members became more aware of in light of the 2017 MormonLeaks documents, which indicated that the living stipend for Church leaders was up in triple-digit figures. There are legitimate reasons for full-time Church leaders to receive a stipend, but because the Book of Mormon speaks out so heavily against “priestcraft” (portrayed as the idea of paying people for Church service), we have a strong bias against the idea of receiving money for the ministry. Yet, the Doctrine and Covenants provides direction and precedent for supporting Church leaders using Church money so they can focus on their work in the Church.
One of the central sources of antagonism in the Book of Mormon (at least in the Book of Alma) are the followers of Nehor, who practiced priestcraft. At the very outset, Nehor’s practice of charging for preaching is portrayed in negative terms: “And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed the word of God … declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people.” In part because of the antagonism between Alma and the Nephite Christian church on the one hand and the religion rooted in Nehor’s teachings on the other, the text is very clear in distinguishing how the priests of the Alma’s church don’t practice priestcraft: “When the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God, they all returned again diligently unto their labors … and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor.” Likewise, when Alma defended himself against the accusations of Korihor, he is very clear that he has always “labored … with mine own hands for my support. … And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren.” These statements in the Book of Mormon set up an expectation that Church leaders—even the highest-ranking ones—are not paid for their labors.
The New Testament generally takes a different approach to Church leaders receiving support from those to whom they minister. Jesus told missionaries to stay at people’s homes, “eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid.” Paul likewise said that: “If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we still more?” He added: “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is sacrificed at the altar? In the same way the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” Yet, Paul himself didn’t insist on receiving compensation: “I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case.” According to 2 Thessalonians, Paul and his companions “were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked day and night, so that we might not burden any of you.” He does, however, make it clear that his approach is not the normal expectation: “This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate.” In general, these scriptures from the New Testament make a case for compensating missionaries and ministers for their work.
The Doctrine and Covenants makes a case that is closer to the New Testament than the Book of Mormon, particularly for Joseph Smith. A July 1830 revelation stated that Joseph Smith should “devote all thy service to in Zion & in this thou shalt have strength … & in temporal labo[rs] thou shalt not have strength for this is not thy calling.” A revelation on 4 February 1831, around the time Joseph Smith moved to Kirtland, Ohio (now D&C 41), declared that: “It is meet that my servent Joseph should have a house built in which to live & translate.” A subsequent revelation (D&C 43) was even more explicit in indicating that the Saints would need to provide for Joseph Smith for him to continue his work in the Church: “If you desire the mysteries of the Kingdom provide for him food & raiment & whatsoever is thing he needeth to accomplish the work which I have commanded him.” Joseph Smith was declared to be exempt from “temporal labors” so he could focus on serving Zion and delivering “the mysteries of the Kingdom,” with the expectation that the Saints would provide food, clothing, housing and other needs for him.
Likewise, at the meeting where “the law” was revealed in Kirtland, Ohio on 9 February, the elders who were present asked the reasonable question: “How the Elders are to depose of their families while they are proclaiming repentance or are otherwise engaged in the Service of the Church?” The response was the bishop “is to see that their families are supported out of the property which is consecrated to the Lord either a stewardship or otherwise as may be thought best.” While we don’t operate on a system of consecration and stewardship in the Church these days, this does give justification and precedent for supporting elders who are serving the Church through finances owned by the Church.
In a 1985 general conference talk, President Gordon B. Hinckley discussed how that practice is applied to general authorities in our time. He discussed how the “business assets which the Church has today are an outgrowth of enterprises which were begun in the pioneer era of our history,” such as Deseret News, real-estate and farms that had their origin in the sugar beet industry, and properties associated with Temple Square (including the Hotel Utah). These “merchandising interests are an outgrowth of the cooperative movement which existed among our people in pioneers times.” He then added 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.” General authorities receive a stipend out of the property and business that have their origin in property consecrated to the Lord when we did practice systems of consecration and stewardship.
We’re still left with a bit of conundrum. We have the Book of Mormon declaring that having Church leaders supported by the people rather than their own efforts is bad, and “were priestcraft to be enforced among this people it would prove their entire destruction.” On the other hand, we have Jesus declaring that: “the laborer deserves to be paid,” with Paul seconding that thought and the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants also supporting the idea of providing for Church leaders so they can focus on their work in the Church. The reality is that we don’t pay local Church officers (based on Alma’s approach), but we do pay leaders of the general Church (based, in part, on the Doctrine and Covenant’s instructions). The question remains—are the two approaches meant to be mutually exclusive, or are they compatible in the way we operate in the Church today? What do you think and why?
- Kent Larsen, “Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 41-44—Law, Consecration, and Revelation,” Times and Seasons, 23 April 2021
- Book of Mormon Central, “Come Follow Me 2021: Doctrine and Covenants 41-44”
 See, for example, Rod Decker and Larry D. Curtis, “MormonLeaks web page posts documents about ‘living allowance’ of LDS general authorities,” 2KUTV, 9 January 2017, https://kutv.com/news/local/mormonleaks-web-page-posts-information-about-living-allowance-of-lds-general-authorities.
 Alma 1:3.
 Alma 1:26.
 Alma 30:32-33.
 Luke 10:7, NRSV.
 1 Corinthians 9:11-14.
 1 Corinthians 9:15.
 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9.
 “Revelation, July 1830–A [D&C 24],” p. 33, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 24, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-july-1830-a-dc-24/2
 “Revelation, 4 February 1831 [D&C 41],” p. 62, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 24, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-4-february-1831-dc-41/2
 “Revelation, February 1831–A [D&C 43],” p. 68, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 24, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-february-1831-a-dc-43/2
 “Revelation, 9 February 1831 [D&C 42:1–72],” p. , The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 24, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-9-february-1831-dc-421-72/5
 “Revelation, 9 February 1831 [D&C 42:1–72],” p. , The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed April 25, 2021, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-9-february-1831-dc-421-72/5
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Questions and Answers,” CR October 1985, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1985/10/questions-and-answers?lang=eng
 Alma 1:12.
 Luke 10:7, NRSV.
I remember the first time I seriously thought about this. I had hear before that general authorities received some kind of money. I was a missionary, and had had noticed that although I saved up the required amount for a mission, the church covered all my flights, and the living costs of the country I served should have amounted to more than my contributions. I remember thinking, that through the missionary funds, I was sort of being paid for my service. It was a weird feeling.
Later, when I have lived in places where church leaders or employees have had church paid rentals, I’ve sometimes thought they were a bit extravagant.
When I look at some Book of Mormon scriptures on priestcaft though, it doesn’t seem to be as simple as just receiving payment for ministry. Intent plays an important role too; “…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 welfare of Zion.” (2 Nephi 26:26). They way I read this, it’s only priestcraft if the intent is focused on gain (greed) rather than the kingdom of God.
I don’t think my missionary service was focused on gain. I made no savings or extravagant purchases and I was focused on building Zion. Of course, what’s extravagant is somewhat subjective. I ate out a lot on my mission, which was really fun. I remember hearing a missionary complain about their limited income when I was a student, working two jobs, and supporting a wife and child on less. The way president Hinkley explains general authority pay, it seems that they see it as an amount that is not greedily focused on gain. The motive element of priestcraft makes it a tricky issue to sort out. Dealing with money, funding, church, and philanthropy, ultimately requires some kind of juggling act that not everyone will agree on, and will probably make some people uncomfortable.
My teenage years were spent as the eldest of 4 sons of a church building missionary. Building supervisors were usually retired builders from Utah, and served for 2 years. I do not know what the allowance was, but I do know my father owned his home before the 6 year mission, and did not own anything after he transferred over to be an employee of the church building department for the rest of his working life. He retired to the pension.
When I went on my mission to Ireland one of the things I was very uncomfortable with was taking investigators to visit the mansion the mission president lived in. Any investigators were living in poverty, so tours of a mansion seemed very inapropriate.
I was not aware mission presidents were paid, I assumed they and every other church leader were a volunteer on a mission. I did not find out about Apostles incomes, and am still not clear how far down leaders are paid. I learned of these people being paid on the internet.
I do not believe church leaders should be paid if they are past retirement age, or have savings.
I spent my teenage years in poverty because my parents believed they were serving the lord. Our leaders are spending their retirement in wealth, and adoration.
I’ve always compared the situation to that of many of the so-called televangelists: they clearly seek the support of the people and they benefit from it in all too often very ostentatious ways. A general authority is not called based on their ability to fundraise and does not become one because a bunch of members of the church liked the way he preached and supported him. I think that’s what the Book of Mormon is really referring to, and while I agree that most people forget that we pay fulltime general authorities, I have always seen a bright line between that situation and the popular preachers of today.
Lastly, IIRC, Joseph Smith never really got his own house until Nauvoo, and then he operated his house as a hotel to help cover its costs, so his benefits were late and not exactly enriching. Brigham seemed to do better in that department, wherein his business success was intimately tied up with the church.
Some missionaries are still teaching the “no money” thing. It’s embarrassing to correct them while they are teaching. It’s just ignorance, and the only way to overcome ignorance is through education. As far as I am aware, Mission Presidents receive a stipend too. Perhaps they may be the best ones to help educate the young missionaries.
As to your questions – I think we have the balance about right. It would be interesting to know how many General Authorities contribute their stipend straight back in to tithing, fast offering and humanitarian aid. I suspect the number might be quite high. Many of them wouldn’t need the stipend.
Another thing to consider is the matter of perspective. What we westerners might consider a small stipend could seem like a small fortune to someone from a third world country.
I would like it if church leaders weren’t given living allowances of any sort, but it’s not realistic. General Authorities do a lot of Administrative work that isn’t ministering. When asked to give up any means of employment for the rest of their lives, the church should provide a way for them to stay alive. It’s likely that if we saw how much the living allowances were most of us would say “That’s a lot, you could get by on less”, but then we’d also be asking “What was fair.” And if we started looking at it as to what “fair” was we’d have to look to the corporate world, at which point we’d see that for the size of the organization being administered I highly suspect that church leadership would be being underpaid.
Let’s say that General Authorities weren’t given a living allowance, then what? The ward they lived in would have to pass around a “Feed the apostle and his wife calendar” in Relief Society?
And given that the funds don’t come from donations, but from investment interest, makes it much more stomach-able.
Plus, I’m unaware of any examples of someone becoming a GC and then moving into a bigger and better house. When my sister was first married, her apartment was in the same ward as Thomas S. Monson who had been living in the same house for decades. I had a roommate whose girlfriend lived in Henry B. Eyring’s ward. Neither were extravagant neighborhoods by any means.
So I split the hair on administering vs. ministering.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone.
I’d agree with you jader3rd–I’d prefer it if they weren’t given money, but recognize that it’s part of the reality of allowing them to fulfill their duties while being able to survive. It does make me curious about how much money the Church makes off its investments and properties. As far as moving to bigger and better houses, that’s something I don’t know enough to comment intelligently on (though I’ll still comment). I know that when Boyd K. Packer was first called, he was poor enough that he couldn’t afford a new shirt, but later on he was living on a nice property up by the mountains, so that might be one case. Elders Bednar and Uchtdorf live near some of my relatives in some very nice neighborhoods near the Bountiful Temple. But, it’s hard to say what they paid for from Church allowances and what was from successful careers prior to their calls.
Murray, that would be a good idea, to make sure mission presidents make the missionaries aware that there are people in the Church receiving some form of compensation for their work in the Church. As far as stipend sizes go, it really is a matter of perspective. If the 2014 documents that MormonLeaks released are accurate, the triple digit numbers do seem like a fortune to me. I get by pretty well living in Utah with about half that amount for a salary. But I know that in comparison to a lot of corporate leaders, it’s a relatively small salary.
0t and Josiah, you’re probably right, that motivation is key. That’s part of why I’m glad I’m not the one who gets to judge all of these types of things, since I’m not in a position to know what the GA’s are thinking at any point in time.