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.