An Essential Guide To The Minister’s Salary

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I still remember that class clearly. It was an Introduction to Ministry Class I took at Abilene Christian University with Dr. Charles Sibert. We came to the point in the class that we started to talk about the ministers salary negotiations with your church.

I immediately felt uncomfortable. Minister salary negotiations and pay packages? I’m going to haggle with a church over my salary? I wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable. Options, ideas, and strong thoughts flew from corner to corner. The discussion of a minister’s salary is one with various parties who typically are at opposite ends of a diversified spectrum.

What Should Be the Minister’s Salary?

In an article called Ministry Salaries I was intrigued by the diversity of the comments.

One commenter happily writes:

Ministry is costly and finances give us a cross to bear which our congregations may not always see, but I’m exceedingly glad to be in a connectional church which at least makes sure my wife and I don’t starve for our commitment to ministry.

Another firmly believes:

Pastors are servants called by God, and should be willing to work in complete and absolute poverty, if need be.

George Holsten remarks:

In my 20+ years experience in ordained ministry as an Episcopal priest (ECUSA), debate over clergy salaries never seems to end. One of the comparisons I like to make is in the area of education. My MDiv is from a well known major private university. This university also offers medical school and law school.

My seminary degree requires the same academic preparation as a law degree (same time length, course and field work), only the subject matter is different. From that point it is an easy step to ask about the disparity between what an attorney is able to demand for services rendered; over and against the services and expectations placed upon the clergy (24/7, etc). At that point, the question becomes one of values and priorities.

And so I believe that the ‘rub’ is clear. For some, low pay is part of the ministerial calling. For others, low pay shows disrespect to hard working and well educated individuals.

Underlying Assumptions About Paid Ministers Salary that Muddy The Water

  • When ministers talk about pay it is not unusual to question motives – is he doing this job just for the money?
  • Ministers are expected to care for the cause so deeply that they should be willing to sacrifice their income in favor of additional church programs.
  • Most expect ministers to go first in all aspects of life. The minister is to model a simple, selfless financial lifestyle to the congregation.

A Low Salary Can Be Difficult For A Minister

The Relationship Between Money and Appreciation

Despite efforts to the contrary the minister will often equate low pay with low appreciation. Salary is our cultural love language. North American culture has established one standard of labor appreciation – money. This, however, is not unique to North America. Even from the very beginning of time there has been a close biblical relationship between work and pay.

Some ministers outperform their peers in school, have more open doors, and more opportunities, but choose the ministry instead. It is difficult, in those situations, to see peers become highly successful while the minister is relegated to ask for a salary increase so his child can pay the fees to play baseball.

My encouragement is simply for churches to ask this question: What does the ministers salary package communicate in terms of importance and appreciation?

A Good Ministes Salary Can Be A Stumbling Block

The more a minister is paid the more he is likely to have an alternative motivation for continuing in his ministry. This is especially true when other work opportunities are less lucrative. The result is that the minister might remain in a ministry position simply because it is financially profitable.

Furthermore, most ministers enter the ministry expecting to be on the lower end of the national pay average. Therefore, it is not uncommon for some ministers to feel like they don’t deserve to be paid well. For some, the low salary is part of their pastoral sacrifice.

4 Common Methods For Determining The Minister’s Salary

1. Compensation paid to the minister based on education, experience, qualification, and background

The most difficult part of this approach is determining what frame of reference to use. How does one really determine this based on education and experience?

2. Compensation paid to the minister based on a ‘standard salary’ – most often a teacher’s salary

With this method the church will ask the local school district to furnish a teacher salary chart. The minister will be paid on the same scale according to tenure.

3. Salary is established based on the financial need of the minister

Churches that use this method will ask the minister to submit a proposed personal budget. The minister’s salary will be impacted based on the work situation of the spouse

4. Salary is based on what the church can afford or church budget

In this case, the church sets a budget amount and then goes out and tries to find a minister who will work within the framework of what the church can afford.

Factors that impact the minister’s salary package:

  • Congregation size
  • Congregation’s socioeconomic level
  • Role responsibilities – what does the church expect
  • Years of experience
  • Highest level of education completed
  • Current staff salaries
  • Personal and professional strengths
  • Local cost of living

Don’t Undermine the Appeal of Non-Financial Forms of Compensation

Smaller churches bemoan the fact that they often cannot afford a “high quality” minister. However, pay is only one small way a church can compensate the minister. Other alternatives include:

  • Extra vacation time
  • Part time work expectations
  • Support a minister’s hobby or related work project – like a writing ministry
  • Frequent sabbaticals

Factors that Impact or Limit What a Church Can or is Willing to Pay

  • Budget limitations
  • Current staff salaries
  • Desire to be good stewards – offer enough without being taken advantage of
  • An amount that is maintainable
  • An amount that is not subject to the criticism of the majority of the church
  • Expectations of the minister
  • Expectations of the minister’s wife
  • Education, age, experience, and skill set

Factors that Impact a Ministers Salary

  • Family needs
  • Sense of worth
  • Fear of being taken advantage of
  • Desire to be financially independent
  • Wife’s working situation (works in the home or out of the home)
  • Fear of criticism from church leaders
  • Performance expectations
  • Education, age, experience, skills

Minister Range

*Notes and image (adapted) taken From Introduction To Christian Ministry class by Dr. Charles Siburt.

What is A Minister Worth?

I found the following quote insightful and entertaining. The quote is from Kesler, J. (1988). Vol. 13: Being holy, being human : Dealing with the expectations of ministry. The Leadership library (155). Carol Stream, Ill.; Waco, Tex.: CTI; Word Books.

I recently read some interesting statistics about the dollar value of the work done by the typical pastor. Most of us would wish that church boards took these figures seriously! Doug Self, in Pastoral Ministry Newsletter, calculated roughly as follows:

A professional motivational speaker gets $1,500 per speech. Multiply that by the 50 Sundays per year a pastor preaches and you get $75,000. (Of course, if you speak more than once per Sunday, as many pastors do, that figure should be even higher.)

Workshop leaders get $350 a week, which would add another $17,500 per year for pastors who lead classes.

If you calculate a counselor’s fee at $50 per hour, the average pastor’s five hours of counseling per week would be worth $12,500 a year.

For home visits, doctors get $62.50 an hour, plumbers $35. At an average of about $50 per hour, then, a pastor who does fifteen hours of visitation a week should be worth another $37,500 per year.

And for administrative services, a grade-school principal makes $20 per hour. Thus, a pastor giving fifteen hours a week to administration merits another $15,000 annually.

All told, according to Doug Self’s calculations, the typical pastor should get a yearly salary of about $157,500.

What Should the Minister Do When He Feels Like He Needs A Pay Raise?

In his book Being Holy, Being Human, Jay Kesler suggests the four action items:

  1. We must be willing to look hard and honestly at our personal budgets.
  2. We need to be ready to show the figures to the board and explain the need for the raise we’re requesting.
  3. We may have to do some educating of the board in terms of the hours and effort the pastorate requires.
  4. Finally in terms of dealing with the financial struggles and frustrations and possible resentment in the ministry, I have to remind myself periodically of why I’m doing what I’m doing and of the fact that I made a conscious choice many years ago to pursue a line of work that I knew didn’t pay nearly as well as other things I could have done.

My Reactions and Conclusions:

It seems clear that Jay thinks that the minister’s pay should be based on the financial need of the minister. However, I think it is better for the package to be based on the minister’s commitment, performance, and involvement in the church. But, the church’s limitation must also be considered as smaller churches simply cannot afford a large minister’s salary.

I think this approach honors the message of the Parable of the Talents. A person who is trustworthy and responsible will be better rewarded. Lord willing, that minister is a generous person so those extra resources are ultimately used for God’s glory.

The minister on his part should go where he feels called regardless of the financial compensation (with a possible exception if the minister has extremely high levels of debt). At the beginning of a ministry the minister must accept the reality of low pay. In many ways, this is part of the minister’s call. Moreover, the minister must prayerfully keep watch over his emotions to be sure that the salary is not causing issues of jealousy and bitterness.

When attending graduate school to get my Master’s of Divinity, the school had some generous scholarship options. The scholarships however, were based primarily on financial need. When you applied for a scholarship you entered your car payment, house payment, student loan payment, and some other key budget items. The more you needed the more you were paid.

The flaw with this approach is simply this – the faithful stewards are not rewarded. In fact, those who were unfaithful were rewarded. I waited two years before heading off to get my MDIV. I was able to pay off my student loan debt before starting my Master’s Degree. During those two years my wife and I saved 25-40% of our income to pay off all our debt and buy a car with cash. However, since we were responsible I was not eligible for as many scholarships.

Fast forward into the need based approach to ministers pay. So how much do you need? A terribly awkward question every minister has probably been asked. How many student loans do you have? What is your monthly payment. And it immediately becomes apparent that had I not paid off my student loan, a church would be willing to pay me more.

So here is the ultimate irony – if as a minister one squandered his money – eats out more often, goes to movies, buys an expensive vehicle, neglects to pay off student loans THEN in the eyes of most congregations he would be a more likely candidate for a pay raise. If however, one skipped the restaurant, rented moves, did without so they could buy a car with cash, lived on half their income to pay off student loans, THEN in the eyes of most congregations he would not be a candidate for a pay raise.

My viewpoint is simply this – if a minister has been responsible with his or her income, who would you rather entrust as a steward of God’s resources with the salary?

What are your thoughts on the issue and topic of a minister’s salary?

Comments

  1. says

    This was a very thorough look at minister’s salary.

    My take on the issue is this:
    The Bible supports paying laborers
    1 Tim 5:17, 18 says “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,”and “The worker deserves his wages.”

    1 Cor 9:14: In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

    We also see that Paul served with financial support from some churches and none from others:
    2 Cor 11:7-9 Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.

    *************
    So my thought is this….YES, ministers should be paid. However, it is the responsibility of the congregation / those receiving ministry to make this happen. I beleive we get out of order when ministers start demanding specific amounts, exhorbatant contracts, and refusal to minister without payment. There needs to be balance.

  2. says

    IMO Most churches pay their pastor(s) what they can, and then take what they can get for that salary. Smaller churches get newer (or older) pastors; large churches get the strongest pastors and larger staff.

    At our (smaller) church we try hard to focus our budget on outward-facing things such as missions and outreach rather than putting our budget toward staff and pastors, so our staff is small, overworked, and underpaid — but very much appreciated and supported in all other ways!
    .-= gn´s last blog ..Food for Thought: Total Debt to GDP Ratio =-.

    • ROY THOMAS says

      “Our staff is small, overworked and underpaid.”
      I was just reflecting a little on that statement. Is it right to overwork people and underpay them? They have to eat like others and if they are underpaid, won’t they be prone to more “burn out” and lose their effectiveness? Shouldn’t they have time to handle their own affairs properly. When children see their parents being overworked with little pay, will they be encouraged to follow their parents in ministry to churches?
      Will there forever be plenty work and few underpaid and overworked ministers?
      I suggest that you DON’T UNDERPAY YOUR PASTOR. Be generous!
      OWE NO MAN ANYTHING BUT LOVE.
      Is the laborer worthy of his hire? (Language of Luke 10:7)
      There is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
      Proverbs 11:24.
      ROY THOMAS

    • Old Preacher says

      Before I was called into ministry I was on the deacon board at our local church. The theme toward a ministers salary package there, was the same thing you seem to have espoused, which was basically, “Lord you keep him humble and we’ll keep him poor.” I recall how I cringed each time the older men would say that, and I cringe reading it in your comment some 50 years later. You sir don’t attend your job to be overworked and underpaid, why should those who care for, pray for, watch out for, and minister to you and the others in your church be subjected to such insanity?

      Your comment seems as though you’re happy and proud of holding them down. While I can’t see your face, or hear inflections in your voice, I can almost sense a certain level of glee and giddiness in your statement. How sad for you, and your congregation, for you will likely never know the joy of showing genuine godly honor to one who is due such.

      “very much appreciated and supported in all other ways.” Somehow a slap on the back and a Christmas card with $50 in it doesn’t pay the bills or send their kids to college.

  3. says

    Very interesting discussion, Craig. We dealt with this some at our church recently. We’re a smaller church with 3 (now 2) bi-vocational pastors and their pay makes up a small part of the budget. This is partly due to the size of the church and partly due to the church’s commitment to missions. However, I don’t think the expectations on our pastors are near the level they are for pastors of larger congregations.
    .-= Paul Williams´s last blog ..Investing Basics: What Is an Investment? =-.

  4. FinancialBondage says

    I don’t think a pastor should be poor. They should be paid fairly. I would think $28,000 a year is a good starting point. Depends on the size of the church of course.

    • Jordan says

      Are you trolling? Your sentences don’t make sense together. $28,000/year is poor, period, and especially if you consider the hourly rate, considering how many hours pastors are expected to be on call.

      That’s $77/day, prior to taxes, which for a pastor are around 30% if they pay self-employment. That brings you to $54/day. There is no way for a pastor to do anything other than scrape by on that kind of money.

        • Pastor at a 20000 flock curch says

          Craig. The platform to do Gods work is payment enough. A true pastor would not even question about money. He would ask his flock what he should get and then take half of what they want to give. Remember, the church provides you with everything you need AND a platform to do GODS bidding. This whole discussion is ridiculous and shows the true HYPOCRISY of Craig and Jordan. Both of you should quit immediately and get into other professions such as writing, talk show host or motivational speaking. DONT BE THE DEVIL’S TOOL CRAIG, JORDAN.

          • says

            At the church where I worship (overseas) one of the minister just expressed some difficulties he is having with taking care of the needs of his family (i.e. hospital expenses and bus fares).

            Should we as the church brand him as a hypocrite and accuse him of being the Devil’s tool?

            In my opinion a better response is to consider prayerfully consider the legitimacy of his request. To discuss finances in ministry is not a sign of moral failure.

            Judging by the nature of the comments on this post I think what is being discussed is a real issue and ministers who experience financial hardships should be encouraged to discuss them with the church rather than fear being branded as some type of force of evil.

          • Jordan says

            Maybe YOUR church provides you with everything you need. That is not the case for every church. Did you even read what Craig wrote?

            Fact is, most people need money to survive. Ministry is a job, and the Bible talks pretty clearly about the church providing for and caring for its ministers. Have you pastored at a small church? I doubt your 20,000 member church is lowballing you on salary, but if so, congratulations on sticking to your principles and taking a $0 annual salary. Not everyone can afford to do so.

            Also, I’m a software programmer, but thanks for the career advice.

      • marlene says

        My Pastor made $16,000 last year. His salary was to be $24,000. For 2 years now it has dwindled, as a few high tithers left the church. He never once complained. He previously lived on a Native Reserve where some of the members tried to take control . After 3 years they stopped coming, because he wasn’t a Puppet Pastor. His wife had many things she did including learning to use an (electric) chainsaw, and cleaning the church of raw sewage back up, etc. without receiving one penny, not even $20. per week. The members deserted the church leaving the Pastor with all the bills. Later it was found out they had treated a succession of Pastors this way. However the bible says to be content with food and clothes, and it doesn’t even say shelter, so I guess P.T.L. Others suffer far worse elsewhere…P.S.Is it a sin for the wife to pray for God to bless he with $20. per week times 3 years =$3,000. ? Also, in case any one gets offended, I never said ALL Native Reserve churches are like that one…

  5. says

    Thanks for the article. Paul instructs Timothy in 1Timothy 5:17-18 about compensating ministers. It was Paul’s personal decision to be bi-vocational in doing his tent-making business in order to bring the Gospel free of charge wherever he goes.

    The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

    I think as a congregation, we should honor those who bring the gospel to us especially preaching and teaching. As for what the pastor or minister does with that money is really between them and God. God has given us freedom to do with our money as we please, and so we must give our ministers that freedom as well. Jesus tells us that where our treasure is there our heart will also be. If we want to honor God and treasure God, we would do what is pleasing to God with our money however we are “free” to do with it as we would (good or ill).

  6. Carolyn says

    There is a good resource published annually by Richard R. Hammar, J.D., LL.M., CPA titled “Compensation Handbook for Church Staff”. It compiles national averages for various church staff positions with ranges for congregation sizes and geographical areas. I think that a church should at least pay within these averages.

    • Craig says

      @Carolyn

      Thanks so much for your comment. The book you pointed out is such a valuable resource. In addition there are also several website that give useful information. If you Google minister + salary + your denomination you can find out some general averages.

  7. Craig says

    @Lakita
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that there does need to be a balance. Personally, I have “asked” (not demanded – I hope) for more money as a minister. I would also recommended a minister leave a church where he was not getting paid (if the church had agreed to do so). There does indeed need to be a balance. Unfortunately, people put the balance at very different places.
    @Family Finance
    I agree. There is nothing shameful about receiving pay to minister. Those who serve us teaching and preaching should be honored by the pay we offer them.
    @FinancialBondage
    At this point in my life it would be very hard for me to take a ministry position that paid $28,000 per year. Most ministers pay 15% social security (instead of 7.5%). In addition, if the minister works for a smaller church and then there probably isn’t any group health benefits. As a result he can easily around $6,000 per year on health insurance. Once you factor in income tax the minister would only be bringing home around $15,000 per year. Since my wife stays home and we have three kids it would be very hard for us to live off $15,000 per year.
    In most American cities $28,000 is far below the average salary so personally I think ministers should get paid more.
    @Paul
    Bi-vocational pastors is a good option for many smaller churches. It is important that the churches expectations fall within the right range of their pay. If the church cannot pay a pastor a full salary he should be given the time necessary to go out and make an supplementary salary. There is, as you pointed out, a close relationship between pay and expectations.
    @gn
    You pointed out an unfortunate reality. The most gifted pastors often end up at larger churches where they get more pay. I think a good church leader will help the church to be evangelistic and reach out.
    @Carolyn
    Thanks for pointing out that resource. Even within denominations they often have published ‘average salaries’. I think that this is a great place for churches to start when determining an appropriate salary.

  8. says

    Craig, is it unusual for the demonination to have guidelines? I am a Methodist and my understanding is that the our church has to pay according to the district guidelines based on the pastor’s seniority and congregation size.

    I definitely agree in paying ministers fairly as with any profession; it’s just not going to be one of the highest paying. More like a teacher’s pay than a physician’s.
    .-= Bucksome´s last blog ..Shopping on Craiglist =-.

    • Craig says

      @Bucksome

      I don’t think that it is unusual for denominations to have guidelines (personally I don’t know which denominations do and which to not). However, community churches and non-denominational churches have no such guidelines. I guess this post would be most relevant to such churches.

      I just looked at some of the Methodists averages http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Employer=First_United_Methodist_Church/Salary and they seem about right (perhaps a little higher than average).

      The most common guideline for a pastors pay is the teacher’s salary. This is a common point of comparison. Most ministers will quickly point out that teachers get a two month break from school.

  9. Gholmes says

    I would hope each denomination does have guidelines for paying thier ministers. Our church has a committee of finance savy folks that budgets the pastors’ salary. Basing it on the needs of a pastor is too subjective and does seem like a can of worms.

    As far as pay, think long term as in eternity not just the 70+ years here on earth.

    • Craig says

      @Gholmes. See my reply to Bucksome. Many deonominations do, but there is a growing number of non-denominational and community churches that do not have any such ‘formal’ guidelines. Unfortunately, the whole topic is a can of worms.

  10. says

    Craig, thanks for tackling the topic. I think there’s an issue of trust in all this. I minister to a church of about 100, and my salary package accounts for about half the budget. If the congregation believes that I’m wasting that money they’ll have no incentive to consider a raise in the future.
    On the other hand, if they see me providing for my family, repairing my broken car, providing meals for members, giving generously to church needs then they can be confident their money is being well used to further God’s kingdom.
    I’ve been a member in churches that have debated giving the minister a raise after several years of no change. The church could afford it, and my question has always been, “do you trust him to use it well?” If the answer is “No” then there are bigger issues than just the salary number! If the answer is “Yes” then there’s no problem.

    • Craig says

      Pete,
      Thanks so much for you comment. I think you’re right that trust is a big part of this. The smaller the church the more important trust becomes because you interact on a more personal level.
      Keep up the good work.

      • says

        Brothers,
        I disagree with this notion of compensation and trust. There is no other business/calling that measures compensation partly by the ability of the payee to “handle” versus “mishandle” the funds. Salary ought to be calculated solely on the ability of the congregation to provide and consideration of what is fair based on similar professions. Now, I DO agree that the pastor is accountable for his/her actions. But churches ought not to micro-manage and scrutinize how a person takes care of his own finances. I would go so far as to suggest that church denominations provide infrastructure to help pastors with financial planning and sound decisions. No matter how small your church is (my dad was 25 years pastor at a church with 200 members), pastors should be given the freedom, and be equipped with support/encouragement to practice good stewardship. But keep in mind “good stewardship” definitions can vary. A certain amount of debt is not evil (for example).

  11. Gospel Preacher says

    As a minister, just what do you think I should do to take care of my children and wife? Should we beg on the streets? Should we eat out of the trash cans? Maybe living in a cardboard box will due.

    The general rule is simple: the minister should make the average salary of the members of the church. It’s plain as that . . . now, go back and pray to God for forgiveness and remember that preachers are people too.

    • says

      @Gospel Preacher
      I’m not sure you understood the gist of this article. It is not supporting the idea that ministers should have low pay. It simply outlines several factors related to how ministers get paid.
      For what statement would you suggest I should ask God’s forgiveness?
      I’m a minister and have lived on a ministers salary for over 10 years now.

  12. says

    Thank you for this article. It is a very fair treatment of an ongoing issue that churches grapple with every year when budget time comes. As a child of a Presbyterian pastor, I have my own perspective on this. Churches ought to be mindful of 2 Corinthians 9:10-11 as Paul says, 10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

    If your pastor is spending more of his time figuring out ways to “make do” financially, then he (she) is preoccupied with the wrong things. Pastors will only be as effective in ministry as their personal life allows. I agree in part with the attitude of gratitude for whatever comes in compensation (Philippians 4:12-13: 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.)

    The church budget is more than just numbers. If a congregation truly appreciates its pastor and the work done for God’s calling, they will not simply ask their pastor, “what do you need”. They will explore what other professionals with similar educational training are paid in their geographic region and pay him (her) accordingly. And if they cannot afford to do so, allow the pastor to take on a side job to be comfortable.

    The pastor’s salary is directly proportional to the generosity, and sense of appreciation, of the congregation. Accepting a call to be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one does not become more spiritually pure through poverty. Read those Scriptures more closely if you believe this. Hold your pastor in high regard, honor him (her) for obedience to the call of our Savior and Lord. Blessing comes in material ways as well as a kind word and thoughtful deed.

  13. Dwayne Robbins says

    Help. I need advice on what to do about our pastors salary. At the time the pastor was hired we had an average attendance of 350. We are now running an average of 60. We can no longer afford to pay the 55K plus housing allowance.

    What is the median income for a church with that kind of average attendance?

    • says

      Dwayne,
      I’m not sure about the median income, but that doesn’t really matter. The church leaders need to sit down with the pastor and lay everything out. Surely, he would know that if attendance has dropped from 350 to 60 that giving is also down. A church can only afford to pay what they have – no more. I’m assuming someone has been working to identify why membership has dropped so much.

  14. Ellen says

    I agree with most of what I’ve read on these posts – pastors should be compensated based on 1 Timothy 5:17, 18, 1 Cor. 9:14, and 2 Cor. 11:7-9 and according to education and experience. However, I do think it’s worth noting that pastors of small churches are often doing the work of many pastors of a large church. They are usually, especially as a church planter, the CEO and the CFO (possibly fund-raising for the new church), a counselor, community organizer, administrative assistant, this along with preparing and preaching sermons, preparing worship service, meeting with people, leading small groups, organizing and heading ministry teams, and being on call 24/7. In large churches, these duties are divided among many pastors. I do understand that small churches have less to pay their pastors, however, I don’t think the idea that they do less than large-church pastors should be the reason for paying them less.

    • says

      Ellen,
      You bring up a legitimate issue. You’re correct that congregation size has little to do with work load. I do think those of us in ministry understand that when we work for smaller churches we will take a pay cut. I’m not sure there is a way around this, but I do think members at smaller churches should do their best to compensate in whatever non-financial ways they can.

  15. Al says

    I go to a very small Presbyterian (PCA) church for a few years now with 37 members and a current written budget of about $90,000. The pastor’s compensation package is $75,000, which has caused the church to lose about $15,000 this past year – mainly due to the loss of a dozen or so members. I don’t doubt that his work is worth much more than what he’s being paid, however, it would seem apparent that the church simply can’t afford him. Unfortunately, there’s just a single elder who is related to the pastor, so it makes it all the more difficult to broach the issue and any talk of salary reduction is likely to end in family conflict.

    • says

      This sounds like it might be a situation where an outside consultation/mediator would be beneficial. With the numbers you are sharing it definitely seems out of sync.

  16. PastorDan says

    I am pretty sure that many pastors have read your article and comments in a very similar frame of mind and situation to what I am currently facing. I would firstly like to thank you Craig for the attention to this difficult topic, as well as all the thoughtful comments made.

    Very simply, I am a servant leader in a healthy but small church in a small town. That hardly makes me one in a million! I am well educated, in fact the only person with an academic Masters degree in the church. That means literally nothing whatsoever to me. I truly mean that. Along with a small amount of student loan outstanding, my wife and I have some substantial debt based on nearly 10 years of dialysis and numerous medical issues for my wife. Due to her health, she receives a small amount in a disability check each month.

    I receive a very fair wage for our community, but with our special expenses and relatively high cost of living, each year we have slipped farther into debt. Now that we are at a point about 12 months from being unable to pay our monthly mortgage, I need to increase my income. The first step I took was to sit with our elders who are truly thoughtful and godly men. I was dismayed to hear that I was to receive a straight cost of living raise. Here I sit, giving all I am to an absolutely amazing body of believers every day, and beginning to wonder if I can even lead in this scenario as anything I say or do would seem very self-serving.

    I cannot believe that I have to choose between homelessness and ministry.

    This has been exceptionally hard on my wife as she feels ultimately responsible. I have yet to find common ground in any way as I am making a very fair wage as compared to our elders, two of whom are retired, one is a local truck driver and the other works at a farm supply store. It is a terrible position to be in.

    The worst part is that there are some who are beginning to believe that I am “in this for the money”. How quickly things relating to finances reveal our every weakness and insecurity. I have regularly said, while encouraging our lovely Deacons, that there are few ways to make a deeply positive impact in our world with money but uncountable opportunities to make a negative one. I just didn’t realize I was to experience such a negative impact personally.

    I would gladly be homeless if I thought that our call…but being kept poor and worked very hard is tough to take.

    As a side note, our association has been helpful, but their recommendations would be utterly burdensome on our congregation. It seems a compromise would be truly fair, but nothing makes people stubborn like money.

    Thanks again for the attention to this topic. I know I am not alone in this gut-wrench and soul-checking situation, but it feels darn lonely all the same.

    Peace,

    • says

      Dan,

      I think the issues you are discussing is one of the ultimate tension of ministry. Obviously, you have some very special extenuating circumstances that involve higher than normal expenses. It is understandable how that could be a burden for your family.

      Still, in many occupations salary is not based on need, but performance. I can’t think of many jobs that would increase your pay because our your increased expenses.

      Thus, both you and your congregation, it seems are in an awkward position. To increase your salary might be an excessive burden on the church and to keep your salary at its current position is an excessive burden on your family.

      I think you’ve started the process in a very healthy way by sitting down the leadership. It seems like you’ll need to continue pursuing alternatives until you can come up with a plan that would work.

      Would the congregation consider cutting some hours so you could have a side business? It might be especially valuable to find a part-time job that also has benefits.

      I know this is likely very difficult to consider as often times there is already more to be done than time allows.

      I think keeping a open mind and engaging in frank discussions and brainstorming is the only way forward. Ultimately, that might mean searching for another position that provides better care options and resources for you wife.

      Again, sorry that you’re in such a difficult position.

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