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
*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:
- We must be willing to look hard and honestly at our personal budgets.
- We need to be ready to show the figures to the board and explain the need for the raise we’re requesting.
- We may have to do some educating of the board in terms of the hours and effort the pastorate requires.
- 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?