Seven-Reasons-the-Pastor’s-Salary-Can-Be-a-Source-of-Tension

If you want a lively discussion, then the topic of the pastor’s salary can usually meet that need. I have discussed this issue in the past on both my blog and my podcast. In both cases, the conversation was, well, interesting.

So why does this topic seem to evoke strong emotions in some pastors and church members? I have seen at least seven reasons it does so.

  1. The pastor’s salary is often public information. In some cases, the entire church sees the amount on a regular basis. In other cases, certain members have ongoing access to the information. The constant availability of the information can engender discussion.
  2. Some church members view a low salary as a necessary tool for the pastor’s humility. No, I am not kidding. But I bet those people would not like the same humility for themselves.
  3. There continues to be a misunderstanding of the pastor’s “package.” In the secular world, there is a clear distinction between salaries and benefits and expenses. But in many churches, benefits, such as retirement and health insurance, and expenses, such as automobile reimbursement, are lumped together. It thus makes the pastor’s salary seem higher than it really is.
  4. Critics of the pastor often use the salary as a lever to make life miserable for the pastor. Many of the critics understand that the topic is sensitive to the pastor. So they use that lever to inflict greater pain.
  5. There is a misperception among some church members that the pastor is overpaid. That reality is a rare exception. Most pastors are by no means overpaid. Some church members will use one bad example to paint a broad stroke about all pastors.
  6. Family members can be embarrassed by this issue. I told the story recently about living in a parsonage when I was a pastor. A deacon showed up at the house to tell me that our utility bill was too high, and that my wife needed to stop using the clothes dryer and put up a clothes line. We would later find out that our air conditioning unit was not functioning properly; it was the source of the energy drain.
  7. There is a misperception that pastors work very little. Most pastors work extremely long workweeks. But if a church member really believes a pastor only works ten hours a week, the per hour wage can seem rather high.

Most pastors are not overpaid. Most pastors work long hours. Most pastors are certainly not in the ministry for the money. But the tension on the pastor’s salary continues to exist in many congregations.

I would love to hear your comments about this issue. Also, as a “thank you” to my readers, my son, Art Rainer, and I have written a brief article on the pastor’s salary. Please download it with my gratitude.

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Comments

  1. Mark says

    There are a quite a few people who do not think anyone should be decently paid. They are the same people who do not give compliments ever. However, they have/had their comfortable high-paying jobs with old style pensions. We call them hypocrites.

  2. Corey says

    I simply contend that many pastors are among the most educated, experienced, and hard-working people out there. Unfortunately, a few bad apes and a few disgruntled church members ruin things for all the rest of us.

  3. Steve Pryor says

    Concerning the public nature of salaries, here is what one Church I atteneded did. In the printed budget, the payroll of all staff members were reported as a total.

    In one particularly tense business meeting, this topic came up. A couple of people were advocating the publishing of each pastor’s salary. Because “I want to make sure we are being good stewards”. The head of the finance committe was adamant that the salaries would not be printed. However, if anyone really felt the Lord was laying it on their heart, they could call him (finance chairman) and he would tell them.

    From a lay perspective, that seemed like a good idea.

    • Michele Ward says

      Hmmm…would they like their salaries public knowledge? I mean, if it’s a publicly traded company, I could own stock in it. So I’m not sure how it’s anyone’s business. And it seems that the ones who complain aren’t tithing or giving….only possibly tipping if they think the sermon was good that week!

  4. Joe says

    If a pastor has not opted out of Social Security, he is considered self-employed and pays approximately 15% as opposed to the approximate 7.5% most people pay. This impacts his take-home pay significantly.

  5. Terry says

    Although it took a few years and God’s providence and grace, the best thing that ever happened to us as a family was becoming debt free. As a pastor, this has removed a heavy burden that has allowed us to give more than we ever have although making less than we ever have. God is amazing that way!

    Being debt free allowed us to turn down a raise so that more money could be used for ministry. That to me is worth a million dollars. And please, I say this as a means of encouragement and hope not in a prideful manner.

  6. Will Mattingly says

    What advice could you give to pastors being criticized about their salary? Or when members want the salary made public?

    • Ken says

      I think I”d ask, “How much do YOU make? Are you willing to publicize your salary to the entire church? If not, then why do you insist I do so?”

        • Tommy says

          because the church does not pay my salary. we, the members, pay the pastor’s salary.
          i love my pastor and consider him one of my best friends. he is well educated and experienced in the pulpit. i want him to receive a great salary. however, i feel that a member of the church should have access to salaries and church expenses.
          our SPR committee had the discussion of the pastor’s “package” (salary, benefits, etc.) last week. i’m for a salary, housing and travel expense reimbersment. but i think utilities and lawn service is a little much.

          • says

            Considering that your pastor probably spend extended hours visiting the hospital, leading the staff, teaching classes, preparing his message, etc. Your church should consider it a blessing to be able to provide lawn service to him to keep him from having to take that couple of hours a week away from his family. He only has so many hours in the week and trust me when I say this…some weeks it’s all he can do to get up on Sunday to come and deliver the message because not only is the job physically exhausting, it’s mentally and spiritually exhausting. I’ve worked secular 40 hour a week jobs and I’m currently a full time pastor….the 40 hour secular jobs require energy and make you tired but at least for the most part if you have one of those jobs you get to go home and forget about your job, a pastor never (NEVER) forgets about his work…it’s on his mind constantly (CONSTANTLY)

  7. Russ says

    This is a very sad fact in America. I have great respect for bivocational Pastors and full time Pastors who must endure having their family budget aired to their congregation. When I was a boy I remember our Pastor had to beg for retread tires on his car. I remember that 50 yrs later.

  8. says

    Our church is one that does publish the pastor’s compensation in our budget and quarterly financials, and I really do not have a problem with it. The one thing I insisted upon was that the total be broken down to show what amount was going where(ie. housing, insurance, retirement, and salary). When many in our congregation saw how little was actually going to salary and retirement, they were astounded, and have responded in the most loving way. They bless us regularly to assist us knowing we truly need it. Their are always those who will feel the pastor is overpaid, but their are also many who realize he is not, and are there for him and his family. We’ve seen this in every church we have served

  9. Tony says

    Great article. Most churches, including their personnel and finance committees simply don’t do their homework to understand pastor compensation. Many churches expect the pastor’s wife to work full time to provide health insurance and supplemental salary because they don’t provide enough financial support. Several pastors have to depend on state agencies to provide insurance for their children because of inadequate financial support. This isn’t good for the church, the pastor, or his family.

  10. Carlton Binkley says

    In many cases the education required for a position is not commensurate with the pay. Many churches require a Seminary degree which is a 128 hour Bachelor’s degree and in many cases a 90+hour M.Div. In terms of time this is a minimum 7 years of education and in many cases 8-10 years.

    The most common people who’ve spent that much, or more, time and money in a congregation on their education are potentially doctors and lawyers. The salaries of most men with M.Divs. don’t make anywhere close the the salary of a lawyer.

    This has been a soapbox of mine for a long time. I think there is a real disconnect between churches and Seminaries. It is my opinion that if you are going to require a man to have 7 years minimum of education you need to compensate him fairly for that. However, the disconnect here is that most churches don’t understand any of this and want a ‘trained’ man.

    • Layperson says

      Carlton,

      Comparing the requirements of becoming a doctor to obtaining an MDiv is a little far fetched. Most doctors are in their middle 30’s before they are able to practice. The educational requirements along with the difficulty of even getting into medical school far surpasses the difficulty of obtaining a four year degree and then an MDiv. Most medical schools are extremely competitive and even top students (think straight A’s and good MCAT scores) get turned away routinely. Most seminaries will let anyone with an undergrad degree and a credible statement of faith (with some recommendations from local pastors/elders) in. It isn’t that getting an MDiv is easy or anything like that, but the comparison falls short on so many levels.

      As far as lawyers, have you done research on the state of the legal field lately? Too many lawyers and not enough jobs for them to step into. Unless you go to a top 10 law school and graduate in the top of your class, good luck finding a decent paying job post law school. Again, people tend to always think the grass is greener on the other side. Many lawyers graduate with over $100K (sometimes over $200K) in student loans and are doing well to land a $50K a year job. Yes, there are some who graduate and work in Big Law with extremely high salaries, but those are the extreme minority (probably less than 1% of those graduating from law school who have successfully passed the bar exam).

      I’m always amazed that pastors choose the top paying professions to compare themselves to. Did potential pastors really get into the ministry to compare themselves to America’s high earners? Why no comparisons to PhDs in humanities? What about a masters in fine arts? To me those are far more comparable to the actual course work studied and required than comparing them to an MD. Most pastors who are employed in a decent sized congregation make more than the average Master’s or PhD holder with a non scientific or mathematical background.

      Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want my elders to be poor. I don’t want younger ministers to graduate from seminaries with piles of student loans and no way to pay them back (it would be great if churches would offer to pay these loans back as part of a compensation package if the financial means are available). But I’m trying to point out the bigger picture. Except for those successful business men, doctors, STEM related careers, etc., MOST of your laypeople are having the same struggles that you do. And maybe that is indeed the bigger picture: the golden years of the American economy are passing. I understand this is hard for people to figure out and accept, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The golden years are in many ways over with regards to employment, income, benefits, etc for the average American worker. The trickle down of that fact is increased living expenses due to inflation and a decreasing amount being given by the church people because they are all making less money on an inflation adjusted basis.

      Sorry for rambling. Thanks for taking the time to read!

          • says

            I’m not a guy with an extensive education. I have been a pastor now for 9 years. So I understand the practical side of this issue more than the academic.

            Carlton said…”In many cases the education required for a position is not commensurate with the pay.” I think this was his point.

            In my mind and experience the job of let’s say the solo pastor is an extremely taxing job mentally and emotionally. I Have had several “secular” jobs. I have never had to work 6 weeks in a row without a day off. But this year I did. Have you ever worked 6 weeks in a row without a day off? For the last six months we have been overdrawn with our bank the last week of the month. People in our congregation can’t figure out why we don’t take a vacation or get out of town for a while. I have to make up stories about why I’m selling my truck, guitar, etc. My congregation thinks I bought a bike for my health. These scenarios and hundreds more are somewhat unique to the pastoral ministry and very odd when you consider that many of my peers have 6 years on my education but have similar stories.

            We preach tough unpopular and convicting messages to the people who support us. Missionaries at least receive outside support. Being a pastor for most is a spiritual discipline. As a physician of the soul the pastorate is a mental and emotional struggle like nothing I have ever experienced. Many pastors like the Levite’s in Nehemiah are out working other peoples property (because they own none themselves) just to feed themselves while Israel has replaced her heart with Sandbalots and Tobiah’s.

          • Layperson says

            Hi Able,

            Thanks for taking the time to reply back. I will pray for you and for your family. I will pray that the Lord will provide in a way that at minimum allows you to cover what many would consider necessities. I hope you are able to take some time off to relax and enjoy your family. Maybe even a nice vacation to relieve some tension and stress!

            In reply to your main point about Carlton’s main point, “In many cases the education required for a position is not commensurate with the pay,” I still don’t see it that way. I think that argument could be made for every profession under the sun that isn’t a high paying profession. Again, none of the specifics really matter trying to compare careers. To me, this is an overall problem of the standard “American dream” teaching that goes something like this: “go to college and get a good education; then you will be financially successful in life.” America is no longer the post WWII nation with a booming economy. It just isn’t. IMHO, that is the bigger picture.

            Everyone is making less, jobs are hard to come by, the 40 hour week has been replaced by the 50+ hour week, no pensions, no loyalty, etc. The results of a church’s congregation struggling financially on a personal level is going to be a pastor having a reduced salary to boot. I just don’t see any other way around it.

            And this might sound harsh, but it isn’t like the salary data is being hidden from everyone to see what the potential economic situation is for full time ministers. In other words, don’t go to seminary and rack up a bunch of debt if you know you will have trouble paying back the student loans while providing for a family. If the potential seminary student has trouble doing that kind of math, ask a friend or co-laborer to help you figure it out.

            Finally, and not that it makes a hill of beans difference, but yes, I spend around 10-15 weeks a year during our busy season working 7 days/week, 80 hrs/week. It isn’t fun and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but this is the vocation the Lord has currently called me to so I do it the best I can. God bless you, Able.

      • Jeff says

        “Most pastors who are employed in a decent sized congregation make more than the average Master’s or PhD holder with a non scientific or mathematical background.”

        What an foolish statement. I would suggest…

        1: You don’t know “most pastors” and even those you may know you have no idea what they actually make.

        2: This statement (and the fact that you post anonymously) speaks volumes about the type of “them but not me” attitude that Dr. Rainer was addressing the article. Scripture says that the righteous “give generously” and that those who minister in the Word are worthy of “double honor”.

        So, unless a congregation truly fears the pastor is unscrupulously earning twice the average regional demographic income there is no cause for concern about “good stewardship”. And even more to the point, there is no biblical mandate for any church to lay the pastor’s salary before the congregation. This is a practice born out of petty human distrust and not a desire to show “double honor” and be “biblically generous”.

        So please stop pretending that being a “good steward” has anything to do with demanding a pastor abide by standards and/or rules that others in the congregation would never endure.

        As the child of a life-long pastor I applaud Dr. Rainer’s efforts to shine a light on and correct the sad and un-biblical practice of putting a minister and his family’s (usually meager) income on public display.

        Thank you Dr. Rainer!

        • Layperson says

          Sorry, Jeff, but I never made any comments about being a “good steward.” I don’t know where the anger comes from. I was simply stating that comparing the level of education and therefore compensation of the seminary graduate pastor to that of a high profile lawyer or doctor is not even close to apples to apples.

          You may disagree with that. That is fine. But most of your rant had nothing to do with what I posted.

          I also stand by the comparison. Salary data is pretty widely available for pastors as well as most other professions. Our church is a part of the SBC. Our pastors also willing make copies of the budget available which includes salary, housing allowance, benefits, etc. No one voted on that or forced them to do so (it is an elder led church and they are the only two elders). Our pastor’s salaries are lower than I would like and think they deserve, but that is due to a lack of funds available in the operating budget.

          Here are a few resources for your use if you’d like to see where I got my opinion on pastors total compensation vs higher educated non STEM careers:

          http://compstudy.lifeway.com/

          The Western Recorder also posts similar compensation studies.

          http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/brainiac/2009/02/grad_school_in.html

          http://chronicle.com/article/Graduate-School-in-the/44846

          Again, I actually agree with everything Dr. Rainer posted in his article. I think everything he posts is encouraging and on point for pastors. I just wanted to point out that comparing pastors salaries to those in a similar field of study actually shows that pastors don’t have it that bad in comparison.

          • Interesting Note says

            In comparing jobs take note of this: what other field can you pay your employee 100% where faithful adherence to their call requires an automatic return of 10% to the employer?

            Example: If you pay a faithful pastor $60,000.00, the church will (or should) receive $6,000 back by ways of tithing.

            A local doctor could be paid $60,000 and not be expect to pay his employer 10%/$6,000 and there is no mandate that he tithe to his church 10%/$6,000.

            This fact being noted since Barna’s current research shows that only 5% of Christians are tithing (less than the Great Depression, and people in the $40,000-100,000 give less than those under $25,000).

            So when churches pay a pastor, they have the luxury of knowing that 10% should (I understand that it doesn’t always) is coming back); AND if pressed this would be an issue if the pastor were not doing that.

            Just a thought.

      • Ken says

        OK, then, how about this?

        As a construction worker with about half a college degree (with poor grades), I made considerably more than I do now, having returned to college, rehabbed my grades, completed the bachelor’s degree, earned my 91 hour M. Div. degree, and received Ordination as an Elder in Full Connection.

        • Layperson says

          Ken,

          I think that is an unfortunate situation. I hope your congregation is able to increase your compensation to a point that will allow you to pay off your student loans and provide for your family (assuming you have loans and a family). God bless.

  11. Pastor Cashmir says

    “I want to make sure we are being good stewards”.

    There is an inverted stewardship concept in too many churches: Cheap is spiritual. This is actually counterproductive and frankly, the opposite of what Jesus taught.

  12. says

    In many small churches, the pastor’s wife is a major helper in his ministry. Either because of unrealistic expectations placed on the pastor or his wife or because she wants to support her husband, the pastor’s wife is often like an unpaid employee. This makes criticism of the pastor’s salary even more painful at times.

  13. says

    The ministry is the only place where people want to know “what you need to live on” and often want to know about your own personal finances (i.e. annuity incomes, wife’s income, etc.) in order to determine your salary.
    In other professions you are paid according to your value to the organization and it makes no difference “what other income you receive.”
    If a church wants to be biblical, the pastor ought to make twice as much as others. 1 Timothy 5:17-18. You can not overpay God’s servant. By nature he will be generous and use his resources in blessing others and advancing the kingdom. (Maybe well paid pastors would even begin to pick up the lunch tab instead of expecting others to pay for their meals.)
    Priests take a vow of poverty . . . most pastors live in imposed poverty. The battle is hard. Check out the burnout rate and increasing suicides among pastors. Financial struggles are a major contributor to these statistics.
    If you can’t trust your pastor with a generous salary you may have the wrong pastor.

    • Tim says

      I agree totally Jim. Most people who want pastors “packages” printed and shared with the congregation probably would not agree to have their own salary shared with the church. Every church who prints the financial information about the pastor should think about breaking it down in the three main categories: 1. Ministry Related Expenses 2. Benefits 3. Salary-Housing. The church I pastor does not list these three together but on separate pages In separate categories. This helps church members better distinguish what the pastor actually makes yet it is printed for any church member to see. There is nothing hidden by doing it this way, only a distinction. Is being made. The finance committee wanted to start printing it this way and has worked well. This method has answered questions many church members have had. I have an Earned Doctorate (about 12 years in the making) but make far less than most who have labored that long to earn their education in other fields. I have 26 years in the pastorate.

  14. Minister's Wife says

    This has been a topic of great pain for us. My husband is a part time associate pastor, and my income is what covers most of the necessities. For a long time, I felt trapped in a job I hated so my husband could serve. This greatly limited my ability to serve as well, as my work schedule was never-ending. Thankfully, God has blessed us and I’m now doing something else that allows me to enjoy my work and serve alongside him more often. But we watch the consequences of low pay on our senior pastor’s family, and from our eyes it seems the church leadership knows they are struggling but has a ‘not my problem’ kind of attitude. I think they think that they got a bargain when he was willing to come on for so little. It is a struggle for me as a young person to minister to retired persons who had the ability to build enough wealth to live comfortably in their aging years, but don’t seem to think this is a blessing their pastor should also have; at best, perhaps they just haven’t thought about it, at worst, they have and are indifferent.

  15. Bert says

    When someone leads in with “I just want to make sure we’re being good stewards” I think they should be required to provide personal financials/expenditures as well as their church contribution statements as proof that financial stewardship is indeed something that’s of importance to them.

    Just kidding, of course … sort of :)

  16. Ken says

    Every now and then someone will claim that ministers are exempt from taxes. Where DO people get that ridiculous idea? I’ve been an ordained minister for 19 years. If ministers are tax-exempt, then the federal government and two state governments owe me some HUGE refunds.

    • Thom Rainer says

      It’s probably related to the housing allowance issue. Still, there is a lot of misinformation.

      • Ken says

        Unless the pastor has opted out of Social Security (and some of us didn’t know we had that option until it was too late), he still has to pay SS taxes on his housing allowance. If the pastor lives in a parsonage, he has to declare its fair rental value as income. If the church pays his utilities, he has to declare that as income. All these things are taxable for Social Security.

        P.S. to Dr. Rainer: I know I’m preaching to the proverbial choir in your case, but I hope some laypeople will take my comments to heart.

  17. Robert Martin says

    When I pastored a rural church in Missouri my salary and vacation time was brought up in a business meeting. The treasurer asked the question If he is not in the pulpit do I still pay him? It was also decided that since I receive 3 weeks vacation that one week should be for taking the kids to church camp and one week or more should be for missions, plus I had to find my own replacement for the pulpit any time I would be gone. I wonder if any one else had a similar business meeting.

    • Thom Rainer says

      In my first church, I had to pay personally for any pulpit supply, even if I were sick or on vacation.

      • Ken says

        Some people in my first church wanted me to do that, too, but I wouldn’t go along with it. Fortunately the majority of members supported me, and we worked out a compromise that was acceptable to both of us. How many laypeople have to pay the salary of their substitutes when they take a vacation? It’s ridiculous!

  18. says

    The things you say and the comments are very good and true. The trouble is that most of us are preachers or staff members reading this. Those that really need to be apprised of this info are not in a position to receive it. Most of the pastors in my circle (that covers many, many years) would not think of personally standing before their congregations and sharing these thoughts. Once we start talking of $$$, suddenly, the Pastor is “all about money!”
    So, the question really becomes how to educate our congregations concerning pastoral and staff finances.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Jim: We recently concluded a reader’s survey with over 1,000 respondents. One-third of the readers are laypersons, and most of them are advocates for pastors and staff. Many of them have let me know that the articles on this blog have prompted them to lead positive changes in their churches.

      • says

        Still, I would counter that your surveys reach those who are interested. I would suggest the vast majority of those who sit in the pew are not because they have no way to connect with the information.
        With 90% of our congregations small, many rural, how many have been properly led to be sensitive to pastoral finance issues?
        I think we have a communication problem with few advocates for Pastors.

  19. Another Minister's Wife says

    This has been a struggle for me as a working pastor’s wife. We have an infant child, and the congregation expects me to be a stay-at-home mom. However, I have to work in order to pay the bills and obtain health insurance, and we do not live a lavish lifestyle by any means. How is it that I’m expected to stay home if the church isn’t willing to compensate fairly? It breaks my heart that I’m disappointing so many people, yet this is what I have to do for our family.

    • Tami says

      I too am a Pastor’s wife. In addition to commuting 50 miles one way to a full-time job, I am also the leader of the Youth Department, Children’s Church and the Women’s Ministry. Like your family, we don’t live a lavish life..(as defined by the world). I work to provide the medical and life insurances for our family, When it comes to consideration of the Pastor’s salary, I have learned that these two benefits, are not factored into the equation. I feel that working a secular job to fulfill those needs takes time away from the ministry-I would love to be able to devote uninterrupted time to the children and the women of our congregation. I pray that you don’t allow the congregation to place you in the stereotypical “Pastors Wife” box. Some of the congregants may look at our husbands as an employee; and for those with this perception–they should take into consideration the total package that his/her employer offers them and then compare that to what is offered to the Pastor.

  20. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you for writing this an raising the flag of concern among pastors pay. As a pastor for the past 10 years I have often wrestled with compensation always feeling like the value I bring doesn’t match the value I’m paid. I think this is a huge issue among churches today and I’m grateful for your voice in speaking up about it.

    Thank you!

  21. says

    I honestly had someone on our financial committee say of the person we pay to clean the church 12 hours a week “$15 an hour, that seems very high, I made 25¢ an hour at my first job” they are being asked to rotate off for next year :^)

    I have found a fair formula is to take the median household income in the community where the church is based on the education and experience level of the pastor.

  22. Steve says

    Richard Baxter writes, “Recreation to a minister must be as whetting is with the mower – that is, to be used only so far as is necessary for his work. May a physician in plague-time take any more relaxation or recreation than is necessary for his life, when so many are expecting his help in a case of life and death? Will you stand by and see sinners gasping under the pangs of death, and say: “God doth not require me to make myself a drudge to save them?” Is this the voice of ministerial or Christian compassion or rather of sensual laziness and diabolical cruelty?”

    I would remind Will & Ken that publicly traded companies are required to disclose key executive salaries. Government officials are required to disclose net worth and government wages are open to public inspection. There is no shame in wages earned by pastors who give their lives to service for the Lord. And, I challenge anyone to put a price on the value of eternal salvation.

    During these times of trial be certain to stand in front of the mirror to remove any log before criticizing others. We live in a time when many folks are struggling financially. Don’t be approved by your own conscience, but rather in relation to Christ Jesus. The rich man loved money, but Zacchaeus -

  23. says

    Great points, Dr. Rainer. When I read the headline, the last point you mentioned is what immediately jumped to mind. Many people may not realize just how hard pastors work, especially if it is a smaller church with little to no full-time support staff and only one full-time pastor.

    Let us not forget, with the ruling against the housing exemption, the salaries of many pastors took a major hit. Add on top of that state taxes (for those in states that have them), federal taxes, the cost of living in certain places, etc. and you’re left with very little. In my opinion, many pastors do not get paid enough for all of the hours they pour into the local church.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Madison. A lower court did rule against minister housing allowances, but the judge put the issue on immediate appeal. So housing allowances are still intact unless and until higher courts uphold the lower court ruling.

  24. John Russell says

    I have been the treasurer / chairman of the finance committee at our church a couple of times. Several years ago, we made the decision to not publish any staff member’s salary. On reports to the church, we lump salaries all together in one line item. The church is told that if they want to see the salaries, they can contact the treasurer to view the amounts.. While this policy received some complaints when it was implemented, we have found that this was the best way to still be transparent with the church’s finances while avoiding embarrassment to staff member’s families.

    • Dave says

      I understand what the church is trying to do, but the last sentence is interesting…avoiding embarrassment to the pastoral families. If we pay them enough then there should be no embarrassment.

      • John Russell says

        Clarification – the issue was that we had a small group of church members complain that we were paying our staff too much. It was hard to watch family members sit through that.

  25. says

    Dr. Rainer, I just wanted to take a minute and thank you for the research and writing that you and your team provide. I am at a church in Savannah, GA and we are going through the process of revitalization. God has already done some incredible things in the church and I would say that we are well on our way to being a healthy church. God has already doubled out attendance in 8 months.

    A major part of that was by taking out church through “I am a Church Member” in home groups. It helped everyone catch onto the vision and direction of the church. I also just finished “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” and the information is extremely valuable as we prepare for what God has in store. This church would definitely have been described as “very sick” church, but there is hope for churches in that situation. It took God getting a hold of people’s hearts and allowing them to see how sick they really were.

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you! If you ever want another church to research, feel free to check in on us. I will also be starting the DMin at Southeastern on Church Revitalization in the fall, so I look forward to getting to know and learning from Dr. Lawless. God bless!

  26. Romano says

    If you think salary issues are tough on pastors, try being a “ministry staff” person. Whatever the salary problems for the pastor, compound that for the lowly staff person. The church usually supports and respects their pastor, but the staff person? Are they really necessary? So why pay them very much? They are not the senior pastor, after all.

    Staff persons (music, youth, education, sr. adults) are just as called of God, and have also gone through years of training at seminary, sometimes more than the pastor. Yet, their compensation is even less than the pastor every time. Of course that makes sense, but just remember staff are further down the scale in every area as far as the church is concerned. Apparently family size is not considered either when it comes to how much compensation is adequate.
    Then listen to your pastor’s wife constantly talk about how they don’t have money for this or that. We would be doing well if we had the extra $28K they make per year more than this staff person.

    Though tempted to become bitter at times, we try to encourage one another in our home that our focus is on the sufficiency of Christ and trusting him to provide for our needs. He blesses in ways the church finances never could. God sees and knows.

  27. John Cotten says

    Now cut the senior pastor’s package by a sizable percent and imagine the issues faced by associate pastors and other staff ministers, many of whom have the same education, experience, expenses and hours on the job each week. If it is hard to live responsibly on $X, it is proportionally harder to do so on 60% of $X.

    Perhaps one factor is that our Personnel Committees tend to be chosen from amoung our oldest, most respected church members – those whose mortgages are low or paid off completely, who no longer have to pay for braces or prom dresses, who tend to think in financial terms of what they experienced in the 50s, 60s or 70s.

    Minister compensation (including benefits) is one area where our United Methodist friends often do a better job than many Southern Baptists.

  28. says

    This. All of it. Recently had an exodus of members because of people thinking my husband was overpaid even though all our insurances, taxes and all office supplies, gas, auto maintenance etc. have to come out of that. We’ve been in ministry 32 years and we have absolutely no retirement. What we make is a pittance compared to what the people who left make. They have more than one home in two different states and we struggle to pay the mortgage on one. I’ve found it’s usually the most prosperous who are the most critical.

    Also, when we lived in a parsonage (thank God we don’t now) it was like having 100+ landlords. The day we moved in one of the elder’s wives took me to the stove and said, “See how clean and shiny this is? With just a little bit of care, it can be this clean when you move out.” Because of that the only thing I ever cooked on that stove was boiling water. I’m not kidding. I bought an electric wok and electric fry pan and electric griddle and used those instead. I’m so grateful and thankful my parsonage years are behind us!

    We got a letter in the mail last fall from a leader in the church (when my husband was laid up after major surgery–of all times to send such a note!) that stated he didn’t feel the church should pay for me to do extracurricular activities. They were referring to my book releases. I write on my own time. But they didn’t see it that way.

    This is a much needed post. Thanks!

    Oh, by the way, I wanted to download the article you offered but because I’m already on your list it wouldn’t let me. I’d love to have a copy of it. Thanks again!

  29. Steve Poole says

    I had a real-life experience with #2 recently when I apologized about a broken handle to a church member getting into my car and he responded that if I had a nice car he would worry the church was paying me too much.

  30. John says

    Our pastor recently resigned due to money issues. He has 5 kids all age 9 and under.

    After a couple of weeks we had a members meeting where a pastor from our sister church had a budget plan and basically said that we can’t afford to pay a full-time pastor at the rate of our giving. In the budget, he proposed a pastor’s salary of $82,000. Someone spoke up and said, “Isn’t that a little high?” The pastor then replied, “Well if you expect to hire a pastor with 4 kids, this is what you’re going to have to pay to support his family.”

    This is not a requirement for someone to be a pastor. The pastor should not be making double that of school teachers in my opinion. His family life is not part of the financial equation.

    • Drew says

      John, I would simply ask you to consider the workload of a pastor compared to that of a teacher. For example, my wife does not work because she has so many responsibilities not only with our family but hospitality and discipleship. This is what we believe is part of the ministry life. If she were to work, it would diminish our ministry. It is up to your church to decide what kind of pastor to look for, but I would encourage by saying that the better you support him, the more likely you are to benefit from the ministry provided by him and his family.

      • Susie says

        I have a question and this comment seems to be the closest to address it: What do you do when your pastor is receiving a full-time salary & benefit package (parsonage included) and HE is the one who cut two services per week? We only had three when he cut the other two! His wife has now gone to work part-time and isn’t involved in much going on at the church. How do you handle this? When budgets come up, his comment to us was “if you want to change how you’re paying me, you’ll have to renegotiate my contract”. What do you do then?

  31. Marcha says

    Pastor Thom:
    I’m a retired church secretary/ministry assistant. I worked for 9 pastors at two different churches. All of them worked practically 24/7 and usually on their days off had a commitment or event or hospital visit that was church related. People truly do not understand how many hours pastors, worship leaders, youth leaders, and yes even secretaries put in during a week. Ministry at any level is not something you can work your work day, go home and forget about it. Pastors are usually not compensated any where near for the amount of hours worked.

  32. Drew says

    Dr. Rainer, any advice on how to broach the subject of salary with a finance committee or other leaders? To even broach the topic is perceived as complaining. I honestly believe most churches are just ignorant of how taxes, insurance, etc. works for a pastor. If they knew, they might want to help (me being optimistic!). But like I said, to bring it up sounds like I am going after money. The biggest struggle, of course, is not money for myself but wanting my family to not suffer. I just have no clue how to tell anybody what our situation really is.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Drew: It is best if you get a trusted friend in the church to speak on these issues. That person must first be someone you trust totally. Second, that person should be someone well respected in the church. You should not be put in the uncomfortable position of advocating for your own financial needs.

  33. David says

    I think the reason the pastors salery is a source of contention in the church. Is because for many churches it is the biggest part of the yearly budget. When you connect that with a church not making budget…you get some who start looking at the pastors pay.

    Much of the problem here is a lack of obedience with tithes and offerings, which causes the church to strugle finacially as well as spiritually (given it is filled with God robbers). This in turn causes them to fear and worry about the budget and start looking at ways to cut expenses…rather than start giving a tenth of there income.

    If we would be faithful to give mat of our churches would not be struggling, and neither would their pastors

  34. Jared Mathis says

    It’s a cultural annoyance really. As an executive pastor, with a Masters degree, in a church of 4000+, a lot of people would prefer all of us made minimum wage. Since ministry isn’t a 9-5 job, they have a hard time understanding the pay scale and work that goes into it, really only other ministers fully understand the 2am weekends of pastoral care that you don’t get to charge time and a half for. It even extends beyond salary, people just don’t think a minister should be compensated well (do a wedding and you will understand). People in churches have to realize you aren’t paying your Pastor to minister, you are paying him so he can minister.

  35. Shane says

    Is it unreasonable to expect the pastor to be compensated in direct proportion to the median income of the congregation he serves? I find it amusing when we want to take into consideration the number of degrees a pastor has to correspond to salary(tell that to a teacher, police officer, fireman, or many public servants)Also we must remember the countless hours many lay people, deacons etc. ,with full time jobs, put in on their “off” time. So the pastor isn’t the only person putting in a lot of hours in a day. This doesn’t mean we are to be cheap when compensating are pastors but I agree with previous comment that he should be in line with the median income of his congregation.

    • David says

      Sounds good in theory,…but what and how do you figure the median income of the salary? You can’t use the church’s income to find that,…you will have to know the income of every member of the church. Let’s face it that won’t happen, because then you will learn about the giving record of each member,…or the lack there of!

      I am a full time pastor making 31,000 a year for a family of five…..no mileage reimbursement, no insurance, and no retirement. I’m not complaining,…I love the church, I know God has me there,…and we are not lacking anything. However I serve individuals who are business owners, people who work for the city, mechanics, Farmers who own a lot land,… Many of them are two income familes which means that many of them are making at least double what I make.

      As a pastor it becomes very hard to have a two income family in the first place. When you only own one vehicle, and you have kids it becomes hard for your wife to find a job, when you may have to go to the hospital at a moments notice. Not to mention there are expectations on the wife as well.

      Most of the full time pastors I know get paid any where from 20,000-45,000 of your typical church (50-150 attendance). Most of them hold a bachlors to a masters degree. The work schedule changes from week to week. The demands that are placed on them many times is unrealistic. The stress they are under is massive, they are often attacked, with no one to defend them, and they can’t defend themselves to much because they come across as overbearing and mean. The family is under the microscope, and many times neglected. The pastor is asked to show grace to the members, yet that same grace is not afforded to him….if someone says something about the pastor, then it must be true and it must be delt with.

      Yet every pastor I know loves what they do, because its a calling.

      Bottom line most pastors I know would benifit from getting paid by the midian income of the congragation. But in reality the church can’t, because there are a great deal who simply do not tithe even 10% of there income….so the church is limited in there ability to pay the pastor.

    • Drew says

      Shane, it sounds good in theory to say he should get the median income. But there are a lot of complications with that. For example, what if your congregation is mostly retired? They have their house paid off, get Medicare, etc. They don’t have much income and don’t need it. But when you are trying to raise kids, maybe even send them to college, you can’t live off of the median income of retired people. Moreover, it seems to me that it betrays a wrong perspective on the pastor’s salary. The church should desire to support the pastor so that he will not have financial worries, because that will enable him and his family to minister better. Most churches seem to think, “What is the least we can pay this guy without him quitting to find greener pastures?” My point is, if you can afford more than the median income, why not provide it? I am not saying pay him hundreds of thousands, but why pay him 30,000 when you can afford 45,000? Just because it’s the “median income” seems arbitrary. The best policy is for key leaders to talk to their pastor about his situation and needs, and then they can decide whether there is a salary that is workable.

    • says

      I think if we’re going to look a median incomes, we should look at the median income of the households in the community. If your church attracts mostly lower-income families in a high cost of living area, then basing the pastor’s salary on the median of the church is to place your pastor in financial distress. If you use the median income of the community, you at least enable the pastor to survive in a trying economy.

      For example, I live in Fairfax County, VA, where the median income is $105K–and the cost of living reflects that median income. Modest home rental prices are routinely between $1900-$2800/month and mortgages come in between $500K and $1M. How does the church adequately compensate its pastor (and pastoral staff) to thrive in such high cost of living areas while caring for their congregations?

      I admit, my particular example is regional, but the pastoral salary problem is widespread.

  36. Mark Lee says

    Most UCC Conferences publish clergy salary guidelines. These generally are scaled on the basis of church attendance, years in ministry, and/or size of total church budget, as well as general economic data for the cost of living. These are suggested guidelines; local churches have freedom to adopt, adapt or ignore them. Many conferences also publish similar guidelines for associate pastors. A few also publish guidelines for professional and program staff — religious educators, office managers, secretaries, building staff etc. As a matter of justice, congregations need to pay attention to not only how they compensate their senior pastors, but have rationale for the relationship of executive and program salaries/wages. After all, where would we clergy be without the secretary who makes sure the phones get answered, bulletins printed, and walk-in’s appropriately referred?

  37. Dean Elliott says

    In a previous pastorite I was frequently told by the same deacon that I was the highest paid Pastor in our area. He also served on the finance committee and i was declined a pay raise several times during my tenure at that church. His remarks were painful at times but Gods grace was always sufficient.

  38. Michael says

    And if the pastor initiates the conversation about his salary, he is in danger of appearing self serving. Who will be the champion for the pastor and his wage while he works so hard?

  39. Bill says

    Baptists used to understand the principle of fairly compensating pastors. The 1689 London Baptist Confession chapter 26, paragraph 10 reads:

    Paragraph 10. The work of pastors being constantly to attend the service of Christ, in his churches, in the ministry of the word and prayer, with watching for their souls, as they that must give an account to Him;19 it is incumbent on the churches to whom they minister, not only to give them all due respect, but also to communicate to them of all their good things according to their ability,20 so as they may have a comfortable supply, without being themselves entangled in secular affairs;21 and may also be capable of exercising hospitality towards others;22 and this is required by the law of nature, and by the express order of our Lord Jesus, who has ordained that they that preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.

    Interesting that the modern BFM is silent on this issue.

  40. Rich Behers says

    I want to add a different slant to the article … When I was a struggling pastor of a small church, I would invite denominational leaders in from time to time. One thing that stuck in my craw was the fact that most had gotten used to the finer things of life. That meant taking them out to the nice restaurants that my wife and I could not afford, and footing the bill myself. The church did not reimburse me. Why not? They assigned the care of the visiting preacher to me. It was my job as I invited him. It is my observation that setting a salary and benefit package for a denominational leader is done with corporate skill in mind. Our churches could learn from that. However, with that said, it was a bit difficult to be brow beaten at stewardship meeting to up the percentage for giving and I didn’t I wasn’t a loyal denominational member. Yet, these leaders made 2-3 times or more what I and other pastors earned. It was a tough pill to swallow, but that is the way things are. I sympathize with pastors of smaller churches who sacrifice much more that we can imagine. I ache for the pastor’s wife who is often brutalized by cruel church people who target her as an extreme spender who needs to cut back her extravagant spending. As a pastor who served the churhc for 25 years, I have heard nearly every criticism and excuse. Bless you, Pastor Brothers. If your church can’t pay you your value, please seek other opportunities. Your family is worth far more than anything you do.

  41. Wayne Malone says

    One area I have had to deal with by educating church members is this: the housing allowance for ordained ministers and the IRS. Until they are educated on this, some people believe that ministers are trying to get one over on the IRS, when in reality we are simply utilizing a benefit the IRS has given to us. By taking advantage of this benefit, we are being good stewards, and at the same time we are abiding by the law. One IRS tax attorney once told me, “I believe in rendering unto Caesar what is his, but not one red cent more!” By being open and honest with my church members, I have had very few objections when it came to my salary package… and I have never been audited by the IRS. When it comes to our church members and the government, integrity means everything. ~>

  42. Jeff says

    A layperson of a church once told me he scolded a member of a church who was bragging that they didn’t have to pay their pastor very well because he only works one day a week. He replied, “so you’re attitude is ‘Lord You keep him humble and we’ll keep him poor.’ That’s really shameful.” I’m glad he’s an advocate for pastors :)

  43. Jennifer says

    I followed two ministers who were independently wealthy and gave back their paychecks plus more back to the church. As a single mom, this is not remotely close to what I am able to do. As a result, they cut my hours to Sundays only because they were only able to pay very little with the loss of their large donations from the previous ministers. They expected full time work from me, impossible as I live over 70 miles from the small town. When I attempted to work out pay via the unused parsonage, all they could see were the potentially high utility bills. They would rather leave the parsonage empty, not pay for a full or part time minister, then complain that I wasn’t able to provide the level of care this congregation needed.
    My contract was not renewed. It was a huge relief for the most part.

  44. Bart Barber says

    I guess I’m the odd duck here (this would be way number 3,251 in which this has turned out to be the case!).

    My salary is known to everyone in the church and to anyone else who cares to know. In my experience, this has caused fewer problems, not more problems. Let’s face it: If there’s anyone in your congregation with (a) the inclination to cause you trouble about your salary, and (b) the juice to become a valid threat to you, that person is someone who already knows your salary or will certainly be able to find out what it is. In my experience, limited and idiosyncratic as it may be, secrets only empower other people to intimidate you. Where there is no secret, there is no weapon to use against you.

    I try regularly to say to the congregation, “I’m so thankful for the way that you provide for me and for my family. I want you to give me exactly what you as a congregation want to give me, and not one penny more nor less. And that’s the way that our salaries as pastors have been set. We didn’t set them. We didn’t even negotiate about them. You set them, and we are grateful. I would gladly be your pastor for half as much money—for no money at all, even! Of course, I’d have to get another job to provide for my family if you did that, but I’d still be here every Sunday preaching the word. You’ll answer to God for what you give me in remuneration; I’ll answer to God for what I give to you and to His kingdom in service. I’ll see to my responsibility; I’ll leave you to yours.”

    I once tweeted my salary, just to say to everyone, “We’ve got nothing to hide here.” I don’t do that any more, because I had some friends in ministry who were uneasy about it, and I don’t want to make anyone else’s life more difficult.

    Why do things this way? It’s just that, for FBC Farmersville, letting folks know what our salaries are is one component of an atmosphere of absolute financial transparency. I want people to know that they can trust us in the management of God’s money, and I want people to know that we have nothing to hide. In a milieu where the local news stations are doing undercover reports about megachurch pastors with secret private jet airplanes and multi-million-dollar houses, approaching our finances in this way has given us the opportunity to paint a winsome contrast between what we do and what some others are doing.

    And really, it has never given us the least bit of trouble. I’ve been here fifteen years now.

    • JustASheep says

      @Bart Barber: What a breath of fresh air you are in this dialogue. . . May the Lord continue to bless your work and your heart. You are so obviously doing what you do for the right reasons.

  45. Josh says

    As the executive director for our church, I struggle with the level of transparency we should have regarding finances, namely salaries. In the past we have lumped all salaries and benefits together on the budget. We’ve had people ask about the breakdown of that number and we’ve always skirted the question.
    I like the idea of allowing people to set up a meeting with me if they ‘need’ to know. This allows me to shepherd them first… to know where their heart is. To determine WHY they need to know. I like the idea of all salaries being broken out too though. That transparency might provide the cold hard facts of how inadequate our tithes and offerings are as a congregation.
    Ultimately, it always comes down to trust. Trust in God for His provision. Trust in the church leadership to be good stewards.

  46. says

    This is a great article. Another thing to consider about the pastor’s salary is that the congregation often expects the entire family, pastor, spouse, and teenage children to all work for one salary. The pastor is often paid a salary that, best case, is median range for the congregation and the congregation expects that 2 people work full time for this salary and 1 or more kids work at least part time. This includes being the office staff, clean up crew, nursery workers, worship leaders, etc.

    In the last few years, I have literally seen pastors with a spouse and multiple children who were asked by a congregation to take a salary of $600 per month and not work a second job so they could be fully available to the congregation. BUT, because they were given a parsonage to live in that was supposed to be acceptable!! Their wife was expected to be the worship leader and office staff for no additional pay and had to work two secular jobs just to make ends meet for the family. Come on, people!! Think …

  47. asret says

    I was wondering what advise there is for pastor’s wives concerning retirement when you’ve given yourself to the ministry, alongside your husband and to facilitate your husband’s ministry, with no wages, but have maintained ‘homemaker’ status in order to be available to the ministry.
    At 50 it seems that any gov’t retirement would pay little if anything.
    When we started this adventure together it was the norm and the social system accepted it, but in the last number of years even the church has conformed to the thinking that both spouses must produce a significant income.
    We’ve always considered ours as one income but the tax and benefit system doesn’t think that way, now does it?
    I believe I can trust God moving forward, and make some wise savings choices. It may be too little too late, and we don’t want to build outlives around mammon, and we’re happy to trust God to use us and provide for us until we depart, but any tips would sure be appreciated.

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