Five Things You Should Know about Pastors’ Salaries

December 17, 2012

UPDATE: Listen to the podcast episode about this topic

In many churches, the pastor’s salary is a quiet issue. There is a sense of discomfort from both the pastor and the members when the topic is broached. Such discomfort is unfortunate, however, because a number of churches will not seek every year to make certain the pastor is paid fairly.

A couple of prefatory comments are in order. First, we all know of the extreme examples of pastors living lavishly or mismanaging money. Those stories, though true, represent a small minority. Most pastors are not overpaid. And most pastors manage their limited finances well. Second, I am aware that many people are unemployed and that anyone who has a job should be grateful. That is still not a good reason to pay a pastor unfairly. As a final note, this brief article is relevant to all paid church staff, though my focus is here on the pastor.

In my 25 years of consulting and working with churches, I have discovered five common issues that are not always known by most church members. And lack of awareness of any one of these issues can have a detrimental impact on fair compensation for the pastor.

  1. A pay or compensation package is not the same as a salary. I cringe when I hear churches state a package to be the pay for the pastor. The package includes benefits such as health insurance and expense reimbursements such as business use of the automobile. No worker in a secular company adds their benefits and expenses and calls it their pay. Anything other than the cash payment (before taxes) the pastor receives should be reported in a totally separate category.
  1. There are many resources to find out what the fair compensation for a pastor should be. Many denominations provide their own compensation studies. But you can do an Internet search for “pastor pay” and see a plethora of resources that are available. And as a rule of thumb, you could seek to estimate what the mean income is for families in the church, and use that as a basis for compensation for the pastor. Churches that do not do their homework on pastoral compensation tend to underpay their pastors.
  1. Many pastors request no raises but would still appreciate one. Some pastors simply don’t want to deal with a critic who might question any raise given to a pastor. Others feel extremely uncomfortable talking about money in general, and use the “no raise” request to deflect further conversation. Some think it’s just the noble thing to do. But most pastors, in reality, would appreciate a fair raise to keep up with growing expenses. Don’t accept their requests as the last word.
  1. Many pastors are under extreme stress because they do not have adequate income to meet their financial obligations. Like anyone else who is under heavy financial burdens, a pastor can find his thoughts consumed with worry. Because he is so distracted, he naturally is less effective in his ministry. Both he and his family feel the pressure.
  1. Some pastors leave their churches because of pay issues. You will not likely hear a pastor announce in his resignation that he is leaving because of financial pressures. The reality is that, for a number of pastors, the issue of compensation is a major push from one church to another, or from the church to a secular vocation. It’s not that the pastor is in his job for the money; it’s that the compensation for his vocation is insufficient to meet his family’s needs.

Paul wrote these words to his young protégé, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 5:17-18: “The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain and, the worker is worthy of his wages’” (HCSB).

It is unfortunate that the few indulgent pastors who live lavish lifestyles get most of the attention. The reality is that most of the some 400,000 pastors in America are not overpaid; indeed many are underpaid. Those are the pastors who need our attention.

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498 Comments

  • Wow! You have a lot of comments. I would like to add my two cents if that is okay. I spent about 28 years in organized religion and I believe that most of my time spent in those systems was, as Shakespeare said it, much ado about nothing. What I learned from those 28 years was how not to do it. That being said, I have a few questions. Why is the Pastor the focal point of an assembly? Why is it that many Pastors have a ‘death grip’ on their assemblies? Nothing is done without the Pastor’s approval. Is this healthy? Here are my thoughts on how to run a successful assembly in a Church.

    1) Don’t have one pastor sharing the load, have many pastors involved in the running of the ministry. With many pastors there is little or no stress, they all share the burden. Each pastor holds down a job and works part time in the ministry. There is no need for tithes or offerings. People, including the pastors support the ministry by having it self supporting.
    Where will an assembly get these pastors? From the members of their congregation! There are many men and women who can serve in the role as pastor. It was never supposed to be limited to one person.
    2) Most ministries do not have the operation of the five-fold ministry. There needs to be prophets, apostles, teachers, evangelists, and pastors working within an assembly. The role of pastor comes with no mention of preaching a sermon every week. If you look up the biblical definition of a pastor you see no admonition to teach or preach to a group of people. The role of a pastor is to oversee the running of an assembly, it has no greater preeminence over the role of a teacher, prophet, evangelist or apostle. They are equal in their function to each other. I have been to a lot of churches in my life, but I have never seen an assembly where the five fold ministry was in operation. Where do you find all of these prophets, teachers, evangelists and apostles? From the members of the congregation!
    The answer to a successful ministry means having these two aforementioned directives in operation within an assembly. We will never truly reach the lost and serve them properly without these two things. It will never work.

  • I was looking for information on the salary and compensation for assistant pastors, and this article came up. I have a vested interest in this topic as 1. my grandmother was the daughter of a pastor and 2. I had a relative serve on the executive board of the church he attended.

    I am in the middle of this debate. First of all, I want to preface first and foremost that it is BEYOND HIDEOUS to expect that a pastor should perform their duties and full-time job without being compensated. Remember the health care debate around 10 years ago now? There were some people suggesting that people pay for their healthcare by bartering or food as they did in days gone by. As ridiculous at that was, it is equally ridiculous to suggest that someone who is working a full-time job, regardless of what community that is in, should not be compensated. I am someone who has worked with the homeless population since I have been a teenager. I got started with that while attending church. I can go out and help with distribution, I can help when items are gathered and help sort and organize them. But, there still need to be qualified professionals who run things. Volunteers and lay people cannot do everything. And I do know that most pastors do not have a conventional 40 hour work week. They work hard, it is emotionally stressful work, and you are hardly ever away from the job. I would venture to say that for the average pastor, they are easily working 60 hours per week when you take into consideration all of their responsibilities. I also have a question for all of you who believe that a member of the clergy should not be compensated? Is not the concept of work in the United States that you are required to bring some specific kind of craft, skill, or value to the workplace? That you are educated, sometimes obtaining a graduate degree, and that is what you are required to do? If someone in the clergy goes through not only their education, but the training when learning how to be a member of the clergy, why is their work less valid? It’s not. For those of you who are quoting scriptures about this, let me ask you: are you willing to house and feed your pastor personally? How about their kids? Are you willing to pay for their health insurance? Do you want to go out and purchase their undergarments, feminine products for the women in the family? Because that is what you believe. I am almost certain that nobody would. It’s all talking a good game until you want to be responsible. I also see a lot of double talk on here saying that a man should be responsible for his own needs and then insist that he not be compensated for the ministry. Even in non-profits in the helping professions like homeless organizations, food pantries, children’s programs, all of those need to be staffed. A church is no different.

    My grandmother was born in the early 1920s and was raised in a rural farming area where my great-grandfather was the minister of a church. To say they were dirt poor was quite accurate. My grandmother had to go out at the age of 10, along with the rest of the children in the family, and work in the warm months on a farm picking produce. They weren’t even given money for their work. At the end of the day, they were given a bushel of produce to take home. And the entire family used those. The reason I mention her birth year is to say that there were not likely child labor laws at that time where the children should have been compensated for their work. And there were many times when food was scarce for them. My grandmother told me that most people gave to the church begrudgingly and even when my great-grandfather asked for assistance with basic things like electric and phone, just about everyone complained. She also said that people felt entitled to give their opinions about everything in the family and that the children at her school were very mean spirited towards her, telling her all of the things that were said about her father. I wouldn’t want for anyone to struggle the way that the previous generations did. It’s far from an easy, cushy life. I do believe that a pastor and his family should have a comfortable living, not elaborate. I think they SHOULD have a nice home where they can be comfortable and live their lives just like anyone else. A home should be a respite. Also, I have no problems with compensating for things that relate to the ministry. I have no problem with a car allowance-x amount of dollars that can be applied towards a car payment. And then, I think get a nice sedan or mini-van. Do not be using it as a downpayment on a Mercedes. Compensate for phone service, because you always are on a call. I think things like electric and television can and should be paid by the salary. I don’t have a problem with a small clothing allotment, either. A pastor still needs to look nice for his job and when he meets with people in the community. Being in the ministry is not easy, and there may not be sometimes enough cash to compensate all of the things that go along with it. Maybe some of you should be more grateful than critical. Until you’ve personally been in full-time ministry, you have no idea what really goes on.

    That being said, I do believe that checks and balances are not only a good idea, they are sorely needed. I believe that there should be transparency and that those people, the congregation, who are supporting their church should be aware of every dollar that is coming in. Whether or not you believe that you are being mandated to give or not, it is still YOUR money. And if someone is spending your money that you are being told is for the ministry of the church, it better well be spent that way. Second, I think there is a huge moral problem with asking the poorest in the church community to donate. I am no longer a practicing Christian, but when I was, I hit a hard financial time. I was always guilted into paying tithes and thought that I would be punished if I did not do so. One month, I paid my “tithes” and ended up bouncing another check. It cost me over $100 for that. I decided that common sense prevailed. And you know what? There was no “miracle”. God never supplied that money back to me. I realize that I will offend some of you for saying this, but this idea that you give God money and he gives it back to you is just not real. I saw someone quote “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken”. My grandmother’s family struggled to put food on the table. There are plenty of present day Christians who need public assistance, food banks, etc. And that is where I see a serious problem in the church. You have multi-millionaires like Pat Robertson, those charlatans like Robert Tilton and Ken Copeland taking money from people who may be struggling between food and medicine. You have Joyce Meyer who put in a $30k toilet in her home and was found of no wrongdoing after an IRS investigation. Sorry, that is WRONG. You need a basic toilet in life that flushes. I can’t imagine what anyone needs with that. It is wrong to live an elaborate lifestyle and demand jets, facelifts, etc. Take a look at some of them-Robertson, the son, Meyer, Copeland, they’ve all had facelifts. There is no “Biblical” basis for any of that. That’s greed and avarice. And I do think there is a moral problem with asking people who are living in poverty and more importantly, making them feel guilty when they cannot support their church. While I do not believe in a good, benevolent, personal God anymore, if I did, I can’t imagine that that same God would want you to go into debt for a church and not take care of your own personal needs.

    So, I do see there needs to be a balance. And reading some of these comments, it makes me proud to say that I am no longer a member of the fundamentalist evangelical community. Arguing about your interpretation of scripture and being so severe with it that you suggest that even a pastor should not be paid for his services does not reflect common sense. I see it more about who thinks they are right in their interpretation. Good luck leading lost souls to Christ when it is all about what you believe is right.

  • Hi All,
    I think denominations and even some churches handle the area of pay and compensation for pastors differently as they can. Reading over some of your posts I am very surprised by the different views and I can say I understand how many of you feel. I worked over 40 years in a few companies and GOD blessed me with everything that I have. Over time I got away from GOD and going to church and later came back I sang on the choir and worked very hard in mission work, actually we had a team of very hard workers which I was one. We loved our pastor so much that we didn’t mind working hard, but mind you in most churches you have a “core” group that will work like crazy while others may give and not work. Some older persons can give but don’t have the physical strength to stand for long. We did Angel tree prison ministry, Samaritans purse, a feeding and clothing closet and all sorts of things trying to show others the love of Jesus. Then I retired from a large corporation and went into part-time ministry, I do receive a small salary from the two churches where I serve, and over the last several years I have given back about an entire years salary between the two. So Pastors do sow into their own and other ministries. You might be surprised to know that many pastors are friends of other pastors and when they are in trouble they come to the aid of their friends. Some problems that I see is that people don’t understand the real need to 1) Fast and pray, yes going without food for most of the day. Many Pastors do that when praying for their members and they spread out a blanket and lay on their face to pray for their members before The Lord 2)More people need to Meditate on the Word of GOD. Need to have it in your heart not just your head 3) Being kind to one another and show real love. You see when you cry out to GOD and pray it takes a lot of energy and stamina and some are better at it they have done if for a long time. It is hard to get close to people and then see them get older, and frail and pass away. We have lost a few this year and it’s hard on the Pastor friends. Don’t think that it isn’t because it is. So we are talking about bringing people to Christ Jesus why are we arguing over money for anyway? I am NOT trying to get rich off of any poor people, but I know that some of you here must have been hurt and see somethings that are wrong. Just sow into ministries that you pray about and ask GOD to guide your giving. Try to find a real anointed pastor that cares about bringing people to the Lord. I try real hard to be generous because I know GOD IS Generous, look what HE DID when HE GAVE his only SON JESUS to come and die for our sins. When GOD see’s you give from the right intentions I believe GOD is going to bless our giving. Peace in Christ.

  • Jeremy Troutman says on

    “I would rather lose 1000 sheep than to reveal my salary “-James Macdonald Harvest Bible Chapel SBC
    Its time for transparency in the church.
    The pastors salary should not be a secret.

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