Five Things You Should Know about Pastors’ Salaries

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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.

Posted on December 17, 2012


With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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522 Comments

  • Anthony says on

    I’m quite concerned about the lack of clarity from a number on here regarding tithing. There are multiple mentions of the fact that we are to tithe in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians:16 is a good place to read. Clearly tithing is encouraged here, for the church to fulfil it’s mandate of reaching out to those who are yet to be saved. Verse 2: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income,” To me I would suggest that this can only be considered tithing as an ongoing basis.

    I encourage everyone to read their bible as it is written. Pray for discernment of the spirit because it’s all in there.

  • Kristen Smith says on

    Thank you for addressing such an important issue! Churches should ABSOLUTELY compensate their pastors AND their ministry staff fairly. Pastors SHOULD receive complete housing allowances. Unfortunately this is just NOT the case in so many churches around the United States. In fact, the churches that are most likely NOT to compensate appropriately are the MEGA CHURCHES. These are the ones with the most wealth. I have personally seen many of these churches failing to provide a living wage to pastoral staff that are working 60-80 hours a week! Pastors are not paid hourly but salary and they almost never work a regular 40 hour week. They are constantly on-call almost 24 hours a day, at least 5-6 days per week in addition to their regular work schedule . Many of these larger denominations prohibit pastors from discussing their own financial concerns or being overworked–some will go as far as telling them that if they question long hours and low wages to care for their families, that they are NOT living in faith. Sadly many of these larger churches and denominations have simply become businesses. In fact some large evangelical denominations are even failing to disclose the salaries of their top officials–meanwhile failing to pay people comparable wages. Bottom line– pastors cannot care for others when they are struggling to provide basic needs for their own families.

    • I struggle with paying for housing allowances for pastors. I have no problem paying a pastor though, that’s biblical. I attend a small church and we struggle every month but we pay for our pastors mortgage. I believe a lot of small churches struggle financially and I know that pastors put in a lot of hours, but so a lot of families. I truly believe that churches today are more of a business, if we just paid their salaries and focus on the great commission. God would take care of His children (matt. 6:33)

  • Barbara says on

    I have a question. I have a gentile friend who attends a Messianic synagogue. She tends to have a problem with churches but that’s another story. My pastor recently took a trip to Greece and Italy along with other members of our church and took his wife and son with him… She thought it was not right that he would spend his salary on such an expensive trip. I explained to her that it was his salary to spend the way he pleased. It’s not as though he were wasting it on frivolous things but knowing my pastor, I’m sure he learned a lot about Paul and his travels. Do you have some scriptures I could refer to her that might lead her to not be so judgmental of how he spends his salary?

    • PAUL GIBBS says on

      Matthew 7:3-5 King James Version (KJV)
      3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

      4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

      5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

  • I haven’t read all the comments here but I’ve read enough. The common theme is sacrifice. How much clergy has to sacrifice to serve the Lord. I don’t know how Jesus did it, sacrifice I mean. My advice to all of you that are not willing to make the sacrifice when the Lord calls you is to tell him, thanks but no thanks.

  • I definitely agree with this article and glad I found it as after praying, I felt led to 1 Corinthians 9 and then to do a study on it as I am a leader in the church. I do believe Pastors need to be paid and their families supported, but depending on the situation, at what cost to the congregation? We’ve been through a few pastors in our church. The first one had a good sized congregation that supported the church financially and had some volunteers to help. He ended up misusing the funds and the church and it’s people were a mess for different reasons. Some leaders tried to speak to the pastor when they saw things weren’t right but those leaders would just be talked about badly as going against the pastor when that wasn’t the case. He up and left. The second pastor was more educated but wasn’t fully told the truth about what he was coming into by the denomination who hired him (but due to the situation the denomination may not have had the truth themselves due to the previous pastor) and couldn’t receive the salary and benefits he expected. He and his family did work hard for the church while working on his degree and put in alot of hours but in time became burnt out, hurt and angry and demanded payment (he was receiving a monthly retirement by a previous employment) even if it was only half of what he could receive and housing allowance which was costly. Though the church had about 50 families or so, they weren’t rich families. When things broke down in the church, the congregation was asked for help (which I have no problem with) as the church didn’t have the financial resources to make repairs. Leaders were expected to help pay for different things (repairs, celebrations, and so on) to the point it was financially draining on them and some had to go without in their own homes to help support the cause. While many didn’t have the finances to take vacations or barely make repairs in their own homes, the pastoral family took several vacations a year and bought expensive gifts for themselves. Many people were belittled in front of others if they didn’t agree. Yet there were good things about this pastor as well and though I believe he was simply burned out (using up their own finances in the beginning) there were things that just weren’t biblical happening. How did his salary and benefits get paid? The account was in the negatives alot. In the end, this pastor up and left quickly.
    Now we seem to be in a place of balance. Though this pastor does receive a small retirement, he has chosen not to accept payment from the church until the church bills are paid and it is out of financial debt. He has made numerous repairs, some out of his own pocket and time, and has turned the church around financially. He does receive love offerings and gifts of food for his family to help them. They are humble people and only seek to do the work of God realizing God will bless them, and He has.

    Sometimes it can be difficult to remain in the church and yes, even trust a pastor. We have thought about leaving due to what we have seen, but our hearts were always with the people as we saw them go through so much and yes with the pastors as well. But if we would have left, we would have never seen the “rest of the story”. Things are changing for the better. It’s not always the Pastor’s fault when things go wrong, but someone said it here….they shouldn’t make the people stumble. But that goes for all of us. Pastor’s are humans and they make mistakes just like everyone else. They need much support and at times loving correction. As we are ministers in the church we believe a Pastor needs to be paid, but if the church is struggling because the people are struggling (and yes, some had money and didn’t want to tithe like they should), they should not put more stress on the families in demands and force…2 Corinthians 9:7:

    “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. ”

    Force is not the way to go or there will be no cheerful giver.

    Pastoring is not easy and Pastors should be paid as they work hard and have families to feed. But it’s a case by case basis on how much depending on the situation of the church. But we serve a mighty God who will provide (and test our hearts along the way!) and we must trust in that. Thank you to all the Pastors here who work so hard for God and the church…you may not see your reward here on earth, but it you will have much richer reward later on.

  • I have a question. I have heard many tax advisors and pastors say so many different things on this… Should a pastor pay off this house early if he or she can? Or is it not smart because of the loss of tax benefits?
    thanks

    • PAUL GIBBS says on

      Proverbs 22:7 King James Version (KJV)
      7 The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

  • WOW. I am afraid several will have some answering to do about the way they treated and gave lip service to God’s servants. Praying for all of you Pastors who get very little respect. Folks do not see the struggles because of the short sightedness of their own greed and unwillingness to commitment. Calloused hearts like these are why the churches are declining. There are great congregations out there who take care of their pastors as they should. Its a shame folks expect a pastor to be content with nothing when they themselves would not. Come soon Lord Jesus, come soon.

  • I have just recently written some thoughts down on this site. I see a lot of confusion between what people think and what does the Bible say. If one has faith and lives by the word then you will receive everything you need. I see the flaw in what most of you are saying because you are thinking worldly instead of spiritually by faith. If the true word was being taught and lived to the fullest by all that call themselves Christians than this would not even be a topic. There is strife because you are living by worldly thoughts. Why was Peter able to walk on water when stepping out from the boat because he had faith but then he entered his human mind and began to sink. This is what is happening to the church and everyone in it. Have faith insist that the building that you go to every Sunday that all inside of that building live by faith and the message of Jesus do it even though it makes no sense and watch what God is capable of doing. If you live by any other way than what Jesus has instructed us you have failed and will not make it to Heaven. I have seen no building that you call a church preach the truth or live by the truth and this is why there is problems within those walls and why others say it is just a way for those to profit off of others. How sad that word of the Lord has been twisted by lies. If the building you go to does not preach that for you to make it to Heaven that you MUST love pray have faith preach the word to strangers and give grace and SERVE others RUN from that building. If you are not feeding the poor RUN. If one is wealthy in your church while another struggles RUN. Please read the Bible it is easy to understand if you actually want to understand. Acts and all the words from Jesus’ mouth is what you and all should live by. I pray that all of you may be blessed with the truth and live the truth. You CANNOT live in the world and think like the world. Live in the spirit remember how you treat the least is how you treat Me (Jesus). All this money going to buildings and to Pastors is an abomination of the word. Jesus warned what would happen to those who profit off of the word of the Lord. As long as you think worldly you will miss the blessings and treasures that you could store up in Heaven. NO RICH person will make it to Heaven. Read the Bible. Why do all of you ask others whether or not something is right or wrong????? All answers to every question is in the Bible. The narrow path is hard but it is the only way all other ways leads to destruction and this is what Pastors aren’t saying cause then you would be afraid and most likely not go to church, saying I don’t want to serve a God out of fear I want to serve a God of love. But I say if you truly loved and were thankful for what Jesus did owe Him everything. God is Love but if you ignore his commands there is punishment. You can’t pick and choose verses to live by. If you don’t like what Jesus said then give up you are only lying to yourself and will never make into the Kingdom of Heaven just think of yourself like you are already doing. Jesus did not give options on how to make it to Heaven. Jesus was not a me and I He was a we and us. It’s sad I have entered many buildings in hopes that I would find Christians wanting to do Gods work haven’t found one yet. They tell ya some incomplete message ask for money then the next six days nothing. They don’t go out and preach the word they know nothing of their own congregation. One is going on trips and eating out while others are eating top o ramen. When you can’t even love and care for your own how can you help others. I talk to people all the time. I have not seen one church Building do one single thing for their community or find ways to help others it is disgusting. Keep ignoring the true message good luck with having Jesus say to you welcome my child I have prepared a place for you. I pray you stop thinking of yourself and start thinking of others. May God bless you and may you love and serve others. Amen

    • Anthony says on

      Be careful.

      Proverbs 10: 19 “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

      Galatians 2: 16 “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ…”

      This of course doesn’t mean that just because we are saved we can do what we want. But it does mean we are not saved by anything we can do, as we have proven we cannot be sinless. Hence the need for the new covenant of Jesus Christ.

      Romans 6:15 “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!

      From all of this it is clear as day. Believe in Jesus Christ and in response to his grace do what he calls you to do, all the while knowing that you are freed from your sins and saved. Once you are saved and justified it is eternal.

      Have a nice long and comprehensive reading of Romans 8.

      And finally John 3:15. “that everyone who believes in him (Jesus Christ) may have eternal life.”

      Eternal is never ending by definition. We cannot be removed from salvation once we have it. Works won’t earn it or remove it. This is fundamental, if we understand this, then we can be free from self condemnation also, to be who we should be and do what we should do. We will naturally seek the gifts and fruits of the spirit.

      As you said, the answers are all in the bible. If you read the verses and even read before and after these verses you will find that i have used them in context. It is fine to pick out specific verses. The key is to keep to context. Please be careful to always back up what you say with strong biblical evidence. And always work on having less of your own words then that of quotes from the bible. Before you say that I have much more of my words here than quotes, please note that I suggested to read Romans 8. I just didn’t feel the need to type it all out, as you are blessed with your own copy.

      May the Lord bless you.

  • Wow!!!! For those of you that actually know the true word of the Bible I commend you, and hope that you speak loudly about the truth. I have been reading the Bible for years and never until know have seen the true message, most likely because to recognize the truth would mean actual work and to care about others more than yourself. Humans have once again destroyed the true message of the cross and Jesus Christs message. Paul called them “super apostles.” Workers of Satin!!!!! The true word of our Lord and Savior is simple, faith love preach the truth and serve others. Pastors should not be paid they are robbers of the Lord. Anything I say comes from the bible so if you are mad at me you are mad at the Lord our God. The church is not a building there are no leaders to a church no one is supposed to get paid for preaching the word of the Lord. There is no such thing as tithing to the church. If you want to know how a church is supposed to be read Acts it will tell you all you need to know. Greed, No man can serve two Gods you cannot serve God and money. Jesus did not say build a building go to it every Sunday give them money and go home. He said if you have two tunics and someone else has none give them one. He said I did not come to lead I came to serve. While they were arguing about who was the greatest among each other He said the greatest among you will be the least. Who ever washes another ones feet is the greater. Those of you that are wealthy and say you are Christian are fools!!! You will NEVER enter the kingdom of Heaven! If you really wish to make it to Heaven open your Bibles pray that your eyes see and your heart comprehends so that the truth may be revealed to all that seek the truth. The only thing that should be done with tithing is it go to the homeless and needy the widow and the child the hungry and the sick. I don’t know what bible you have read all I can say if you don’t agree with me you don’t agree with God! Your hearts have been hardened and you are blind. If you are a true Christian than live by modest means and preach the word and serve help others and you will store up treasures in Heaven. Love others as you would love yourselves. If you were sad would you not want a hug and an ear that listens than do the same. If you were hungry would you not feed yourself than feed others. If you were cold would you not put on clothes than give warm clothes to others. How many of you have empty bedrooms??? There are homeless everywhere Jesus said ” HOW YOU TREAT THE LEAST OF MY PEOPLE YOU ALSO DO IT TO ME!!!!” Are any of you aware of the fact that Jesus said if you read my word and do not do it you will go to the place of weeping and gnashing? Every time someone came to Jesus and asked how can I go where you are going, He did NOT give options. He had the same response every time Sell everything you own and do what I am doing. What did Jesus do? He loved He preached He healed and He served. The Bible and the message is clear and for all that refuse to acknowledge the truth and do what He asks I hope He has mercy on your soul. I hope all of you come to know the truth how beautiful this world would be if we all did His will on earth as it is in Heaven. I hope and pray that when you stand in judgement while standing before Jesus that He says welcome my child instead of I did not know you. You have to live a life of sacrifice and servitude to make it. You have to bare fruit. You have to take what He has blessed you with and double it. You are supposed to be a light and it must shine. If you are not telling others if you are not helping others if you are eating well while others go hungry YOU WILL NOT MAKE IT TO HEAVEN. Read your bible again if you are angry with me you don’t know His Word. Stop listening to the workers of Satin that steal from God and do nothing for the poor and lead you down the wide path that leads to destruction. May God be with you and bless you so that you may bless others, Amen.

  • Wow. I came to this site to seek an answer to a simple question, but was side tracked by all this other commentary. I am currently married to a pastor and we have ministered together for the past 25 years and counting. We work in a “sent”, not “called” ministry as many others do. After reading many, but certainly not all these comments, bottom line I would just like to say that if you have not personally experienced being a pastor or being married to a pastor of any denomination in today’s society, one has little room to pronounce judgements upon the duties, salaries, congregational /denominational expectations or living standards of such. Thank you for letting me speak and I will seek my answer in another venue. Blessings to each of you.

  • Rev. festus ezirim says on

    I am a pastor of a small congregation church , also a founder in Thailand Bangkok in the year 2012 , since the church the in establishemennt I never receive any salary, tithe may be once in two months , because I want the work of God to move forward made me to stop my son going to school , it has get to the point I don’t know what to do now . For me I will not like the church of God to stop or close. instated the church of God to stop having fellowship or service that leads me to stop my son from school, and the boy is crying every day and can not have his sleep in the night , Also my wife is a teacher and we use part of her salary to pay for church rate , please I need support that can help me meet God’s work and my son school fees kindly connect me. please I need urgent attention.

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