Five Things You Should Know about Pastors’ Salaries

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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  • Seth Appleton says on

    Rainer, I have a question about tithing. I started a small bible study not too long ago but it has grown decently well. The other night a member asked about tithing and if he could tithe to the bible study, which I guess could be classified as a house church. How do I proceed with this? If I can accept tithe, of course helping pay for the cost of having everyone over would help but as of now I have been doing it for free, with no expectation of getting paid. But if people start tithing how will this work?


  • first of all preaching is not a profession but a passion. All I hear is what kind of school degrees they have to be getting paid to be a pastor, and the Pastor is doing everything. Really. The ordinary man works, the then church needs him with all his strength to be part of service to help for whatever reason, and the more he gives the more they want. What we dont see is lots of Pastors who are broken bread and pored out wine.With all do respect, there is really only a handful of Pastors who teach the word with divine authority and simplicity. But when Pastors are counseling people, and picking up phones and getting paid above 40.000 dollars a year and don’t have a job on the side, let’s not make it sound like they are out there braking backs while others are, just to make ends meet. What I see a lot is Pastors who are very comfortable in what they do and definitely enjoy they’re salary, but when we say hard work, I think we need to re examine the Apostle Paul when we say hard work. Nevertheless still pray for your Pastor.

  • “Many pastors are under extreme stress because they do not have adequate income to meet their financial obligations…”

    Really? Trust me, I was a paid pastor for a year and will never do it again…not pastor but get paid to do it. But extreme stress? Stress literally translates into fear. Might as well change the word. So much for trusting in God…He is that big you know.

    You do know Paul was a missionary not a pastor? You can’t justify being paid based off of this teaching. Also, by biblical standards, a pastor and an elder are 2 very different things. Last, honor does not translate into pay, but rather “respect”.

    This article is full of Heresy and misleading and unstudied information. It is tainted with greed and self pity.

  • David Goins says on

    I am a bi-vocational pastor on a 350.00 a week salary if that is what you want to call it. I work sometimes 40 plus hours in the secular world to make ends meet yet people in my church look at me as being full time and want me to be available to visit the sick serve communion to those who are home bound and sometimes due to my busy schedule it is hit or miss. I have no benefits, no health insurance, no retirement, no automobile reimbursement, yet I am supposed to be full time. Please share your thoughts sir.

  • Hal McNeal says on

    In 1976, my first pastorate was an 80/20 split and if the people didn’t think that there was enough, they paid in groceries. I was there 4 years, and was always treated well. Through the years, as a bi-vocational pastor, and in different pastorates……I have always been treated well……I didn’t go into the ministry with getting rich…….and be it known, with God’s grace, are needs were provided for……….

  • Deborah Sparks says on

    Interesting discussion. I am a member of a church where there is NO paid ministry. There is one leader who has two counsellors to serve with him. He holds down a regular job, supports his family and earns his own living like everyone else, while being the spiritual leader or ‘bishop’ of the congregation (1 Timothy 1-7). He provides spiritual guidance and counsel to all members of the church, and this takes considerable personal time and sacrifice. What makes his leadership possible without monetary remuneration though, is that we all work together to support the work of the gospel. Everyone in the church holds a different responsibility – some are Sunday School teachers, some run youth programs during the week and teach Sunday gospel instruction, some run the children’s programs with teachers assigned to teach each age group. We have men’s groups, women’s groups, a Sunday Nursery for babies aged 18months to 3 years so their mothers can go to a class to fellowship. Members of the church also take it in turns to give sermons on Sunday – 3 speakers during each church meeting. The Lord’s Supper is blessed and administered by members of the church. This is all in line with the Bible’s counsel that all members of the church freely give of their spiritual and temporal gifts to one another in a spirit of Christlike giving. Almost everyone pays a full or part tithe. Tithing is used not for a pastor’s salary, but for maintaining the church building and facilities, and most importantly, for caring for the poor and needy and missionary work. If a member of the church is struggling financially, this money can be used to help them get on their feet. Church members also work in pairs to be responsible for visiting and checking in on several families each on a monthly basis – in this way we share the gospel, identify needs and then rally other members of the church to help out where needed (e.g. if someone is sick or has just had a baby, we organise a meal roster where we take turns delivering meals the family, or if someone is moving, we all pull together to help them pack and clean their home ready for selling or renting). I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, but what I am saying is that if all church members show their willingness to serve and bear one another’s burdens, then there is no need for a paid pastor. While I respect the calling that people feel they have to become a pastor of a church, I know that if the pastor teaches clearly from the scriptures that we should ALL be doing our part in the church as disciples of Christ, then there will be no need for him or her to be paid a salary. Preaching the gospel and serving others was never meant to be something we are paid for.

  • Where in the bible does it say that the church should pay for his housing? I attend a church about 50 people and based on that our pastor SHOULD receive a pay of $1200/ week. Plus a housing, to me that’s way to much. I believe that a pastor should receive a salary but I don’t agree with paying more than that. My boss doesn’t pay for my car or house and I work a lot of hours.

  • i think each person should be paid the amount that fits the job they are doing. no one would question why Christian oncologist should be paid multiple times for those Christians who work in nursing.

    none of us would walk us to the Christian builder who are building our house and demand them quote us a much lower rate that the standard rate builders charge.

    so why would we expect that from our pastor? why should our pastor get paid next to nothing when the rest of us are receiving the market rates for the profession we are in.

    i will say this however, that there is a difference between getting paid a fair rate compares with extortion.

    recently i came across this DVD teaching series that charges several hundred bucks, i don’t see how that is justifiable as it does not cost all that much to burn DVDS.

    i mean i don’t begrudge preachers charging people for their books and DVDs but several hundred bucks?

    maybe there is a good reason why this preacher would charge so much.

    but if it is greed? then he should burn in hell.

  • I am reading through these comments and I am truly amazed. My husband is a pastor in a small country church. He gets paid very little and has no choice but to work. He does not complain but listens to the complaints of the those that say a pastor should not get paid. I also have a full time job.
    The key word to me is “pastor”, which is much more than a preacher, teacher, evangelist, counselor. You want to take up an offering for him to preach is one thing, but to be a pastor it is 24/7/365. You want to pay for everything else in life, but not the man sent of God to watch over the flock. You should want to give to the man of God, “Where honor is due.” You go to your pastor for counseling, prayer, weddings, funerals, teaching, and preaching. Who else, gives up their work day to do a funerals? Takes time from his family to provide counseling, wakes up the entire house with phone calls all hours of the night. Comes back from vacation out of love for his people, because of illness or death in the family? The pastor plans activities around weddings, hospital & home visits, funerals, talking to a child you can not control, praying for you, while working a full time job, a husband and a father.
    There are some great pastors that take what ever the church offers to them, my husband has spent hours preparing a sermon, the cost to get to the location and not even have his expenses paid.
    To live like Jesus, if for you to give like those in that time gave. Those people wanted to be around Jesus and were attentive to his needs. That is what love is. We celebrate those we love. We give to those that have poured into us. These days money is the easiest way to do that. I give money most of the time as a gift so the receiver can get what they want or need. How ever we do not turn down fresh vegetables and meat, gift cards for meals, weed eating service, mowing the grass, paying the household bills. Mega churches are not the norm. They are on TV because they have the money.

    So Amy you and I need to talk. If they only knew what we go through. I love you and everyone on here. Like she said be the change you are talking about. Do just have a title in the church. Deacons, associates, MEMBERS, do your part… use your talents and gifts to help out your shepherd..

  • I need help and ideas, How do I establish a salary for a chief apostle , please pray with me, we have a few members.

  • Where does the bible state that a church should pay for the pastors mortgage? I attend a small church and we struggle every month but we pay for our pastors mortgage every month. I really struggle with this. My employer gives a paycheck every week ,but they don’t pay for my house or car repairs. Why are pastors different?

  • As a minister, I understand this well. People need to realize we have to pay rent, utilities and buy groceries like everyone else. Raising a family takes money.
    For some reason, the church members and others forget we are as human as they are. Just because we wear a collar, doesn’t mean we don’t struggle at times.

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