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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  • Michael C. says on

    We are a small, rural, Christian Church in Pennsylvania that is going Independent.
    Our typical Sunday attendance is 20 – 25.
    We want to hire a part time Pastor. His salary would be about $300.00 per week.
    That is to include everything.
    Do you think that is fair??
    Remember, we are very rural, not near any large city.
    Please advise.
    Thank you very much.

  • What’s missing from this article? Any scripture reference. Look into the scripture and you are hard pressed to find any evidence that pastors or elders are to be full time or to be paid. They are to make their own way to

    From the Bible “What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.” look her up. What faith does it take to witness and evangelize for pay?

  • Thanks for this timely word. As an Associate Pastor, who has taken on a tremendous amount of responsibility in the absence of a Senior Pastor for the last 5 months, and may last another year or two, I am struggling with the issue of a raise. The issue for me is that all the other staff in the church (including a newer associate pastor) got substantial raises and I received nothing. The reasoning they say, is to even out our jobs (since we now share Associate pastor titles ), “we should be getting paid the same”… but that is as far as it goes. I am the most stressed and busy and with the most responsibility out of the staff and our duties are totally different. I have been an ordained minister for 8 years… and the goal is to not give me a raise until the other junior person “catches up”. That will take a couple more years probably. To make a long story short, I raised the issue, but I have to be very careful to check my motives. I definitely don’t feel entitled to anything, I know the Lord is in control, but as a Pastor, do I speak up or not? If this was the secular world, of course I would be speaking up. M It is a tough one for me. In my heart of hearts I don’t think it is right but I may be wrong. I need prayers for discernment for sure.

  • Do we believe that we all exist to glorify God, or is that only something a person working in the church can accomplish? The obvious answer is that we all exist to glorify God. That means that all of us, whether we are pastors or teachers or engineers or taxi drivers or restaurant managers or stay at home moms, we, if we claim Christ as savior, should seek to glorify God in our work and in all of life. This is done by working hard and honestly for the glory of God and for the good of others.

    So the pastor who works tirelessly preparing sermons and shepherding his flock is not somehow glorifying God more or living a more God-pleasing life than then Christian who serves his community by running a business in a manner that glorifies God or than the Christian who serves her community by teaching and molding the minds of her students to the glory of God, and so on.

    Because of this, we can’t say that it’s wrong for a pastor to earn a living while taking his call seriously and working hard and for God’s glory in his daily work but have no problems with the Christian who takes their call seriously to serve their community in their respective non-church fields and work hard and for God’s glory in their daily work and earn a living while doing so. To hold that position, we would either have to say that only church positions can glorify God or we would have hold the position that it’s wrong for the Christian in non-church position to take a salary since they’re also working for God’s glory.

    Because of this, it’s right for a pastor to earn a salary just as it’s right for a Christian working in a non-church job to earn a salary.

    Now for the next debate: can we really say that working outside of the church is a “non-ministry” position? 🙂

    • For most of my life I worked a lot of hours then volunteered at church, children’s school etc. Exactly I got paid for 1, my job and got nothing for the other. Why then is it okay for pastors of mega churches who flit all over the world “preaching” to draw a salary and stipends for home, car, travel because he has hired a pastor for every thing you can think of in the book generally a husband wife team and his cronies at a price while I bust my butt 7 days a week ? In some instances I think this. Jesus had NO distractions wife, children and just the clothes on his back! You cannot be 24/7 with family responsibilities! That said pastors in the churches are needing big money for work delegated to everyone else! I will say this occurs all over the world and in every religion! I pay for people’s needs myself. Thats my obedience to God. I read the Bible and pray and church to me is fellowship with those who read God’s Word, pray and seek His face. God speaks to me and them like to any “pastor.” I refuse to be guilted into handing over what is God’s to begin with. In America my medical bills and my tax bills are my biggest expense. I pay those and that is my contribution to Cesar and the world. I will never be party to any man made building called a church and the guilting of me into handing over money and time. I do know how and to whom I need to give them to on my own. I know we all can. If a person ever leads a congregation living like Jesus Christ I would willingly be a Mary and a Martha. Till then I cannot listen one more time to people who have everything and more and have never had to be without how to live my life! Been there done that for 5 decades no

  • I am fascinated by this discussion. I’m torn between traditional ‘tithing’ and the truth that Paul was a tent maker by profession, and that a lot of his influence was derived through working at leather repairs with fellow artisans. There seem to be a lot of things that are tearing at me at the moment. For example, the local Church that I attend is very strict on membership. I wasn’t asked whether I wanted to be a member. I had feedback ‘through the grapevine’ that the local Church was denying me membership because no one knew me. Excuse me? I know me! Why did no one ask me? And more to the point, that I was discussed behind my back, with a negative outcome that was not formally communicated to me. Apparently part of membership is a commitment to tithe. I pay tithe, so am immune to this argument. I just don’t get the ethic of Church Leadership discussing one behind one’s back without giving formal feedback. Smacks to me of underhand, I must say. So now I have a dilemma. Do I continue to tithe to leadership that does not practice biblical principles? Do I strive for the membership from which I have been rejected? Do I find another Church. Eishhhh…..

  • Hi everyone,

    This was a great post.

    I will be praying more for the pastors that I know as I feel in most cases they are not compensated sufficiently to support their families.


    Southern NH, USA

  • I agree with several who said that pastors should receive a salary which is the same as the median salary of his/her church members.

  • Alice Gardner says on

    My husband is a pastor & he puts in over 60 hours a week at the church plus home visits & hospital visits. His salary is $300 per MONTH, not weekly. That averages just around $1.00 an hour. We struggle every month to pay our bills & keep food on our table. We are not in it for the money. We are in it to save souls. I can tell you that it would be nice if the church could pay him what they promised they would 32 years ago when he started pastoring this church which was $1200 a month plus the power bill but it is not possible at this time. It does get discouraging when you see people out of church because they are on a cruise or you hear members talking about going out to eat & not getting invited along. For us, there is not even a Christmas bonus. Those pastors who live those extravagant lifestyle & make a huge salary are very rare. Most pastors live near poverty level & eat a lot of hot dogs & bologna. I encourage each of you the next time that you go to the store or out to eat, think about what your pastor & his family are eating for dinner & ask yourself if you are giving the true tithes that you are supposed to be giving per the Bible.

  • Craig McBride says on

    The “Pastors” shouldn’t be required to administer to every little need of the “church”.
    The body of believers should all be actively working together.
    There should be other leadership around him to take on some of the burden, “Elders”.
    Elders should be able to teach, preach, council in the word.
    The people in the church should be visiting people who are sick or in need as well.
    It’s sad when we ask the pastor to go visit Mrs. Johnson, because that’s what we’re paying him for…. we should go visit Mrs Johnson because we care. Having a call on your life to preach or teach doesn’t mean make a career out of it.
    I feel there is a need for a pastor, but he shouldn’t be responsible for everything. Take the burden off of the pastor, and let him oversee the other elders and leaders, teachers, etc.
    I feel like if 10% is enough for God then it should be enough for the pastor, and all the elders and other workers in the church. They get a share of the 10%. I mean if we are using Old Testament, out of the money that comes in to the church, we are supposed to be taking care of Widows, orphans, and strangers passing through. Old Testament priest weren’t allowed to work, their work was their priestly duties. They and everyone else of the tribe of Levi lived off what came into the temple. And it wasn’t money. But I could go on about how the church wants you to give according to the law…. but they don’t use what’s given to them according to the law. I’m going to stop there because I don’t want to get into tithing right now… the pastor as the church grows and he becomes more busy should then delegate duties to others who have grown spiritually..
    And we shouldn’t expect him to wait on us hand and foot. The body should be working together. Example: if a church of 200 people is bringing in 10,000 a week, 10% of that money should be divided evenly amongst the Pastor, elders, administrative, and janitorial positions. The rest would pay bills and be used to fund charity or missions. But what I’m seeing is that the Pastor is receiving 40% of that $10,000 and no one else that works gets any thing. And from that, people begin to expect more from him and they sit back and watch. Then the pastors get discontented, cost of living is going up, he’s afraid they won’t give a raise, and he becomes a people pleaser instead of a preacher of the word. Or he quits and finds a richer church.
    There is no reason why a man can’t work a 50 hr a week job and pastor a church. If everyone is doing their part.
    Now the issue of money and stress is no longer an issue. Remember that money in its self is not evil, it’s the root.
    It’s only right as well to pay all the elders according to scripture. What about the Sunday school teachers…
    The secretary….
    The worship leaders….
    The janitors….
    It can be done right, but as long as there is money to be made… it won’t be.

  • PAUL GIBBS says on

    I did not read through all the comments, but from what I did read I noticed that most reference to Scripture was from the New Testament. Let’s look at the Old Testament. God placed the Levites in charge of the spiritual care of all Israel. I could list all that their job contains, but I will let you do that. But this is what God commanded of Israel.

    KJV Numbers 35:1-3
    1 And the Lord spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,
    2 Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites of the inheritance of their possession cities to dwell in; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them.
    3 And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts.

    Explanation from the Tyndale Life Application Study Bible.
    The Levites were ministers. They were supported by the tithes of the people, who gave them homes, livestock and pasturelands. Likewise, we are responsible to provide for the needs of our ministers and missionaries, so they can be free to do their God-ordained work.

    KJV Leviticus 2:8-10
    8 And thou shalt bring the meat offering that is made of these things unto the Lord: and when it is presented unto the priest, he shall bring it unto the altar.
    9 And the priest shall take from the meat offering a memorial thereof, and shall burn it upon the altar: it is an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the Lord.
    10 And that which is left of the meat offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’: it is a thing most holy of the offerings of the Lord made by fire.

    I know that there are some churches that provide homes for their pastors. But do they provide the cost of food for their families? Do they provide the transportation they use to fulfill their ministry duties? If they supply what a pastor needs to survive, then no they should not receive an outlandish pay. But if they are not supplied what they need in materials, such as a home, food, transportation, health and life insurance, then they need to be supported on a pay scale that is in conjunction with the cost of living in their area.
    Unfortunately there are pastors that are in it for the money, and want to live a lifestyle that is beyond what they need. But that should not stop us from supporting the ones that are truly performing their calling given to them by God.

  • I am a Pastor’s wife and my husband doesn’t take a salary… But because many in our small congregation doesn’t work, he pays ALL the church bills. He works a secular job AND Ubers in the afternoon/night hours when he is able to take care of the church. I pay the household bills and the struggle is real!
    So tell me, who is responsible for taking care of the financial obligations that a church has? I’m not even talking about salary right now. We work, so we’re not trying to get rich off of the church. People don’t want to hear about the biblical principal of tithing, so what do we do?

    I believe God provides provision and we also have responsibilities to make sure the ministry that feeds us spiritually is taken care of. And outside of all the work outside the church, there is the spiritual leadership of the church. Very Taxing!! Not to mention not having time for family…

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