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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  • the church closed due to covid and the members did not want to attend in person services.

  • A simple question: if a pastor never received any pay during his whole tenure, at the closing of the church can he receive the money in the account as pay? This was the decision of the members of the church before it closed.

  • Paul Oche says on

    I really appreciate your Conscientizing and Scrutinizing messages

  • Rev. L F Wynne says on

    I believe that a pastors salary should come from the church tithe.

  • iftikhar gill. s/o sharif gill says on

    sir this is iftikhar gill. how are you. stay blessed .keep my family in your prayers

  • Brother,
    I have a question an concern, my husband an I are a ministry, We are evangelist. But we met a local pastor that we supported for a year , an he went to our son an asked him to be his associate pastor, An he came an held several service’s an accepted his offer, The church began to grow an the vision to go to a bigger building was set in order, but something didn’t seem right with the senior pastor, had decided he would start evangelizing an informed my son he would remain the senior pastor, never gave my son any thing financially an he was transferring the phone calls to my son, my son was doing all the visits, preaching, over seeing all the outreach events constantly dealing with trying get finances to put it together. We knew there was something wrong when the senior pastor would come in with out notice, an after the associate pastor had prayerfully prepared the message he felt the lord gave him for the service . The senior pastor would tell him, I’ve got this service. Only to tell the now doubled in size in attendance , what he had been doing an wanted them to give for his traveling an when questioned about the account from the new board whom he had himself had asked to be on, He became angry an with ugly text an calls intimidating messages to my son, became evident there was something wrong, an he approached the leader of another department to pay for the room of an evangelist he invited , the other department leader was in the middle of a three day yard sale to start an addiction support group to see addiction in the local community find hope . An when one of the leaders offered to pay for the room to allow the out reach to keep what they had made there was another episode of anger. So I told my son to inquire once again to see the church account, as the senior pastor had told him that he would put him on the account an set him up for an associate pastor allowance, after more than 6 months of continuing to struggle to keep the ministry going ,he continued to make excuses as to why he hadn’t taken the time to go to the bank an put his name on the account. Finally after continuing to push him he did so an that’s when we seen that he had used the account as good personal account an had nearly drained the account, he had put money on the account an paid his wife what was said to be a reimbursement an paid a a loan company for a motor cycle he put in the church name. An when we move to the new facility he had taken two months of checks written to the denomination we rented the building from but they had given the church a covid relief an he pocketed the money an told us he had to keep the 2 months of rent in the old account in order for there checks to clear an we needed to start a new account without his name on it an we would still have to pay out the remaining rental agreement on that building an pay on the new facility as well an he caused a split in the church an we lost a lot of young Christians. An being unsure how to handle the situation, not wanting to destroy the man or anyone else , My son told the board to not spread around what the pastor had done. We told our son to inform him we couldn’t afford to pay both facilities ,(bills )an he recieved calls, text an messages of anger an the refuses to close out the old account even though his name was taken off, he finally said he paid the two months that they gave us for the covid relief only because the checks never cleared an he had no choice but to say do to the fact the checks never came in, we feel this because he had lied so much but the bank print out shows it all. Now he won’t go close out the account an Give the 1500.00 to the church that the members have paid as there tithing. What is our rights.

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