Seven Concerning Findings about Benefits for Pastors and Other Church Staff


I recently spoke with a pastor who was tearfully concerned about his health insurance. He had just received notice of a large premium increase that he could not afford. With a diabetic child, he did not know what to do.

The only good news in this story is that he had health insurance.

Many pastors do not.

Even more church staff do not.

Once again, I turned to the data trove, 2016-2017 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, by Richard R. Hammar. Church Law and Tax, a ministry of Christianity Today, publishes the volume. The material includes data from 8,250 ministry positions in 2,500 churches.

In my previous post, I looked primarily at compensation issues. In this post, I examine benefits of church staff.

I am concerned about some of the findings.

  1. Fewer than half of solo pastors receive any health insurance benefits. A solo pastor is full-time without other pastors on staff. The news is better among lead or senior pastors, but it still is disconcerting. Fewer than two-thirds of lead pastors receive health insurance benefits.
  2. Almost three-fourths of full-time worship/music leaders receive health insurance benefits. The worship leader is the most likely ministry staff to receive these benefits, but there are still over one-fourth of them who do not.
  3. Many full-time church staff receive no retirement benefits. Those who do receive these benefits range from solo pastors (44%) to lead or senior pastors (64%). I am particularly concerned about the pastors of small churches who labor faithfully for 30 or 40 years and have no retirement plans made.
  4. Almost all full-time staff get paid vacations. This information was one piece of good news in an overall concerning report.
  5. Only six in ten full-time pastors and staff get any type of automobile reimbursement. Only five in ten children’s ministers do so. This item is actually a reimbursable expense rather than a benefit. Those who do not get automobile reimbursements must pay the expenses out of pocket, so it becomes a de facto pay cut.
  6. Very few full-time ministry staff receive either life insurance or disability insurance. At the very least, ministers should be made aware of the potential need of such insurances, even if they have to purchase small policies themselves.
  7. The parsonage as a benefit has all but disappeared. Only about one in eight pastors have this benefit. The numbers will likely continue to get smaller.

It is a tragedy that many church members have misperceptions about pay and compensation of ministry staff. Many of our ministers are underpaid by community standards. Even more don’t have benefits common in the secular world.

Would you church members make certain you are taking care of your pastor and church staff in terms of compensation and benefits? Also keep in mind that many of them have not received a raise in years.

Our pastors and church staff do an incredible job caring for us, the church members. Let’s be sure we are taking care of them as well.

Let me hear from you.

Posted on February 15, 2016

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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  • Arleen Sellek says on

    My parents were missionaries for over 40 years. My aunt came to live with us when I was born and she has lived with us since. Growing up my dad, mom and aunt worked so hard at the churches they started. We were at the church every day with a different activity. My dad was even recognized by the governor of his state for the work he did with the church family. My mom was always at his side working with the kids in the church. Setting up vacation bible schools and working with sunday school groups. My aunt was the church pianist/organist. She helped setting up musical groups/choirs and translating messages so more could hear God’s message. My mom now has Alzheimers. My aunt, who is now 72 has been taking care of both of my parents who are now 85 and 87. My aunt has recently hurt her back and it has been difficult for all of them. They have medicare and medicaid, but this doesn’t cover care at any assisted living facilities. We have been trying to find care for my mom, but the costs are around $4000 a month! My parents barely get social security…it is sad that they have to go through this. Please pray that we can find something for my mom.

  • We provide pension/health insurance to our senior pastor and youth director–both professional, exempt employees. We do not provide health insurance for any of our full time staff (only the professional category). Is this still legal under the ACA?

  • Rev. Kara says on

    Are there any recent studies on this issue? I’m a pastor taking advantage of assistance, particularly for health care, but all the info I have is anecdotal. Any qualitative or quantitative studies out in the last few years?

  • I agree with those who say the parsonage is not necessarily a blessing. Sometimes it sticks you at a church because you don’t have the money to leave the church when it’s time. Or if something goes wrong, you have to worry about being homeless. It is a very trapped and insecure feeling to be midlife and still not own a home, and be at the mercy of the church for EVERYTHING. Plus, if the church cannot afford the maintenance on an older home, then you end up with repairs that aren’t being made, and it can be demoralizing. Churches should either provide a housing allowance for their pastors to buy or rent a home, or they should allow their pastor to be bivocational. I am officially against parsonages, after long experience with one, other than for young ministers just starting out. By the time a pastor is about 30 years old, the church should be discussing a way to find him a REAL home, so that he does not have to worry about putting a roof over his family’s heads if things go south.

  • Jonathan says on

    I am a youth pastor. Many pastors in our association, including our church, do not have Long Term Disability. I don’t mean as a benefit; I mean at all. They don’t see the need. Common sense and folks like Dave Ramsey see it as paramount but when you’re dealing with being an ordained minister, it’s a different animal. Convince me. What could be an example of where I as a minister would claim disability? Turnover is so frequent that a church could say they are letting you go for some other reason than chemo, right? Should I get Long Term Disability? Why or why not? Thanks!

  • Concerning the comment above, “They can also arrange to setup FSA, HSA, or HRAs to eliminate all taxes on amounts they know they will spend on healthcare.,” I am confused and would appreciate clarification so that our church can approach this subject legally.

    My husband is a pastor, and we received notice in May or June of 2015 that beginning in July 2015 it was no longer possible for churches (or any small business with less than 50 employees) to provide tax-sheltered payments or reimbursements to their pastors for individually purchased health insurance coverage. I am not speaking of those denominations that provide group health insurance. To make up for this loss of benefit, a church could increase taxable compensation to cover the costs of the health plan. This increased compensation could be used for anything, and the church could not make the provision that the increase be used for health insurance. This was from the new 2015 rules for small businesses under the Affordable Care Act. The penalty was $100/day for churches and small businesses that did not comply and continued to either pay for directly or reimburse their pastor/employers.

    At the end of 2016, under the 21st Century Cures Act, a new Qualified Small Employer Health Reimbursement Arrangement (QSEHRA) for small businesses—including churches and related ministries—made it legal once again to pay directly or reimburse premiums for their employees’ health plans. QSEHRA allowed eligible employers (under 50 employees) to pay or reimburse eligible employees (full time; age 25 or over; employed for 90 days, but can start paying on day 1) for health insurance and medical care expenses.

    This was great news for us because although thankfully the church had increased our salary to pay for our Samaritan Ministries plan, we were paying taxes on the increased amount. In addition, the cost of Samaritan Ministries had increased substantially, and the church had not made up the difference. After meeting with our board, our church proceeded to begin the switch back to paying Samaritan Ministries directly. However, before we could get that in full swing, we discovered that health sharing plans did not qualify for QSEHRA because they are not considered MEC (Minimum Essential Coverage). So we are back to paying ourselves, including taxes and increases.

    If we have misunderstood, it would be greatly appreciated if someone would clarify this for us. This is an old thread, but hopefully someone will be able to help. Thank you in advance, and God bless all of you who labor for the Lord under both good and bad circumstances. It can be a challenge to keep our attitude right, but it’s worth it.

    • I had the same question and saw this.

      I chatted online with them and they said they “flag” any payment request to sharing organizations, and the church then has the option to still pay it as a premium … since it is a question that has been presented to the Government, but they aren’t responding to it … Hope that helps.

      • Yes, that helps, thanks. It’s good to read from another resource and to hear about your chat. If I understand correctly, the church would be taking a risk to pay the premium since it definitely would be flagged. Then, if they continued to pay it, the risk would continue because with the legal quagmire, there’s no way to know how it would end and if action would be taken against the church at some point. Arguing “that as a member of a sharing ministry you are exempt from having to have MEC in the first place” is no guarantee, and the risk for both us and the church seems too great in my estimation. Thanks again for the input. I wonder if the author did not have this information when he wrote the article.

  • My pastor founded our church 28 years ago. He currently receives health benefits, however he would like to receive lifetime paid health benefits upon retirement. Can you let me know if this is common practice or if you have known other churches to provide such a benefit?

  • Jesse H Winn II says on

    I just found this article and something that I struggle with his how expensive Guidestone is. This SBC organization can’t even be used by those who give to the Denomination because most of us don’t make enough money to buy there insurance. I’ve worked with many other Denominations and there agencies actively attempt to help them. It’s just frustrating to her how great financially they are doing, yet many pastors and chaplain can’t even use them.

  • As a Ministry Assistant, I frequently see articles and blogs that address this issue, that is, the underpayment of ministers and ministerial staff. You express concern about the future of these men and ask that churches address the problem. I am in full agreement with you…church bodies should take care of their pastors and ministerial staff. However, I have yet to come across an article championing the situation of non-ministerial church staff. I, too, am middle-aged. I, too, have struggled without insurance for years. I only have coverage now because of needing to comply with the law, and my insurance does me no good because I cannot afford my co-pays or deductibles.

    I currently bring home less than $330 a week. After gas for commuting to work, utility payments, payments to the hospital for an MRI I had over a year ago, and groceries, I typically have about $25-$50 left each month to “play with”. I have a leak in my roof, my car needs repairs, and I’ve been wearing the same clothes to work for 4 years. I am on my father’s cell phone plan, and it’s been over a year since I have been able to pay him for my portion. Thankfully, I don’t have to pay rent because my father allows me to live in a house he owns, but I do have to pay the property taxes and upkeep. Except I’m kind of missing the boat on the upkeep, as evidenced by the hole in the roof.

    Funny thing is, I’m grateful for the $330 a week, because the church I worked at before had dropped my hours down to the point where I was grossing $11,000 a year. So, a full-time job is a blessing, but I have to commute 35 miles to get to it. I’m a single mom with a diabetic son. He almost died last year, and I am so grateful that he didn’t, but now I find myself unable to pay the remainder of his hospital bill; you know, the part that the insurance didn’t pay, before they quadrupled my premiums.

    So here’s my point…there are more employees at a church than just the ministers, and I don’t understand why churches who bend over backwards to make sure that their ministers are well compensated don’t also look at the other members of their staff. I am required to pay for my own insurance; I don’t get a mileage reimbursement, although my car is used every week to run church errands; I don’t get a stipend to help with my cell phone bill, although it is used frequently for church business as well; my very small retirement fund is payed for by me, with no matching funds or any assistance from the church; I have medical concerns that are going unaddressed because I simply cannot afford to go to the doctor. I do get paid time off, but there is no distinction between vacation and sick time. So, when I take a vacation this summer – the first I’ve had in the 4 years I’ve worked here – I just have to hope that I or my son don’t get sick afterward, because then I won’t have the paid time off to deal with it until several more months pass and I build up some more days. And by the way…the vacation will probably be spent at home, because while I have the accumulated days off, I don’t have funds to pay for a hotel or activities away from home.

    I’m sorry if I sound like a major complainer, because I don’t mean to be; however, it’s hard not to feel some resentment sometimes when it seems that financially I’m going under for the third time. It’s hard to see my boss driving around in a convertible, and writing the checks to pay for his insurance and retirement fund, all the while holding my breath to see if this week’s grocery check will bounce and hoping my son doesn’t get sick again because I know there’s not enough in the bank to pay for the office visit. It’s hard to see all the articles and blogs admonishing churches to pay their “staff” fairly and generously, only to know that the authors don’t really mean the staff, they mean the ministers.

    I do realize that we office staff don’t have the same responsibilities or pressures that the ministers do – I’m not on call 24/7 (although I do get calls and texts at home) and I don’t have to be the “face” of the church in the community. I get that. However, I defy anyone to say that Ministry Assistants don’t have a challenging job, and that our responsibilities aren’t stressful, as well. I’m usually the first person someone sees/speaks to about most topics, and I have often had to deal with uncomfortable and even unsafe encounters. I’ve been yelled at, cursed at, called names, and even threatened by members of the public. I’ve been lied to, lied about, and accused of things I didn’t do, usually because the person involved doesn’t meet the requirements for benevolence assistance. I’ve also been harassed and mistreated by a fellow employee, but that situation was finally resolved. I’ve even had church members come to me instead of the pastor for emotional support and advice. I don’t provide counseling, but I often provide a shoulder or two and have witnessed more than one “meltdown” in my office.

    I love my job, and I very much like the pastor with whom I work. I adore the church members here, and I consider them the greatest “perk” I could have in a job. But that doesn’t help me pay my bills or prepare for my retirement. I have often said that I can never retire; I’m only half-joking, because I have nowhere near enough in my retirement fund to be able to retire. If I can work another 20 years, I should be OK, but with my health issues, that’s not a likely scenario. And while I love the members here, I am not a member, because if I were, I’d never be able to worship myself. Even on the rare occasion when I visit during a service, I am approached by several people with work-related items for me to deal with, that apparently just can’t wait until the next day.

    As an MA, I essentially have several jobs: receptionist, secretary, accountant, office manager, public relations, volunteer coordinator, social worker, media specialist. In the secular world, I could make at least my current salary – with benefits- doing just one of those jobs. I’m not here to make a fortune, I’m here because I felt called to this position. Being an MA is a ministry, not just a job, and I believe with all my heart that God called me to this. I just don’t understand why, when the conversation turns to providing benefits and raises for church employees, we MA’s don’t seem to ever be included in the conversation. Why is it shameful or sinful not to provide ministers a competitive salary and benefit package, but it’s OK not to offer those things to the office staff? Maybe there’s a good reason, and I’m being selfish; if that’s the case, I’d love to hear why.

  • I have had far too many of the bad experiences listed in this blog but I also have had some wonderful opportunities to minister to some in great need and to leave behind a good testimony. God has been faithful to provide for us in all circumstances, even when the numbers didn’t add up.
    I am retired but still very active in supply and interim ministry. the tiny amount paid to me helps.
    As to the young— my son pastors a good church that takes as good care of him as they can financially. in the past they have given him large bonuses and great benefits but as expenses increase dramatically for the church he voluntarily took a pay decrease to help the other staff members. If things turn around there they will replace it but in our world today who knows?
    As a pastor I tried to never look at salary or benefits until the Lord made it clear to us whether or not to accept the church. Already I can hear the many who think this if foolish but I truly believe the Lord will provide for us if we stay in His will.
    So sorry for the many who labor so many years for so little return but this life is short compared to the life to come.

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