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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  • The reason for the lack of insurance may be more to do with the exorbitant annual increase health insurance premiums over the past few years. Our premium shot up by 100% in one year ($30k to $60k). We took the bullet, but the next year it increased to $95k with less benefits. That’s when we made the change. I am an assistant pastor that is a part of ministry with a Christian school. We have chosen to completely shift to Samaritan ministries which is a medical co-op. It’s affordable and covers major medical issues. However, when you see the doctor for normal sicknesses you have to pay full-price as well as the prescriptions.
    We were advised by our church insurance broker to check into chip or Medicaid for our children (now have 5). This was the first time I ever investigated welfare. I was amazed at all the programs we qualified for. Not only do our children qualify for Medicaid but so do my wife and I. We’ve never had such good health coverage. As was mentioned by someone above, I also was very reluctant to participate because I didn’t want to be a part of the system. However, this is the reason we pay all the taxes in PA. As a result, I’m all in; I don’t want to do something half-heartedly;). If I can’t in good conscience accept financial help through Medicaid, food stamps ($529 a month), LIHEAP ($170 this season), weatherization (they replaced our oil furnace with a natural gas furnace, $6,000 cost), and other utility benefits, then I shouldn’t accept any tax refunds when I file my taxes every year. We’ve been on this for only a year, but it has made a great impact in our financial and physical health.
    My take away is this: Don’t feel guilty for exploring all your options even those from the government. Obamacare has forced many ministries into this position by causing premiums to rise so drastically. If you need help navigating some of this, I will be happy to help. God Bless!

  • Steven Thornton says on

    I am 63 and am a retired Army chaplain. I have also retired as a hospice chaplain. Both chaplaincies were under endorsement by the NAMB. I am a graduate of a Southern Baptist college and seminary with my doctorate from a European university. Along the way I have served in three wars and have had the privilege of serving 8 Southern Baptist churches as pastor. The highest salary I ever made was $29,000.00 (Total Package). This was in a church that ran about 325 in Sunday School. One small country church in Missouri that I served contributed 5% to my Annuity on the old Route 10 Program. I have lived in two parsonages. Other than this, I have never had health insurance, retirement, an expense account, life insurance, a car allowance or any other benefit that I was aware of. Two of my churches fired me. I was once attacked and beaten by man in one of my churches because I was not able to stop his wife from filing for divorce. They were coming to me for counseling. He was an alcoholic and would not seek treatment. The attack took place on a Sunday morning between Sunday School and worship. I did not defend myself and my church members stood and watched as I was beaten.

    I could write much more. I know as pastors we expect our churches to love and care for us. Sometimes it does not work out that way. Sometimes churches have deep-seated problems and they are not ready or do not know how to care for a pastor and his family. There are a few churches that have malevolent individuals who have seized control and will not allow the pastor to exercise spiritual leadership and certainly will not allow the congregation to support the pastor. I pray that none of you will experience what I have. I am not bitter or upset by these events. The Lord prepared me for all of this. I was raised up in a church that did not treat its pastors very well. I also spent 8 years enlisted in the Air Force as a B-52 gunner: 1 enlisted man working with 5 officers on a bomber crew. I carried their bags, got their coffee, took care of their food and, in general, was on call for whatever they wanted. I arrived as an E-2 and left as an E-6. I learned humility. God’s blessings upon all staff members struggling about health insurance, making the rent or house payment and worrying about retirement. It may seem that no one cares, but God cares. He knows who you are and where you are.

  • Jesus, thank you for Canada and how our citizens together help care for one another including our pastors through socialized medicine, benefits and tax incentives designed specifically for people in ministry.

    It ain’t all bad up here, Dr. Rainer 😉

    • Thanks Brother, everyone here in America seems terrified of socialized medicine, but I hear stories such as yours where it looks to be a good thing. Here in the USA, health care is no longer a service, but a business. When you go to the doctor or hospital, you are not a patient, but a customer. Politicians have seen this problem coming for decades, but refused to do anything about it because they were getting rich from pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies. America needs a complete revamping of the health care industry. We should not have to live in fear of getting sick, but we do because we know that a lengthy illness or God forbid, a lengthy hospital stay could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and would mean financial ruin.

      I probably will not see this problem fixed in my lifetime, but hopefully the next generation will do a better job. Perhaps helping one another will one day take precedence over greed.

  • In my last pastorate, which was 20 years, the church made sure my family and I had health insurance provided through the Southern Baptist Convention (Guidestone Financial Resources). We were blessed in that regard and remain grateful for the congregation’s care for us. However, in recent years, monthly premiums swelled to around 1300.00 per month with very high deductibles. Out of pocket expenses became a serious financial burden. I am no longer in the pastorate, and my secular job provides a family health insurance plan for 550.00 per month, which now looks like a real bargain.

    Thank you, Dr. Rainer for reminding congregations (I hope church leaders – deacons, elders, read this blog) of the need to make this a priority for pastors and staff. A few of my pastor friends serve in churches that can no longer pay the pastor’s salary and health insurance. In some cases, they have had to become bi-vocational to have this needed insurance for their families. This situation is not going away anytime soon.

    Thanks and God bless.

  • Krista Gibson says on

    My father is 78 and still having to work full time as a hospice chaplain after serving for over 40 years in Baptist churches. He was steered wrong on social security withdrawals and in his later years passed over for raises so that the younger staff members with young families could have them. He put two of us through college on $19,000 a year in the early 80s. I still get so upset about how he was treated as a minister of music with a master’s degree. He earned another master’s in counseling after he was “retired” because he was too old at 62 to make way for a younger minister of music. I think many church folks will have to answer for the way they treated ministers some day. At least I hope so.

  • Jason Duhon says on

    That’s why I’m bivocational. My “job” provides insurance, freeing up the church’s assets for other uses.

  • I have seen both sides of this spectrum literally going from worst to first. My first church i served for 9 years in a staff ministry position. I was given a lump sum of money and had to pay all my “benefits” from this…medical for family, retirement (at least the minimum to get additional state retirement and life insurance), guidestone life insurance, and lastly they were so kind to deduct my auto allowance from my package.
    Then God moved me to the complete opposite. A church that paid full family coverage health insurance, a % of salary to retirement, a small life insurance policy, long term disability, and other items. To say the least i still don’t understand why I get to serve at this church. I was happy at my previous church and was not really looking. I did not know that churches like this existed! My present church i feel wants to free up staff to minister and takes care of concerns for their families. As i said at my first church, i could see myself retiring here…

  • As a pastors wife I can not begin to tell you the concern I have over retirement. I think about this all the time. We do not have a retirement plan. My husband is turning 40 next year. He says he will never retire but we all know that things can happen where a person may need to retire for health reasons. We trust in the Lord with all our hearts and believe that he will take care of us for our obedience to His calling on our lives. BUT, I believe that He also requires good stewardship from us and our church.

  • Annette Houtz says on

    I am extremely thankful for the benefit package I receive as an Office Manager and the pastor receives similar coverage. We work for the Presbyterian Church USA and receive medical, dental and pension coverage. The cost of this is completely covered by the employing church. And if you leave the employment of one PCUSA church, you are automatically covered from day one at the new PCUSA church. Very thankful!

  • Student Pastor says on

    Sadly I have experienced the church’s lack of understanding on this subject recently. As we moved into the new year it was decided that the church staff would not receive raises or bonuses (gifts) in the upcoming year due to the financial situation of the church. While I understood and agreed, it was hard to look over the ease at which it was pushed through the deacon board. Although it was necessary and the correct decision, they felt the need to express how compensation across the board was completely fair and the staff were getting paid accordingly. The sad fact is that they never took the time to understand the drastic rise in health care costs over the previous year would actually cause us to take a damaging blow to our salaries. No one thought twice when it caused staff to only have dollars left over at the end of the month. I urged the church for their next hiring to reevaluate either their compensation or their job descriptions as like most churches, they were all too unrealistic.

  • I am senior pastor of a church where because of things that happened with some staff members in the pass, salaries and benefits for all new hired staff members have been almost non-existence. Finances are watched by a church member who has said that God called him to watch over the churches money. So, for six years senior pastor has received only one raise of less than $1,000 and a retirement benefit of $800. It’s not that the church does not have the money or can find the money, it’s because the people who control the money thinks then staff are paid enough.. The church did some remodeling and spent over $170,000 and did not have to borrow any money, but they won’t take care of the staff.

  • I am a solo pastor. Our entire family is covered by a faith-based medical sharing community called Samaritan Ministries. We only pay 405 dollars a months. It’s not health insurance but it does meet the demands of the Unaffordable Care Act.

    Also, I really appreciate the blogs that Dr. Rainer posts. It’s clear he has a strong concern for pastors. I only wish our average church member would browse this site.