Should a Church Show Individual Pastor and Staff Salaries in the Budget?

This question comes to the Church Answers’ team and me a few times a month. It often evokes some pretty strong emotions. Can a church member (or, in some cases, guests) look at a church budget and know exactly what everyone on church staff earns?

The tension is between transparency and misunderstanding. On the one hand, transparency is usually a good default posture. Especially in congregational polity, church members have final authority over major decisions. It just makes sense they should have visibility to pastor and staff salaries.

On the other hand, putting detailed staff salaries before all the church members can be a problem for the following reasons:

  • Many church members get confused over the term “packages.” For example, pastors with a “package” of $60,000 may only be making $45,000. The difference is the benefits, such as retirement and health insurance. The package is the total cost to the church. The salary (which sometimes includes housing) is what the pastor actually gets. Many church members view the package as the equivalent of a salary, but it definitely is not. In fact, most church members likely do not know their secular-equivalent package in their vocations. In other words, they do not know the costs of their benefits to their employer.
  • Visibility of a specific salaries and benefits of pastors and church staff can create tensions among the staff. Can you imagine what it would be like if secular employers posted all the salaries of their employees each month?
  • Church members may view the specifics of staff salaries and compare them to their own compensation. That too can be a source of tension.

For these reasons, I lean toward not including specific compensation in a budget that is made available to church members on a regular basis. Depending on church polity, a possible approach to the transparency/misunderstanding tension would be:

  • Include total salaries in a single line on the budget.
  • Include total benefits in separate line items on the budget. These benefits could be segregated by their respective purpose: health insurance, retirement, etc.
  • Show expense reimbursements, such as automobile expenses, as separate items. They should not be included as either compensation or benefits.
  • Have a system in place where church members can view individual salaries by appointment, such as meeting with a member of the personnel committee, elders, or specific group responsible for personnel issues.

To be clear, every church is different, and the polity of a church may be the determinative factor in how these matters are handled. Because we get similar questions quite often, we thought this approach might be helpful for some churches.

This issue usually generates some lively discussion. Let me hear from you.

Posted on May 27, 2019

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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  • Max Cox says on

    Why do children’s ministers receive less pay,and have less authority than other staff members. I believe it is time for a change. A Minister of Music will have 60 people in choir on Sunday and a children’s minister will have 200, and will always lead staff in baptisms.

    • Christopher says on

      It’s because the skill set of a music pastor is considered more valuable. In other words it’s easier to find a good children’s pastor than music guy. At least that’s the perception.

  • Lloyd Speer says on

    To use an often see Church Answers (Thom Rainer) adage: “It all depends.” Churches should be transparent in what is being done financially. In too many cases, churches have not been able to hold leaders (clergy and lay) accountable because vital information was being withheld from them. At the same time, in too many cases the sheep have wanted to control the shepherds and other sheep, and the church budget (and the salaries within it) has but a powerful tool to do so. The “it depends” part comes in then in terms of what the climate is in a particular congregation. Does it have a controlling culture, a loving and generous culture, etc? As a result, I think each church needs to decide where it needs to be along the spectrum of transparency in terms of disclosing/publishing salaries.

  • Dan Woods says on

    I found it best to post the total of all the salaries only. This shows the % of the total allocated to staff salaries without exposing individuals.

    • theartist says on

      I agree Dan. This is The best way-ONE line item inclusive of Pastoral, assistants, custodial, musicians, maintenance, and all other support staff.

  • In my 50+ years experience I have found that those who have a problem with the pastors salary are those who have not experienced the value of the pastor. A God called man who shepherds His sheep.
    “Problematic sheep”, could be a sigh of poor shepherding. (though not always) “Some may not be His sheep after all.” Again, a good pastor will take appropriate action, you know what I mean.

    • Sheila Beers says on

      I agree with Joe. In every church where I have been a member, the salaries, benefits packages, and all other finances had to be voted on by the church members age 13 and older. There always are a few disgruntled people, and I know what Joe means by having a pastor deal with them.

    • Does a pair who gives a 25 minute “sermon “once a week deserve a 6 figure salary ? Which by the way 90% of church pastors at this church live in a rich suburb 40 miles from the Church. And the area the church is in is fine and has good neighborhoods, average house price would be $350K, the area they live in houses average $600K…
      Would Jesus live 40 miles from his sheep because He wanted to live in a richer neighborhood? I think not, he would have lived among them..

  • There is no need to break down the budget lower than total salary expense. Few people unless they have been in business understand withholding and the employer’s half of fica tax, retirement contribution match, etc. That is the reason there is a finance committee who hopefully understands the cost of living in the particular area.

  • I worked on a church staff full time as the youth pastor, after being licensed, ordained and seminary trained with Master of Divinity. The building facility manager, with no education made more than I did. It burned me up.

    • Linda Watson-Lorde says on

      Lee: You should not be a Pastor of any sort……

    • Wow. I agree with Linda. This was a viciously elitist thing to say. Employees are paid based on the value they bring to the business, which may or may not correlate to their education level.

      • Sheila Beers says on

        I agree with Lee because I believe the pastor’s training and responsibility as a spiritual leader should be recognized and compensated with an adequate salary. I have been in more than one church in which rather worldly and materialistic church members and officers were more concerned about the church building than they were about any message the pastor was presenting each Sunday. When a church pays the building facility manager more than it pays the pastor, it shows the congregation has its heart on material and worldly matters and NOT on the spiritual and true purpose of the church.

    • Hadley says on

      Wow. You have to take into consideration that just because you had a degree did not mean you had experience. That counts for something. Also, the building manager likely worked long, hard hours for many years to get to the pay position that he was in. We need pastors, and they should be fairly and even generously paid, but they are not more important than the other staff people. It takes a team of people to make a church function.

  • Ben Perry, Jr. says on

    There are far better ways to recognize the value of a pastor than publicly examining his salary. Does he preach with Biblical authority? Is his preaching centered on Christ and the Gospel? Does he respect his congregation? “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treads out the corn. And, The laborer is worthy of his reward.” -the Apostle Paul to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:7-18)

    Many members are envious of the pastor’s standard of living. Others are resentful that he makes more than they do. A single line item in the budget that reveals the cost of paying the entire pastoral staff is sufficient.

  • Will Rayford says on

    I believe that all church finances should be posted at annual conference in packets to all members. All accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll on an itemized spreadsheet along with matching budgets. This will show full transparency to its members and if there is to be any revisions for the new year then those things should go before a finance committee of five that is elected by the church members every two years along with trustees, there should be a trustee and a deacon to serve on this finance committee for oversight.
    When the people see the process and see how much the church brings in and must pay out, they will see what the pastor receives vs. What a typical salary would with someone with his credentials

    • Lanier Gable says on

      I agree with Will. When there is NO transparency, members of a Church are ask to tithe (give) without knowing where their monies are going. As a giver, they have a FULL right to see ALL figures as it relates to money spent. It is my conviction this is the reason we see less amounts in the mission line items. Unless the congregation understands where their monies are going, they will find excuses NOT to fully give regardless of how much they may hear from the pulpit about the commitment to tithe!! Yes, a Church needs to show a FULL TRANSPARENCY!!

      • I am for transparency as well. My advocacy is related to the method of transparency.

      • Sheila Beers says on

        I agree with you completely because all church business should be included in a report given to every voting church member at the church business meetings. I realize this is another topic, but I believe there should be a full disclosure of the entire church budget and the amounts of funds in CD’s and other forms of savings and for what purposes these funds are earmarked (building improvements, and so on). In the case of “estates” left to churches, I believe the names of the donors should be attached to the funds and this information made known to every voting member. I can imagine that some unscrupulous or carnal people could become treasurer of a church and use the church to launder their relatives’ drug money.

      • Linda Watson-Lorde says on

        Shelia, YOU ARE CORRECT, if I am asked to support a church I should know what my support is supporting. Why is a church leader able to know what i give to the church and I shall not know how much of that is going to his complete package..

    • This is just incorrect. No one giving money to ANY nonprofit has any legal right to know or determine the use of the money they give. There’s no record in the Bible that people gave and then demanded how their gift be used, and your church could lose its non-profit status if it followed your plan. Churches should be transparent, but if there’s reasonable transparency (I.e., not exact salaries or name tagged donations), and you still don’t trust the church with your money, don’t give money to it; and consider finding a new church you can trust.

      • Michelle Ray says on

        Great answer Steve. If they can’t trust their church leadership, maybe they should join another church. Last time I checked, the Bible never mentions the church being led by a majority vote of the people. Pastors were appointed to set things in order and rule the church. And those who ruled well, were worthy of double honor!

      • Mark R says on

        I may not have a LEGAL right to know, but then again I’m being asked (ad nauseam) to hand over 10% of my gross salary AT A MINIMUM not to mention funding for missions, building/debt retirement, and all sorts of other “causes”, then add to pay for church camps, conferences, etc. PLUS I’m expected to donate my free time to “ministry service”, and to show up whenever the doors are open. Then find out the “senior pastor” (who likely would never meet me unless I won the lottery or the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes) is on some “sabbatical” (translated: speaking engagements elsewhere where that church/conference pays him IN ADDITION to whatever the church is paying).

      • You sound awfully cynical. Why do you even go to church at all?

      • Well Steve. That is certainly is an aggressive statement. It seems that your statement is the default response when members ask questions. Simply go somewhere else. What would the Lord have us do?

  • David A Booth says on

    I suspect that part of the issue is the size of the church. In a church of 200 people, or fewer, it is easier for the Elders to talk with anyone and everyone about why they are paying their pastor a certain salary.

    You mention the problems that would come up in a non-church environment if everyone’s salary was public knowledge, but we do have situations like this. For example, in the military there is a public pay scale. Something very similar is true for public school teachers.

    One of the problems that churches run into is that they frequently present pastoral compensation as a number that was pulled out of thin air. If they benchmarked compensation to publicly available salaries it would be easier to explain why compensation is what it is. E.g. “We are going to pay our pastor the same as the assistant principal in the high school or at the same rate as a 28 year old Captain in the Marine Corps.” One of the advantages of using the military pay scale is that the military also provides housing allowances based on the cost of living in each geographical area.

    • Good points, David.

    • The military officer’s housing allowance is not included in officer’s salary on the military pay chart. The housing allowance is in addition to the salary on the pay chart.

      • David A Booth says on

        Yes. You also have to add in BAS, but this is a useful comparison – particularly for the many churches who have a pastor with 15 or 20 years of experience and three years of graduate school who are being paid less than a 26 or 28 year old.

      • I agree that it’s a useful gauge. However, those figures would give most congregations significant heart palpitations. For instance, a chaplain /pastor at his first assignment right out of seminary would receive $77K in salary and housing using the military’s compensation structure. That figure does not include insurance, travel, or continuing education. I think the church I serve would have a heart attack from that figure.

      • I agree that it’s a useful gauge. However, those figures would give most congregations significant heart palpitations. For instance, a chaplain /pastor at his first assignment right out of seminary would receive $77K in salary and housing using the military’s compensation structure. That figure does not include insurance, travel, or continuing education. I think the church I serve would have a heart attack from that figure.

  • The year a copy of our proposed budget appeared in another church was the last year salaries were posted for all to see. The personnel committee and deacons are included in yearly salary discussions for approval. They are shown on a screen but not put in print.

  • Andrew Fouts says on

    A church that we were at to replant (very broken and divided) had a member that also unfortunately worked with my wife. We found out that she had been going around the office while my wife was on maternity leave telling the office what I “made” and that it must be nice since the church “pays for everything.” Beyond not understanding the package side of things also didn’t realize that she was looking at the budget sheet from a year before and was using the previous full time pastors salary package as mine. When my wife returned to work the annoyance of people asking about it added to the postpartum pain she already had had.

    • Sheila Beers says on

      It is very sad that a church member would stoop to something like this. I believe the pastor should have confronted her with the evidence of this and that her membership should have been revoked. No church needs a trouble-maker.

  • Terry L Brown says on

    In my experience most people who want to know the salaries are looking for a reason to create tension.

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