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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  • One of the craziest interpretations of “the double honor” passage is: get this — a pastor should have two jobs.

    Yes, two jobs. All pastors should be bi-vocational. No pastor should be “full time” or “fully supported financially by the church.”

    The person who proposed this in our church convinced about 3 dozen people he was right. Needless to say, he led a group out of the church and blamed it all on the pastor (which he had done in two other churches we know of).

    I can see both sides of reporting all or not reporting all.

    However, it should be made clear that the “benefits” are not the salary, just as a person in industry would not think of his/her benefits as salary.

    As for comparisons, pastors’ salaries compared to school teachers’ salaries usually results in a rip-off of the pastor. There are a lot of differences in the educational qualifications and increases for experiences of the two.

    Another thing: take it from a pastor who made the mistake.

    Churches should pay 10% of the pastor’s or staffs’ total “packages” in on retirement. Isn’t that what the State Convention workers get?

    Those of you who are young pastors will, like I am now, pay the price for not insisting the church give you “full benefits” if you let them get by with it.

    And, the parsonage is not “free” as most members think. The pastor has to pay for the insurance, minor upkeep, utilities, and self employment social security on the value of the house unless he has a designated housing allowance in the church’s budget to offset that expense.

    Salaries are complicated and church are more often than not, cheap scapes, when it comes to salaries for the staff.

    • Don Jones says on

      I talked with a pastor who had lived in a parsonage for some time – almost mandated. His viewpoint was that it was the pastors were the ones who actually “bought” the parsonage for the church.

  • As a multi-staff church that used to publish all the salaries broken down, we found it a source of tension and comparison—especially among staff spouses and children. So, we follow the course you have prescribed and it has worked well for years. Anybody can find out my salary if they so desire—they just won’t have it accessed easily in a public forum.

  • Sure, I’d say go ahead and publish individual salaries… just as soon as the majority of the membership is fine with the church posting individual giving!

  • The package should be known to only few people who have direct responsibility of serving in the church h comeetee related to the workers.

  • I have never seen a church prosper spiritually that underpaid their pastor, or felt they were doing God and the Church a service by seeing how little he or she could get by on. I realize there are hireling pastors who “fleece” the sheep and take what they can and when everything has been consumed they go somewhere else. Thank God I am part of denomination that sets my salary based on the amount of people I pastor. (Some do this by membership which can be inflated we do it on average attendance). I have never in 20 years had to ask my board for a raise nor have I had anyone question my salary because my salary and benefits are based off of research of average salaries of clergy nation wide. We have what I would call the most transparent financial statement in our town posted in a hallway each month. Though we lump all salaries together, every in and out is posted (Categorically of course). I would say in a given month I may see two or three people look at the posted statement, not because they don’t care but because they just like to know it’s there. They trust our elders and they trust me. I don’t look at the personal giving records of our church. Why? Not because it would be wrong but because I personally don’t want to know. I know my flesh, I know the enemy, I know that I could be tempted to treat someone better because they give a lot or treat someone less because they give little. I agree with many of the posts here, but would add that the man or woman that just has to know the pastor’s salary is 99% of the time not doing it with godly motives. Just my thoughts.

  • And one thing about a clergy salary that, more or less, gets people to stop asking is to tell them that out of my salary I have to pay: state, federal, Social Security, and Medicare taxes – all of Social Security and Medicare (all 16.3% of everything I earn). In our denomination I also get to tell them that I have to pay taxes on my “excess group insurance (over $50,000)”.

    In having the tax conversation with folks from a different church who were working on that church’s budget they said “we need to pay our priest more”.

  • William Alan Secrest says on

    The first church that I served did not even have a budget. I was so naive right out of seminary. My pay was not adequate and at one point a member bragged about how this young couple in the church was building a new house. Some people actually resented the fact that we lived in the parsonage. They had spent thousands of dollars to make it look decent. The pictures that I saw of it beforehand showed that it was the “eyesore” of the neighborhood. As someone else pointed out, if you are the only staff in the church, there is not way to “hide” your salary and benefits within the budget. Money is rarely an objective discussion. When I left my first church I was thanked by a member of the congregation for pushing them to have a budget. Transparency about money is important but unfortunately, people use that knowledge for the wrong reasons.

  • In our current economy, we need to be careful about defending salaries based on credentials. People with college degrees are working in retail. People with doctorates are applying for mid-level business jobs. Attorneys are doing Uber as a side gig. Primary care physicians start out making the same as people with far less education. Gone are the days when credentials guaranteed a baseline salary.

    So you have a masters of divinity. So what? How many people in your congregation have an MBA? They have a masters same as you. Do you know what they’re living on? What about that teacher who had to get a masters in education just to apply at a decent school campus? A masters is the new standard to make yourself competitive for even mid-level white collar jobs. When you tell a teacher living on 30k to pay more tithes because you have a masters in divinity, that simply doesn’t carry the weight it used to carry.

    Tithes-payers need to connect their tithes with the value they get from you. More value, more revenue, regardless of college papers. This is basic business.

    • There’s also a big difference between a church that honestly cannot afford to pay its staff very much, and one that is just being stingy. My quarrel is with the latter, not the former.

    • Eddie Hall says on

      I am a lay person so I don’t have first hand knowledge about how much to pay a minister but I must disagree, “that Tithes-payers need to connect their tithes with the value they get from you”. What I read in the Bible says you are giving your tithes to God regardless of the value you get from a church staff person. If you can’t then you need to find another church.

    • Chuck McElhannon says on

      Kylin, I agree with you that compensation shouldn’t be based on a degree (or lack of one). However, I strongly disagree with your comment that “Tithes-payers need to connect their tithes with the value they get from you.” My tithe is in no way connected to the value I receive from a minister. The only thing my tithe is “connected” to is my love, devotion, and obedience to God.

      • When a church model is based on meeting the felt needs of a desired demographic, don’t be surprised when your customers demand value.

      • Church members are not my “customers”. Furthermore, if you think a church is about “meeting your felt needs”, then I advise you to go back and read your Bible a little more carefully. Jesus said He did not come to be served, but to serve. Unfortunately, many church members want the exact opposite.

  • Erick Brookins says on

    I will tell any member my salary…I just ask them what their salary and benefits are first…. Most never ask again. However I do agree with transparency and an overseeing group.

  • Too many times I see church members who don’t understand what it costs to pay a minister. Many seem to think that a minister is called to service and should be willing to do it for less money. They should be humble with their salary. Our previous minister had been at the church for 20+ years and had over 40 years of pastor experience. He also had 2 masters degrees. It wasn’t until he retired that church leadership found out how much they had underpaid him. It wasn’t until they tried to find a replacement that they realized what the going rate was for others with similar education and experience.

    Ministers are people too. They have mortgages, student loans, car payments, and a family. If a church in stingy on salaries don’t be surprised when staff leaves for another church and can better meet their needs. Many just don’t understand that to keep good ministers, you have to pay them.

    Perhaps another way to look at salary is this. I want my minister to shepherd the church. I want him to be able to dedicate his time and concentration to shepherding the church. In order for him to do that we’ll help take care of his family, housing, etc. with this much money so he doesn’t have to spend his time worrying about taking care of his family finances.

  • The Baptist Way
    It’s so lame.

    Much damage is done on the altar of congregationally led churches.
    I’ve played that game for 26 years and finally became Calvary Chapel. Regardless,

    1. Salaries in churches should ONLY be known of by the personnel team (we use elders). And they must be committed to privacy. If it leaks, the leak is confronted. And dealt with.

    2. If anyone is allowed to see salaries, there must be a legit reason and the person must be a tither.

    3. A lump sum pie chart can be revealed in the budget on a yearly basis.

    Congregation polity is a farce that is killing many churches in a slow death.

  • Just reading the comments reinstates the points of this article 🙂

    There’s rarely objectivity when it comes to money and nearly everyone’s opinion is based on problematic experience.

    “Transparency” becomes a deep hole with no boundaries when we view the church through the lense of democracy and beurocratic structures.

    Good article, Thom.