Your Church Is Probably Not Paying Your Pastor Enough

Most pastors do not take a vow of poverty when called into the ministry. They deserve a fair wage for their work like everyone else. Moreover, almost every pastor is motivated by factors other than money. I don’t hear many stories from pastors beginning with, “I decided to go into ministry because of the money.”

Likely, your church is not paying your pastor enough. What gives?

First, I want to offer three points of clarification.

    1. My church is generous, and I’m content with my pay. West Bradenton is good to my family. I have no complaints. This article is not about me.
    2. The stories of extreme wealth among pastors are rare. Do not let a few excessive cases taint your view of all pastors.
    3. Most people use their own salaries as a point of comparison. If a pastor makes more than they do, it’s too much. If a pastor makes less than they do, it’s too little.

Second, actual data is helpful rather than speculation.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a full-time pastor is $55,550. This figure is right in the middle of the national median annual salary for all men ($59,488) and all women ($49,036) in the United States.

I believe this level of pay is too low for most pastors. Here is why.

    • Benefits packages are often much less for pastors when compared with other industries.
    • The average pastor is almost 60 years old. These wages are low for those who are supposed to be in their peak income-earning years. For pastors with young families, the pay is even lower.
    • The demands on the family are entirely different than most other jobs. Everyone in a pastor’s family feels a level of stress that is unique to the position.
    • The education requirements for a pastor are much higher than jobs in other industries. Many churches want their pastor to have a master’s degree, if not a doctorate.
    • You are always on call. Every hour. Every day.
    • The work hours are longer. Over half of pastors work more than fifty hours a week.
    • Transitioning to another job or ministry position is more complex and personal for pastors and their families.
    • The expectations of a pastor are much greater. Everyone in the church wants the pastor to be an expert in their area of interest: theology, finance, counseling, leadership, facilities, pedagogy, and technology, among many others.

What can your church do to solve the problem?

    1. Stay on top of inflation! Cost of living increases should occur every year and mirror the inflation rate. The inflation problem is hitting everyone, but the limitations of church budgets mean pastors and church staff are hit especially hard. They don’t often get 10% and 15% increases.
    2. Ask your pastor if there are additional financial needs. Don’t put the burden on your pastor to take the initiative.
    3. Consider adding benefits, especially healthcare and retirement. Even small items can be quite helpful, like paying for a laptop or a mileage reimbursement.
    4. Practice equal pay with men and women on staff. Churches are notorious for paying women less for doing the same job as their male peers.
    5. If you are behind with your pay scales, make an intentional effort to catch up. Frankly, there is a massive shortage of pastors, which is not likely to change any time soon. The short supply and high demand mean other churches will make solid offers to attract good pastors. Don’t make pay the reason your pastor needs to make a transition.

Third, do not forget most pastors receive part-time pay. There are approximately 400,000 churches in the United States. How many of these congregations are led by bi-vocational pastors? A precise count does not exist, but estimates range between 50% and 75%. Most bi-vocational pastors would be stunned with an offer of $55,000!

My first church paid me $50 weekly, enough to cover gas. The drive was 90 minutes one-way. I loved being bi-vocational and did not regret serving a poor, rural church. The people were as generous as they could be and loved me deeply. Even if your church can’t pay more, express your appreciation often. Your pastor does not love you because of what you pay. But your pastor will value your expressions of love.

Posted on December 13, 2023


As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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13 Comments

  • Brian Ewing says on

    This article is so true. I am age 63, and a full-time pastor of a church with 169 members. I have been to seminary and have earned four college degrees (the last one being a doctorate in theology) and have been in the ministry since 1985 (i.e., 39 years). The average net worth of families in our congregation is about $750,000 and we have no problem meeting our annual budget. I have been here for 7 1/2 years and my salary is now up to $10,600 per year (I was hired in 2016 for a salary of $7,800). I work about 40-60 hours per week, and receive no additional fringe benefits of any kind. For all but three of my 39 years in ministry my salary has qualified me and my family for food stamps. This is the sad reality for many pastors.

  • David Miller says on

    It’s interesting reading this in Britain where the median salary is reported as £35,500 ($44,800) with the median Pastor’s salary as £25,700 ($32,500) – and most churches are struggling to pay that

  • As a clergy couple we were paid 3/4 each. Presbytery minium. The. Most I made was 35k as a single pastor. The man who followed me got double that. Where it hurts is in retirement. That

  • William A. Secrest says on

    I needed this article for my first church 22 years ago. I made less money than a starting teacher. When I started in December of 2001 my salary was $22,000. My wife, two daughters, and I had health insurance through the church and we lived in a parsonage. We stayed for 6 1/2 years and it almost cost me my marriage. My wife started driving 108 miles round trip for work and we had our third child while we were there. I often wonder if churches are aware and don’t care or they know that we are going to leave eventually anyways. My current church pays me well and I have no complaints. I own my own home now which is another discussion entirely. It seems that the bi-vocational model is on the rise and I often wonder what I will do when that day comes for me. I should have said that I have always been full-time.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      The bivo/covo model is indeed on the rise. I’m glad you are in a better situation now. Hopefully, it will stay that way for you.

  • Joanna Day says on

    When you are writing about the salaries of your Pastor please also consider the salary of your church support staff. We are often overlooked and need to also be earning a living wage equal to the Pastor.

  • I appreciate your post, Sam. I’m sure countless other pastors do as well. I wonder how many churches are purposely underpaying their staff. I suspect some are, but most are appreciative and pay what they can. You seem to be alluding to the fact that many churches simply aren’t aware they are underpaying and thereby stressing their pastoral staff and their families. It’s a major distraction. Your post is helpful in prompting those churches to see the real value of their staff. Perhaps your breakdown of the qualifications and burdens of the pastorate will be helpful for churches to reconsider their pastoral pay structure.

    Health insurance is a major issue, especially if the pastor is in his early sixties prior to going on Medicare. In 2017, we made just a bit too much to qualify for assistance in the exchange. Because there were no group health programs available, our premiums were just a few dollars short of $1,800 a month. We were both in excellent health and our deductible was $6,000 each. We eventually went to Medi-Share. I never went to the doctor until I got on Medicare. Couldn’t afford it.

    Retirement is another issue. I will work full-time until I’m 70 and then I will need to work part-time for several years just to maintain a simple lifestyle. Some of the churches I served took good care of me. Others, not so much. But it was the nine years that I worked for a fairly wealthy church without a retirement benefit (which I asked for multiple times) that has impacted our current circumstances. We’ll be OK. God always provides and we still have excellent health. Our house will be paid off next month. I’m grateful. But it was unjust for the leadership of that wealthy church to “withhold good when it was in their power to do it.”

    Still, what can churches do if they can’t afford to pay a pastor properly? I think they should be honest with the pastor. If they can only pay a pastor with a family a “package” of $50-60,000, they should acknowledge that it is underfunded and allow him or her the opportunity to “moonlight” at another job to supplement their income. Imagine if a church said, “We know you are worth $75,000 a year, but we can only pay you $60 K. We give you the freedom to pursue further employment up to 15 hours a week to supplement what we are paying you.” How refreshing! How honest! It’s the bi-vocational model which actually offers opportunity for both church and pastor. Even if they can’t provide a good living wage, I think they should provide the benefits the pastor and his family need.

    In the end, I think the issue is best addressed if those who are responsible for setting the pay parameters would simply obey the Golden Rule. Surprisingly, many don’t.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Yes, you are correct. I do not believe churches maliciously under pay pastors. It’s more an awareness issues. And I feel you on healthcare costs. I pay over $20,000 a year to insure my family. It’s more than my mortgage! If you add up just healthcare, mortgage, and groceries for my family, the median salary would not cover us. I don’t think many churches realize this. Inflation is outrageous.

      • Yikes! Just wait till you’re 60, Sam!

        Where I live in the Heartland, housing prices are a bit more reasonable. But I feel uneasy with the many small churches I know that want to call a FT pastor offering a “package” (housing, salary, benefits) of $50K or less. I really think they need to consider a bi-vocational model but it is hard to get them to move in that direction. Denominations, I think, need to do a better job of promoting the upside of the bi-vocational or co-vocational model. Of course, if their leaders would only subscribe to Church Answers, they would know that!

        Thanks for all you and your company do, Sam!

      • Sam Rainer says on

        Thank you, Bob! I am grateful people like you are regularly in Church Answers. You are helping too!