by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.
There is no such thing as an easy answer to the question, “What are we suppose to pay the pastor?” The truth is the evaluation process is more art than science. The reason for this involves the wide variety of contextual variables each local church has to consider. This article will attempt to guide the balance between financial realities and spiritual-biblical responsibilities “well intended” Christians have when trying to practically and prayerfully pay their pastor.
When trying to arrive at a reasonable conclusion regarding the final figure to offer a pastor, each congregation has to take into consideration not only the pastor they are trying to partner with but also their own context.
- Where does the local church find themselves financially?
- What are other community restrictions relating to cost-of-living?
- Is the pastor part-time, full-time, bi-vocational, a brand new seminary graduate, or a recent retiree?
When trying to digest the vast amount of quantifiable numbers associated with what’s actually available to pay a pastor, there are also intangible variations to consider. Such as;
- Does the personality of the pastoral candidate and the current congregational environment match?
- Does the potential minister’s style of leadership and the philosophy supporting that style match the current congregation’s personality?
- Are they brand new to the congregation? If not, has the last few years of ministerial service to your congregation been received with great value?
- Plus….a couple of dozen more questions!
These and other qualifying characteristics add contextual VALUE to the pastor-congregational partnership?
Even if the congregation’s leadership answers a long, long list of qualifying questions, there are still far too many churches taking financial advantage (I’m sure they would rather think of it as “frugal stewardship”) of the men and women who serve Christ’s church by paying a pittance of what they should be making.
When trying to discern a balance between the pastor’s call to ministry, character, competencies, and capacity to care for and lead God’s children, it is essential to determine the reasonable limitations of congregational size, revenues, and existing obligations as well as future goals of outreach and growth recognized by the local congregation.
The Bible says….
17 Church leaders who do their job well deserve to be paid twice as much, especially if they work hard at preaching and teaching. 18 It is just as the Scriptures say, “Don’t muzzle an ox when you are using it to grind grain.” You also know the saying, “Workers are worth their pay.” (1 Tim 5:17-18 CVE)
The above scriptural reference, which is taken from the Contemporary English Version, clearly attaches being paid well as a pastor to working hard….or doing exceedingly well….at the things required of a well-rounded and effective pastoral leader.
Before we start to arrive at any conclusions relating to appropriate income levels, it would be a wise idea to have a common understanding of what an experienced pastor can and should be able to (1) demonstrate, (2) personally guide, and (3) environmentally influence within the life of any Christian church setting. The following list is a fairly comprehensive list of the skills and potential competencies a well seasoned pastor will bring to the table.
- Theological/biblical awareness and scholarship proficiency
- Worship leadership and environmental management
- Team building
- Conflict management and mitigation
- Vision casting
- Board development
- Financial stewardship and fundraising
- Spiritual stewardship and discipleship formation
- Relevant Christian programmatic initiatives and management
- Volunteer recruiting, evaluating, and retention
- Existing and future leadership development
- Community (non-attending) relations
- Community (existing and inactive) member communications
- Staff (paid/volunteer) supervision
- Property and people liability protection
- Property management, improvement and appropriate expansions
- Evangelism & Generic Christian Education
- Prayer ministry development
- Sermon preparation and delivery
- Multimedia/Web based promotional/marketing development and implementation
- Christian based counseling services
- Ceremonial Services (baptism, weddings, funerals, ordinations)
- Hospice Ministries
- First Responder Critical Care Leadership
- Collaborative Christian Ministry opportunities
- Maintaining personal family connections and healthy personal time
Making the assumption that a church’s decision makers are looking across the table from someone who carries a good portion of the above list of competency and capacity for pastoral leadership, then it is essential to grasp the following 1 Corinthian scriptural reference. It says….
8-9 I am not saying this on my own authority. The Law of Moses tells us not to muzzle an ox when it is grinding grain. But was God concerned only about an ox? 10 No, he wasn’t! He was talking about us. This was written in the Scriptures so that all who plow and all who grind the grain will look forward to sharing in the harvest.
11 When we told the message to you, it was like planting spiritual seed. So we have the right to accept material things as our harvest from you. 12 If others have the right to do this, we have an even greater right. But we haven’t used this right of ours. We are willing to put up with anything to keep from causing trouble for the message about Christ.
13 Don’t you know that people who work in the temple make their living from what is brought to the temple? Don’t you know that a person who serves at the altar is given part of what is offered? 14 In the same way, the Lord wants everyone who preaches the good news to make a living from preaching this message. (1 Cor. 9:9-14 CVE)
All financial support is contextual. Are there reasonable standards to start with? Yes. However, there are several variables that should be consider first. Let me share a few examples of CONTEXT.
The MOST I have ever gotten paid.
About 30 years ago a elderly pastoral colleague had taken seriously ill and for a several months was unable to attend and perform any of his pastoral responsibilities at an impoverished urban church. Quite literally, they had nothing to give. I agreed to support this small congregation for a few months while he was recovering. On my first Sunday morning visit they took two offerings; one for the church and a second one for me. The first offering the 17 people were able to raise was a grand total of $32. The second offering several people left the sanctuary while the offering was being collected and went out to their cars and brought back coins from the floors, ash trays and glove compartments. The total raised “for me” was a grand total of $3.16 and a coupon for a local fried chicken shop. To this day it is the most I have ever been paid for preaching God’s Word and serving God’s people.
The LEAST I have ever gotten paid.
I was preaching a 4 day revival at a large and financially blessed congregation. I had negotiated a “minimum amount” for the 6 total days I would be on site. As a part of the agreement there was to be “love offerings” taken each night in support of the revival, the last night’s love offering would go directly to me. During the last night’s worship a love offering was taken from approximately 1,600 people in attendance. It took at least 15 minutes to fully collect all of the thousands of dollars graciously given. After the closing night I received an additional check for $1,500 for the closing night’s loving offering. I gave the pastor’s revival team the check back and never looked back. This was easily the least I have gotten paid.
EVERYTHING IS CONTEXT.
- If a minister is making $65,000 in salary with no benefits in a high cost of living area that is simply not a lot of money at all.
- If a minister lives in church supplied housing and the utilities and basic phone is paid for along with major medical, dental, retirement contributions, and educational reimbursements….plus $50,000 of salary….in a moderate cost of living area….IN A CHURCH OF 300 PEOPLE….that is a respectable and complementary financial PACKAGE for most people.
- If you have a highly experienced pastoral candidate with a theologically based masters degree in a high cost of living metropolitan area and their PACKAGE (salary, benefits, value added funding) doesn’t start at least $100,000 you need to reassess who you are searching for and what motivations are driving your congregation’s efforts.
- If your church is located in rural area or an impoverished urban setting and the expectations on your new pastor is having them be a legitimate PART-TIME servant. This part-time status assumes that he/she will also be employed in another capacity somewhere else, then a base amount for Sunday morning, Bible study leadership, funeral and wedding ceremonial services, etc. will need to have written down and agreed upon financial worth. Travel reimbursements should also be ethically included in this CONTRACTED relationship.
Several denominational bodies have set forth “minimum standards” of what a minister should make. With each multi-faceted income chart that will inevitably try to offer several variations of options there alway remain so many options that it is seems easier to figure out a government tax code. None of the income charts set out by each governing agency agree with each other because of context. I pray that I could tell you that there is some magic formula on what income and benefits amount is appropriate, however, the fact of the matter there isn’t. It is probably easier to start with WHAT IS NOT APPROPRIATE….rather than looking for a definitive A+B+C-D=E if “this” or “that” applies.
HERE ARE A FEW BAD IDEAS WHEN TRYING FIGURE OUT A FINANCIAL AGREEMENT WITH YOUR PASTOR.
It is not appropriate to…have an $800,000 annual budget, with 2 million dollars in the bank, and pay your pastor $45,000. That is remarkably wrong on so many levels.
It is not appropriate to…have a $120,000 annual budget, and barely scraping that together, and call a pastor that will require you to pay them $75,000 in salary. There will literally nothing left over to do any actual ministry. This is also wrong.
It is not appropriate to…think of your pastor as some sort of “hireling” and them tip them a couple of hundred dollars per week for preaching and leading a bible study. This attitude SCREAMS that you have no idea AT ALL what a good….well seasoned….pastor can and should do while they are attempting to lead a group of Christians.
It is not appropriate to…pay your pastor a few hundred dollars per week and expect him or her to dress as though they are an executive at a Fortune 500 company….while they drive up in a Brand new and expensive vehicle.
It is not appropriate to…pay your main musician more than what you are paying your pastor.
It is not appropriate to…place within the budget planning process the church’s responsibility of financially caring for their pastor as a secondary afterthought.
It is not appropriate to…have the pastor authentically think he or she is the most important item of concern in the life of the congregation. It is absolutely a good idea to greatly care for a committed and faithful spiritual leader. It is NOT OK to buy them a gold plated barbeque pit or a plane.
It is not appropriate to…think salary, without also thinking benefits and retirement planning.
It is not appropriate to…merely associate the local congregation’s minister as merely an “employee.” They may be an “employee” for accounting purposes, however, they DO NOT WORK FOR YOU! They are called by God. They are ultimately answerable TO GOD! They work WITH YOU….they influence, guide and in many cases, direct the flow of ministry….to grow an environment that calls people to Christ and grows them into viable and replicating leaders of the Christian Faith.
It is not appropriate to…expect much from and enthusiastically hold the pastor accountable for their effectiveness….and not openly require the same level of personal evaluation and accountability from all other levels of leadership.
Here are a few guidelines that may help to establish fair expectation of what is reasonable to associate pastoral service with pastoral income and other benefits.
Questions of Degrees versus Practical Experience….
First, let me say this next part VERY CLEARLY….a seminary degree void of any practical experience is NOT the best scenario for success. It is also reasonable to say that 3-5 years of practical experience WITHOUT any dedicated, disciplined, and somehow accredited course of study doesn’t say much about the ministerial applicant either. It is a question of balance. The truth is 10-15 years after seminary with lots of practical pastoral experience is completely and authentically comparable to 10-15 of practical pastoral experience with passionately committed study through a combination of self, mentored or locally based…NON-SEMINARY….educational studies.
In other words, someone who received an “A” in their Greek and Hebrew classes at Harvard isn’t worth very much AT ALL if they have no idea or who have had limited experience in the “art of pastoral service.” If a candidate for your senior or lead pastoral role shares with you ALL THEY NEED…is what is given to them through The Holy Spirit, as though it is a “prideful badge of honor” or incentive NOT TO STUDY is a disaster waiting to happen! Again, not “either-or” but rather a balance of both.
If you were to magically evaluate two 20 year highly experienced pastors; one with an accredited seminary degree and the other with a passionate and disciple life of life long theological learning….THE TRUTH IS….there is practically NO DIFFERENCE between them. Again, context is everything.
How does this related to financial support of your pastor? Simple. (I wrote “simple” with a smile on my face) It is NOT simple at all. There are lots of variables and nuance in the process of determining what is not only reasonable but right to pay your pastor.
So, let’s start with some basics. It is better to have an experienced pastor than not. It is better to have a well educated pastor than not. As you take a moment to review the list of preferable competencies listed above, assume the more of those items you can legitimately check off as within the skill-set of the pastor…the more they are worth…and by extension…should be paid.
0-3 years of experience with no formal theological training in an area that has a moderate cost of living should probably make a salary of NO LESS THAN $28,000 plus some other benefits attached.
4-7 years of experience plus some level of formal theological education in an area of moderate cost of living should probably make a salary of NO LESS THAN $40,000 plus some other benefits attached.
8-12 years of experience with a Masters level of a formal theological education in an area of moderate cost of living should probably make a salary of NO LESS THAN $60,000 plus some other benefits attached.
More than 15 years of practical lead pastoral experiences at two fairly successful congregational settings, with a Masters degree, and encompasses a large amount of competency list above is worth a lot….AND SHOULD BE PAID ACCORDINGLY!
The above four examples are given NOT as a hard and fast rule of financial commandments but rather as an example that you must start thinking in relative terms to the context of the person and the setting they will be serving within.
SOME IMPORTANT FACTS TO TAKE SERIOUSLY WHEN UNDERSTANDING THE INNATE VALUE OF HAVING THE RIGHT PERSON….in the RIGHT PLACE….at the RIGHT TIME….with the RIGHT KIND OF SUPPORT.
Approximately 300,000 Christian churches exist in the United States of America.
There are more than 1,200 local congregations who exceed 2,000 weekly attendance.
Only 2% of all local churches will have more than 1,000 people in weekly attendance.
The average size Church on Sunday morning is only 89 people.
Local congregations whose pastor stays for greater than 5 years has tangible growth in most significant measurable categories of importance. Almost the exact opposite can be said. Local churches whose pastoral service equals 4 years or less….THE VAST MAJORITY of the time…. the local church will lose members, attendance and financial stability.
MORE THAN 10,000 churches have closed in the United States in the last couple of years. Thousands of qualified ministers are quiting local church service EVERY YEAR.
There is something seriously wrong with how many local congregations view, value, and financially support their existing pastoral leaders. We need to stop hiding from it and openly address the issue or it will only continue to get worse. If all those who desire a strong and vibrant church don’t get a firm grasp on this challenge, it will continue to travel down a road named: Disaster.
There are a few undeniable realities why churches of less than 100 members WILL NOT be able to initiate….much less sustain….any measurable growth. Here are 4 very common reasons.
1) They act, manage, direct and design their programmatic ministry like a “small” church. Simply put, they THINK SMALL.
2) Those who hold current leadership positions either don’t OR WON’T actually “lead.” They manage what is “already there” without any tangible signs or gifts of LEADING PEOPLE on the necessary journey of growth.
3) There exist no intentional strategy for growth. There remains a chaplaincy mentality of managing what is already comfortable instead of planning and implementing where a local congregation will COMMIT to go in the next 12-18-24-36 months.
4) Volunteers are truly NOT EMPOWERED to lead and are not given the tools, support, AND autonomy to move independently within a predetermined plan of action.
THE RIGHT PERSON in the RIGHT PLACE at the RIGHT TIME with the RIGHT KIND OF SUPPORT will succeed.
That’s why it is critical to thoroughly understand the foundational importance of how to financially care for the “servant leader” God may be directing your way.