This is not for all pastors (though I am sure they will appreciate this). Nor is it for all parishioners (though they may find it interesting). It’s really for the group that sits down to consider a pastor’s salary. Yes that ominous board, committee or senior leadership that is commissioned with the task of sifting through the cultural aggregate to discern the answer to the ultimate question, “What Do We Pay A Pastor?”
Now to be sure, there are more than a few resources that provided formulas rooted in “How many years in ministry?” “How many degrees on the wall?” “What is the national/regional average of pastors in a church our size?” and the like. Yet I believe we need to look at the issue as a philosophy of compensation: developing a set of thoughtful layers to ensure – as much as a church can – health, longevity and expectation. In this three aspects should be considered.
Consider What You Are Asking For On The Familial Front
Pastoring is the only job I’m aware of where the entire family is explicitly highlighted in the job description. No other vocation in the totality of American culture hires and fires based on one’s marriage. No other trade requires one’s home or kids to be a part of the assessment for both initial and continued employment. Perhaps this is why we don’t hear of dentists’ children growing up to reject oral hygiene or the kids of contractors being referred to as CKs. Now in saying this I don’t want to diminish the standard, but equally it should be considered when evaluating compensation. A church is doing more than merely paying a pastor; they are subsidizing an example that others are to emulate.
With that said, everyone knows that financial instability places incredible stress on families, so imagine how much more stressful it becomes when your family’s spirituality is being measured as it faces those woes. This is where healthy compensation can alleviate some of the overall burden. Instead of thinking, “Ministry is a calling, and thus should be compensated less.” churches would do well to think, “Ministry is a calling, and thus should be insulated more.” When a pastor is financially freed-up to focus on the business of the church (because he is not burdened by figuring out how to get to the end of the month) he is also freed up to be a focused and thoughtful pastor.
Consider What You Are Asking For On The Longevity Front
The less a church pays its pastor, the shorter his stay will be and consequently the weaker a church will become. I know this swallows like a jagged pill, but don’t reject the facts merely because you don’t like them. If your church wants to recreate a honeymoon period every 2-3 years, intentionally elect to pay a pastor considerably less then the median income of the community and you will all but guarantee a revolving door.
If however you hope to keep a pastor for the long game, the more generous you are the more focus he will exhibit; particularly when things are hard. When a pastor knows his board will fight to financially care for his family (which is one of the reasons you hired him in the first place, because he displays biblical care for his family), the more he will fight to stick out the hardships and invest for the long haul.
Consider What You Are Asking For On The Education Front
This one is a distant third, but if you want a person who has both a Bible College and Seminary degree, then realistically you are choosing a person who’s sitting on educational debt. Institutions that train theologically are private, therefore there is no such thing as an inexpensive Bible College or Seminary. If you expect to have a pastor who has made this level of academic investment, then consider how you can help them recoup the fiscal sacrifice that made it possible. This is especially important when dealing with younger pastors who typically start off low on the salary scale while possibly juggling the full force of student loans.
How To Pay vs What To Pay
You’ll notice that nothing in this addresses “what” the magic number is. My goal isn’t to answer the final question of what the amount is, but rather “how” to work through “what” to pay. With that said here are some useful reflections as you come up with that number in light of 1 Timothy 5:17-18 which says, “17 Let the elders who lead well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
#1. Error on the side of generosity.
When Paul speaks of a paid pastor he uses the phrase “double honor.” Now while this is open-ended in terms of dollar value, the spirit of the phrase communicates that a recipient should feel extra honored by the givers.[i] Therefore in the most general sense, the double honoring of a pastor financially is an expression of grateful generosity. Now I know the push back on this may be to point out the handful of examples where pastors are paid exorbitant salaries, but in all reality for every one over-paid celebrity pastor in a megachurch somewhere there are thousands of other pastors who are under-paid (both in megachurches as second-tier pastors as well as in standard size churches).
#2. Don’t have a huge gulf between the highest and lowest paid pastor in the church.
In the New Testament there is not a top paid senior pastor and then a distant associate, worship, youth and children’s pastor; there are simply “elders who lead well, especially in preaching and teaching” who are worthy of compensation. If you are the senior staff leader you particularly should be going to bat for the rest of your team in order to inch their salary closer to your own. No place in Scripture do we see where staff pastors are employees of the senior pastor, rather they are fellow elders who shepherd collectively. If you are in pragmatic doubt on this point as a senior leader, think you work harder than your team and thus you deserve way more than everyone else; go run the youth ministry for six months and get acclimated to reality.
#3. Pay at a level that expects hard work and measures results.
Pastors are to be paid because Paul says they “lead well.” Having a degree or years in ministry isn’t the standard, quality biblical leadership is. By compensating well you are acknowledging that people should lead well and thus they should be held to a high standard.
# 4. If you are a lay leader who is deciding on salary, don’t let your own personal pay cloud what you think a pastor should be paid.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice.” If your pastor makes more than you, be happy he does. Most of the time we are happy for others when they do well financially, the same should be true when it comes to those in ministry.
#5. Match or exceed the median household income of your community.
Make sure a pastor and his family can be engaged in the same activities and social structure as the community you expect him to engage with. Again, the goal is to free up their family to engage people, not strap them to keep up with the Joneses. Additionally, pay him enough that if his wife works it’s because she chooses to, not because she is required to.
#6. If your church can’t provide at a solid level – at this time – make it a future goal.
Churches have several material goals such as expansions, remodels, technology and the like, but they don’t typically plan for raises with the same level of aggression. This is perhaps one of the bigger financial mistakes a church can make. We are called to invest into people far more than stuff, not the least of which are those who equip us in the things of God. There is no shame in not being able to financially support a pastor at a healthy level because the resources are not there, but it is altogether a different matter (and perhaps sinful) if the conscious decision is to not do so.
P.S. Thank you to the elders and people of Redemption Church for being a true example of love, care and generosity. You are amazing!
[i] The New Testament often forgoes speaking in terms of percentages or dollars because it is pushing us toward a deeper generosity of heart. Thus while Paul doesn’t tell us how much constitutes a cheerful, bountiful, non-reluctant and non-compulsive giver in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 we get the sense his encouragement is more, not less. The same attitude applies to double honor.