Pastors pay
Determining How Much a Pastor’s Salary Should Be

Determining How Much a Pastor’s Salary Should Be

No topic is treated with more suspicion, tension and awkwardness in church and non-profit business decisions than determining how much a pastor’s salary should be. The topic of the pastor’s salary elicits all kinds of questions that clients, co-workers and bosses in any other industry would never dream of asking.

Why doesn’t his wife work?

Did he have to buy THAT kind of car?

Shouldn’t he trust in the Lord?

Is he doing this for the money?

In any other occupation such questions would be non-sensical.

As a board member turned pastor, I’m sensitive to these questions.

On the one side, you want to be responsible with the church’s money.

On the other you want to provide for the spiritual leader of your church.

These conversations are fraught with emotion. A pastor who wants to serve his church, but also support his family. A church who wants to remain viable, but also wants to be led. Board members who want to provide for their pastor and also get their way in the direction of the church.

Churches come in a variety of structures, and my guess is that the variety will only increase as COVID has revealed that the way we ‘do church’ maybe hasn’t been as effective as we thought.

Below are three things to think about as you determine how much your pastor’s salary should be for your 2022 church budget.

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Invite Pastoral Input on What the Pastor’s Salary Should be.

If you think you have the right pastor, the question shouldn’t be “How much are we willing to pay him.” But “What would providing for our pastor look like?”

Pastors, God will provide for you without question. The question is whether or not the church will properly participate in said provision.

 I have been guilty of both quietly acquiescing to the decision of the board, and also lashing out in frustration when a financial sacrifice lands unfairly on my plate. 

It’s a really difficult balance, and even pastors respond in unhealthy ways to emotions at times.

People don’t like talking about money.

And pastors are very reluctant to bring up their financial need or stress.

They are trying to be the leaders, they are trying to be the servants, they are trying to take it on the chin.

Pastors, this is dysfunctional behavior!

Call it a Hero complex, passive-aggressiveness, or avoidance technique. Being dishonest about the challenges and stresses of your pay package takes an awkward conversation and turns it into a major blow up sometime in the future.   

The most important piece of this conversation is you must revisit the pastor’s salary every year when budget time rolls around.

Don’t just plug in the number from last year, or slap an inflation adjustment on last year’s number. Critically analyze your budget to see if you are being generous.

Not fair… generous. God’s people aren’t called to be fair. We’re called to lay down our lives for each other.

Inviting your pastor to be honest might sound like this:

“Hey Pastor, we’re looking at the pay package for next year/contract. Do you know if our current package is in line with what similar sized churches pay?”

Asking the pastor to frame it in terms of other churches allows him to not ask directly for more money. He has the opportunity to simply point out how your specific church may be out of line with what his peers are receiving.  

Or you might say: “We’re trying to determine how much the pastor’s salary should be for next year/ contract, what kind of things are you not able to do on your current pay that you’d like to?”

This allows your pastor to answer in terms of goals instead of dollars. Putting his salary in terms of activities can give him the freedom to answer without assigning a number to his need.

He might say something like “My spouse is working part time, and I’d love for her to be able to stay home”, “our family hasn’t been on vacation in a few years”, “I’d like to get my Masters or PhD but I can’t afford it.”

This may require some follow up questions and research on the board member, but it can get the team pointed in the right direction. It may also reveal that the thing the pastor really needs, is not financial, but things that can be adjusted in staffing, expectations or other creative solutions.

Need Doesn’t Determine How Much a Pastor’s Salary Should Be

In seeming contradiction to the point above. What the pastor needs should not drive the salary number. Just because a pastor is retired, privately wealthy or frugal, doesn’t give the church the right to pay an unfair wage.  

Many church planters and entrepreneurial pastors start their churches in their living rooms, living on a call and a prayer. I have a deep respect for these pioneers of the faith, but as a church structure grows around them, often, his pay does not.

This is a huge risk to the organization. As a board member, your job is to protect the organization from risk. There are few bigger risks than losing your senior pastor, especially if he is the founder/operator of the church.

Asking the founder to ‘raise his baby’ for free, is betting the future of the organization on the pastor’s staying power. Moral failure, sickness, death, or burnout are all very real risk of any pastoral post. An organization that relies on this individual’s private wealth or sacrificial attitude, puts itself in great risk. As a pastor you are doing a disservice to your church’s longevity by refusing to advocate for fair compensation for your position.

If something happens to an underpaid pastor, the church will be forced to either close, or find a pastor willing to pilot the organization for less than the going rate in your area or suffer a severe shock to your budget. 

It’s a much better idea to do a little research. Asking local churches board members about their pastor’s pay, survey open church positions in your area. Get a ball park figure of the average income of your congregation.

Determine what it would cost you to hire a new pastor with no ties to the church, and make that number your goal for your current one. If the church can’t support that number yet, work on a plan to get it there.

The Bible is very clear that the priest and those who preach the gospel have earned their portion, the church partners with God as they provide for their pastor. But this doesn’t mean that they have to be the only source of income the pastor partakes in.  

Consider Additional Staff and Bi-vocational Models

Why not get more people involved in advancing the mission of the church? Adding a part-time assistant or a staff pastor could take work off your pastor’s plate and even allow the church to create a leadership pipeline for future transitions.

This additional person could help with congregational care, sermon research, preaching duties or building and organizational administration.

The best part is that you can hire a ‘specialist’.

Most senior pastors are forced to be generalists to some extent. If your pastor is more of a preacher than a counselor, or vice-versa, hiring an assistant pastor that has an opposite personality could be a huge benefit to the entire church.  

I know some churches that have several staff pastors, but all of them are bi-vocational. This allows each pastor to be involved in the ministry that they love, but also pursue other passions that they enjoy. They get to hang out with normal non-church-goers at the work place and work with their hands.

Adding just one part time staff pastor could feel more like a raise to your current senior staff than even more money. The pastor could start a side gig, work in a factory, write a book etc. Shifting the leadership responsibilities more in line with a pastor’s gifts and taking work that isn’t his forte off his books won’t only save him time, but could make him less likely to burn-out in the long term.

Debrief

Determining how much a pastor’s salary should be is a land-mine issue. And this post definitely didn’t cover everything you need to know to handle these decisions with care.

Keep in mind, as a board member your responsibility is to care for the church, and that means ensuring your pastor is healthy. As a pastor, your responsibility is to your members and that requires you to be healthy.

Pastors need to be honest about when they feel they are being treated unfairly, or being taken advantage of. They need to dump the hero complex, and embrace their financial limitations. God WILL provide for the pastor, but congregations have been called into participating in that provision.

As churches are just starting to try and figure out how to reboot from the pandemic, this is a perfect time to look at creative staffing model changes, and adding some new staff to the mix or readjusting responsibilities of veterans.