Value-Driven Pastoral Salaries

Traditionally, each church operates by a set of values. Those values usually center around words like grace, worship, community, mission, & integrity. I have always wondered what it would look like if a church operated by these values regarding its salary strategy toward pastors (under the traditional pastoral model of a pastor, wife, kids, etc.)

If such an alignment was achieved between a church’s values and the pastor’s salary (the taboo subject rarely discussed by pastors), what would that look like? A few thoughts follow:

  • We believe that within the Bible materialism is sin, hated by God. However that does not negate a pastor’s need of proper & feasible funding for living and ministry demands.
  • We believe that pastors need to model sound stewardship as an act of worship and integrity. We will keep them accountable in guarding against unnecessary spending, improper money management, and materialism.
  • We believe that the best models and teachers of worshipful stewardship and gracious giving are our pastors. Following the Bible’s example of gracious giving, we will provide a gracious salary, that will in turn allow them to be gracious with their money as a practical model for our people.
  • We believe a healthy family is key to the spiritual upbringing of today’s children and a foundational community established by God. We desire to pay our pastor’s a salary that will prevent them from needing to have their spouse work a job to help maintain normal living standards.
  • We believe that our pastors should live among the neighborhoods of our targeted people. We will provide them a salary to afford a respectable home (with normal maintenance costs) within our areas of influence so they may have strategic, neighborhood ministry within the home.
  • We believe that the demands of ministry call for our pastors to have two well-maintained vehicles within their household to honor the family. We will pay our pastors with the ability to have dependable transportation and funding for ongoing maintenance.
  • We believe that proper health benefits are important to the well being of our pastor’s household. We will provide them competitive health care benefits and proper funding to accommodate additional health care demands, along with eye and dental costs.
  • We value longevity in pastoral ministry for deep-rooted, missional impact on our church’s families and the surrounding community. We will pay our pastors to the point of securing ministry longevity preventing them from moving on to other ministry opportunities based solely on basic financial needs.

So, could this ever be the foundational guide of a church’s salary structure? Does this approach counter the calling of a pastor and the financial expectations placed upon him or her? Are there other, more corporate and cultural norms that should be implemented here?


~ by Dave Smith on April 8, 2008.

9 Responses to “Value-Driven Pastoral Salaries”

  1. If pressed, could any church or para-church really give a concrete philosophy to how they determine pastoral salaries?

    In my experience, the answer is no. Unless you count the “this has been our policy for years so no one thinks about it anymore” philosophy.

    I wonder why do churches “rank” their staff members according to salary? E.g. Jr. High pastor makes less than Sr. High, who makes less than College, who makes less than Adult Ministries, who makes less than Worship, etc.

    I wonder why don’t churches and para-churces pay according to performance? If churches are willing to embrace many other aspects of corporate culture, why not this too? Only in the ministry world is medocrity continously rewarded. Have a great year – pay raise. Have a year of status quo – pay raise. Have a sub-par year – pay raise.

    Sure, the obvious danger is that someone could become motivated by the money and not the mission…but that’s true of other things too (titles, freedoms, privledges, etc.).

    I brought this up in one non-profit situation and they were aghast. Pay raises were determined entirely by tenure, no matter what their performance. Their reason – including performance as part as the pay grade would create competition, and competition would in turn “set staff against each other”.

    Funny how that’s not true in my company.

    There is an inconsistency to policy. Ask any board member of a church how important youth ministry is to their church. Answer: very. Now ask them how much are they willing to pay for its leader. Answer: not very much. Why?

  2. I find everyone agrees on this topic until you bring ACTUAL numbers to the discussion.

    There is a mentality in the church that says, “We should pay pastors generously. Just not as much as I’m making.”

    Funny you should blog on this, just the other day I was thinking that if I should ever be asked to guest-teach my old ABF, I think this would be my topic of choice. I’d love to lead some future trustees through this issue that I could never touch while being on staff at The Chapel.

    Anthony, to address the issue of getting a pay raise every year regardless of performance—I can assure you that is not true at The Chapel. In fact, most of us took pay and benefit cuts EVERY one of my last four years there as part of the 2020 campaign.

  3. A few thoughts from a ‘layman:’ First, I agree that pastors should be adequately compensated so as to focus on their role in caring for spiritual needs of the congregation and not have to worry about finances. I really do not want my pastor having to spend time and energy getting adequate money for ‘normal living standards’ (Would we agree on what ‘normal’ is here?) I once knew a pastor at a large church that worked a second job on his days off! (motivation not known – greed, debt, inadequate salary, other?).

    But, how does a church board determine what is adequate? Certainly size of the family should be considered, local cost of living. I would say advanced education = more pay (If for no other reason that the cost of getting the advanced education)

    Secondly, for Anthony, I would ask: how do you determine a pastor’s performance? I think that would be very difficult to assess objectivly.

    Finally, Dave I hear you on that ‘two well maintained vehicle’ thing!

    In summary, I think pastors should be people who are passionate about caring for peoples’ souls. Some in the church are passionate about making money (in order to give it away I hope) but this is not the call of the pastor. Compensation for the pastor, then, should be enough so as s/he does not have to spend energy and time making ends meet. Overall I think your suggestions are right on target.

  4. (Anthony…really challenging thoughts there! Rich…no comment!)

    Yea, there is definitely subjectivity with this discussion Jason. Not sure what to think of the guidelines I posted. I think more objective ones like what you mentioned are probably needed.

    As my role has now shifted to make sure we are honoring our value of integrity with staff salaries, these are the things I continue to wrestle through as far as how you determine the standard. This is really the fuel for my personal wrestling with the issue…I am grateful for what my church pays me…but when you start to have say in what other staff members should receive in pay, there is a lot of responsibility there.

    I also feel that this discussion should somehow surface more easily among pastors without them appearing materialistic or greedy. Like the word “sex” within the church world, within the pastoral world, “money” is one of those taboo areas.

    Another thing that has been helpful are the survey results from organizationas like Leadership Network. Here is one example back in 2003:

  5. Okay, since we’re all friends and all…

    Jason and Anthony… you’re both making good money. I don’t think you’d argue with that. You work hard for it, got good education, and have taken significant risk (I’m thinking especially of Anthony’s last few years) to get where you are today. I wholeheartedly believe you deserve every penny you bring home, and I also know you are both extremely generous with what God has given you.

    Smitty has the same amount of education as Jason, and just as many years enduring the status of intern (and the complete lack of pay associated with that title).

    Smitty has 14 years experience at one of the largest churches in the nation, has repeatedly set himself apart from his peers locally and nationally, and now has close to 100 direct and indirect reports.

    So, should Smitty make as much as Anthony or Jason?

    Extra points for supporting your position with scripture.

    (oooh, I’m having fun, now!)

  6. Rich!!! Easy there!

    As you know, the raising of this issue isn’t about my paycheck (which I am grateful for!), but to get input on how to best set guidelines for pastors’ salaries, which is a question I have been wrestling more with these days.

    I think when we start comparing the secular with the Christian organization is where it can get fuzzy. Company owners are out to make a profit and have a salary based on their own success. With the medical field it is part of that culture’s system to compensate their important and high risk profession with generous pay.

    Within the church world, what should the standards be based on from sciptural principles/values?

    I think it gets really interesting with the non-pastoral roles at a church. There, when you logically and rightfully begin to compare salaries with outside professions, it gets scary.

    As you were a pastor, you were also the head communications/technology guru of a large organization. When you compare a role like that to the outside workforce…oh man, that really gets disproportionate. That is when is really becomes a “ministry.”

    The issue with that is how do you still provide a respectful salary that isn’t taking advantage or “abusing” the employee forcing them to live outside the perimeters above?

    I see where you are going though with the stereotype of false expectations we have about certain professions. Good pushback.

  7. Dave,

    I think you’ve posted some helpful guidelines, and I agree with most of them. However, the one that strikes me as strange is #4. There are a few reasons why… First, it seems to afford a luxury to the pastor and his (and the “his” is important, at least in many Evangelical churches) family that many in the congregation will not have. It is very, very difficult to provide for a family on one income for an increasing number of Americans each passing year. To provide that luxury for a pastor is a noble goal, but I could understand how it might be difficult pill for congregants to swallow if both parents are working to support the families needs (not “wants”).

    Second, it seems to assume that the spouses of pastors should not have careers in the first place, as if it were somehow detrimental to the atmosphere of the home. If that is your assumption, I would have to disagree.

    Further complications for this discussion that have come to the surface as I seek for a job and consider salary issues:
    1. How literally do/can/should we list as Jesus’ disciples? As best as I can tell (from the NT tradition anyway), Jesus was single, that is not married, and he did not have a family. He called his disciples away from their families to do ministry for long periods of time (although I know it’s disputed how much time they spent traveling vs. time at home). Jesus was a nomad, that is, he was not a homeowner, he did not have health insurance, and he did not have a pension. Moreover, the ministry he pursued made a martyr out of him. To defy Rome was to play with your life, and that was hardly a secret.

    Now, to be honest, I’m not advocating we all pull up our roots, leave our spouses, and forfeit our pensions. But, I do think we need to take Jesus’ radical self-sacrifice into the equation whenever we talk about our own financial compensation.

  8. Gulker,

    I totally agree. Jesus is the model.

    But that model applies to ALL who claim to follow Christ, not just those in “voacational” ministry. Jesus was a nomad… so were his disciples.

    I still would like to see someone exegete a passage of scripture to explain our current cultural model of compensation for clergy as compared to other professions.

    Clearly, it’s not just clergy salaries that are upside down. Why in the world do we pay professional athletes what we do compared to doctors, teachers, or firefighers?

    I’m not trying to gain sympathy for pastors. I love the fact that I can do ministry full-time, and I’m grateful for that every day. But I do want to point out that we have some very whacked cultural assumptions about what certain professions “should” get paid.

  9. Good points Ben. Shows the subjectivity of the guidelines and where they may need futher, outside objective support.

    Regarding the “working wives” issue…yea, not intended to say that wives shouldn’t work. Good caution on the wording of that.

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