Clergy Compensation

As a Protestant pastor I've not taken a vow of poverty. I am a well educated (Ph.D.) pastor of a formerly large congregation that has diminished in size. I make a decent salary and can live comfortably. I have health insurance (but not dental), a solid pension, continuing education moneys, and a nice tax break on my housing expenses.

So, what is average? Apparently the national average is slightly more than $81,000 in total compensation. I make slightly more than that. Presbyterians, as one might expect, make the most. And education makes a significant difference in pay -- as does of course the size of congregation.

So, what is appropriate compensation? And should pastors negotiate for a suitable salary? When I was in seminary a pastor speaking to a class shared that we get paid not for doing ministry but rather so that we might not have to work at another job -- freeing us up to do this specialized ministry. I think there is some truth to that. There is also the issue of being in a position of not worrying about the family. After all, we Protestants not only have ourselves to consider, but also our families.


Chris said…
I was interested to see this study yesterday when it was posted elsewhere.

As a bivocational minister who doesn't get paid for ministry, I might be expected to denounce clergy compensation on this level. (Indeed, the Brethren once voted in the 19th century whether paid ministers could preach the Gospel with integrity — the motion passed, but it was close!)

However, I'm not against high pay for clergy in a knee-jerk way. I think there are two things that have to be held in tension, and Christian communities don't usually do a good job of it.

First, I think we need to be more open to non-stipendiary and bivocational ministers. We are increasingly moving toward small communities that cannot even support their buildings, much less a robust paid staff. And with growing empowerment of the laity, often those big staffs aren't even necessary. A 75 member church might once have thought they needed at least a full time minister plus some part-time staff. But if lay people are empowered to run programs like Bible study and daily prayer, that becomes less true. There are also a lot of ministries the Church just plain ignores, and ordained non-stipendiary clergy are often the best at fulfilling them.

However, paid clergy actually need to be paid as you are — in a way that truly does free them to do ministry instead of teetering on the edge of poverty. I once attended a mainline church where the pastor celebrated his 30th ordination anniversary — and after 30 years of ministry he was paid the lowest salary allowable by his local judicatory. It was just a few thousand dollars a year more than my first job out of college working in tech support.

So I appreciate how you've posed the question of appropriate compensation. The "executive" and "solo pastor" models are indeed specialized kinds of pastoral ministry -- very useful, but not the only kind. But when we are calling people to those kinds of ministries, we need to do so with the confidence that they will be paid a wage that lets them take care of themselves and their family.
That is considerably higher than any salary I made when pastoring and nearly double what my current pastor makes.

I think most clergy are overpaid, but that rural clergy and inner-city clergy are usually underpaid.
Remember that this is total compensation -- including health and pension. One of the big differences regionally is housing. In California renting a small 3 BR house would run well above $1500 to above $3000.

Clergy compensation is an odd thing -- and what is enough. I guess I'm not of the opinion that highly educated clergy should be paid low wages.
Bob makes a good point about "total package" not being the same as "salary." In the secular world, "total package" translates to "cost of employment" & includes insurance, FICA, profit sharing, expenses, etc. However, folks in the secular only consider their W2 wages as "salary" & dismiss their "total package" as merely the "cost of employment." When these same people walk through the church doors, suddenly the "total package" is what the pastor is making as salary. That's not being fair. It is not apples to apples.

One idea is to have a negotiator on behalf of the pastor negotiate the contract. The pastor is in a tough situation: trying to "help out" the church verses negotiate what he is really worth. The whole process can lead to distrust between the church & its leader.

The idea of a contract negotiator (an agent?) is an idea whose time has come, IMHO.
Being bi-vocational, I have some rather unorthodox views on the matter. Basically, if you can have a second job that's probably a good thing. Not possible for most churches - I know. If you make too much money, you're giving away a lot of power.

I featured this today at

Anonymous said…
Hollie Atkinson said, "Somebody who goes into the ministry to make money is a damn fool." You can't sum it up better. Your TP is about 4x my last TP in a rurban transitional Southern Baptist church (35 years experience, DMin, clean record in growing churches). But then I had a visible handicap, and if you think disability isn't an issue, you don't live in the real world. John Hamilton,
Mike H said…
We pay our pastors what it cost to live a middle class life in San Francisco. This includes being able to live in a normal neighborhood, have their children is safe, good schools, drive an average car, retire with dignity, have good health care, be able to afford a vacation. The dollar amount will of course vary greatly by area. But shouldn't all churches want that for their pastor?

Here in San Francisco where rent on a 3 bedroom home in a safe neighborhood is $4,000 a month 80,000 would be underpaid because your rent alone, without utilities would eat up 60% of your paycheck!

In our church we start an unordained seminarian without family at 70,000 expecting them to live in a studio apartment and drive a clunker.

I have found in the past that often those who complain about the pastor being paid too much have unique situations. They don't have mortgages, or kids in school. My hope is that congregations would care well for their pastors.
Anonymous said…
I serve as sole pastor at a small United Methodist church. I also hold two master's degrees and am applying for a subsidized DMin program. The rest will have to be be paid the rest out of pocket. I have focused on one area of continuing education for several years. This seems the best way I can formalize and focus my training, possibly becoming a resource for others.

I am underutilized by my congregation so I also serve on several area boards and committees in our regional body. I am officially mentoring two colleagues into ministry and unofficially am a confidant and consultant to several others.

I serve the community as a volunteer hospice chaplain. I am a qualified trainer for mediation programs, for psychological first aid, am ready to join the regional team that supports first-responders after hard calls (the violent and messy ones) and have deployed with Red Cross as a member of their mental health specialty team during national disasters. All this at no charge to the community but willingly as part of my service and my ministry.

Yes, I am paid by my congregation with benefits and house to be available 24 hours hours a day. The house is close enough that when the exercise class meets in the church hall they can see me doing dishes through the parsonage window. My garage is the storage facility for extra church furniture and my back yard is the church parking lot.

The church has a very small budget so much of my mileage for work outside the congregation is not turned in for reimbursement, along with the extras I often cover (like pizza for the youth group or the two kids who forgot their money on bowling night). I keep track of these "un-reimbursed professional expenses" for my tax reports and it usually comes out to well beyond 10% of my household income. Because my wife has some significant health challenges we are a one-income family.

I am unable to help to my children pay for college or buy their first car. I cannot vacation in Florida or buy a condo or timeshare. Truthfully, I cannot cover all my needed dental work. As an appointed pastor in the United Methodist system I cannot go looking for better church income on my own.

All this for the princely reward of living fractionally above area minimum salary and a pension that is down 40% like every one else...

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