So, How Much Do You Earn As a Pastor?

Pastor_Salary_INMy favorite office neighbor and I have an ongoing conversation about pastoral salaries and I value his wisdom because 1) he is theologically solid and 2) he’s good with numbers.

Pastors’ salaries are supposed to be a matter of public record in Church World. They are often published in newsletters and they are almost always published in congregational meeting minutes – at least in my denomination.  But increasingly corporate-size churches do not disclose what their pastors earn annually.  If a church is staffed by multiple professional ministers, reports might state the combined salaries of all the pastors but not spell out who makes what.  I’d love to hear from some tall steeple heads of staff about their thoughts on this.

There are other pastors who do not want their salaries revealed because they do not want to embarrass colleagues who do not make as much as they do, only because their contexts are so economically different.  A hard-working pastor in a church of 200 in a poor neighborhood is going to make less than a hard-working pastor in a church of 200 in a rich neighborhood.

We are free to accept or not to accept the Terms of Call (salary and benefits) that a church offers to pay us.  Nobody is forcing us to work for $40,000/year. Most of us would love to make six figures which is why larger churches are considered plum positions.

But salaries are tender topics.

A church member shared with our Board of Elders a few years ago that the pastor (that would be me) was earning too much money. He was a friend of mine, actually, and he had no complaint about my ministry. I was happy to have this conversation as I was sitting at the table that night, and I get that I was making more than he was as a high school graduate with a low level job.  But I was making the Presbytery minimum and had three kids and two graduate school degrees.  And I was working really hard.  Did I deserve more money based on my education and experience than this church member?  Was my job more important than his?  Were my responsibilities more complicated?

We can ask for “what we believe we are worth” or for “what we need to live financially comfortably” but what if our congregations simply cannot pay that amount?  Churches depend on the voluntarily given donations of members and friends.  I can ask for more money, but if the non-profit organization I serve doesn’t have the money, then that’s that.

I have enormous respect for pastors of tiny churches that can only pay a few thousand dollars a year.  I do not believe that pastors of tiny congregations are necessarily less gifted than the pastors of large congregations.  But we all have to make choices.  HH and I shared a single position when our children were little.  We’ll pay for it for the rest of our lives – financially – but we got to spend a lot of time with our kids.  To me, it was worth it, but paying for all those braces was kind of a nightmare.

What’s your wisdom on clergy salaries?  Are we simply destined (intentional word choice) to have such a wide gap in salaries between Senior Pastors and Associate Pastors, between tall steeple churches and tiny churches, between male and female clergy?

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4 responses to “So, How Much Do You Earn As a Pastor?

  1. Cathy Mia Kolwey

    Thank you for this discussion…. very timely for me!!
    I have two reactions as a response:
    First, I have just watched a person leave a church (Director, not Pastor, so rules are a little different), and the church hired an interim to finish out the program year and summer. Here were some of the comments made during that process:
    - HE is about to have a baby, HE needs the money to provide for HIS expanding family, We should give it to HIM.
    - SHE is married and just working for fun. SHE doesn’t really “need” the job.
    - SHE is a single mother. I don’t know that SHE will have the time to commit to this role.
    All that is to say that I think church’s are still offensively discriminatory and sexist when it comes to hiring practices, from the secretaries and childcare workers all the way up to the pastors. It happens more than we admit.

    Secondly, I think the church also has unrealistic expectations when it comes to pastors “perks”. A few examples of what I mean:
    – I have been hired to fill a “social media” role, and then had the church tell me they didn’t think they needed to buy me a computer. Didn’t I have one at home?
    – I have been asked to be “on-call” for pastoral care emergencies and then told that I needed to give the congregation my personal cell phone number because the church wasn’t going to pay for a staff cell phone (or even subsidize my personal one).
    – I have been asked to put $8000 of airline tickets on my personal credit card for a high school mission trip because the church didn’t want the youth pastor to have a credit card. (It was a church with a multimillion dollar endowment…. money was not the issue).
    So I think we also need to be aware that we cannot expect pastors to fund the church’s ministries out of their own meager salaries.Youth pastors can’t fund youth ministries out of $12/hour salaries. Artist pastors can’t fund their arts ministries with part-time salaries, and pastoral care professionals can’t be available without church-funded phones. Supporting pastors with these “perks” (which are really essentials for success) needs to be included in conversations around salary as well.

  2. Pingback: Wednesday Festival – Edging into Palm Sunday | RevGalBlogPals

  3. I have no answers, only that this post is so timely, since at dinner Saturday the difference in my salary and my friends’ pastor’s salary came up, and the discrepancy was huge, in spite of very similar congregations. Then I realized we were talking apples – how much my salary is – and oranges – how much it costs my friends’ church to have a pastor, and that accounted for 1/2 of the discrepancy. And yet I do wonder if we tracked salaries by gender, and then again by women who are also mothers and those who aren’t, what we would find – Does the church reflect the culture, where it is mothers who make up most of the gender gap? More to the point, there is no way a family could survive in this area on my one pastor’s salary. The whole thing is a mess, frankly – Who else has to leave the room annually when the congregation discusses a salary that is so public?? And where else do those who pay our salaries have the option of walking when they get mad at us, leaving the congregation scurrying to make up the difference. O, sorry, didn’t mean to go on and on – but it’s a sensitive subject!

  4. Our synod guidelines call for pastors to be paid the same as school district employees (teachers for solo pastors, principals for senior pastors where there is more than one pastor or other pastoral staff). To use my pastor as an example, synod guidelines call on him to be payed at the same level as a teacher with a Master’s degree plus 30 credits (he is just shy of a D.Min) with more than 30 years of experience. If you add up his total compensation package, including housing allowance and benefits, we get pretty close. For second career people, congregations are encouraged to consider their education and experience not directly related to their pastoral position, too.

    From what I’ve heard, most of the congregations have been pretty good about honoring that guidance. It’s a pretty good way to take into account the cost of living differences between rural, suburban, and urban areas (our synod has all three).

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