Part of my work involves overseeing the Terms of Call that spell out what congregations agree to pay their pastors in terms of salary and benefits. I’ve sadly found that it’s rare – if not unheard of – for congregations to be generous with their pastors without some people in the congregation protesting.
First of all, there are very few congregations that could genuinely be called generous to their pastors and other church staffers. Many small church pastors are paid the minimum required salary and – if there is an annual raise at all – it tends to be only a cost of living adjustment. Many small churches would like to pay their pastors more, but cannot afford to do so. Or they don’t think they can.
What I’ve seen and heard:
- Churches hiring a pastor, not because they’ve discerned that he/she has been called by God to lead them, but because he/she is the only one who can live in their manse/rectory which saves the congregation money.
- Churches hiring married co-pastors to share a single position – each working half-time, but bragging openly that they will get more than “two for the price of one.”
- Churches calling very part time pastors (1/2 time, 1/4 time) but expecting them to work full time, and resenting them if they try to set boundaries.
- Churches that refuse to give sabbaticals to their pastors, even after 10, 15, 20 years of ministry.
With all of these situations, some education and interpretation is needed. In fact, of the marks of a healthy 21st Century Church is the ongoing education of church leaders – beyond the pastor. The elders, deacons, and support staff all need continuing education. Some of that education is about what a pastor actually does or should be doing.
- First, everybody needs to remember that successful ministry begins and ends with the Holy Spirit. Search Committees must pray for their future pastors (it’s fun to realize that this future mystery pastor is walking around somewhere right now), pray for clarity, wisdom, and insight, and recognize that God is guiding the process – or should be. Just as churches should not be unduly influenced by a potential pastor’s charm and good looks, churches should also not be influenced by the fact that a certain pastor might save them money (by living in the manse, arriving with a personal trust fund, etc.)
- If we call a part-time pastor, we must – especially – respect and encourage limits to the pastor’s time. A 10 hour/week pastor (barely) has time to write and preach a sermon, plan and lead worship, and moderate a monthly meeting. No emergency visits. No teaching classes. A 25 hour/week pastor can preach, lead worship, teach a Bible study and do hospital calls (if nobody dies and the boiler doesn’t break down.) But there’s no time for general pastoral care, premarital counseling, training the ushers, etc. Even at 50 hours/ week a pastor cannot get everything done. A solid full time pastor – even one that takes a regular day off – works a lot, doing a broad array of duties from the holy to the banal.
- Because of the nature of pastoral work, we have got to give our pastors a sabbatical. Three. Whole. Months. Every. Six. Years. (Some congregations offer a sabbatical more often than every six years.) If you don’t think you can spare your pastor for three months, your church officers are not doing their jobs. Even the poorest congregation can work something out. There are grants! And for those of you say, “I don’t get a sabbatical from my bank/plumbing company/dental practice/auto repair shop. Why should we pay our pastor for taking a three month long vacation?!” First of all, maybe you should get a sabbatical from your work. And secondly, teaching pastors need space for further learning without the distractions of the regular duties of professional ministry. Those who refuse their pastors a sabbatical clearly have no idea what it means to be a parish pastor and the toll it takes on a person emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And thirdly, a sabbatical not only refreshes the pastor so that he/she can return to benefit the church, but the congregation has the opportunity to take a sabbatical too, in that they can explore something new for their church.
There are some thoughtful churches out there who offer an extra week of vacation when pastors have family emergencies. They remember their pastor’s ordination date and the anniversary of their pastor’s arrival. They give little bonuses for an especially good job in special situations. They tell their pastor what she/he does well and they love their pastor enough to share constructive criticism. They partner with their pastors to do the work of ministry, rather than assume that “it’s the pastor’s job” to fill the pews and balance the budget.
The adage “you get what you pay for” is not necessarily true for church staffs. I know pastors who devote their highest devotion and greatest creativity to their churches and are among the lowest paid pastors in their presbyteries. But we have got to end the practice of attempting to get a pastor on the cheap. Believe me, when the pastor is happy and healthy, the congregation is happy and healthy.