I remember – almost 30 years ago – hearing for the first time about a pastor making $100,000 a year in cash salary. It was a stunning revelation that this was even possible. At the time, I was earning so little income as a rural pastor that I qualified for government assistance.
Many pastors – especially of churches larger than 500 souls – earn a six figure salary these days, at least in urban and suburban parts of the U.S. According to The 2008 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, Presbyterian pastors are among the best paid in the country. Christianity Today reported several years ago that “Presbyterian senior pastors earned the most in our survey—their average salary plus housing/parsonage was $78,000—while Baptist senior pastors earned next to last—$67,000.”
We all know that nobody goes into professional ministry for the money. Nevertheless, we all appreciate a just salary that pays for our basic needs as well as some basics wants. I am sinfully proud of the fact that HH and I could pay for braces for our three kids. I am sinfully anxious that our kids have student loans to pay off. It would have been great to be able to cover more of their college costs but I’m grateful we could give as much as we gave them.
Part of my current job involves receiving the “Terms of Call” for all the installed pastors of our Presbytery, and I am struck by the disparity. I have a hard time believing that the Senior Pastor of a large, wealthy church really works three times as hard as the solo pastor of a tiny church in a less affluent part of Chicagoland. But that’s the numerical difference in their salaries. One pastor makes the minimum and another makes three times that – even if they have similar gifts and years of service.
Again, according to Christianity Today “the biggest single factor in determining any pastor’s pay is the church’s income. And among churches with senior pastors, Presbyterian churches have the highest-reported church income, so some of that gets passed along to their senior pastors.”
Ideas for creating a fairer system have been tossed around for years to no avail. It’s not up to Presbyteries – in my denomination – to set up these regulations, I believe. It’s up to the congregations themselves.
Imagine if a congregation intentionally committed to paying their Senior Pastor and their Associate Pastors more proportionately. Yes, experience and education matter. But most Associate Pastors have almost as much responsibility as Senior Pastors. It seem unjustifiable to pay a Senior Pastor twice as much – or more – than the Associate Pastor in multi-staff congregations.
It also seems unfair to pay a solo pastor – who does everything from preaching each Sunday to leading the youth group – a fraction of what a Head of Staff makes, especially when that Head of Staff never has to worry about unlocking the doors every Sunday or recruiting teachers or training the ushers.
We have many pastors who – no matter how hard they work, how creatively they try to lead their people, or how gifted they are – will never make more than the minimum salary.
I have no answers. Do you?
Image source here.