Pastors of Fortune

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.

money_origami_cross___made_with__100_bill_by_vincent_the_artist-d5p65niMany 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.


7 responses to “Pastors of Fortune

  1. This was one of the worst things about serving as the associate pastor of a large church, as I did for a number of years. The Head of Staff was making nearly twice what I did — and *I* had more years of experience as an ordained minister. It was a struggle not to feel resentful. I’d be interested in how gender plays out in this discussion, as well.

  2. Jan, I am so with you on this one as it is an issue close to my heart. Thank you for writing about it. The injustice inherent in the inequity of pastors’ incomes should be an embarrassment. In my previous call I began to realize that it was an embarrassment for some churches that didn’t report changes in clergy salaries to the presbytery as they were asked to do. In fact, one pastor said that to me and refused to have any pastoral salaries released. It seems that as long as the church holds a business world mindset rather than an ethic that emphasizes that all calls to serve are just that – calls by God to serve wherever and however that may be – discrepancies in pastor’s salaries will continue to be a sad indicator of the powerful hold our culture has on the church. Raising the issue time and again is important to do with the hope that it will be heard and change will take place.

  3. I had an idea years ago. Before any church hired their third associate pastor they should consider funding the position of a pastor in a smaller church–no strings attached. That would be a statement of faith about the future of the church. And a step toward equity. The reason I don’t like seeing the salaries published is because it just rubs it in the face of those who are working hard for less pay and pits pastors against one another as the business world would have us do. It would be much better to just declare minimums and maximums.

    • I guess I frame this in a different way – rather than pitting pastors against each other, I see it as joining together as colleagues. And it’s a justice issue.

      I don’t want to embarrass people or shame the pastors who make exponentially more than their colleagues, but we are doing our work in the name of Jesus who had so much to say about money and justice. When my salary is published for everyone to see, it holds me and my congregation (in my case, the Presbytery) accountable. Congregations vow to pay their pastors fairly. Pastors and ruling elders vow to be friends with their colleagues in ministry. I see this required reporting in that framework.

  4. Pingback: Jan Edmiston: Pastors of Fortune | THINKING PRESBYTERIAN |

  5. I agree with much of this, though there are a whole bunch of questions that would nuance this conversation. I will say that I think the disparity between AP and head of staff salaries, even at big churches, is problematic. I don’t like the fact that the only way to provide financial security or growth for families is for APs to feel like they need to “move up the latter” to head of staff jobs, or even make lateral moves to churches that pay more. And I think that our presbytery minimum is way to low for the cost of living in Chicagoland.

    But, to muddy the waters even more, let me go in a different direction. Should presbytery executives make nearly 2.5 times the presbytery minimum? Should other presbytery staff be paid more than most of the pastors in the presbytery?

  6. What if a presbytery created a pool into which churches with means could voluntarily contribute that would supplement the incomes of pastors serving churches in areas where the median income is less than an agreed upon threshold?

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