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?