Note: My thoughts below relate to Senior or “solo” (the only one the church has) pastors.
Another note: This is a hard subject for pastors to talk about. Now that I’m no longer a pastor of a congregation, I can share my thoughts on the subject freely. My viewpoint is quite different from that of many churches, but please give it your careful, prayerful consideration.
Ways in which pastor’s salaries are determined:
(1) The “pay very little and hope we can find somebody who will work for peanuts” approach. You’ve heard of the prayer, “Lord, you keep him humble, and we’ll keep him poor.” This is such an obvious violation of I Timothy 5:17-25 (see below) and Matthew 7:12 (the “Golden Rule”) that it isn’t worth considering.
Any study of this subject should involve a careful look at the I Timothy passage. In a church which views the Bible as authoritative, our opinions are of very little merit compared to the teachings of God’s Word. Please, stop right now and at least READ this passage.
(2) “He should be paid the average salary of the people of the community.” This view is not entirely without merit. If a pastor’s salary is far above the rest of his church members, this would surely invite envy. If it’s below the standard of the community, non-church goers will be tempted to treat the congregation with contempt.
Sadly, some church members would rather have their pastor underpaid than to see him as living “above” the way they themselves are living. (I pastored one church where the people were NOT HAPPY when an outside party gave us a nice car. This was a strange and very uncomfortable experience!). In my view, the average income of the people of the area should certainly be included in the final equation, but other factors (below) need to be considered as well.
(3) “He should receive the average income of the board members.” This view is also worth considering. The income of the board members should be taken into consideration, but, as above, other significant factors need to be brought into the equation. We need to be careful with this methodology: What if the board members are all CEO’s? What if they’re all retirees?
(4) “His salary should match that of other pastors (or other pastors of the same denomination) in the area.” I don’t see any merit in this at all.What if all the other pastors in the area are grossly over or under paid? Does the sin of the church down the road make our sin acceptable? Is this the way we determine our ethics in other areas? If several churches in the area fire their pastors in completely disgraceful ways, does this make it okay for us to do the same thing? Is the desire here, in truth, to hire a pastor and pay him as little as possible (view number one)?
(5) The “worker deserves his wages” (I Timothy 5:17,18). This view says that a pastor should be paid a salary which is commensurate with the requirements and expectations of this intense, demanding position. I am not necessarily saying that a similar position in the secular world should be identified, and then the pastor is given similar compensation without any other factors (that we’ve considered above) factored into the equation, but I am definitely saying that such a comparison should be part of the overall formula.
At this point, some will often make a comparison between the position of a public school teacher and a senior or solo pastor. I love public school teachers. I think they should be well taken care of. But I feel that this standard seriously misses the mark. Please stop right now and sincerely consider the following realities of the solo or senior pastor’s role:
- He is expected to have at least a four-year college degree and is just as often expected to have a three-year seminary degree as well. Some churches want him to have a doctorate.
- He is expected to be engaged in ongoing education because “leaders are learners.”
- He is expected to be at least reasonably good as a teacher, personal care-giver, leader, trainer and manager. As I’ve written in The Parable Of The Headhunter, these gifts rarely if ever appear in one individual. Any “headhunter” would expect such an unusual individual to be highly paid.
- He has one of the most stressful jobs in our society. Besides that, there are role conflicts built into the position when the five diverse tasks mentioned above are combined into one position (again, please see my Headhunter article). These role conflicts can be downright deadly. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to ask a health insurance company. No one wants to ensure a group of pastors because their stress levels and demanding, unhealthy lifestyles make them a high risk.
- He is “on call” most of the time. The only way for a pastor to get “off” is to make himself unavailable, which some church members will always consider to be unacceptable: “The Devil doesn’t take a vacation” (as if the Devil should be our role model!).
- He (if he’s an evangelical) almost always works 50 or more hours per week. Most evangelical pastors work six days a week. A “weekend” (or simply two days off in a row) is something a pastor enjoys (not counting vacations) a couple of times per year. A “three-day weekend” is pretty much unheard of for a pastor. His vacations are often ruined by pastoral emergencies.
- In some churches, pastors have a hard time participating in the socializing of their church members, because they can’t afford to go out to eat, golf (etc.) as often as they do.
- Invariably, some in the community wonder why “First Church” doesn’t take care of its pastor. This is not usually necessary; in most cases “First Church” is sending considerable sums “to the mission field” without first taking care of its leader on that portion of the mission field that we call “home.”
As you can see, I believe that views one and four are indefensible and that view five is the best view. But, of course, it’s not quite that simple. The income of the congregation, the average income of the area, and the average income of the board members all have to be taken into consideration. Paying a pastor like a CEO of a large corporation might be justified by a straight-up version of view number five, but this would be a scandal in most churches.
Here’s my last word on the subject: If we really seek to honor God by obeying I Timothy 5, we will be zealous for making sure that our pastors are well provided for and never tempted to (1) envy board members or other congregants, (2) leave the ministry, (3) find a better-paying church or, (4) add a second job, because they are living below the poverty line and failing to take care of their families.