In absolutely practical terms I do not know of a subject that is thought about more and talked about less in public by the typical pastor and his family then the pastor's salary. Perhaps there are some saintly men of God whose minds dwell only upon faith, hope, charity, and the lost souls of the Nigerian people but I do not know any men like that. The men I know – and I know rather well more than a hundred IFB pastors – live in the same real world that everyone else does.
Some may say in response that such subjects are private and that very few people openly discuss their own needs and salary. While this is true there is one tremendous difference: the pastor's salary is not private. It is public knowledge arrived at in the most public of ways. I do not know of a single layman (and please do not hang me for that term; I do not mean it in any way disrespectfully but simply as a differentiation) who would be comfortable with an entire church full of people knowing the intimate details of his salary. Nor would he be comfortable with that salary and benefits package being determined in a public manner by a large number of his closest friends and acquaintances. But the pastor accepts this situation. He must make the best of it and one of the ways he makes the best of it is simply not to discuss it nor to allow his wife and children to discuss it. So the elephant just sits there while everyone politely pretends it doesn't exist.
For the next few weeks on this blog I am going to discuss this elephant. I will do so primarily from an independent, fundamental Baptist (IFB) perspective. Not only is this my only real area of expertise but it is also where the biggest need for an educational increase lies. I will try to be balanced though that probably just means I will offend all kinds of people from every angle of the spectrum. I plan to discuss such topics as the pastor's necessary mindset (today's post), the bivocational pastor, the causes for an unacceptable salary, the victims of that situation, what an appropriate pay package ought to include, and how to arrive at those specific numbers. Along the way I will be fairly transparent telling much of my own personal history and situation. I wholeheartedly invite you to enter into this discussion with me either via the comments on this blog or on my own facebook page. I am very interested in hearing the perspective of God's people - pastors, staff, and lay people. If nothing else gets accomplished perhaps we can at least agree to stop ignoring the elephant in the living room.
Let me say unequivocally at the outset that I am not aiming at my own church. In fact, I am not aiming at any particular church let alone my own. For the past eleven years God has allowed me to pastor the Maplewood Bible Baptist Church of Chicago. At first they were weak in this area but over a number of years their understanding deepened as I sought to gradually and gently teach them their responsibility. I can honestly write that I do not personally know of a similar size IFB church that takes better care of their pastor than Maplewood does of me. I have no ax to grind. They count my position worthy of double honor.
In fact, I do not want to begin with the church at all. I want to begin with the pastor. There are two absolutely essential monetary mindsets that a pastor must constantly cultivate in the Lord's work. The first is contentment and the second is a willingness to sacrifice. Without these, whether the church fulfills her responsibility well or not, he will inevitably fail.
Contentment is stressed from one end of the Bible to the other. The Ten Commandments includes Thou shalt not covet. (Exodus 20.17) Covetousness is, at its root, a lack of contentment in the circumstance into which God has placed you. I am not content with my house; I want my neighbor's house. I am not content with my wife; I want my neighbor's wife. Paul, in an epistle aimed directly at pastors, would later mention contentment more specifically in a financial context. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (I Timothy 6.6-8)
Practically speaking, this means I am satisfied with my salary regardless of how measly it is. It means that I am happy in my parsonage regardless of the crumbling state of its maintenance. It means I am comfortable with my retirement package even if it doesn't exist. Contentment does not rule out a desire or effort to better my financial situation but it does rule in a heart peace with the material circumstances of my life. I do not cast my eye across town to the senior pastor of the more established church who enjoys a veritable plethora of benefits. Nor do I roam further afield and behold with envy my Southern Baptist brethren and the amazing health plan they enjoy. Instead, as often as necessary, I take my concern, fear, and unease to the Lord. I ask Him to settle my heart and to let me be at peace with what He has seen fit to provide.
This is such a necessary element for a pastor especially because discontentment will not remain isolated to the financial arena. Soon I will want a larger ministry. Soon I will covet some other church building. Soon I will find that ambition, pride, and a striving for mastery rule in a heart that once wanted nothing more than to be spent in God's work however He might choose. I realize the ditch of fatalism and cynicism exist on this side of the road. But I cannot, however, justify an envious, unhappy, discontented spirit with the excuse that I am simply maintaining a passionate desire to advance the cause of Christ.
I will speak more of this later but I began the ministry by living in a room that was five feet wide and seven feet long in a building that had neither shower nor bathtub. In His grace He has allowed me to enjoy a four bedroom, three bath house for the last eleven years but if He wanted me to remain in those cramped conditions that is His right. I am a servant in His vineyard. If he wants to pay me a penny a day for eleven hours of work or a penny a day for one hour of work it is completely His prerogative.
Contentment is not just resignation either. It is an active faith that says I believe the Lord will meet my needs. My father was a pastor for thirty-eight years. Upon entering the ministry he opted out of Social Security. Along the way he never developed a plan to replace it. We could and should discuss the merits of the wisdom of that approach but I know him exceedingly well. His heart was simply to serve the Lord. When the time came a few years ago for him to retire he expressed a child-like trust in the Lord's provision. Guess what? The Lord has and is providing. Whether your church grasps the necessity of its financial responsibility in the area of you and your family or not you can and should cultivate contentment.
It is not unusual to find such a spirit of sacrifice in young men freshly entered upon ministry. It is more unusual to find it in the mature pastor, in the seasoned servant of the Lord. Often, with that transition from young to old comes the accompanying idea that our time of sacrifice is over. There is only one problem with that – God never implied such, let alone stated it, and we have no right to infer it. Certainly a church should strive to make such financial sacrifice unnecessary in the life of a pastor but just as certainly he must be always willing to undertake it.
An applied corollary of sacrifice is the foundational principle that I must not damage the church. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God. (I Corinthians 10.32) The church has a responsibility to provide generously for my financial needs but that does not mean I have the right to demand that generous compensation. Especially if in so demanding I hurt the church.
I am thinking at the moment of two specific gospel preaching churches that used to be located within a mile of our church here in Chicago. They no longer exist. In the first case the pastor inherited a large, crumbling building with a congregation of only thirty. He led them to sell the building and the parsonage. I saw the wisdom in that. But what he did next was not wise; it was predatory. He pushed them to buy him a condo, a "summer parsonage" in Michigan, and jack his pay up to over $100,000 a year. Meanwhile his church drifted down from thirty to less than ten. For about five years he milked the situation until the money ran out and then he rode off into the sunset. I full well understand the high cost of living in the inner city and while I do not make $100,000 a year it does not bother me if a pastor does. Unless in so doing he hurts the church. Which is precisely what he did. In the second case a man of great experience (which means he was getting old) refused to relinquish the pastorate even as he entered his declining years. He had been there for thirty years and, like my father, had made no provision for retirement. Unlike my father, however, he hung on like grim death. As his health, energy, and mental faculties declined he presided over a corresponding decline in his church. An IFB church that once ran 150 in Sunday School could muster only a dozen or so at the end. Finally, unable to pay the bills, the congregation voted to sell the building, close the church, and give the proceeds to the pastor to live off of in retirement. I applaud that aspect of the church's approach but the hard truth is the church should never have been placed in that position. The pastor's selfishness and fear – hard words, I know, but true – murdered a church in order to ensure his own financial security.
Sacrifice says, 'If the damage must come to either the church or myself let me be the one to suffer loss.' A pastor who is unwilling or unable to believe that in his heart and practice it with his life is unworthy of the position.
In this series I will make no bones about what a church ought to do financially in relation to a pastor but if that pastor allows discontentment to breed in his heart a sufficient paycheck will not solve the problem. And though a pastor should not have to undergo serious financial damage in order to ensure the stability and future of his church he must always be willing to do so. Always.