Monday, March 16, 2015

Help! What Should We Pay the Pastor? – Part Six, Three Helps to Come Up With the Numbers

          You are an independent Baptist. No overarching denominational board tells you how much you are to pay your pastor. You want to do a better job of it but you don't know how to go about it. In today's post I offer you three suggestions to help you come up with the numbers.

     The first and probably simplest way to do it is to purchase some resources from others who have studied such things. I recommend In addition to a wide range of clergy law, insurance, and tax supports it issues an annual book called the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff. Not only is this updated every year but it has editions tailored to a wide range of employee types and church sizes. It is carefully researched, detailed, and legally accurate. For a small amount of money the committee that determines the pastor's pay could educate themselves rather well and do so on an ongoing basis.

          The second way is to do your own work comparing the pay structure of other churches in your particular area. When I came to Chicago eleven years ago I felt I was underpaid. This was the route I chose to go to address it. No, you cannot find information on independent churches this way but almost every mainline denominational group publicly posts its pastoral salary structure and recommendations. Further, they generally do so broken up by geographical regions. With some digging, I was able to determine what Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of Christ, and Assembly of God churches of equivalent size to ours in the same geographical region paid their pastors. I was able to gather the forms they sent to their local church clergy salary committees. Printing off stacks of such information several years in a row I took them to my annual budget meetings with the men of our church. I used them to explain the areas in which I thought our church should improve and why those requests were reasonable. This made sense to our men because their unions often use a similar concept to compare pay rates across an industry. Over a roughly four year span I was able to gradually bring my church to improve to a position roughly average to a little above average in that department. Through these years they have ungrudgingly maintained it and appropriately added to it from year to year.
          To do this one must needs be comparing apples to apples. In other words, if your pastor is making the same salary as the custodian at the local Presbyterian church everything is not hunky dory.

          The third way is to build a formula.
          In my research, in addition to benefits, I have generally found three criteria used to determine a pastor's pay rate. The first is his level of education. This is widely used as well in the secular world in areas such as medicine and education. The working assumption is that a higher level of education usually corresponds with a greater effectiveness on the job. This is essentially true when that work involves some sort of research, study, or relatively arcane expertise. I know people who dispute this as being reasonable. I am not one of them. Generally speaking, I would rather learn from a professor with a doctorate than one with a master's degree. There are exceptions to this, and the ministry lends itself to such. Many a man without advanced degrees makes a wonderful pastor. Such a man can even be a deep preacher if he diligently follows a program of self-directed study. But the truth of this does not rule out the wisdom of using an educational level as one of a number of such criteria.
          The second widely used benchmark is the size of the congregation to which the pastor ministers. Please do not hang me here. I do not believe there is anything inherently more spiritual about a larger church. But there is generally a larger, broader, heavier responsibility in a larger church. For instance, right now the only staff I supervise at my church is a secretary. In a larger church the pastor might need to supervise assistant pastors, a Christian school staff, etc. That adds a layer of complexity to his work. I have more work to do now as the pastor of an average size church than I used to have as the pastor of a start up church. I do more counseling. I do more long range planning. I do more financial administration. I do more mentoring. I do more shut in visitation. As my work load has increased in the past 19 years as a pastor so has my pay. That just makes sense.
          The third point of comparison is experience. I cannot think of a single vocation in which this is more valuable than the ministry even more so than academics. Let's take two pastors for example. Pastor A has a church of 130 members in a city of about 100,000 people in a southern state. Pastor B has a church of 150 members in a city of about 80,000 in a southern state. They both have bachelor's degrees from a reputable Bible college. But Pastor A has been a pastor for 25 years while Pastor B has four years of experience as a youth pastor. It is patently obvious that Pastor A should make more money. He offers his congregation a veritable plethora of Bible knowledge, life experience, and people knowledge that Pastor B does not. Pastor A's sermons are richer and deeper. Pastor A's diagnosis and consequent treatment of weak Christians in his church is much more accurate than Pastor B's. Pastor A's counseling is almost always spot on while Pastor B's is more hit and miss. Again, please do not misunderstand me. I am not criticizing Pastor B. I used to be him. He is tremendously useful to the cause of Christ. He is helpful to his church. But Pastor A is more helpful to his church and that hard won experience will be rewarded if his church is a wise church.
          Of course these three criteria cannot take everything into account. For instance, if a pastor with one child leaves and the pastor who follows him has seven children the church must needs notice that. Additionally, these criteria do not take into account the financial health of a church nor the average condition of its members. If the formula states that a pastor should make $100,000 a year but no one in his church makes more than $30,000 a year than paying him the formula's salary will breed resentment and distrust among the very people he is trying to reach. By the same token, if the board of deacons averages a personal salary of $75,000 a year but the formula only says to pay the pastor $25,000 those deacons will struggle to respect their pastor. Another way of saying this is that formulas are only helpful. They are more like guidelines than actual rules.
          The advantage, though, of using the formula as a guideline is there is no need for emotion or hurt feelings. Once it is determined it chugs along the track by itself. What percentage of pay is a year of experience worth? What percentage of pay is a master's degree worth? What percentage of pay is a 50 person increase in average attendance worth? Plug the numbers in, include a yearly addendum based on inflation, and the formula spits out an answer that no one can be offended by.

          With this post I leave the subject of pastoral salary. Much more could be said on the subject surely but I have spoken my piece for the moment. As always, I invite you to share your response if you so choose. My aim has been to cover the basics of a necessary approach by both the pastor and the church. In short, may God's men be contented, sacrificial, wise, and bold in their leadership. May God's people be conscientious and generous in their support.

          New series launches next week… Stay tuned. 

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