Monday, March 9, 2015

Help! What Should We Pay the Pastor? – Part Five, Three Necessary Elements

          Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. (I Timothy 5.17-18)
          Let us assume, for the moment, that we are dealing with an American church that is healthy numerically and financially. Let us also assume it has a sincere desire to follow the Lord in obedience to these two verses. In practical terms what does that look like? How should a pastor's pay package be structured?
          In today's post I will attempt to answer that. I realize that my opinion is not infallible and, as always, I certainly welcome yours. But I do think my opinion is both experienced and educated. I offer it for your consideration.

          First, the pastor should receive a generous salary. Next week my post will discuss how to arrive at the specifics of these numbers for each pastor and church. But for the moment let us just mention the necessity for the pastor to receive regularly a good amount of plain old money.
          On a related note, many churches undercut the salary because they reason that they are furnishing the pastor with a place to live. May I just be brutally honest with you? I wish every church in America would sell their parsonage. A church owned house is almost always poorly maintained. The only way for a pastor to correct that problem is to ask the church to spend money on the house he lives in. That is problematic because it looks selfish and because there is always some other necessary and more public expense at the church. Even if it is well maintained (and I have yet to see one of those, including my own) the pastor's family still has no choice in its own housing arrangements. Again, this is something no other family in the church would willingly consider acceptable. Still more important, a pastor living in a parsonage may pay no mortgage but he consequently builds no housing equity either. The average homeowner in America uses his house as his single biggest investment vehicle. A parsonage situation automatically takes that opportunity away from a pastor.
          On the other hand, if a church sold its parsonage it would be forced to realize that it is necessary to pay the pastor enough to allow him to purchase his own home. This would also let the family choose where it lives and the level of maintenance that it finds acceptable. Additionally, year after year the pastor would accumulate equity. Pay the pastor well, including enough to be able to afford to buy a home that is roughly equivalent to the average homeowner in his church. If the pastor wants to structure that salary in such a way that some of it is called a housing allowance – which to this point the IRS still finds acceptable – certainly let him.

        Second, the pastor should receive a number of additional benefits. I will list the ones I think the typical salary package should include and the reasons why.

                 -health insurance: Let me encourage you, if your church is able to afford it, to purchase actual health insurance for the pastor and his family. I realize many churches choose to use Christian sharing ministries but the truth is that those ministries often are not given the same price of service discounts that health insurance companies are. Additionally, medical providers are often wary of them and accessing specialist care in this way is often complicated and difficult. To some extent the same is true with Medicaid which many pastors and their families also use in lieu of insurance. If you cannot afford insurance than make sure one of these are available but aim for a widely reputable insurance carrier if you can.
                   -vacation: Lazy pastors exist, sadly, but do not assume the pastor will become one of those if you are generous with him in relation to vacation time. In fact, the typical pastor will not actually use all of his vacation time. He feels most keenly his absence from the church and he fights to be there. Do not let him. Send him away. Give him a few weeks a year in which he is released from his duties. Certainly let him choose his own pulpit supply but do not make him furnish the expense from his own pocket. Such a position is atrocious. Give him and his wife a week or two away at conferences at the church expense. Send him on missions trips. Let him steal away for a week or two of prayer time each year. I am laughing to myself picturing the horror on some people's faces as they read this. What? All that time off? First, much of it is not time off. Second, he will not use it all. Third, sharpening the ax is not wasted time. Your church will be a better church if its pastor is often physically rested and spiritually refreshed.
                   -a day off every week: I am writing this on a Saturday afternoon. I worked today from 9 AM until 2 PM. I will work again later this evening. Tomorrow is Sunday. With the exception of a few hours in the afternoon I will work from 7 AM until 9 PM. That is the typical pastor's weekend and many have extended hours beyond this. If the pastor is then expected to be in the office from 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday and to conduct a midweek service we have a bit of a problem, don't we? Let him choose his own day off according to what works for him but encourage him to take one. And if, because of ministry pressure, he goes four weeks without one do not quarrel with him if he takes two the next week. Let him breathe.
                   -continuing education: A pastor who is not constantly learning is a pastor who will eventually bore his people to tears. A church that is wise enough to invest in their pastor's continuing education will find itself richly rewarded. Authorize him to use a sum of money each year at his own discretion for books, classes, conferences, etc. that will sharpen his skill. It is money well spent.
                   -retirement: Here is how it often goes – the pastor nears retirement age and starts to inwardly panic. He long ago chose to exempt himself from Social Security and now he does not know what to do. His options are all unpleasant. He can ask the church to deed the parsonage to him and his wife, or to allow them to live in it post-retirement and hope he can supplement as a greeter at Walmart. That hamstrings the next pastor, though, by taking away the parsonage so the church and the pastor usually resist that. The other unpleasant option is for the pastor to hang on well past his used by date as the church declines around him. Finally, he shuffles off this mortal coil and his wife goes to live with her daughter in California. That is not a plan. It is a reaction, and a relatively poor one at that. What can be done about this? The church should ensure that the pastor sets up a 403b account and then funds it. At the very least, the church should pay in the same percentage it would if it was paying into Social Security. Often, it can do more, and if the pastor is paid generously he can match it. Do this for forty years, pair it with a home he owns outright like everyone else in America and the situation is much more feasible, isn't it? Let me be crystal clear – if an American church is not paying at least the Social Security percentage to either Social Security or a 403b for every member of its staff it is defrauding them. And that is a corporate sin.

          Third, the pastor should occasionally receive expressions of honor and appreciation. There must needs be a balance here for it is unwise to praise a man overmuch. It is also unwise to praise him not at all. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation. (Philippians 2.29) Gather a committee of thoughtful people, let them research how to appropriately honor a pastor, double it, and then put into action. For instance, a church could set aside one Sunday a year as Pastor Appreciation Sunday. Some testimonies could be given by people whom he has helped. A dinner or reception could be held in his honor. A love offering beyond his salary could be gathered by the people or simply have the deacons hand him a check with a generous bonus. Notes or cards of gratitude can be gathered. Service anniversaries, such as ten or twenty five years should be marked in additional ways. Too much of this is a bad thing, beloved, but the solution to that is not to refuse to corporately honor the pastor; the solution is to honor him appropriately from time to time.

          Next week I will conclude this series with three methods or helps to determine the specifics of your pastors pay. Each church is different, each pastor is different, and each geographical area is different. These need to be taken into account and next week I will offer some suggestions for how to do that. Until then, as always, your thoughts and comments are welcome, either here or on facebook.   


  1. Very Good stuff. I realize you need to start somewhere with this thinking (Let us assume, for the moment, that we are dealing with an American church that is healthy numerically and financially.), but it sure seems that is not the case with most churches.
    I agree with everything you said, it just seems so idealistic. Maybe that is why I am so burdened to get churches healthy! Maybe the next set of blog posts could be on the topic of how to get healthy enough to actually do all you recommend. Actually, that might require a book! Ha! Nice series. Looking forward to the next one. Mike

  2. These are great articles. While I support the pastor having a day off, may I make the plea that the church member should also have a day off?

    We work Mon-Fri at a job; we visit bus routes on Saturday, and teach Sunday School and sing in the choir on Sundays. We look enviously at the pastor's day off and wish that we, too, were given a day off and not pushed to also work the entire weekend.

    - Bill O Edacity

  3. I am confused why a pastor should live above its members. Why opt out of social security? Always preaching on the Lord's provision, and how God will pay all the bills, yet at retirement "panic" because, all of a sudden there isn't enough money to retire. I fail to understand how God runs out of provision when the pastor retires. We are constantly told to trust God, while increasing our giving. Constantly challenged to give over and above our tithes, offerings, building funds, missions funds, etc. we are constantly guilt tripped into not going on vacation because there is a need someplace. Yet the pastor can get a new car, home improvements, new clothes, vacations, and cash love offerings. While I am not against any of it, God DOES PROVIDE, I am confused how none of the preaching applies to the pastor.

    1. Somehow, I don't think you are confused at all...