According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual earnings for “clergy” in 2005 were $41,976, putting them somewhere between carpet installers at $42,584 and sheet metal workers at $38,680. Is that an accurate reflection of their contribution to society – or should their income even be compared in that way?
In Luke 10: 3-4 Jesus instructed “Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, not shoes: and salute no man by the way.” There was an urgency to share the gospel message and not to be held back by monetary details. “Scrip” refers to a certificate normally representing shares of stock to be exchanged later when full payment was made. Jesus accepted food and shelter as he traveled but does not appear to have been concerned with compensation beyond that.
Many pastors have struggled with the dangers of being paid by those to whom they are ministering. How do we address Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 when one’s pay is determined by how well he is liked? “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Is compensation then linked to popularity? What if students in a classroom were allowed to determine the salary of their professor? Or employees in a business were asked to vote on the compensation package of their CEO? Yet a similar process seems to be firmly in place in most churches today. Thus the pastor’s logical temptation becomes one of increasing the budget and pleasing the people at the risk of ignoring some of God’s true message. Do we not tend to reward “encouragers” and “nurturers” while penalizing “prophets” and “exhorters?” I strongly suspect Samuel and Jeremiah would be going hungry under our current model of determining compensation for God’s messengers.
In I Corinthians 3, The Apostle Paul again expresses concern about having the ability to speak freely from the Lord if he was being paid by those people hearing his preaching. Thus, to maintain that freedom, he chose to continue providing for his personal needs by doing “secular” work he was gifted in doing. Surely he was “called” to the ministry yet he did not abdicate his abilities to support himself financially. It seems today that people are eager to get into a situation where the people they are ministering to are also providing for their personal monetary needs. Could this very issue in fact cloud their ability to speak freely without reservation from the Lord? And if this is the most desired and most Godly work, do we not deplete rather than build up the financial resources of the Body as more people find this perfect calling? Is it a foreign thought to believe that each one of us is called to full-time ministry, but with varied applications?
In start-up churches it is not uncommon for the pastor to be a “tent maker.” The pastor may be a real estate agent, sell insurance, grow some crops or have a landscaping business to provide for his own financial needs. But the implicit goal is to quickly grow the church group’s resources until he can move into “full-time ministry” and thus be totally dependent on those to whom he ministers. Often this cripples that group’s ability to reach out to others with any financial provision. The small country church near our house, although having no facility debt, allocates 67% of their income to their pastor’s pay package, leaving little for any outreach needs.
At the other end of the spectrum we have seen several examples recently where highly visible pastors have received a windfall financially because of book deals or other outside income. I know of pastors who have received lucrative stock buy-outs, land deals or inheritances that totally provided for a lifetime of financial needs. In many cases these fortunate pastors have stopped receiving compensation from their churches, obviously freeing up those funds for other ministry needs. Should that be the goal? What if we encouraged pastors at every level to seek their own sources of creative income? Wouldn’t that release both the ministry funds and the temptation to “tickle the ears” of those listening? Could we perhaps nurture and help our pastors in “tent-making” ventures to meet their needs, free of the inherent challenges of being paid by those whom they serve?
This presents an interesting three-phase continuum. At the very beginning a pastor is often required to provide his own income for daily needs. At the pinnacle it appears many pastors again have found means to create their own income. Are we then left with only a middle ground in which a pastor needs help from his congregation?
Does Romans 4:4 apply to pastors? “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” Are pastors included in the “workers” referenced in 1 Timothy 5:18? “For the Scripture says, "Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain," and "The worker deserves his wages."
How should we evaluate the compensation of a pastor in today’s environment? Modern churches appear to establish "salaries" and benefit packages just like any other corporation. In my work as an executive life coach I see professionals from many disciplines as they are confronted with the inevitable career transitions. The issues presented from physicians, accountants, attorneys, dentists and pastors have striking similarities.
Is being a pastor then simply one of several comparable career choices? Have the draw to seminary and the pastorate become comparable to pursuing law, medicine, dentistry or a corporate position? Is a pastor to be interviewed, hired, evaluated and compensated just like any other employee of a corporation?
Should the pastor’s pay be a function of:
Budget of the church
Average income of church members
I realize it’s easier to raise questions than to provide clear solutions to every situation. But I do believe it’s time to take a fresh look at this issue. If we moved away from cultural models and created innovative answers to pastor compensation we would also unleash an explosion of house churches, inner city ministries, marketplace outreaches, and other ways to reach the world with the message of hope and salvation.
Dan Miller, author 48 Days to the Work You Love