Tuesday, May 13, 2014

What do you pay your pastor?

The subject of clergy compensation is a tender one.  The people who are most underpaid tend to be the folks who ask for little.  The people who are the most overpaid are not necessarily those who are most effective or carry the greater burden.  In the end it is the subject no one feels comfortable discussing with their Pastor unless they use it as a weapon to hurt him.  Then they find it hard to shut up about it.

I have never had much of a problem in this area.  The parishes I have served have been faithful and I do not consider myself as having suffered much in the area of compensation.  But that does not mean everyone in the congregation thinks the same way about it.  Once I heard someone from my parish explaining that I was a full-time Pastor and did not have a second job which paid most of the bills.  "Oh," said the person upon hearing it, "you must be a very wealthy congregation to afford a Pastor who does not have a real job."  Yep, there are plenty of folks who think that but would not say it to my face.  They have real jobs and the job of the Pastor is, well, not real (at least in the sense of work).

On the other hand I have known Pastors who seemed to step on every raw nerve in the parish and then delight in demanding that they pay for the privilege of his rudeness.  These are not many and, in reality very few, but they tend to leave a wide wake.  These are the same folks who never show up at a parish work day, who are always first in line at the pot luck, and who do not tithe or give because their salary is already too low and therefore they consider the difference between what they think they are worth and what they are paid is offering enough.

I’d encourage a church to aspire to these goals, in this order. First, give freely and joyfully. The pastor is not spending the church’s money when he is paid. Tithers are not buying stock in the man and do not become a board of directors managing his household budget. Don’t determine where and how he should give by paying him little. Second, aspire to free your pastor from financial pressure. A shepherd should not be spending his time and energy worrying about how he will pay the electric bill. Third, give the man some dignity. He has studied long. He works hard. “Worthy of double honor” (I Timothy 5:17) may be difficult to define precisely but it should at least mean that the pastor is paid well enough that he can pick up a check from time to time, and is not always dependent, like a servant, on the occasional, unexpected generosity of his friends. Fourth, pay him well enough that he is able to give with great generosity.  Read more here. . .

I like what this author says.  Your giving to the Lord is completely unrelated to the Pastor and whether or not you think he is doing a good or poor job.  What the Pastor gets paid stops being the church's money once he cashes the check and therefore the congregation has no business trying manage the Pastor's household.  Do yourselves a favor by freeing up your Pastor from financial worry and fear -- it will not make him a better Pastor to live with the terror of noting being able to provide for his family.  BTW is this not why so many Pastor's have wives that work (not only as their own vocation but exactly to pay the bills so that their families will not be beggars in the community)?   It is surely true that Pastor's study long (about the same as your doctor or dentist) and the hours can be long (disrupting family time and vacation) but it is surely not good to have people pay their Pastor's because they pity his heavy load.  How would that speak to those young men considering the pastoral vocation?  No, he studied long and works odd and often long hours but the key here is the dignity of the office, the noble character of the calling, and the high esteem we have for Christ and His gifts which the Pastor mediates to God's people.  Finances can often be one area in which the congregation betrays the high character of the calling and shows that they see their Pastor as their servant.  In order to make it possible for the Pastor to be a generous model, the parish should not be stingy.

Underneath this are a few other things.  Most (nearly all) congregations don't want to be miserly when it comes to compensation.  They are wrestling with fears -- of not having enough to do the work of the Lord, keeping the doors open and lights on, AND paying generously the workers of the Kingdom.  Tithing is instructive.  It does not take more than twenty middle class families tithing to cover the cost of a Pastor's salary and benefits but it surely takes five or six times that many folks if they give the typical 2% or so of their income.  We cannot afford him is often the conclusion of those who choose not to give generously.  Giving from a sense of blessing is the key here and it will make it possible for most parishes to support their Pastors without embarrassment or shame.  We do not have a giving problem in our churches.  We have a keeping problem.  Too many of us keep what we ought to give, using for ourselves what could support the work and workers of the Lord.


Anonymous said...

The salary is not the problem. The benefits are expensive. So, the salary goes up some reasonable amount each year, but the cost of benefits goes up two or three times as fast. In our parish, insurance for the church and school went up 100% over just a few years. When these expenses go up that much, even faithful congregations have trouble keeping up.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters has correctly identified much of the problem: Pastoral service is not seen as real work. It is seen as lazy, set-your-own schedule, sit-around most of the time, write a little, putter around with things but no serious, productive work. Many see the Pastor as someone who works on Sunday ONLY.

Generally, those who serve on Parish Councils, Vestries, etc. have a better understanding because they come closer to seeing the real work of the Pastor. Often they are the ones who contribute the majority of the support of the parish.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest