Pastor salaries not keeping pace with inflation

"Compensation for full-time Southern Baptist pastors and church staff has lagged behind the growth in the cost-of-living over the past two years. And health insurance coverage remains low, according to the 2018 SBC Church Compensation Study." - BPNews

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TylerR's picture

Editor

No kidding:

  • Compensation has lagged because churches cannot afford to pay a pastor much. This won't change. It'll get worse, as people discover they don't have to pretend to be Christians anymore and stop coming to church. 
  • Health insurance converge remains low because a church can't afford to pay a pastor much, therefore it certainly can't afford to chip in for decent health insurance. Pastors should explore health care sharing ministries like Samaritan Ministries or Medi-Share.  

I earn high five figures with my state job, and have excellent health insurance for my entire family for only $450 per month. No church can beat that, or even hope to match it. Bi-vocational, team leadership (you know, like the teamwork we see in Acts ...) is the future. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

.....but then I remember churches with a full board of missionaries, each receiving $50/month or so, barely enough to cover trips to visit the church on furlough.  #Priorities, I guess. 

I would also guess--can't prove it but it's my guess--that churches that take pastoral care seriously enough to pay for their upkeep will reap benefits of deeper growth among believers and better evangelistic efforts.  Pay for an MDiv, get MDiv results, more or less.  No objection to Tyler's tentmaker point of view, but if we build people instead of buildings, we might get somewhere.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

WilliamD's picture

Bi-vocational, team leadership (you know, like the teamwork we see in Acts ...) is the future. 

Yes! This is what I've been saying for years. It's the only way I'd go back to vocational ministry. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I agree. That's the only reason why I RETURNED to pastoral ministry; I wouldn't be alone and my salary wasn't at the whims of a church. This is the way forward for the future, I believe:

  • A return to the biblical model of dual-pastors
  • Pastors with skills and education that allow them to earn a decent living in the real world and relieve the pressure on the shrinking church budget
  • Pastors who are realistic about what shrinking attendance and shrinking budgets mean = bi-vocational ministry. 

There are tons of men out there who will never go into solo ministry again, because they've been burned ... just like I was. I'm also certain there are tons of men who'd be willing to do it, if they weren't alone and could be guaranteed enough of a salary from a church to pay for mortgage and utilities, and be bi-vocational to make up the difference. That's why I came back.

To whoever reads this = If you have pastoral training, and you left the ministry because of a bad or difficult situation, and you'd be willing to come back under these circumstances (see above), then message me and let's talk. We need another elder at my church. I'm making my search official in about two months, but I'm unofficially looking now. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

There is a need for bi-vocational ministers in some situations. I did it for a number of years. The issue is that intentionally bi-vocational seems unbiblical for the church. Those who preach the gospel are to live of the gospel, not live of the gospel and something else (1 Cor 9). The laborer is worthy of his hire and those who rule well are worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in preaching and teaching (1 Tim 5:17). 

Biblically, it seems that the pattern is to be full-time pastors and bi-vocational pastors are exceptions for reasons unique to the situation. If a pastor intends to allow the church to disregard those commands by bailing them out of their responsibilities, don't be surprised when they take you up on the offer.

TOvermiller's picture

Larry wrote:

Biblically, it seems that the pattern is to be full-time pastors and bi-vocational pastors are exceptions for reasons unique to the situation.

I tend to agree with Larry on this. I've shared my thoughts with a little more detail here. It *does* seem that the NT provides a precedent for “tent-making” pastors in certain occasions. Yet it urges congregations to adequately support pastors who lead and teach them well. This, not tent-making, is the biblical norm.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | StudyGodsWord.com
Blog & Podcast | ShepherdThoughts.com

Ron Bean's picture

I agree that the ideal situation is one in which the pastor is fully supported by the church with a salary and benefits commensurate with the community in which he lives. The question is how do you get the church to give sufficiently to meet that need? 

If the church can't give to that level, bi-vocational pastors can meet the need. 

Another means is that the church add to its membership new believers who are taught the importance of committing themselves and their money to the work. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

G. N. Barkman's picture

There has been a pretty significant resistance on SI to the concept of tithing.  There is also a regular lament on SI that fundamental churches are unable to support their pastors properly.  Could there be a connection?  (Just wondering.)

G. N. Barkman

John E.'s picture

For sure, place and circumstances often dictate the need for the pastor to be bi-vocational. And if God in His Sovereignty has called you to serve as a bi-vocational pastor, then praise God that His grace is sufficient and His will perfect. But I'm not convinced that we should be steering into the concept of bi-vocational pastors. Instead, I believe that we should be willing to do the often hard and uncomfortable work of discipling and training our churches to make financially providing for their pastor (or pastors) a priority. Pastors are to devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Being bi-vocational is an obstacle (sometimes a necessary obstacle, to be sure) to doing that. Instead of embracing the obstacle, why not preach against it and pray that the Holy Spirit will grow congregations into a better understanding and practice?

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

The biggest issue I can see as to pastoral pay is the size of the typical churches we have these days.  I just ran some numbers for where I live.  If we assume a church of 100 members, and for simplicity, call it 25 families of 4, and give each family the median salary (which is a good bit higher than the mean salary for our area), pay the pastor's family the median salary, cost for their health insurance (those costs are high, even with high deductibles) then take into account commercial rental rates, with utilities. etc. for our area, a church will be hard pressed to make all its expenses, and still have a facility that meets needs with nursery, etc.  This of course, does not include multiple elders.  AND, it assumes 100% tithing (or giving 10% if tithing is not the term you would use).

I used those numbers, because our church is about 100.  We pay the pastor's family about 17-20% above the median rate.  Commercial rents in our area are out of sight, so we are currently renting a Ruritan Club, which is almost giving it to us, at way less than market rate.  We're able to stay above red ink, but we are in a high-tech area, and a good number of the people in the church make salaries above the median, but that's also why rents are high.  I don't know the percentage of tithers, but I think we do pretty well.  I'm very happy that our pastor doesn't have to be bi-vocational, as I think that's the biblical model when it can be afforded, recognizing that that is not always the case.  We take on missionaries at a minimum of $100, and most of them now get more than that (some more than double that), but we don't take all that many on, so we can do right by the ones we have.  Still, I think 100 is pretty small for running a ministry that can afford a full-time non-bi-vocational pastor paid a reasonable living wage.

If our church were 200 instead of 100, with the same percentage of tithers, we could fairly easily afford another pastor/elder, enough meeting space, etc., because the additional expenses for a facility that would meet our needs would not be double what is necessary under our laws for 100.

But many churches today are small, without some of the financial resources of being in a good area.  And even if the people are giving sacrificially, it's unreasonable for many of them to afford a full-time, non-starving pastor.  For a man to be able to properly provide for his family and still take on a smaller work like that, the church should realize that they have to accept a bi-vocational pastor, who won't be able to give full time to that ministry unless it grows.

Even recognizing that living by the gospel is the ideal, we should not expect a pastor to be required to do so at a rate that does not let him provide properly for his family.

Dave Barnhart

Larry's picture

Moderator

There has been a pretty significant resistance on SI to the concept of tithing.

And with good reason. Yet the NT is clear in giving. There are a lot of reasons that churches are unable to support their pastors properly. No doubt, some of it is giving. Some of it is priorities, unwise past decisions, unreasonable pastors, lack of foresight to provide housing, etc. Is there some connection? Perhaps but teaching tithing isn't the answer. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Dave wrote:

The biggest issue I can see as to pastoral pay is the size of the typical churches we have these days.

That's the issue; not tithing. 

JoneE wrote:

Instead, I believe that we should be willing to do the often hard and uncomfortable work of discipling and training our churches to make financially providing for their pastor (or pastors) a priority.

That sounds very spiritual; like something right out of a Puritan paperback classic. I like it. I tried telling that to my wife, when we were eeking by on $24k per year with a family of five and a church of 30 members in a rural-ish, low-income area. It didn't go over so well!

In my experience, these are the facts:

  • Most church members tithe
  • Most Christians are very generous with their giving
  • Most churches are small (less than 150), and getting smaller
  • Most churches use a large proportion of their funds to pay a pastor; the noose keeps on tightening

Add to it:

  • A solo Pastor model is sub-biblical and not found in the NT
  • Yet, very few churches can afford to support two elders
  • A bi-vocational approach will allow your church to actually do ministry, instead of expanding all its dwindling resources on salary

If your church can swing it, then stay fulltime along with another pastor. Go for it. But, chances are your church can't afford it. So, what're you gonna do? Keep watching the budget creep lower and lower, until you get to the point where you feel proud of yourself for finding $1000 for outreach for the coming year? Gimmie a break!

Facts are facts. Bi-vocational ministry is the practical reality for small American churches in the coming years. It'd be nice if it weren't, but thems the facts. The budget doesn't lie. Or, you could always take this approach to church growth ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

WilliamD's picture

Sure, it's ideal. Sure, it's the norm that SHOULD be. But, churches are shrinking. Unless you are building a religious business with man-made methods like Andy Stanley, God has to add/multiply to the church. If God has sovereignly chosen that churches are in a season of decline nationwide, what are you and I going to do about it? Go make false converts to fill the church so we can have a full time salary? That's the Church Growth Movement way. Otherwise, you improvise by "tent making" and that is a special circumstance. 

Jim's picture

5 Salary Classes of Fundamentalist / Conservative Evangelical Pastors:

  • The generously paid (A)
  • The adequately paid (B)
  • The marginally paid (C)
  • The underpaid (D)
  • The unpaid (bi-vocational) (E)

The C's are hoping to move up to the B's

The D's likewise up to the C or B's

The E's are pretty secure and may be very happy at this status

There are very few A's. Some C's have learned to live on much less and this sustains them. Some C and D's unable to become E's because of limited skills and experience to be bi-vocational.

The graphical presentation would likely NOT be a perfect Bell Curve but leaning towards the lower pay scale

I've experienced all classes. A and E are the best!

 

 

 

 

Jim's picture

A pastoral salary paradox (I've seen this):

  • The case of adequately or marginally or underpaid pastor
  • Missionary candidate (fresh out of seminary school) needs $ 80K to go the the mission field
  • Sometimes that mission field is here in the US
  • Mission board won't let him leave for the field until fully supported
  • The pastor thinks ... "huh!?"

A careful examination of the missionary needs reveals:

  • Expenses for private schools for the missionary's college kids
  • Retirement account 
  • Have an extra child? The missionary's support level goes up!

The pastor thinks? Interesting ... my salary package has non of that.

 

Ron Bean's picture

Real life current situations:

Church A: Pastor has just retired at age 75. Church in a good location has 20 members and no debt. Pastor has lived on a small salary plus Medicare and Social Security. Church can't find a pastor who'll come for the same salary as the retiring pastor.

Church B: 60 year old church has had 2 pastors in the last 40 years. (20 years each). There's a parsonage. First of the 2 recent pastors scraped by as the church got older and smaller. Second pastor had his health insurance paid by the church while his children's was paid by the state. He worked 2-3 part-time jobs. Unable to find a pastor, they have called an interim retired pastor who preaches for three services a week for a love offering to supplement his SS.

Church C: A church plant where the sending church supplements the new church in providing sufficient support. Church gets to the point in 5-6 years where they can support the pastor themselves and become independent. The church is taught from its beginning that its top priorities are pastoral support and an adequate place to meet. 

Church D: (For  Jim) Pastor is having a hard time financially and leaves the church for the mission field where, as a missionary, he receives adequate support. 

 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

G. N. Barkman's picture

Having only pastored only one church, which I started, I don't have a variety of experiences to draw from.  I know my salary was Very slim for the first several years, then became barely adequate, and eventually generous.  I have turned down raises about five times in the last dozen years because I'm afraid that an overly generous salary will be a hindrance to my ministry.  Our church is not exactly large, averaging around 235 in morning worship.  We support three full-time elders with decent salaries and benefits, and a fourth part time, plus office staff, custodial staff, etc.  We give one third of our total income to missions.  We have no debt, and significant financial reserves.  We don't have many members who could be considered wealthy.  Why are we so blessed?  I really can't say.  But I do know that I have taught tithing over the years.  Not as a NT command (it is not), but as a time-honored figure (before Moses) by which to gage an appropriate level of God-honoring giving.

G. N. Barkman

Fred Moritz's picture

And in the case of a foreign missionary, international travel must also be budgeted.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Tyler,

I agree that a plurality of elders is Biblically acceptable. Where is it mandated? More specifically, where are two elders mandated?

I have to say that I wildly disagree with your assessment that two part-time pastors who are bi-vocational is the way to go, over one full-time pastor. If the one full-timer is spending his days watching reruns, well, then.... But if he is a responsible, professional, growing minister, I see zero advantage in replacing him with two part-timers who have other interests, other burdens and other concerns—especially in a mid-size or larger church.

(Where do you find two such guys? Where else will they work? What if they make different salaries at their other jobs? What if one works more at the church? This would have to be just the right fit at just the right time to work in most places. Also, would you enjoy going to see a bi-vocational doctor, lawyer, auto mechanic, etc.?)

Of course, my response is also a generalization and every situation is different. I suppose it also depends on what you mean by bi-vocational. But, I have to say, I find your preference/presupposition to be quite curious.

Church Ministries Representative for the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry

Steve Davis's picture

Our experiences are varied so no surprise so are our opinions. After almost 40 years in ministry I think I've seen some of the real life situations others have mentioned.

1. Planted a church in Philadelphia after seminary in 1982. My wife worked full-time. I received $200 a week in support. We were self-supporting in about one year.

2. Went to France then to Romania for church planting and pastoral training. Raised support in less than a year and churches were generous. Rarely lacked for anything. I have to admit that we never had great financial needs (I know that's not true of all missionaries).

3. Returned to the US and associate at large suburban church for 10 years. Decent salary and benefits and worldwide travel to teach all expenses paid. Invited to conferences, colleges and seminaries. During that time, from 2006-2008 we lived in Paris and helped start a new church. It was a good gig.

4. Moved back to Philly in 2009 and became bi-vocational to start a church with no significant core group. Have been bi-vocational since. We are in an economically depressed, high crime neighborhood (where I grew up and got saved), and our church is predominantly African and Latino immigrants with a few white faces scattered around. Most of our people are low wage earners. We inherited an old building which has significant upkeep. We have two churches which support us generously and a few generous outside donors. We have one full-time elder. I and some others have housing in our two annexes or subsidy. We have great ministry, both here and abroad through contacts with immigrants in our church.

Bi-vocational ministry will be necessary for some. I've had full-time ministry offers. I'm not interested (yet). Much of it is the demographics. I became a certified D & A therapist and clinical supervisor. Several years was in the prison system. I'm now part-time. My wife works part-time. I have flexibility to travel overseas to teach a couple times a year. Sometimes I'd rather be full-time.  At 63 I don't think retirement but might be interested in semi-retirement in ministry.

I say to younger men. Get some skills or education undergrad to support your family. Go to seminary for your theological studies.Whether you need to be bi-vocational depends partly on where you are. Since you don't know where you'll be, have a B plan. Start saving something early on. Trust the Lord. He is faithful. Learn contentment, then learn it again and again.

 

Kevin Miller's picture

Paul J. Scharf wrote:

 Also, would you enjoy going to see a bi-vocational doctor, lawyer, auto mechanic, etc.?

I don't see what the problem would be in that, especially in a small town. I can picture someone being a mechanic while they are studying to be a lawyer. Then, when they become a lawyer and the cases are few in the small town, they can take car repair jobs.

WilliamD's picture

Paul J. Scharf wrote:

Tyler,

I agree that a plurality of elders is Biblically acceptable. Where is it mandated? More specifically, where are two elders mandated?

I have to say that I wildly disagree with your assessment that two part-time pastors who are bi-vocational is the way to go, over one full-time pastor. If the one full-timer is spending his days watching reruns, well, then.... But if he is a responsible, professional, growing minister, I see zero advantage in replacing him with two part-timers who have other interests, other burdens and other concerns—especially in a mid-size or larger church.

I think Tyler is referring to a plurality of elders and doesn't actually mean a duality is the Biblical mandate. There may be no mandate or command for more than one pastor in a given church, but the overwhelming expectation is for churches to have more than one. Nowhere that I know of, is there one place in Scripture where a single pastor is mentioned at any of the apostolic era churches. The argument for the "Angel" of the churches in Revelation is a wobbler. 

The advantage I would see with having two part time elders over one full time elder, especially over a larger church would be these:

1. Shared burden of responsibility. The rising and falling of the success of the church doesn't have to depend on his leadership alone. Unless he is just super talented at everything, which is what a lot of churches expect of their pastors. 

2. Differing giftedness to compliment the lesser gifting of the other (one is more of a prophet/preacher/teacher; the other is more of a priest/pastor/counselor or the other is more of a king/overseer/organizer). When you have one gifted pastor teacher, but he is not good at overseeing and managing the church's assets, resources, volunteers, etc...the glaring weakness of his lack of skill will become a focal point of criticism and his own discouragement. 

3. Accountability. Even if one is full time and the other is part time, there is still another equal to be accountable to. 

So, I'd rather have a plurality of part timers than one full time pastor. If I could have had another part time pastor pulling with me and I would have kept my job that I gave up to be a full time pastor, I think our church would have done better than it did under my sole leadership. 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

William wrote:

So, I'd rather have a plurality of part timers than one full time pastor. 

Agreed. That's how strongly I feel about this. Acts doesn't show us any example of a solo, full-time pastor To be sure, we can quibble about "first among equals" and all that jazz, but the point remains. One guy can't do it all, isn't smart enough to do it all, talented enough to do it all, or have enough time to do it all. A team approach is better, and it's actually an example we see in the NT. 

And, let me be personal. As Steve said, we've all been shaped by our experiences. I've been shaped by mine; a whole constellation of experiences and contexts that make me who I am. I don't have ill will towards someone who prefers the "one pastor against the world" model. None at all. I've just seen what it can do to someone, and I'll never do it again. I think that's why the NT shows us a team approach. Contexts are different, and every church situation is different.

I'm just saying that, when you add the example from Acts of dual-elders + the fact that churches and budgets are growing ever smaller = bi-vocational is going to be the wave of the future. Young men should prepare for this eventuality by obtaining a trade or degree that will help them earn a living as they pastor. Let's not put our heads in the sand about the practical realities of the average American church. Your budget is shrinking, and they can't pay you much. It's not gonna get better.

Look at our culture. People have found out that they don't need to pretend to be Christians anymore. Cultural Christianity is gone, even if it's still hanging on in the MidWest. People who just want to be altruistic are finding out they don't have to go to church to accomplish this! 

Your own experiences might give lie to my own. Just consider it, is all I'm saying.   

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Steve Davis's picture

TylerR wrote:

William wrote:

So, I'd rather have a plurality of part timers than one full time pastor. 

Agreed. That's how strongly I feel about this. Acts doesn't show us any example of a solo, full-time pastor To be sure, we can quibble about "first among equals" and all that jazz, but the point remains. One guy can't do it all, isn't smart enough to do it all, talented enough to do it all, or have enough time to do it all. A team approach is better, and it's actually an example we see in the NT. 

And, let me be personal. As Steve said, we've all been shaped by our experiences. I've been shaped by mine; a whole constellation of experiences and contexts that make me who I am. I don't have ill will towards someone who prefers the "one pastor against the world" model. None at all. I've just seen what it can do to someone, and I'll never do it again. I think that's why the NT shows us a team approach. Contexts are different, and every church situation is different.

I'm just saying that, when you add the example from Acts of dual-elders + the fact that churches and budgets are growing ever smaller = bi-vocational is going to be the wave of the future. Young men should prepare for this eventuality by obtaining a trade or degree that will help them earn a living as they pastor. Let's not put our heads in the sand about the practical realities of the average American church. Your budget is shrinking, and they can't pay you much. It's not gonna get better.

Look at our culture. People have found out that they don't need to pretend to be Christians anymore. Cultural Christianity is gone, even if it's still hanging on in the MidWest. People who just want to be altruistic are finding out they don't have to go to church to accomplish this! 

Your own experiences might give lie to my own. Just consider it, is all I'm saying.   

There are certainly regions in the US with a plethora of churches which are capable of supporting a full-time or plural full-time pastors. Whether pastors will need to be bi-vocational depends on many factors. Whether a church should have plurality of elders, bi- voc or otherwise, in my mind is without questions. I've been a solo pastor. I've served under a solo pastor. Never again (if I can help it)!  We have a plurality of elders but we do have a lead elder who is "first among equals in providing leadership; one among equals in decision-making."

G. N. Barkman's picture

Earlier, someone postulated that a church of 100, with 25 families of 4 members each, could not be expected to support a pastor full time with decent salary and benefits.  I'm trying to figure this one out.  Take the average income and benefits of those 25 families as a reasonable support level for the pastor.  If the church members are tithing (or giving the equivalent), the pastor's support should require about 40% of the church's income.  (The giving of ten families.)  That leaves about 60% for other church expenses.  Why is that out of reach?

G. N. Barkman

WilliamD's picture

On paper that looks great, but a church of 100 =  25 families of 4 tithing  families  is really a church at 300-400.  The other 300 are non tithing members, regular and semi regular attenders, visitors, singles & teenagers.  Also add to this the families that will be moving and needing to be replaced every year,  and the families who are going to leave for other churches because they don’t like yours for some reason.  All of a sudden 25 tithing household incomes becomes a very fragile and delicate thing to keep intact. 

Ron Bean's picture

When it comes to finances some churches look at their membership in terms of "giving units". For example a church of 50 members may consist of 20 member couples and 10 single adult members. Of those 15 of the couples are regular "giving units" and 3 of the singles are regular "giving units" giving a total 18 "giving units" on which to base a budget. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jim's picture

Reality - not every Christian "tithes"

  • Maybe they should or maybe not but ...
  • Some are so broke that $ 5 bucks a week is a sacrifice
  • Some very indebted ... others overextended

Additionally not every church situation is the same. 3 I know well in Minnesota:

  1. Nice building on 2 acres in suburb. Debt free an pays pastor very well (I've heard over $ 80K). It's a small church but has wealth in the great property (a relative is a member so I have knowledge of its story)
  2. A church plant not more than 10 m away from #1. Same number of people and same level of income (just a bit less). Has no property and is unable to pay a pastor
  3. Further W by 100 miles. Church w great property and no debt but less than 20 people. Unable to pay a pastor

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