Is the small, single full time clergy staff church a luxury churches can no longer afford?

"I see solid, educated, selfless, dedicated pastors around me who are full time clergy in churches of 40 to 60 in attendance. Is giving by a group this size enough to support a full time pastor adequately? Do members give per capita sufficient to cover a $50,000 or more salary cost by their minister? Depends, I suppose, on the church." - SBC Voices

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TylerR's picture


Some observations:

  1. Churches will continue to be smaller, on average
  2. Churches will increasingly be unable to realistically afford a fulltime pastor + family + reasonable benefits
  3. Any churches that try will find less and less room in their budgets for actual ministry. Missionaries will be cut, and evangelism budgets will be slashed. Rationalizations will follow. All in the interest of preserving the pastor's salary. Is that what Jesus would want? Paul? Peter? Would Jesus look at your budget, see a small amount devoted to local evangelism and 70% devoted to the pastoral salary, and be happy?
  4. America in 2020 is a pagan mission field. Pastors must go into ministry with a missions mindset. You are leading pilgrims in a very unholy land. Expect bi-vocational situations.
  5. If you go bi-vocational, you free up funds to do actual ministry and fulfill the church's role. If you do no evangelism (and that can take any number of shapes), you are not a church. You are a social club.
  6. Pastors must learn a trade they can use in the real world. Skip bible college undergrad major and get a vocational degree you can use.
  7. Graduate theological education via synchronous or asynchronous online and virtual education is a gift to the Church.
  8. Single pastor churches are not the NT model. Get 2+ elders. We do that. We're a small church. We can do it because both of us are bi-vocational and only take small salaries. The other pastor just finished an MA in Elementary Education and will pick up a fulltime teaching position with the local school district shortly. He's been a substitute teacher with them for the past year and they already know him.

The paradigm must shift. Outmoded expectations must be tempered in the forge of reality. That is all. For those who wish to hold on to the traditional model, think about that as you do your budget this coming year and likely don't see things getting better.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

We can (and should) debate whether the model we ought to move to is bivocational, multi elder, other models, or a combination of models, but I think COVID is an excellent time for us to start trying new things, bumping ourselves out of ministry paradigms that too often come from the 1950s or before.  And really, given our reputation for the "right boot of fellowship", we might argue that the sole vocational pastor role should have been reconsidered no latter than the Kennedy administration.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jonathan Charles's picture

I think all men going into ministry need to at least understand that they might need a skill to supplement their incomes with.

Churches need to adjust their expectations.  One member of a small church pastor search committee told me, "We're looking for a full time pastor and can pay a part-time salary."  She went on to explain that although they could only pay a part-time salary, she knew that a pastor usually works far more than he is paid to do.  If that is a church's expectation, it needs to be adjusted.  A bi-vocational pastor puts a burden on the church to do work that the pastor cannot and should not do.

PhilKnight's picture

Based on 1 Corinthians 9:13-15, can we not at least say that a full-time paid pastor should the desired normative model for churches?

Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.

But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.

While pastors may choose, as Paul did, to be bi-vocational, I have always believed strongly (based on the cited passage) that churches should have the goal of taking on a pastor full time as soon as they are financially able.  If a church is unable to pay their pastor full-time, that should be their highest financial priority, assuming they have secured a practicable place to assemble and they don't have any other out-of-the-ordinary financial impediments. (By "securing a practicable place to assemble" I don't mean to imply purchasing a building.)

In the case where there are multiple like-minded churches in an area who cannot afford a pastor, I would strongly favor having a single pastor serve multiple congregations versus each congregation having separate bi-vocational pastors. In some cases where the congregations are close enough together geographically, they might also weigh the benefits of merging into a single congregation.

I admire pastors who are willing to take on the added work and distraction of being bi-vocational pastors. They have the Apostle Paul as their example (although I would note that he had a different office).  However, Paul is careful to refer to full-time remuneration as a right he is willingly refusing to exercise.  A church congregation should therefore consider full-time pay as an obligation they should fulfill as God allows them to do so financially.  Whatever practical arguments there might be for bi-vocational pastors, it's not the normative pattern enjoined in this passage. Because of that, I get a little nervous when I see it proposed as anything beyond a temporary step on the way to the goal of at least one full-time, paid pastor.

P.S. I have no personal irons in the fire here. I have served as a lay elder and deacon, but I have never been on paid staff at any church. Also, with the exception of a church I was in as a teen, I have never served in a church that did not pay at least one full-time pastor.

Philip Knight

T Howard's picture

I agree with Tyler's post above and share his recommendations.

However, one reality for the bi-vocational pastor is that what he preaches and what his church believes can get him fired from his full-time job. Given our changing political and social environment, this is becoming a larger threat. Remember how people vilified and wanted to cancel Chip and Joanna Gains just because they attended a church that held to a biblical view of marriage and human sexuality?

Now, imagine it's you who preached the sermon on the biblical view of marriage and human sexuality and your church posted that sermon online (like it normally does). All it takes is for someone to report that sermon to your HR department, and you can be fired.

Consequently, while being a bi-vocational pastor provides benefits to both the pastor and the church, it can still cost the man his fulltime employment. Whereas, if he is fully supported by the church, he may be less encumbered in his preaching / teaching as our society continues its moral decay.


TylerR's picture


My conviction about bi-vocational pastorates is because I don't see how many small churches can do ministry if the vast majority of their budget is tied up in a pastoral salary, and likely not a very good one, either. You're crippling yourself. You don't have money for other things - like ministry.

Some people disagree. I think some of it is because we're just comfy with the status quo.

There is a young lady in our congregation who is wrapping up a technical degree in digital media design. We're considering carving our room in the budget this coming year to pay her a modest amount per month to produce video content for our social media evangelistic efforts. If our spare money was tied up in desperately trying to cobble together a fulltime pastoral salary, we wouldn't be able to do that.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

PhilKnight's picture

Jim wrote:

As long as ... 

  • Men are willing to work for substandard pay and
  • Churches are unwilling to pay men adequate pay ...


Indeed.   Appropriate remuneration is an essential component of the biblical model. 

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” - I Timothy 5:17-18

If a church expects a pastor to devote full-time to the ministry, they should pay him enough so that he can minister undistracted by either: 1) pursuit of a side income to fill in the financial gap, or 2) the time and attention (not to mention the discouragement) associated with the choices one has to make when forced to stretch an income beyond what's reasonable. (Overspending is wasteful, but over-frugality is wasteful too.) Conversely, if a church cannot pay him enough, they should expect that he will need to make up the difference through some other type of paid work; hence, he will be a part-time pastor.

I love how practical the command is in this passage when it says to let them "be considered worthy of double honor."  It establishes what should be the heart attitude and desire toward remuneration while implicitly acknowledging that it's not always possible to fulfill it.

The referenced article rightly calls attention to trends that will likely make adequate remuneration increasingly more challenging.  My main concern is that in seeking practical solutions we don't foster an attitude that results in making Christian workers bear the brunt of the financial sacrifices in the form of lower pay without a concomitant reduction in duties & expectations.  The passages I excerpted provide key principles for our approach to pastoral pay.

Philip Knight

Larry's picture


It is interesting, to say the least, to see a pastor contrasted with "actual ministry." And interesting to suggest that it is better to pay someone to make social media videos  (which is apparently "actual ministry" ) rather than pay a pastor to study the word and shepherd people (which is apparently not "actual ministry").

It may well be that a small church can't afford a full-time pastor and bivo pastors are necessary. I have been there. But it is biblically less than ideal. As Tyler himself as expressed, he has to go work a fulltime job and then come home and prepare to preach and teach plus give time for the family. Every minute a pastor spends making a living outside the church is a minute he doesn't spend making disciples or preparing to make disciples. That is exactly why the biblical teaching is that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel. 1 Cor 9 addresses the very idea in explicit terms with a command. To say that something else is better is a strange thing to me. I doubt our churches are better off because we give our best hours to some secular employment and try to shoehorn sermon prep and people time around that.

Perhaps the reason a church is too small to pay a pastor is because the pastor is tied up doing things that don't build up the church through evangelism and discipleship. He can't do those things because he is too busy trying to make enough money by not being a pastor.

In the end, it is complex and having been a small church pastor I know there is no easy solution to it. But I know two things: The Bible's commands and the practical realities of a divided focus.

TylerR's picture


The primary reason why I am bi-vocational is because of my conviction that a congregation needs two pastors. I am bi-vocational so we can support the other pastor, who is also bi-vocational. I shall leave the "2+ pastors" thing aside for the moment and just focus on the practical stewardship aspect:

For solo pastors of small churches - as you look at your budget in preparation for 2021 with your team, if the numbers don't look like they're getting any better and they haven't looked better for several years now, consider this:

  • What percentage of your budget is going to pastoral salary?
  • What percentage is going to missions and evangelism?
  • How much have you slashed missions and evangelism over the past five years in order to keep the pastor salary at a livable (or, semi-livable) wage?
  • If the above answers are depressing, consider whether God would be happy with such a large percentage of the sacrificial offerings going towards your salary.
  • Consider the mission of the Church
  • Consider what your money is actually going to.
  • Consider whether, if you continue on your present course, there is any remote possibility things will miraculously turn around on the money front
  • Then, consider whether the old paradigm you inherited from seminary and your ecclesiastical culture of the fulltime, solo pastorate really must be the way in the secular West
  • Then, consider whether your dwindling budget resources could best be allocated elsewhere.

Some guys will never buy it. Some will make rude comments, full of cruel and malicious suggestions about the bi-vocational pastor's committment to his congregation. Others will hem and haw about the church not being willing to pay a pastor what he's worth. But, some guys will get it. It'll likely be the younger guys who will get it. That's good enough.

Have fun with your budgets, guys. And your health insurance ...

Then please consider ditching the paradigm that used to work in the West, but is becoming increasingly untenable. Free your budget to do things. Then hire another bi-vocational pastor so you have some support in the ministry! It's almost as though the NT only shows 2+ pastors of a church ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture


Our latest, modest social media ad on YouTube has accomplished the following:

  • It's a 10 minute video wherein I describe the story of reality according to the scriptures, using the framework of creation, fall, promise, redemption, restoration. I explain and push the implication for unbelievers.
  • 2100 views in one week.
  • 57% view rate beyond the 3:00 mark.
  • 850 of the views are age 35 and below.
  • 1078 of the total views are men.
  • All of the views come from the local area, because that's the way we targeted the advertising.

People can scoff if they wish. Social media is simply one tool in the Church's arsenal to get the Gospel out into the public square. Will it make any difference? Don't know. I do know young men and women are watching it. Why on earth would 57% view past the first three minutes? How many of you watch video ads on YouTube? I am astonished. And happy.

And, we've barely dipped our toe into the water of YouTube advertising. Once we get more comfortable with it, we'll likely be spending at least $500 per month (and likely much more) on various flavors of social media evangelism advertising. If you wish to reach young people and kids, you'll find them online.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture


A brief rejoinder:

The idea that a congregation needs 2+ elders is a different discussion, IMO.

Regarding the practical budgeting, I agree with almost all of Tyler's bullet points, though I think they distract from the more fundamental issue of pastoral compensation which is whether or not a pastor should be paid a full-time salary. If you agree to pay anything, then what is the basis for not paying a full salary? To me, it makes more sense to pay nothing than to pay part-time, all else being equal. I think we first decide what the Scripture teaches and then go to the practical application of that. There was a 9 Marks Pastor's Talk podcast on this several months ago that was interesting. It is worth finding and listening to.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Any number of things might be true. Among them are:

  • A pastor has a materialistic bent to make more money than he should or needs.
  • A pastor is not a good fit for a particular church because he can't grow the church to the point of self-sufficiency, but he might do well at another church.
  • A pastor is not a good fit for a particular church because of his family size/requirements. Another pastor might be a better fit.
  • A church should not exist because it can't support itself.
  • A church is in a neighborhood where it will never reasonably achieve self-sufficiency. 

I also think that some small churches might not need a full-time pastor, much less two. 

When Tyler says some guys will get it and some won't, he is right. I got it when I was a younger guy. For slightly over half of a 19 year pastorate, I was bivocational. I was reluctant at first but it was necessary. So I get it. And I know the reality is that every minute I was making money somewhere else was a minute I was not engaged fully in church. Plus just the distraction of an outside job detracted from ministry. IIRC, Tyler has elsewhere expressed the issue over working a fulltime job and then having to prepare to preach and teach. I think that is exactly what the Bible's teaching on compensation is designed to avoid or alleviate. 

I think the bigger issue, in my mind at least, is the designation of the pastoral role as not actual ministry or that  paying a pastor is different than supporting missions or local evangelism. Tyler's view would seem to result in a place where a church could pay a missionary to be full-time but not its own pastor. That seems particularly odd when he says that the modern church needs to view itself in a missions mindset. I agree with that but wonder why a missionary pastor is entitled to full-time compensation but a missionary pastor isn't. The work of the pastor is evangelism, preaching, teaching, discipling, leading, etc. That is actual ministry, If a pastor is not doing that, then by all means, the church should not pay him anything, not even part-time.

As for social media, Tyler seems a bit on edge if that was a response to my comment. I didn't scoff at it. i expressed surprise that social media is 'actual ministry' worth paying for but a pastor is not. That was the point. Will social media work? Perhaps; perhaps not. I have been around long enough to remember billboards, mailers, door hangers, phone trees, all the things you do when you want to reach people. Social media is just the next step in that. Every study I have ever seen indicates that advertising is not a great method of building a church. Perhaps that is changing. Who knows what the future holds. My gut is that the #1 reason people will attend a church will be the same that it has always been--someone they know invites them. It's word of mouth. Some may come from social media, just like some used to from the Yellow Pages or driving by or billboards or mailers. But all those put together have never been as influential as personal invitations. Nonetheless, it is great to try social media, but let's not pretend that social media videos are actual ministry while pastoring is not. 

Perhaps it is just a looseness of wording in Tyler's post. I would hope so, but repeating it several times in addition to contrasting paying a pastor with missions and evangelism leads me to believe is intentional.

The pastoral role--both his duty to the church and the church's duty to him--starts with Scripture. There is where we define both.

TylerR's picture


I have been meaning to write an article explaining my own context, my conviction of 2+ elders, and what we're (very imperfectly) trying to do in our congregation; our "vision" and "mission." It's basically (to borrow a trendy term for a perennial problem) a church revitalization project. Every church operates in its own unique context, and every pastor brings his own unique self to any congregation. Any number of solutions to shrinking budgets + personal convictions are possible.

Don't know when the article will be written. I have a lot of things in my queue, including a DMin project!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture


Right now, in our beginning stages, it's (1) number of views with the simple aim of "showing the flag" in the public square in an aggressive and winsome way, (2) retention rate to watch the video, and (3) obtaining some tie to the viewers through subscribing or otherwise capturing data about them so we can begin to reel them in.

For example, the more subscribers we get = the more ties we have to people who are already passively interested in the Gospel = the more interested people we can invite to a Zoom "What is Christianity About" session where we present the Christian storyline in about 20 mins, then take questions from the audience = the more likely we can then invite them to a home bible study or dinner with our church folks. The ads are targeted so the entire audience is local, so we know they're "here" somewhere!

This is why, to return to a comment I made some time ago, it's worth it to us to carve out room in the budget for a digital media person. We have such a person, a young lady (20 y/o) who is halfway through her degree in digital media design. I don't have time to do it. My time is best spent elsewhere, like preparing sermons and bible studies!

I could go on, but mush dash.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?