Is Your Pastor Underpaid? 10 Principles of Fair and Faithful Clergy Compensation

Pastors don’t like to talk about money.  Not just when it comes to Stewardship … in fact, I find most pastors have a much easier time talking about stewardship, than they do about their own call packages or contracts.  So, with the celebration of Labor Day weekend, and the current controversy over minimum wage, I want to focus on pastor’s salary packages and a fair and faithful approach to employment in the Church.

This week I got a call from another presbytery leader who was concerned about a pastor who was negotiating with one of their congregations.  “The pastor seems arrogant; they’re asking for a salary that would be the highest salary in the presbytery.”  The presbytery leader wondered if this would be an ongoing problem with this particular pastor.  I thought, no, that pastor is standing up for a decent (albeit comfortable) salary at the height of their earning potential … something that is considered good financial management in other professions.  Maybe the on-going problem is that the other presbytery salaries are too low?

The Church has a responsibility to be a witness for faithful living in so many ways.  Not the least of which is to model faithful employment practices.  While pastors and other church workers may not be typically motivated out of a cash salary,  they do have the same needs for food, shelter, medical care, child care, transportation, education and appropriate leisure as all workers.  They want to buy homes, send kids to college, take a vacation now and then, and develop a hobby or two.  That is not unreasonable.

I am embarrassed to point out that the minimum terms of call in Monmouth Presbytery don’t meet the living wage standard for 2 adults (with one working) and two children in Monmouth County.  In this presbytery the minimum terms of call are determined by the annual cash receipts of a congregation.  Congregations with less income have a lower minimum to meet.  This may seem fair since the congregation with less money is likely to be a smaller congregation with less programmatic responsibilities.  I question that reasoning, however.  The pastor still spends time in worship, researching and writing a sermon each week; there is time at community events, session meetings, special events, visiting members, leadership development, etc.  The amount of work doesn’t change significantly with fewer members … if it does, then we should be offering part-time calls for these pastorates at a pro-rated rate at or above the hourly living wage standard.  To offer a full-time salary that’s less than a living wage to a church worker who is NOT expected and encouraged  to find other work to support themselves and their family, is unjust labor practice.  Even with that,  none of the associate pastor minimums, and only three of the highest categories of pastor salaries meet the living wage standard.

I realize that congregations are having difficult times meeting their budgets and expenses.  We can discuss the future of pastor salaries.  Personally, I’m of the opinion that non-salaried pastors may be a real alternative for the future church.  But if and when that happens the roles and expectations of the pastor will also change dramatically.  In the meantime, faithful employment practices need to be the norm in the church — it’s the standard we need to hold each other accountable to.  It is unreasonable to expect that each pastor will be able to negotiate a salary package that is faithful, fair, and sufficient for their own family situation.

So what’s “fair” and “faithful” clergy compensation?  Here’s my list:

  1. A salary that is, at least, above the living wage standard for a family of four (two adults, one working, and two children).  I think this is reasonable regardless of the family make up of the pastor.
  2. Preferably a salary that is comparable with public service jobs that require master degrees.  For associate pastors, equivalent to the salary of a teacher with a master’s degree. If the pastor is in a head of staff position, the salary should be comparable with the elementary or middle school principle.
  3. Every pastoral call or contract should include full benefits including a social security offset, medical, dental, vision insurance for the whole family, life and disability insurance and pension.
  4. The equivalent of at least one month vacation (including four Sundays) and two weeks (with Sundays) study leave.
  5. Mileage reimbursement at the current IRS business rate.
  6. The congregation should develop a good family leave policy.
  7. The congregation should pay unlimited sick days up to the start of whatever disability policies the church has offered.
  8. A plan for a sabbatical every seven years of the pastorate.
  9. Continuing Education benefits at least $1500 for every week of study leave.
  10. A willingness to pay salary continuation for at least one year, and up to two, in the event that the pastor’s call is dissolved by the congregation.  Remember, pastors are considered self-employed and do not qualify for any unemployment benefits.

The same principles should be followed for all church workers … including salary continuation, since most churches do not provide unemployment insurance for their employees.

Most of the pastoral call packages I’ve seen do not live up to this standard … even for pastors who have over 20 years of experience.  So, what do you think?


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