For awhile I have thought about writing an article on the minister's salary in the Vietnamese church. I recently came across an article by published by Crown Ministries that does a good job in helping those of us in the Vietnamese churches to reflect on the need to adequately support our ministers--if we want to prepare and retain quality clergy for the second generation. The salaries study in the article can be reduced by 25 to 50% when you apply it to the Vietnamese church context. Also, we don't have the mega church income issue at the present time. If you have some thoughts, I'd love to hear them.
In 1863, in a letter written to Nathaniel Hawthorne, poet John Godfrey Saxe said, “I suspect that the spirit of our blight regarding religion is that we feel that we must keep the preacher poor so that God will keep him humble.” Tragically, since that time it appears as if many churches have adopted this “practice” when the issue of paying the pastor has been addressed. Even though there is not a shred of biblical truth to justify it, more times than not a congregation’s actions have spoken volumes in support of this statement, whether they verbally admit it or not.
The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
Today few pastors receive an unreasonably high salary. A reasonable income is based on what would ordinarily be paid for like services by a similar organization under similar circumstances. A majority of ministers who serve as pastors today are highly trained and well educated. In obedience to the Word of God and because laborers are worthy of their hire, churches need to give the maximum amount of support to their pastors, without jeopardizing the overall financial stability of the church.
How much do pastors make?
A recent study conducted by The National Association of Church Business Administration points out that the average full-time American pastor (pastors without an outside job) has at least four years of college or university education, works approximately 60 hours per week in ministerial and pastoral service, pastors a church with approximately 123 regular attendees, and earns an average annual income of $32,700. This includes salaries, clergy housing allowance, medical insurance benefits (if provided), and retirement plan contributions (if provided). With a congregation of 400 or more the pastors average annual salary is $44,000. Pastors of “mega-churches” or churches with attendance of 1,000 or more (14 percent of the churches in America) have an average income of $110,000, but pastors of churches with 100 or less in attendance (46.7 percent of the churches in America) earn $25,000 or less annually.
Pastoral salary is a two-edged sword: Pastors should be paid what they are worth, but they also should be worth what they are being paid. Income paid to pastors should be fair and a reasonable indication of the congregations’ evaluation of the pastors’ worth. Yet, it should also take into consideration the responsibilities and workload of the pastor, the pastor’s level of education, the size of the congregation, the economic level of the locale, and the experience of the pastor.
How much should a pastor make?
A good rule of thumb to determine how much salary pastors should receive is to either pay them the same salary as the average wage of the church ruling board, the average estimated wage of the families in the congregation (throw out the highest 2 percent and the lowest 2 percent and average the remainder of the congregation), or base the salary on a proposed budget presented by the pastor to the appropriate financial authorities of the church.
An annual review of a pastor’s pay is vital and the pastor should know exactly what to expect from the congregation during the coming year. However, if a church does not increase the pastor’s pay each year by at least the cost of living, it has in effect reduced the salary. Moreover, just as the members of a congregation expect their employers to provide them with a cost-of-living pay increase each year, a pastor should expect the same.
Working outside the church
In some situations, pastors are forced to seek outside employment in order to supplement low salaries, especially in smaller churches. In today’s Christian society in America there seems to be too much emphasis placed on Paul’s life, in which he was both a missionary and a tentmaker. Paul was primarily a missionary and was supported as a missionary; tent making did not support him. Today many congregations expect pastors to be tentmakers because they do not want to support them in a manner pleasing to God. But, Paul said, “So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14).
If pastors feel committed to earn their living outside the church, so they will not have to take money from church members, then that commitment must be from God. As such, pastors should be given the freedom to pursue second jobs without fear of stigma. But if pastors are working because their churches will not support them, then that is wrong, because it is a lack of commitment on the part of God’s people and a lack of faith on the part of the pastors (see Philippians 4:19).
Before allowing their pastors to take outside jobs, the church board must honestly determine if they have the resources to assume their full and adequate support. If pastors are torn between the loyalty of a job in which they earn a living to provide for their families (1 Timothy 5:8) and the call of ministering to people, they will have divided minds and the overall stability of their churches very well could suffer.
Inadequate pastoral income does produce negative consequences. Pastors who are concerned about providing basic needs for their families may not have the emotional energy to concentrate on the needs of their churches. Financial burdens may contribute to a lack of enthusiasm, low self-esteem, and a despairing attitude toward the ministry. Ultimately, that will harm the congregation and result in a hurtful witness to the community. “Appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 5:12).