Pastors are paid what?!?

Pastors are paid what?!?

Salaries are best kept a “secret”. No one knows the amount of work and responsibilities that are required in order to make a salary. So when comparisons happen, it’s rare that Apples are compared to Apples.

Perception comes into play as well. And that’s when Pastor’s salaries come under scrutiny. How much should someone be paid when they’re in the “ministry”? The perception is, that a Pastor is underpaid and overworked.

Leadership Network has been tracking Salaries and Benefits of large churches (churches with attendances between 1,000 and 14,999) for almost a decade. And the highlights of this year’s results are (from 38 states and 4 CDN Provinces):

  • Salaries of Lead Pastors range from $400,000 to $40,000. Average? $147,000
  • Executive Pastors: $99,000 average
  • Worship Pastors: $75,000 average
  • 83% of these churches grew in attendance in the last year.
  • Only 10% reported no change in attendance. 7% saw a decrease.

Leadership Network is quick to say that this is not scientific (because of the sampling); so it’s not statistical accurate for all large churches; but it demonstrates trends.

What are your thoughts on these numbers? I think I’m shocked at how high the averages are. Especially when the Average Working American (age 25+) — With a MASTERS Degree (I figure most Pastors in the Pastor’s survey would have that) is only $52,390.

I’m all for paying our Pastors fairly, but perhaps we should rethink our salary structures if we’re paying them double to triple the (similar) average American wage. Or perhaps these Pastors represent exceptional, above average positions. And this is pouring our God’s Blessing on them. Thoughts?

  • Derek

    Thanks for sharing this interesting data from Leadership Network. Here is how I have come to think about pastoral salaries as I have studied Scripture. I will try and outline a few biblical teachings that I think are relevant.

    First, I think we have to hold two biblical truths in tandem. Paul teaches that pastors labor and should thus be compensated (I Tim. 5.18). But, he also seems to speak of those who labor in gospel ministry as living a simple lifestyle so as to not give anyone any reason to doubt the free nature of the gospel (I Cor. 9.1-18). Paul did not demand payment, but he offered churches the opportunity to support him so that he could focus on gospel ministry and not have to work. However, when he wasn’t supported, he did work by making tents (Acts 18.1-4). So, a pastor’s salary should be considered due payment, but it also should be seen as payment that frees them up to focus exclusively on ministry. In some places, there is not enough money to support pastors for full time gospel ministry, and so pastors work a job as well. If we can avoid that, we probably should, but if pastors become lazy, then we should question their maturity and character.

    Second, we should always be careful not to pay pastors who are ‘lovers of money’ (I Tim. 3.3). But, we should always seek to share with those who teach us (Gal. 6.6). If a congregation begins to resent a pastor who seems to make a lot while the congregation is struggling with jobs and money, then something needs to change. The pastor should probably take less money, and the congregation should desire to be able to give more. I think the mindset we see in Acts 2 is appropriate here. The early Christians had ‘all things in common,’ meaning, they shared with those in need. That should drive the way we think about pastoral compensation as well.

    As one of my professors once taught me, the ideal situation is when the congregation seeks to compensate the pastor liberally out of gratitude but the pastor couldn’t care less about the money since he lived a simple lifestyle focused on gospel ministry. The worst situation is when the congregation thinks it is their job to keep the pastor poor and the pastor thinks it is his job to get more and more money.

    I have asked in a number of church contexts how salaries were determined. Many use education and experience as key factors and compare pastors to teachers in the community. I have heard of other churches use education and experience compared to the business world. Those are very different scales. I am not sure which one is more appropriate, if either are in the first place.
    I knew a pastor that continued to go to school while pastoring, receiving a PhD, which meant that the congregation gave him time away from the church to further his education. He turned around and demanded a higher salary when he graduated since he had a PhD while an associate pastor couldn’t pay medical bills for his kids. I was really angered by that.

    My guess is that we don’t want pastors to be the richest people in the community because that will certainly lead to sin and encourage the wrong people to seek to be pastors. But, we don’t want pastors to be the poorest people in the community either because then they won’t be able to spend as much time focusing on the ministry. That leaves a large gap in between that may allow for differences in different communities.

    Those are just a few thoughts. I am not sure if that helped anything.


    September 21, 2010 at 1:42 pm
  • Thanks Derek! You voiced almost exactly where I’m at — except like a good Pastor, you 1) used scripture (and I didn’t) and you 2) were lengthy (grin)…

    Like most things in our Christian lives, it comes down to balance…

    Thanks again! I appreciate your insight!

    September 21, 2010 at 2:10 pm
  • Dean Edgett

    I love to see Pastors well compensated; however, I wonder about the wisdom of Pastors driving luxury vehicles and living in the best neighborhood in town. Is it their “right”? That’s not the question. The wisdom of doing so is!

    September 21, 2010 at 9:09 pm
  • Amen Dean! And you know I’m not for “salary capping/legislation” — but when the Pastor is the best paid person in the church (and it’s obvious), wisdom is not prevailing.

    September 21, 2010 at 9:20 pm
  • Derek

    Sorry for the length. I write like I get paid by the letter….

    September 23, 2010 at 9:20 am
  • LOL! I’m always editing — that’s why I don’t make as much as a Pastor 🙂

    September 23, 2010 at 5:44 pm
  • Bill

    If anyone is paid a wage, he is accountable to the one that pays him. In the church context, pastor should be accountable to, of course, God and the congregation that finance the salary. I think the pastor should turn in time sheet everyday to account for all his time. The pastor should also disclose all extra income he earned outside the church while he was receiving the salary (for example, all income on books sold that he wrote while receiving pastor salary, speaking engagement outside the church, any gifts, etc.). I don’t think a pastor should be paid for having a quite time, reading a bible, praying, b/c all these are what all believers are supposed to do. But a pastor should be paid for time and expenses related to preparing and running sermons/services, visiting members, doing church administrative things and meetings, etc. A regular churchgoer is not paid for doing QT or praying at home, even if he is praying for others. So a pastor should not be paid for QT/praying, etc. which are what he is supposed to do. My guess is that a pastors total time would amount to way less than 40 a week. In my view, there really is no need for a full time pastoring. Aren’t we all called to go out to the world? A pastor should get a job and do a part time ministry, and get paid for that part time ministry. If a full time ministry is justifiable through the evidence of the pastor’s time sheets, then it would be justifiable for full time pastor salary.

    April 11, 2013 at 9:35 pm
    • Rob Henderson

      Interesting comments, Bill. I can only dream of receiving even half of what Leadership discovered.

      Are you a pastor? Do you struggle in prayer over the hurting souls in your congregation? Do you lead meetings and expected to do a “research paper” at least twice a week with an easy 20-30 legitimate study hours? Not to mention the collateral reading you do for future teaching? Do you drop everything to run to the hospital at any moment no matter what you are doing? I don’t ask these to be a jerk but I sense that you do not respect your pastor very well or any other pastors.

      I agree, quiet time should be at home and it is for me. I even use a separate Bible that is for my personal devotions only. I don’t do devotions in my office or the Church.

      My life is under a whole lot more scrutiny than the average Joe-six-pack-coke. Not only does the church say I am their pastor but so do a lot of people in the community. But I don’t mind.

      I earn $293 per week with a home provided. I do not get contributions to my pension. The church covers a rate of $525 a month in lieu of healthcare. I get healthcare through my Indian Tribe (great blessing) so the Church pays for one person- my wife- and we pay for a high-deductible health insurance. We have saved the church thousands of dollars over the years of this much needed item. When the church ran out of funds two years ago my salary package suffered to the tune of $1300. Do I sue to get it? Or do I keep pastoring and figure God will bless me in the end?

      When pastors grocery shop we are accosted by all manner of folks and find ourselves discussing issues in produce even if it is our day off. We get to listen to members complain that the “sermon is hard enough” or it was a great message except for “______.” We need to get along with every one regardless of who they are- not that I don’t mind getting along with everyone.

      I don’t do this for the money or accolades. I don’t write books. And if it weren’t for my physical disability (two back surgeries) I would work a second job. I know what it is to have nothing and almost nothing but yet have everything in Christ Jesus. Not all of us pastors lord over our people but work beside them in all manner of ministry.

      I love being a pastor and being called pastor. This is a great honor and I cherish this role. I can think of nothing I would rather do. This is not a career but a calling. And in this calling I believe not only in God but what He has written in His Book as well as His desire to change and transform lives.

      Someday God will shake the chaff from the wheat. I do all things with a clear conscience but do not consider myself innocent. God will judge us all in the end.

      By the way, I did not write this while on the clock.

      April 19, 2013 at 2:32 am
  • Bill

    There should be a renewable pastorship term when hiring a pastor. This prevents a pastor thinking that the church is his. For example, a pastor may be hired for a term of 5 years, and at the end of the 5 years, the church may renew the employment or get a new pastor.

    April 11, 2013 at 9:40 pm
    • Mark MacDonald

      Your tough — but if a church followed your suggestions; there would be a lot less abuse. Thanks for your input!

      April 11, 2013 at 9:41 pm
  • eugene

    I’ve heard people say the pastor should make the average salary of the church members. But think about it, what if the pastor that has 7 or 8 years of higher education were expected to make the same thing as the average salary in the church, and the average paying job in the church was at minimum wage? If those same people were to go to, say a psychologist, they would have to shell out around a hundred dollars for an appointment, no matter what their salary level is.

    May 16, 2014 at 10:34 pm
    • True — but does one is in ministry, the other not. I think it’s all about balance, no?

      May 17, 2014 at 7:36 pm