So, How Much Do You Earn As a Pastor?

Pastor_Salary_INMy favorite office neighbor and I have an ongoing conversation about pastoral salaries and I value his wisdom because 1) he is theologically solid and 2) he’s good with numbers.

Pastors’ salaries are supposed to be a matter of public record in Church World. They are often published in newsletters and they are almost always published in congregational meeting minutes – at least in my denomination.  But increasingly corporate-size churches do not disclose what their pastors earn annually.  If a church is staffed by multiple professional ministers, reports might state the combined salaries of all the pastors but not spell out who makes what.  I’d love to hear from some tall steeple heads of staff about their thoughts on this.

There are other pastors who do not want their salaries revealed because they do not want to embarrass colleagues who do not make as much as they do, only because their contexts are so economically different.  A hard-working pastor in a church of 200 in a poor neighborhood is going to make less than a hard-working pastor in a church of 200 in a rich neighborhood.

We are free to accept or not to accept the Terms of Call (salary and benefits) that a church offers to pay us.  Nobody is forcing us to work for $40,000/year. Most of us would love to make six figures which is why larger churches are considered plum positions.

But salaries are tender topics.

A church member shared with our Board of Elders a few years ago that the pastor (that would be me) was earning too much money. He was a friend of mine, actually, and he had no complaint about my ministry. I was happy to have this conversation as I was sitting at the table that night, and I get that I was making more than he was as a high school graduate with a low level job.  But I was making the Presbytery minimum and had three kids and two graduate school degrees.  And I was working really hard.  Did I deserve more money based on my education and experience than this church member?  Was my job more important than his?  Were my responsibilities more complicated?

We can ask for “what we believe we are worth” or for “what we need to live financially comfortably” but what if our congregations simply cannot pay that amount?  Churches depend on the voluntarily given donations of members and friends.  I can ask for more money, but if the non-profit organization I serve doesn’t have the money, then that’s that.

I have enormous respect for pastors of tiny churches that can only pay a few thousand dollars a year.  I do not believe that pastors of tiny congregations are necessarily less gifted than the pastors of large congregations.  But we all have to make choices.  HH and I shared a single position when our children were little.  We’ll pay for it for the rest of our lives – financially – but we got to spend a lot of time with our kids.  To me, it was worth it, but paying for all those braces was kind of a nightmare.

What’s your wisdom on clergy salaries?  Are we simply destined (intentional word choice) to have such a wide gap in salaries between Senior Pastors and Associate Pastors, between tall steeple churches and tiny churches, between male and female clergy?

Image source.

7 responses to “So, How Much Do You Earn As a Pastor?

  1. Cathy Mia Kolwey

    Thank you for this discussion…. very timely for me!!
    I have two reactions as a response:
    First, I have just watched a person leave a church (Director, not Pastor, so rules are a little different), and the church hired an interim to finish out the program year and summer. Here were some of the comments made during that process:
    – HE is about to have a baby, HE needs the money to provide for HIS expanding family, We should give it to HIM.
    – SHE is married and just working for fun. SHE doesn’t really “need” the job.
    – SHE is a single mother. I don’t know that SHE will have the time to commit to this role.
    All that is to say that I think church’s are still offensively discriminatory and sexist when it comes to hiring practices, from the secretaries and childcare workers all the way up to the pastors. It happens more than we admit.

    Secondly, I think the church also has unrealistic expectations when it comes to pastors “perks”. A few examples of what I mean:
    — I have been hired to fill a “social media” role, and then had the church tell me they didn’t think they needed to buy me a computer. Didn’t I have one at home?
    — I have been asked to be “on-call” for pastoral care emergencies and then told that I needed to give the congregation my personal cell phone number because the church wasn’t going to pay for a staff cell phone (or even subsidize my personal one).
    — I have been asked to put $8000 of airline tickets on my personal credit card for a high school mission trip because the church didn’t want the youth pastor to have a credit card. (It was a church with a multimillion dollar endowment…. money was not the issue).
    So I think we also need to be aware that we cannot expect pastors to fund the church’s ministries out of their own meager salaries.Youth pastors can’t fund youth ministries out of $12/hour salaries. Artist pastors can’t fund their arts ministries with part-time salaries, and pastoral care professionals can’t be available without church-funded phones. Supporting pastors with these “perks” (which are really essentials for success) needs to be included in conversations around salary as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Wednesday Festival – Edging into Palm Sunday | RevGalBlogPals

  3. I have no answers, only that this post is so timely, since at dinner Saturday the difference in my salary and my friends’ pastor’s salary came up, and the discrepancy was huge, in spite of very similar congregations. Then I realized we were talking apples – how much my salary is – and oranges – how much it costs my friends’ church to have a pastor, and that accounted for 1/2 of the discrepancy. And yet I do wonder if we tracked salaries by gender, and then again by women who are also mothers and those who aren’t, what we would find – Does the church reflect the culture, where it is mothers who make up most of the gender gap? More to the point, there is no way a family could survive in this area on my one pastor’s salary. The whole thing is a mess, frankly – Who else has to leave the room annually when the congregation discusses a salary that is so public?? And where else do those who pay our salaries have the option of walking when they get mad at us, leaving the congregation scurrying to make up the difference. O, sorry, didn’t mean to go on and on – but it’s a sensitive subject!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Our synod guidelines call for pastors to be paid the same as school district employees (teachers for solo pastors, principals for senior pastors where there is more than one pastor or other pastoral staff). To use my pastor as an example, synod guidelines call on him to be payed at the same level as a teacher with a Master’s degree plus 30 credits (he is just shy of a D.Min) with more than 30 years of experience. If you add up his total compensation package, including housing allowance and benefits, we get pretty close. For second career people, congregations are encouraged to consider their education and experience not directly related to their pastoral position, too.

    From what I’ve heard, most of the congregations have been pretty good about honoring that guidance. It’s a pretty good way to take into account the cost of living differences between rural, suburban, and urban areas (our synod has all three).


  5. hi, i appreciate your position. i have a question though. what is high and what is not? my church is not in the us, but we have american pastors who are — in our opinion — paid a king’s ransom. let me qualify: we work on a principle of not disadvantaging but also not grossly advantaging the pastors who have to relocate. this means that the things that the pastors would pay if they served in america (rent, utilities, schooling, vacation air travel, taxes, social security, medicare) they should cover themselves and we pay the difference. however, the compensation/search committees promised them the world to come and being human, they accepted. this is all fine, but salaries are escalating annually, and we are paying for everything including taxation and double paying for social security and medicare, rentals for homes at $6000-8000 a month(!!!), all utilities, private schooling (there is a current request for $35,000 a year for kindergarten which is not only unreasonable but we feel a sinful request), and home leave. the last two demands we feel are unreasonable. i mean, if the pastors move from atlanta to nyc, does the church in nyc pay the pastors air travel from nyc to atlanta? or let’s say the pastor is in england — should the church pay for air tickets from london to atlanta for the whole family?

    our senior pastor gets paid US$283,000 a year (in an asian country); the worship/music pastor US$250,000 and the youth minister US$191,000. now tell me, is this excessive? we pay for everything except food and entertainment.

    i don’t blame the pastors for asking for more when there are enablers within the church, but i think it is sinful for them to push and demand for ridiculous amounts of money. the principle should be that they pay the difference to not gain an advantage. Jesus tells us to pay ceasar what belongs to cesar. yet, we pay cesar on behalf of the pastors, and they double dip for very expensive private education — i mean seriously, what proper pastor would pay $35,000 pa for kindergarten fees in america?

    what should we do? if we stop this, we risk polarizing the church. if we don’t we are complicit in enabling a situation where we cannot answer to people (many of whom make less than the minimum wage in the us) who hold back simple luxuries to give their hard earned money to the glory of God only for the pastors to lap it up in their expensive condo lifestyle.

    i would sure like to know your thoughts.



  6. Iam frustrated with how hard it is to find out what a pastors salary is. This should be part of the public domain because they serve the public,this also goes for financial statement for nonprofit organizations primarily churches, They have to be accountable,where there is unlimted power,there is certain to be abuse and corruption.


    • Hmm. I’m curious why the salary is not public in your congregation. I know that in some multi-staff congregations, the individual salaries are kept private, but I agree that this is not the best way to practice business.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.