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How much should we pay our pastor?

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Question:  I am the treasurer of a small, fairly new church. We recently had the pastor leave who planted the church. The church also spilt with many members leaving. Our pastor search committee has found a candidate who they believe is right for our church; however, salary has become a thorny issue among the church members. We have less than a hundred attendees for Sunday morning worship, although slightly more on the church roll. The pastor we are considering has some concerns about the pay package we wish to provide. We were seeking a part-time pastor with an annual salary of $X. The candidate we are considering is presently at a church which pays him over twice that much for full-time service. Our candidate told the search committee that when he entered the ministry he would do it full-time and not take a secular job. Also, he had looked over his bills and they came to more per year than we were offering. The search committee now wishes to pay this candidate the salary he is presently making and make the position full-time. As the treasurer, I oppose this request. A salary of this much out of a budget of not much more than half again as much will be a great burden. With operating costs, missions, ministry needs and the desire to begin a building program someday, this large a percentage of the budget dedicated to salary could create problems. Please provide some guidance or direct me someplace where I can find information of the appropriate salary we should pay.

Response:  Thanks for your e-mail. I should state right at the outset here that I am not a member of your denomination (and not affiliated with any denomination). Therefore what I have to offer you is strictly based upon my understanding of scripture and scriptural principles rather than any particular tradition.

There are several ways to approach the problem you address here. From the purely fiscal standpoint, you certainly make a persuasive argument. The Bible tells us little in the way of specifics about the organization of the local church, but does give us general guidance to follow:

"For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" and "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1Cor.14:33 and 14:40 respectively, KJV). Many other verses of scripture could easily also be adduced to show that whatever one does, and especially in the organized church, propriety, responsibility, decency, and respectability must be adhered to. Running the budget into the red and taking on financial burdens that no current inflow could possibly cover seems at best to run the risk of falling afoul of such principles.

To take the issue from the "optimist" position, however, one has also to concede that there is an argument to made from that point of view as well. As my late uncle once said in a very similar situation to his fellow elders when they were debating whether or not to pay a new pastor a large salary, "If this is really our man, then the money will be there". His point was that hiring the right person was an all important decision, and that the right person would be instrumental in broadening the church's ministry, increasing the size of the congregation, and, consequently, expanding the budget. In that case, he turned out to be exactly right - the church grew under his new leadership and the money was indeed "there" to pay him.

To take the issue from the potential pastor's point of view, I can well see how someone who had trained and prepared for "full time" ministry and had already found a full time position would be reluctant to down-size. It is one thing if a person has made the decision to minister for free (as Paul did for the Corinthians), and to bear all expenses oneself, or has so ordered his life so as to be able to exist on a half-time salary (forgoing a family and accustoming oneself to a Spartan lifestyle). But, in my estimation of things, it would be a bad idea for a full-time person to take a half-time position, or, indeed, for a church to hire someone into such a situation. Much in this response is situational - in the absence of specific biblical statements, one has to apply the truth as best one can with the Spirit's guidance. But the one thing I would not recommend would be to hire this person half-time. That is not to say that someone else should not be hired under such conditions. For, as I suggested above, there are some men who have come into the ministry with just such a willingness for self-sacrifice (and with the life-circumstances which reasonably permit it), but if this person is not such a person, it seems to me that both you and he are trying to fit into molds that really don't fit, and that is probably not the best recipe for success.

A very dear and wise old seminary professor of mine once told our class that in his opinion the pastor should be paid somewhere around the mean family income of the congregation. This has always struck me as excellent advice. For, that way, the pastor is neither head and shoulders over the congregation and being kept there at great sacrifice, nor far below them in means, and very much beholding to their whims as a result. Being on a relatively equal par financially with the people he is ministering too avoids all sorts of potential friction. It also begs the question of whether or not a church is really ready to call a pastor if it is not financially able to provide for him at that reasonable level.

You asked what your church could afford, and I have given you three different answers based upon whether budgetary realities, hopes for the future, or concerns for salary equity are one's top priorities. But I would like to add that there is a larger, more important concern, in my view, and in this I think that I also have the Spirit of God. Why have a pastor, why have a church at all if not for the purpose of teaching the Word of God? And if a group of Christians get together for the purpose of learning and devoting themselves to the truth of scripture, then many of these other issues fall by the wayside. I have seen many churches grow dramatically - they have wonderful physical plants, incredible music, large mission departments, gyms and even cafes - but they don't do that much in the very area that is the fundamental reason for Christian gathering: mutual encouragement and edification through the scriptures (Heb.10:24-25; cf. Jn.21:15-18). For my own part, "feeding the sheep" is something that can be done in a garage with no salary and no budget, and yet in multi-million dollar facilities is often barely done at all. In my view, it is much more the rule than the exception in contemporary evangelical and old line protestant circles to focus upon the church process than upon the church purpose, to concentrate upon building up the physical to the detriment of the spiritual. That is, of course, because dedication to the study of the Word is more difficult than physical, tangible things, which, while important and problematic, are far less important and far less demanding than the mental and spiritual discipline of learning and applying the truths of scripture day by day. Like Martha in the kitchen, we feel we are "doing" something, when in truth we are missing out on the "good portion" that Mary is receiving at the feet of our Lord (Lk.10:38-42).

You asked for my advice and I shall give it to you. If it were me, if it were my church, I would concentrate on trying to find someone who, in spite of any salary issues, was ready, willing and able to put the priority on the teaching of the Word instead of the physical infrastructure, regardless of any opposition and rancor that such a focus might create. One could pay $250,000 and not get such a person, or one get such a person for no money at all. But of one thing I am fairly confident, only congregations that have dedicated themselves to putting scripture above every other priority or consideration ever have a chance of finding a pastor who is devoted to doing the same.

I hope you will find some of this useful. Best wishes for a successful resolution to your search. Here is another link at Ichthys where similar issues are discussed:

        Does the Bible require supporting the pastor financially?

Yours in Him who gave His all for us that we might have the truth and have it abundantly, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

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