What Are Pastors Being Paid?


By: Linda Howard

His voice crackling with emotion, Mr. Morgan rose to his feet, clinging to the back of the pew. “I’m 76 years old and I’ve never made more than $10,000 a year my entire life. My wife and I have raised four children. The Lord always saw that our needs were met. The preacher doesn’t need a raise. He makes too much already.” The congregation, spiced liberally with older parishioners, nodded their heads in agreement and voted down the pastor’s five percent cost-of-living increase.

When the steel mills went to half-time in 1980, the little town in Pennsylvania faced financial disaster. Many of the steel workers who attended the thriving Charismatic Christian Life Center were laid off. The rest of them went to half-time and took a cut in pay. The board met and voted to continue giving the pastor his salary even though the building bond program was a constant drain on the already strained budget.

When the young pastor heard the news, he reconvened the board and asked to be put on half salary. “My people are living with a cut in pay,” he concluded, “so can I.” Supernaturally, the Lord provided for the needs of the clergyman and his family.

While boards and budgets continue to determine the salaries of most pastors and clergy, there seems to be no set criteria for determining what is an equitable amount a pastor should receive. Even worse, little information is available to pastors or congregations to help them determine a common basis and criteria upon which to base the salary. Even the Scriptures, without a careful study, seem nebulous and vague.

In commissioning the pastors’ salary survey, these and other objectives were kept in mind. J. Foy Johnson, district superintendent of the Peninsular Florida District Council of the Assemblies of God stated: “We do not have any kind of current information on this as most of our ministers are very tight-lipped on sharing this kind of information.”

“Some churches are extremely thoughtful and generous. The size of the church has little to do with the salary package of the pastor. Some churches are stingy and unrealistic in their pastoral remuneration.”

Scientifically Accurate

Believing a basis for salary appropriation was a necessary step to determining our goal, a NASA scientist and professional engineer licensed by the state of Florida, Frank S. Howard, was commissioned to produce a scientifically accurate survey. The questionnaire was formatted to meet the requirements for obtaining accurate and workable information. The questions were studied, reformatted and reviewed.

MINISTRIES sent out 300 randomly selected forms requesting the recipient to complete and forward the information back to us within one week.

To obtain scientific accuracy, it was required that the input data be normally distributed, that there be a wide range of pastors’ salaries presented and that a variety in the sizes of churches be represented. Forty-five usable responses were received. The surveys received met all the necessary requirements needed for accurate statistical analysis.

The information submitted on the forms showed a concern and interest by the pastors to give accurate, complete data. It was observed that pastors receiving the largest salaries filled out the most complete forms. Pastors who were paid significantly less than the median (average) salary indicated they knew less about the income of their parishioners and generally did not complete the survey forms.

“Data analysis showed no abnormalities or dishonest answers in the input. Either would have biased the calculation results,” said Howard. Pastors’ salaries ranged from $9,840 to $43,000 with an average of $25,239. It was noted that 68.27 percent of the pastors’ salaries fall within the range of $17,078 and $33,401.

Within 16 different denominations represented, 14 of the respondents were non-denominational and 13 were Assemblies of God. The other denominations from which information was drawn varied from Southern Baptist to Episcopal. Church sizes ranged from 40 attending a typical Sunday morning worship service to 3,000 attendees each Sunday.

Four old-line denominational churches were over 100 years old. Ten additional congregations were 50 years or older. The great-granddaddy was an Episcopal congregation 135 years old. Ten churches had been in operation for less than five years. The baby was a non-denominational congregation which was only one year old.

The churches’ annual incomes showed a large variation. The minimum income was $13,000. The largest church income was $2 million. The average income was $169,680. Only nine of the churches employed one staff member who was the pastor. On the average, the churches employed 3.9 staff members. There were a total of 179 employees on staff at the 45 churches surveyed.

The average age of the pastors surveyed was 40.68 (almost 41) years old. The youngest was 29; the oldest, 60. They proved to be well-educated with an average of 4.95 years of education beyond high school.

The churches responding to the survey gave a total of $734,859 to missions in the last year. The minimum amount given was $150. The maximum was $160,000. The respondents reported a total of 1,824 conversions and 1,582 new members in 1983.

Key Is Average Member’s Salary

It was determined that the pastors’ salaries were most closely related to the average salaries of the people in the pastors’ congregations. There was no significant correlation between the pastor’s salary and any of the other data on the form. The pastor can and should expect to earn a corresponding salary to the average income of his parishioners.

“That’s what the Scriptures teach,” said one minister who has been a pastor for more than 20 years. In both the Old and New Testaments, examination proves that the priest and bishop were to make a salary consistent with the prosperity of the people. When the tithe was initiated in the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were instructed by God to give one tenth of their earnings to support the priest and the Levites. When the people prospered, the minister prospered.

Paul reaffirmed this teaching in 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, NIV:

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the law say the same thing? For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you?”

The average church budget distribution allots 35.28 percent of income to salaries. The pastor received 15.2 percent of that amount.

Pastors receive 69 percent of their income from their base salary, 20 percent from other benefits (housing allowance, utilities, etc.) and 11 percent from outside sources other than the church.

Fringe Benefits Unfair

In the area of benefits (retirement, hospitalization insurance, life insurance, etc.), pastors were found to be treated unfairly. Only 33 percent receive any retirement benefits. Almost all pastors (96 percent) are allowed to keep honorariums they receive for additional speaking engagements but only 13 percent are given severance pay. Seventy-eight percent of them are given freedom to travel but only 20 percent are reimbursed for improvements made on a church-owned parsonage.

With the growth of the non-denominational church, a retirement plan can present a problem. The Southern Baptist Annuity Board gives their denomination’s pastors liberal and secure retirement benefits.

In Assemblies of God congregations, Johnson said, “We recommended to our churches that they consider a generous salary-benefit package for their pastors, taking into consideration” such benefits as housing, hospitalization, auto allowance, entertainment allowance and an incentive plan. They recommend annual review and adjustment, and they urge the church to participate with the minister in a retirement plan.

To take up the retirement gap, some church boards are using innovative methods. “Our church is independent and doesn’t have access to a cooperative retirement program,” said the board member of a small church discussing the problem of retirement for pastors. “We have set up an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) in our pastor’s name. Each pay period the church and the pastor put in matching funds. It has worked well for us.”

“Overall,” reports Howard, “pastors should be paid proportionately but many of them are underpaid. The study showed that independent pastors are the best paid with an average of $26,110 a year. The Assemblies of God pastor receives the smallest average salary. Other denominational pastors fall in the middle receiving an average of $23,900 annually.

“This study clearly indicates that the benefits each pastor receives should be examined by almost every congregation,” said Howard.

Mistreating God’s Servants?

The lack of pastoral salary and benefit considerations by church members was amplified to Howard in an incident which occurred several years ago.

“Because I’ve been ordained by our local congregation,” Howard relates, “I’ve been asked to conduct several marriage ceremonies. One of the weddings was in a small town about 30 miles from our home. My wife and I traveled to the dress rehearsal on Friday night. The father of the bride took great pains to show me his 35-foot sailboat, docked outside his back door. They lived on a waterfront lot. He took me into his garage and showed me his Corvette.

“The next day we went back to their town for the wedding and the reception. All together the wedding festivities and travel took more than eight hours. When we were leaving, the bride handed me an envelope. She told me my honorarium was inside. ‘Daddy wanted to see it before I gave it to you,’ she said, wearing a pleased smile.

“The mother of the bride walked us to the door. ‘I put our honorarium in an envelope. Did my daughter give it to you?’

“We assured the mother she had and left. When I opened the envelope, it was empty. The father of the bride had obviously intercepted the honorarium which had been intended for me.

“The Lord spoke to me, ‘This is the way many people treat My servants.’ I’ve never forgotten the Lord’s word. It changed my attitude about what my pastor receives.”

In 1 Corinthians 9:14, NIV, Paul admonished, “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.” Our survey shows that in addition to lacking an adequate benefits package, many pastors are not able to live on an equal par with their parishioners the way the Lord ordained in the Scriptures.

An author of three books and numerous articles for Christian publications, Linda Howard also served as editor of a magazine and is administrative assistant in the youth department of Tabernacle Church in Melbourne, Florida. Mrs. Howard has a degree in managerial science and with her husband authored Aerospace Technologist for NASA.

(The above material originally appeared in Ministries Magazine.)

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