Pastor’s Salaries – How much is too much?

Like I stated in my annual conference post, the most heated discussion this year was around the salaries of the cabinet. In the Western North Carolina E-News it was reported the final numbers.

Cabinet salary clarified following change at annual conference: The cabinet salary for 2009 was approved at $97,971 with 18 positions scheduled to earn that salary: 15 district superintendents, assistant to the bishop, director of connectional ministries and conference treasurer. During 2008, 20 staff positions are earning the cabinet salary: 2 have been eliminated from that salary level for 2009. The two positions no longer at the cabinet level salary are the conference secretary and director of congregational development. The annual conference increased the cabinet salary by the December 2007 cost of living (4.08 percent) plus 2 percent for merit. The total increase was 6.08 percent over the current $92,356.

Now, the cabinet doesn’t make the most money in the conferece. There are about 30 other ministers who make equal or more than this salary level within the conference. In our conference there are 15+ ministers who make a six digit salary. As the debate raged at AC I wondered what is a suitable salary? The minium salary for an ordained elder of the conference has for the first time broken the $40,000 mark. It was quoted at AC that the medium salary is around $63,000.

With all this said, I do realize that what is on paper is not what we really get paid. UM pastors are hammerd with taxes, roughly 35%. Rumor has it the IRS has a special section for the “Self-employeed Employees” aka: UM pastors.

How much is too much to get paid to do ministry? I can only talk about the UM system because that is all I know. I am sure there are other ministers out there that get paid more than our highest paid minister…but should they. Can we do ministry and live comfortable at $40K?$50K? $60K? $90K? $150K? When is it too much?
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12 thoughts on “Pastor’s Salaries – How much is too much?

  1. Great question. Our bishop in NJ has said that Methodist pastors should ideally make a salary comparable with a school principal in the town they serve. On the one hand this makes sense given the education required, the demanding hours, and the role played within the community. But on the other hand, so many of the congregants make much less than that and we are asking them to give to the mission and ministry of the church. I am not sure how they would feel about that money going to the pastor so the his or her salary would double the median income of the congregation.Whatever the amount, I would like to see a schedule made where churches pay a certain amount to the conference, then the conference pay the pastors on a schedule based on years of service. Any merit based increases could be implemented by the cabinet. But I don’t think most churches would like that either.

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  2. What amazes me with UMC clergy is how I never hear them mention their housing, insurance and pension benefits as part of their package.Here in MS our pastors are receiving at least an additional $35,000/year in benefits, assuming they live in a modest 3/2 house.Assuming even the minimum salary you listed, that is a $75,000 annual pay package.

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  3. Mack, you are right. That is something I never mentioned but if you look at the whole ‘package’ you are right. There are clergy who receive housing allowances above and beyond that as well pushing some to the $200K mark.Eric, I have often thought your suggestion would be a good one. I took a year appointment in England and worked within the British Methodist system. There all clergy are paid the same (roughly). I think a schedule based on years of experience is a great idea and plus may be more attractive to young clergy.

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  4. mack–You are right that benefits are an important part of clergy compensation, but the other side of that is while a place to live is a significant cut in cost for a pastor, we do not have a place to live when we retire. So a person in a secular job putting thousands of dollars into housing every year builds equity while a UM pastor living in a parsonage does not. At some point in our career, we must begin thinking about buying a place that we can pay off by retirement so we will have a place to live–that significantly reduces the long-term financial benefit of living in church provided housing.Also, for the purpose of comparison, most professionals receive significant benefits in addition to salary–housing is the only unique benefit offered to pastors; and as I pointed out above, housing is a huge short term benefit, but that benefit diminishes as we plan for retirement.

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  5. Eric – once again good point. The ability to build equity is extremely important to me and is one of my wife and I’s goals in the next ten years. What is interesting is as we look at paying off school loans, putting money into pensions for retirement, and putting away money for our son’s education…money is tight to save for a house, rental property, or vacation home. The main reason we want to do this within in the next ten years is to be able to pay it off before retirement so we are not taking out a 30 year morgage when we are 65. THis is when a housing allowance seems a better opportunity in someone’s career, offering the pastor and their family to own property and build equity. I have only lived in a parsonage for my two appointments but we are hoping for a housing allowance within the next two moves (15-20 years) to be able to have a house of our own.

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  6. I have often wondered how a pastor knocking down a 6-figure income can be an effective minister to a congregation whose median income may range around $40,000 or even less. I don’t really have an answer and I don’t know that anyone will ever be able to settle but I will say that if a pastor can afford to drive a luxury car or belong to a country club, he or she is making too much money.I also think that comparing a church pastor with the secular market on any level is an unfair comparison because of the nature of the work. It is an apples/oranges debate when we determine, for instance, that a church pastor is comparable to a school principal regardless of education requirements. It is a highly questionable calling that is giddy about service as a shepherd only if one is excited about future earnings.

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  7. When I served on Staff Parish committee there was always a lot of discussion about this. We came up with a couple of guidelines. The first one was a way for the Pastor to evaluate for him/herself whether they thought their pay was fair – it was simply to ask them to consider the following question: “Would you be ashamed or hesitant to announce your salary (and benefits) to the congregation while asking the congregation to turn in their pledge cards? “Obviously, you would never ask a Pastor to actually do such a thing, but if they somehow felt uncomfortable about that scenario, they could examine why and understand where they stood. Sometimes it wasn’t necessarily the salary amount, but the amount of responsibilities they had for the amount. The second was strictly a matter of numbers. Sometimes just putting on paper the amount of money you need per pledged unit just to cover salary and benefits can be helpful in determining how equitable a salary might be for a particular situation. For example if a pastor makes 90,000 including benefits, and assuming the average pledge rate is 3% of a units income, then the total income of the pledging units needs to be $3 million dollars. If you have a median income of $50,000 for example, then you need 60 pledging units just to cover pastor salary and benefits and that’s before you pay for anything else. It doesn’t take long to realize that you are locking yourself into a numbers game in order to support those levels of salary.

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  8. There is a huge disparity between the bottom rung of the salary levels and the top. Those local pastors, part-time pastors, and even student pastors are working right around the poverty line. Then as they move into ordination their salaries are still just small enough to make paying off huge student loan debt and now purchasing gas very difficult. This is truly a sticky subject. Thanks for the comment.

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  9. To me, I always try to look at everything in scripture. Traditionally through the history of the Catholic Church and even back into the Ancient Kingdoms of the Old Testament, the clergy were the more educated of the people. In order to become a Pharisee one had to go through 3 stages:
    1) Bet Safer- TO memorize the ENTIRE Old Testament verbatim.
    2) Bet Talmud- To memorize the histories of the kingdoms as well
    3) Bet Midrash- To memorize the commentaries and folklore of the day

    This made them VERY significantly educated compared to the rest of society. Much in the same way the Catholic Masses only being preached in Latin for the longest time was yet another sign to separate clergy based on education.

    All that to say this: The Majority of our society (with the exception of someone that can make 99% of their basketball shots or touchdown passes for $5million a year) puts a high price on education. We take someones word more if they are a PhD. Ed.d M.D. and so forth based on the education it took to get there..basically we say “We will pay you more because not everyone can just DO your job out of the blue”. This is CERTAINLY the case of UMC pastors. We share what is one of the longest and most complicated processes for ordination in the world. (Also one of the most fascinating to me but that’s a different point). Though we place a HUGE amount of confidence in the importance of Lay leaders, The call to be Ordained Elder/Deacon/or Local Pastor is an unmistakable one. I don’t think there is anything theologically wrong with being financially secure as a pastor. I would even go as far as to say there is not evil in being financially COMFORTABLE as a pastor. Even for those pastors that have housing stipends given, the whole point of the Methodist system if we REALLY trace our Wesleyan roots is to be Itenerate pastors. Hence the MOVING around, and no housing stipend is really enough to buy a house and sell it a couple of years later when it is on to the next appointment. I feel like the specialized education, preperation, rigorous mental expectation, and life under a magnifying glass perspective we have to take to be UM pastors serves as as good a reason as any that UM pastor salary packages are definitely not too much.

    Of course there is an isotope that comes to mind with this argument even as I type my support.

    Christ left the 99 sheep for the 1, this effectively places every bit as much importance on smaller congregations as larger ones in my mind. In the Alabama West-Florida Conference I can garuntee you there is no way a pastor in Elba makes near as much as a pastor in Montgomery or Mobile. This challenges my thoughts. Not to say that someone should not make more money if they have 30 years of extrs experience, salary increase with experience is a natural part of the job cycle. But what if a pastor of 10 years is in Mobile and a pastor of 8 years is in Elba and 1 makes $25000 more than the other? these situations though not plentiful, do exist and it is hard to look at them kindly.

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  10. Future Rev., Thanks for the comment and I agree with you. The process ordained clergy in the UMC go through certainly should be worth a comfortable salary, but there lies the question, what is comfortable?

    Blessings on your future as a fellow Rev.

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