When pastors answer the call to ministry, it’s usually not with the expectation of major financial gain. But that doesn’t mean they should be expected to live on a wage that doesn’t meet their needs. Unfortunately, pastor pay has remained almost completely flat in recent years, while at the same time, inflation has continued to climb.
So why are pastors losing ground in this area?
A common mistake we see is churches only using traditional salary considerations for paying pastors. Most often, churches look exclusively at factors such as a pastor’s experience and previous salary, what they paid the previous pastor or, the church’s size.
This narrow approach does not take other key factors into account, which can lead to a perpetual cycle of below-market pastor salaries — sending pastors down a path of financial hardship.
At the same time, most pastors find it difficult to advocate for themselves, especially when it comes to money, as it’s a delicate balance to prioritize the needs of their church and also make sure their own needs are being met.
The elders who are good leaders are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
While the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what pastors should be paid, it does remind us that these decisions should be made with a posture of generosity.
Let’s look at two strategies that can help break the cycle of below-market pay:
When setting a pastor's salary, it's important to go beyond traditional salary considerations and consider the compensation of other professionals in your community community who have similar responsibilities and education.
Start by looking at salaries for local jobs in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors such as business owners, accountants, school administrators or religious education directors.
Two places to find these local salaries for comparison purposes are:
Additionally, looking at data from our SBC Church Compensation survey can give insight into historical salary levels. Keep in mind these salaries are from previous years and may not reflect market-based input on the part of participating churches.
Now, not all churches have the ability to compensate pastors at current market rates, but every church is able to examine its pay to determine if it’s doing the best it can on behalf of the pastor and his family.
When reviewing a pastor’s salary, churches should always account for inflation and cost of living by making an annual cost-of-living adjustment.
An all-too-common trend is that churches leave an incumbent pastor’s pay untouched for years. And every year a pastor’s pay is not adjusted to meet the rate of inflation, he has less and less buying power as he seeks to provide for his family.
In addition, annual performance reviews that result in a merit raise should not be off the table. It is not inappropriate or greedy for a pastor to continue to receive a livable wage and be recognized for serving well in their role.
Churches have the opportunity and obligation to actively engage in these conversations and make decisions with careful consideration so that they can ultimately set a reasonable, stewardship-yet-market-based salary for their pastor.
As part of GuideStone’s mission to enhance the financial security and resilience for those who serve the Lord, we have developed resources to make the process easier for you. For more information about determining salaries for ministers, please visit GuideStone.org/MinisterialResources or call us Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT.
We look forward to serving you as you serve the Lord.