“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”
2 Peter 1:12-15 (NIV)
As a preacher and as a teacher of preachers I affirm that preaching has many important functions within the body of Christ. At its best it follows the challenge of the Apostle Paul as he instructs preachers to correct, rebuke and encourage those they preach to. The best kind of preaching also inspires people to realize and embrace their worth and equality as image bearers of God. The best preaching challenges systems of injustice and oppression. And, of course, the most significant function of preaching throughout the history of the church is the message of salvation — to share the truth of the Gospel — a new life that only comes through the sacrifice, resurrection and indwelling of the Savior Jesus Christ. A beautiful reality of preaching is that this latter function (salvation) inspires and empowers the former functions as well (justice, encouragement, teaching, etc.).
Lives can be transformed because of Christ. Because of him there is hope for today and tomorrow. Racism and oppression must end because we all have equal worth and are equal recipients of the love and sacrifice of Christ. And because of Christ and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, we no longer have to remain captive to old ways of thinking and living. The best preaching embodies all of these functions and shares the message of the Gospel boldly.
A function of preaching that isn’t spoken of as often, though, is the ministry of remembrance. Almost all preachers will have the privilege at times to preach the message of Christ to people that do not yet believe in him. We call them the unchurched, non-believers, the unsaved. Some preachers even have the daunting but joyfully important task of preaching almost solely to people like this. The reality, though, is that most local church preachers will do the majority of their preaching to believers. You know, we call them the saints, the saved, the regular attenders.
It is easy to look at regularly attending believers and get caught up wondering what we’re going to tell them each week. What can we possibly say that they haven’t heard before? Some of the folks we preach to have heard hundreds of sermons, some of them have been hearing them for longer than we’ve been alive! How are we going to come up with a new word to speak to these folks? If you’ve found yourself wondering things like this my next sentence ought to make your day. You don’t have to!
One of the powerful functions of preaching is reminding people what they already know. Finding new ways to express timeless truths can be a very good thing, but fretting about what truth to share is a needless burden. Most people can relate to the practice of hungrily opening a refrigerator door time after time as though between trips it might miraculously fill itself. But carrying the burden of what truth to preach is like opening a fully stocked fridge and then closing the door only to complain about not having anything to eat. The great news for us preachers is that God has provided all the source material we need in his Word. The fridge is full!
A preacher’s ministry of remembrance speaks words of truth to people that may have heard those same words a hundred times before. While that may sound redundant at best and boring at worst, life is not a static thing. We forget what we know when times are tough. A man dying of thirst forgets what it feels like to have cool water sliding down his throat. A person plodding through a Midwestern winter might forget what it feels like to bury their toes into a warm, sandy beach. A person being abused by a family member can be reminded through the preaching ministry of remembrance that they have ultimate worth in God’s eyes. They can be reminded that they are not alone, both spiritually and physically, because of the local church body. When someone is wondering how they will put food on the table or pay the rent, they can be reminded that God sees them and cares for all their needs. Then on the flipside, those in the church can be reminded that they are often the avenue of God’s provision for those around them.
We all know it: sometimes life can seem more than we can bear. Sometimes the things people know, even the things they’ve built their lives on, are forgotten in the fog of loss and adversity. Sometimes they can’t see the forest of God’s love and care for the trees of pain and trouble. So, the ministry of remembrance shares truth that never grows old or stale. It cuts through the fog of pain and discouragement with the light of God’s active presence. It pulls people out of the bog of complacency and empowers them for action. The ministry of remembrance can be one of your most important roles as a preacher of the Gospel.
But there is another benefit to the preaching ministry of remembrance. When my father died suddenly at age 56, I was devastated. My world was completely rocked. In the darkness of those days I needed to be reminded again and again that I was not alone, that God knew my pain and that I would see my father again. I was the pastor of a local church and had no one else to preach to me. However, as I faithfully preached the Gospel to my church, that same Gospel was uncovering what I already knew but had become hidden in the midst of my grief. My own words were speaking to me week after week. No, check that. God was speaking to me through my own preaching! “I am here. I know your pain. You are not alone. I will bring you through.”
As I was engaging in the ministry of remembrance to my church through the Gospel, God was speaking through that same Gospel and refreshing my memory. The simple fact is this — the truth that you preach that refreshes the memories of your people will often be the very words you need to hear more than anyone else. The line between preacher and listener dissolves in the ministry of remembrance through the power of the Gospel. Through another of God’s great mysteries we can be both speaker and listener at the same time. There are many functions of preaching, but in the preaching ministry of remembrance you can both practice and receive the Gospel at the same time.
Mark Schnell has been an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church since 1994 and has served as a youth pastor, worship leader, associate pastor, and solo pastor in churches ranging from 30 to over 1500. He earned two graduate degrees from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and is currently working on his doctorate at Emmanuel College in the University of Toronto focusing in homiletics. He’s passionate about preaching and equipping women and men to be faithful and effective preachers of the Word of God, as well as, preaching the transforming message of the Gospel as often as he can. Mark is regular serves as an adjunct professor of homiletics and proclamation at Indiana Wesleyan University and Wesley Seminary.
He’s blessed beyond measure to be husband to Sharie for over twenty-four years and Dad to Kate and CJ. Those three continually teach him more about God’s love and grace and help to sharpen him more into the image of Christ.
Preaching is powerful. It reaches into our souls and speaks to every human emotion when it is going well. Though this will not be true of every preaching ministry some preachers avoid touching on grief and despair except for in funeral sermons. Perhaps this is because the preacher faces enough grief and despair week to week that they want to uplift and encourage instead. Compassion fatigue can so wear down a preacher that even discussing grief is too much for them to bear again. For other preachers a level of fear of getting it wrong or a lack of comfort in talking about these topics drives the dodging of lament. Others simply want to lead their congregations in optimistic faith, in triumphant hope, and make church an experience of celebration first and foremost. Whatever the reason may be, avoiding the breadth of human emotions can create a gulf between the preacher and the congregation.
The problem is partly one of approach. Preachers often offer sermons focused on future hope, which address a deep spiritual need, but is not holistic. There is a serious need for hope that is focused in the present. The world we live in creates an environment of despair, and preachers must offer hope of God’s present hope and love, in addition to future oriented hope. Preaching focused on hope centered on God’s presence in the midst of suffering addresses the immediate need of individuals’ suffering.
A second common mistake for preachers is inadequately addressing the normality of human emotions and their roots. Hope-centered preaching should not rush to optimism without adequately addressing pain. Preaching that ignores or merely mentions suffering inadequately is unfaithful to the biblical witness and can even be harmful if it is the pattern week after week. If preachers refuse to process grief and despair from the pulpit, then hope is robbed of its fullest expression. Hope without lament after all is in danger of being labeled naïve or out of touch. Of course, no preacher should ever drive his or her church to hopelessness, but frequently congregants are already in the valley. The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, PTSD, or a child addicted to drugs are all common situations that need to be addressed. Preaching must meet people where they are. Congregants need to be more than just heard and understood from the pulpit, they need to have their experiences and struggles expressed. Preaching is effective when congregants feel that they and their problems are understood because being heard and understood by someone who also gives voice to their struggles meets spiritual and psychological needs that can provide hope in the present.
Lament, anger, and despair are all natural emotions. Some traditions of preaching tend to imply that we should not feel them even if it is not said explicitly. This creates a stark double standard of emotional expectations and a false dichotomy of faith. Rarely addressing these human emotions from the pulpit subconsciously invalidates their existence and creates an existential conflict between the body and soul. Moreover, it ignores the holistic biblical witness. Jesus wept at the loss of a loved one (John 11:35). He became angry with the money-changers (Matt 21:12). Jesus fell into despair on the cross when he felt forsaken by God (Matt 27:46). He lamented over the fate of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37). The life of Christ validates our feelings and reveals the need to address them. The powerful emotions of grief, anger, loss, discouragement, frustration, and even disillusionment can be seen as normal experience for faithful humans. Instead of seeking control over them or treating them as problems, what if we validated and guided these emotions? It takes more faith to remain steadfast in the midst of enduring pain than ignoring or denying that pain exists. In order for preaching to reach people, it must practically address what they are feeling. Christ, as fully God and fully human, understands our emotions and connects with us on a personal level, as preaching should.
Often preachers rely on the arch of God’s redemptive plan to offer hope. Comments like “this too will pass,” “it will all be worked out when we get to heaven,” and “God has a plan” are helpful for reflecting on suffering in the long run, but they do little to address immediate needs. All of these comments are solution-oriented. They imagine a time in which the problem and pain no longer exist, but in the meantime, the problem still exists. Surely preaching can offer something more than the imperative to wait to those in pain? In order to address the immediate needs, preaching should be problem oriented too. Problem oriented preaching seriously admits the reality of pain and authentically processes emotions. If the pulpit abdicates its role in addressing pain, preachers cannot expect to meet the congregation’s needs. I am not advocating for less hope but for hope that balances the redemption to come with God’s presence now. God is present with us within suffering, not just at the end of suffering. God has something for us in the middle of pain and loss, not just “someday.”
Preachers and their sermons must be “non-anxious.” A non-anxious presence is the ability to explore, process, and empathize without becoming anxious.[i] Being a non-anxious presence requires self-awareness and reliance on God. It has the faith to maintain calm in the midst of storms and to guide others through the storm without waving the existence of the storm away. Christ can say “Peace be still” and the storm ceases. Preachers do not have this power. In many ways we preach to those who, like it or not, will have to ride out a storm, sometimes to the bitter end.
What is it about the 23rd Psalm that speaks to us in times of distress? The psalm does not promise that we will never face difficult times; the psalm does not even promise that difficult times will end. So, how is it that in the valley of the shadow of death someone could find comfort? The answer is simply “I will fear no evil for you are with me” (Ps 23:4 emphasis added). The most comforting passage of scripture offers solace because it promises God’s presence, even in the midst of suffering and despair. Pain and suffering are real, are a normal part of the human experience, and their effects are potent. The psalm promises that in the midst of despair and darkness we are not alone; it is hope for the present that acknowledges pain. God’s presence is hope that can always be offered.
The seriousness and depth of the traumas we face cannot be fully explored in a sermon. A sermon cannot replace pastoral counseling even when the primary focus is appropriately pastoral care. I remember two specific times when the sermon’s main focus was pastoral care—the Sunday after 9/11 and the chapel following the suicide of a college classmate. The collective needs of the community were so great in each of these situations that doing anything but address the trauma would have been harmful. In these times, the homiletical task is not to solve or fix trauma. The task is to address the pain and offer hope, hope that is here now and hope that is to come. If congregants feel that the preacher understands them and is able to address their spiritual needs, they are more likely to seek pastoral counseling.[ii] The light of hope is brightest when it shines despite the darkness of despair, not merely at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
Until preaching addresses the present need for hope rooted in God’s presence and grapples with the breadth of human emotions, a congregation’s needs will not be met. People have the need to be heard and understood. Preaching can address that need by exploring and validating negative emotions explicitly and in depth before hastening to hope. Sally Brown and Luke Powery say that “preachers are those who dare to dance on the graves of despair.”[iii] Dancing prematurely is offensive. Suggesting others dance without grieving or lamenting is counter productive. We dare to dance because we know the faithfulness of God’s presence in the present. Preachers can better understand their role by becoming more comfortable with emotions, especially their own as it comes to death, loss, meaninglessness, and other forms of despair. When a person has been heard and understood, they are more receptive to hope and aware of God’s love. Articulating that hearing and understanding takes practice and careful forethought. At times what not to say in relation to grief and loss is as important as what to say.
Preaching is always contextual, and our hope-centered preaching needs to attend to that context. Each congregation is unique with distinctive needs. Leonora Tisdale convincingly argues that preachers have the task of exegeting scripture and their congregations. This means that preachers need to study their congregations. She reminds her readers that the central message of the Gospel always remains the same, but the identity and needs of the congregation should impact the message. Preachers need to consider how race, ethnicity, gender, age,[iv] and the emotional needs of the congregation impact the sermons receptiveness, timeliness, and appropriateness.
Preachers can choose to speak of life in ideals, of the life as it ought to be or will be one day. Sometimes that is exactly what needs to be said; on the other hand, we must speak of life as it is. With all its struggles and adversities, rooted in the reality of the world we live in. The Bible offers a holistic message to body, mind, and soul; thus, preaching should do the same. When death and suffering are ignored or understated, our people are ill-equipped when they come.
By Scott Donahue-Martens
Questions for you to ponder:
[i] Edwin H. Friedman, Generation to Generation: Family process in Church and Synagogue, (New York: Guilford Press, 2011).
[ii] Preachers must be careful not to break confidentiality or make a public display of another’s pain.
[iii] Brown, Sally A., and Luke A. Powery, Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for your Time and Place, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016), x.
[iv] Leonora T. Tisdale, Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press), 1997.
Preachers are not often very good matches for the stereotypes. “Preachers are lovers of words” I have heard it said so many times. Yet I have learned that many of us grow weary of words. We do not want to hear any more, and we do not want to speak any more of them. After a days work spading out words from the hard soil of truth, gathering words in baskets of leftovers from counselees, and picking out words from a lineup in meetings we may not feel like “people of the word” at home. We neither want to think deeply about which words to use, nor do we want to hear a blather of words spread like too much frosting on too little cake in every room. A little quiet might be more in order.
Our families if we have them, and close companions if we do not, deserve the careful attention to words we offer others. Have you noticed how many rituals we have to “prepare for the day” or “get the day started well” in terms of the working day? Coffee or tea to jump start our energy and help us at least act like we enjoy people. Quiet solitude for at least a few minutes poring over a passage for our soul. Planning out the day with lists lettered and numbered by importance and urgency. Professional but un-rushed greetings and pleasantries to give each person a human touch. All of these things set us up for “the day.”
A friend of mine got in the habit when his kids were young of saying “back to job #1” as he left the ministry offices each day. Whether the sappy sentimentalists want to admit it or not, there’s truth to that with two year olds. They are a job some days. A blessed one, but a job. I like the sentiment that it is “job #1” though. So, that’s the first word for your family. Consider it job #1. If you don’t like calling it a “job” it might be because your theology of work is out of whack. Give it seriousness. Find meaning within it. And find ways to set up rituals of preparedness for it. Should you take five minutes for silent reflection before going home? Would there be worth in making a prioritized list for connection and time spent with people who are closest to you? What if you did devotions every now and then just before leaving work? How about this: what if you helped those you live with discern a vision for life together that was compelling and Christ-centered? You do it at work after all. Don’t turn home into an office. Don’t turn children into staff. Don’t turn your house into a narcissistic extension of ego. That’s not the idea, but perhaps considering it’s work meaningful, and it’s engagement worthwhile would be a good “word” for us.
Now for a few words we might use with those we are closest with:
Do not forget that your greatest sermon may be the one you preach “on the side.”
A few weeks back preaching fatigue was the focus of the series. The suggestion list was rather intentionally human. It is not that we should start with the human, or that human things matter most, or that we can presume prayer is happening in the lives of preachers. We simply did not want to turn prayer into mechanism you use instead of a life to live.
I remember sitting at Doug’s kitchen table. I am a coffee guy, strong and black. He liked tea. Slowly brewed. Carefully served. The table was small and round. The kitchen simple and not exactly uncluttered. I had preached an evening service following our morning service. Doug was the pastor, I was the guest. He shared with me his story of burn out, spiritual dryness, and turning to spiritual direction for guidance and recovery during a sabbatical. He completely changed his life of prayer, he said. He did not emphasize changing his “ways” of praying. He changed his life of prayer. He slowly sipped his tea. His words were measured and calm. His demeanor relaxed. Something about sitting with him and listening to him describe the change from spiritual desert to peace-filled streams of prayer inspired me.
Doug had something I did not have: a peace-filled life of prayer. My prayer life was strong and edgy like my coffee. But unlike my coffee, it didn’t restore me and I did not look forward to it. It was driven. It tired me rather than rejuvenated me. It felt repetitive. At times it was manipulative.
I read some books Doug recommended. But mostly, I sought the life Doug reflected. I think preachers lose a great deal of solace when their prayer life is primarily about asking God to do things. That includes asking God to tell us what to say.
Here are some ways of praying I have discovered along the way as I sought to follow the path Doug found. Don’t use them to make preaching better. Pursue them if you think life will be better. They will affect your preaching, but from the side.
The life of prayer is “on the side” only insofar as it should not be corrupted by preaching’s desperation for help in professional tasks “right now.” There are times to cry out for help in dependance to be sure. God does not despise it. Yet if that is the focus of our prayer life, asking for this and begging for that, we have missed something —the beautiful dance of life with God.
by Dave Ward
Preachers sin. He who claims to be without sin is a liar. Yet preachers do not want to go on sinning, for then Christ is not in us. This dialectic in 1st John is a perennially difficult one. Wesleyan categories of sin help us greatly in discussing it. Yet the truth is, many preachers this week intentionally and willfully sinned. It may not be something for which they would be judged. It might have been as simple as choosing to eat an entire bag of potato chips even though they had promised God to fast. Or it might have been an intentional sideways stare when the eyes should have returned home. Or, it might have been a very slight action meant to harm an “enemy” whose actions wounded the preacher. Preachers are after all very human.
The challenge is preachers pour their lives into their church. Their friendships are wrapped up in their church most often. Their accountability partners attend their church. Their connection with those people carry dual relationships that are unavoidable but would make every professional counselor cringe. Perhaps that’s why preachers seem to err on one side or the other in their preaching. They are too invulnerable, too “fixed”, too put together and never “in the flesh” of struggle or failure. Or they are too vulnerable, too “messed up”, too falling apart and use the pulpit as a confessional booth.
It is difficult to preach with freedom, with joy, with a tone and sense of the truly truly good news when sin rots your conscience on the side. The extra burden of a burlap bag of sin chafes the holder, and burdens the bearer. Do you have an extra load? Does it weigh on your, chafe you as you preach? Do you wish you could find someone safe, someone who would not destroy you or judge you?
Be honest. If you hear his voice do not harden your heart as they did at Meribah. The point is not to feel shame, but to admit the shame you already feel. The goal is not to beat yourself up more, but to recognize the bruises of self-condemnation that are tender to the touch. Do you need to answer yes to those questions?
If so, the sin may be “on the side” and not directly related to your preaching, but the effects are no longer on the side. They are in the center. What affects the preacher affects the preaching. There is no way around that. Frederick Beuchner states preaching is “truth poured through personality.” There are problems with that definition, but there are benefits. It helps us remember that God does allow us to flavor his water with what is in the vessel.
Preaching well is tiring. Preaching well again and again is exhausting. Preaching well again and again every week for years, well that’s a recipe for a growing church…and preaching fatigue.
Most pastoral conferences and theological classes put self-care for the minister and ministry fatigue in a leadership discussion or a pastoral care discussion. Yet every pastor who preaches each week knows that one of the primary sources of fatigue is preaching. The proverbial “studies show” statement by pastors is that an hour of preaching equals eight hours of work in the office. I have never been able to find that “study.” Boy do I wish I could (put it in the comments if you have it.)
We do not need the study to verify what we already experience. When we are done preaching two or three services back to back, we are exhausted. Most of us reading this article have at one time or another preached the three service (even five service) weekend along with the board devotional, the funeral homily, the wedding homily, and taught the discipleship group lesson all in one week. We realize that is fatiguing. And we often take extra time after especially heavy weeks. But the sneaky fatigue is the fatigue of normal ministry weeks stacked up on normal ministry weeks relieved only by normal vacation.
Instead of spending time harping on the problem. We decided we would give you a long list of ideas that you can apply to give back to your soul. Some of them will be obviously spiritual. Others, are only recognized as spiritual if we rename them. Still we believe all of them to be spiritually healthy if pursued for the right reasons.
Here’s a challenge: for the sake of your preaching, do one thing to add back to your soul every day. You have been taking out, put something back in. Here are some give back ideas:
I remember the first time I preached over 8000 feet above sea level. I am a passionate preacher and my challenge is to tone myself down, not ramp myself up. This seems to be even more true when I am in front of adolescents or young adults, which at that time in my life was every week. It was the first time I ran out of breath in a sermon. I had to pause, and breath. The clear lesson I learned was that my lungs were not up to the capacity required for the strain. I was in “good enough” shape. But I was not in good shape. I had gained 20 pounds in seven years. No one would likely notice the state, since I was a fence rail when I graduated college. Still, my trajectory was wrong. My exercise routine had gone from 5 days a week plus weekend adventures to 3 days a week without much adventure. During my heavy preaching season when I was preaching twenty times a month the 3 day a week routine almost completely went by the wayside. The real kicker was the emotional state the physical lack put into my life. Preaching seemed less meaningful. Questions about my call emerged that had not been there before. In spite of what should have been enjoyable and fulfilling ministry fruit, I was disheartened. Obviously things were out of balance.
Have you ever been somewhere similar? Have you stayed in that place for an extended time?
65% of the United States population is overweight. 21% aren’t just overweight they are obese. That’s a problem for the congregation. What about clergy? 71% of pastors are overweight and 30% of them are obese according to this study by Pew. It cannot be the donut hour and potluck practice alone. There is more at play and every pastor and preacher knows it.
When you preach in front of 500 people, some of them want to spend more time with you. 15 minutes after the service is not enough time to see them all. Emails and cell phones and social media all make the pastor more accessible to those larger-than-used-to-be-normal congregations. So, the result? They want to eat with you. I remember eating dinner at a parishioners home or restaurant with a parishioner every single night of the week one particular month in my ministry. We rebalanced and re-boundaried so that we at least got one night a week for our family and one night a week for rest. Still that’s 5 out of 7 nights eating at a level that is unusual for the parishioner we are with. They are rolling out the red carpet for their pastor after all, and they don’t do this every week. We do it every other day.
That is not all of the obesity-for-pastors equation. Emotions require management and our coping tool is often food. When our preaching is good it communicates to our congregation that we understand the difficulty of life in a fallen world. We even have hope to offer that is different than helps and hints for hurting people. We have truly good news. Our beloved church attenders also want to have conflict with us and have us help them settle their own conflicts. Congregants contact you for suicides and spiritual crises as well as vocation decisions and recovery from abuse.That means we bear more burden on average than pastors did in the 1950s when they were the least often diagnosed with any disease in any category. Now, pastors often struggle more than the rest of the population. Part of the reason for that is the increasing size of congregations and the resulting increasing burden for pastoral care or conflict management. Along with that increased burden, clergy status has decreased in society. The intangible support we receive has decreased.
No wonder many pastors show signs of addiction to food. Do not be too discouraged. The General Social Survey at the University of Chicago consistently showed over 18 years that clergy were the single most satisfied profession in the country. We love what we do. It does take a toll though.
Obesity is just one marker of physical well being. Blood pressure, blood sugar, energy level, optimism, confident self-image and more are parts of it as well. Most of us should drink more water, take more reflective breaks during the day, take a walk after lunch, or push for a sabbatical or longer vacation.
I would hate to spend this entire article on the well being of the pastor moralizing you on why you should be better. You know what you need. The question is how? We’re preachers after all, that’s the question we are trained to ask.
If you were able to get the relational support and inner motivation to regain a level of health and energy that you haven’t had for quite some time, it would affect everything including your preaching. Some of us would have more energy to play with our kids. Others would have more energy after work for our spouses. Others would pursue life dreams and adventures we thought were out of reach. But all of us would have more credibility to preach on issues we couldn’t preach about before. Hopefully we would preach with good news, that Jesus Christ and our abiding in him and Christian community is the best way to manage stress or negative emotions.
We could preach with gospel orientation that a healthy life can be a happy life and that is a holy thought. What’s stopping you?
Over the next few months we will post a series of articles on Wesleyan Sermons that cover side issues to preaching. The series “On the Side” will cover money, health, compassion fatigue and more. Usually we cover topics like theory and method for more faithful and more effective preaching. We will still cover those with sermon reviews every other week. We want to talk about the things that exist around preaching that effect preachers. After all, everything that affects a preacher eventually affects preaching. Today, let’s talk about money.
Actually to be more specific, let’s talk about the preacher’s money, her salary primarily.
Much of the data I want to share with you today comes from the 2016-2017 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff by Richard R. Hammar. Check it out sometime, it may help you feel more equipped to decide salary, budgets, compensation, benefits and everything else that goes into that, or to negotiate at your next yearly review with your own supervisor. My international friends I hope will forgive me for focusing on the North American conference. It is where I live, and the conference that sponsors this site.
Here are a few thoughts you might want to chew on that you already know:
1) The two biggest factors in changing a pastor’s pay package are church setting and worship attendance.
A pastor in a suburb of a large city makes 21% more than a pastor in a farm setting. Many will way that the cost of living is cheaper. But the reality is that a comparison of some random suburban settings versus farm towns reveals the following cost differences:
None of the major expenses costs 21% less, and groceries even ends up costing more. So there isn’t the same level of cost savings as salary decrease. As far as worship attendance goes for preaching, it may make sense. Some believe a larger church requires a sharper, more focused, more broadly appealing preacher to maintain a larger and more diverse church body than a smaller church. You could argue though that you need a better preacher to grow a small church than you do to only maintain a large church. You need a strong salmon to swim upstream. However, we feel about those factors, they are the facts. Larger churches and suburban churches in big cities pay the best.
2) Preaching pastors make more than non-preaching pastors.
Senior Pastors and Associate Pastors make significantly more than their colleagues in other areas. Part of the reason is preaching. Churches simply pay more for the people they hear from the most. Is preaching more important than Christian Education? Certainly not. That’s from a preaching pastor, guest preacher, and preaching professor. It’s simply not more important than the deep ongoing discipleship of the mind, heart and lives of church goers. Again, sticking to the facts it certainly pays more in North America. Given that most people fear public speaking more than dying, maybe the emphasis is in the right place.
Youth pastors, whose ministry is more typically associated with preaching than children pastors, also make more. 20% more than children pastors on average. Part of that reason may be lack of ordination. Ordination always garners a higher average salary and many children pastors mistakenly avoid getting ordained. Preaching takes a toll, but on average the church compensates for that. The old wisdom is that one hour of preaching requires the same expenditure of energy as 8 hours in an office. If you preach half an hour in two services you’ve put in quite a full day. If we were worldly in our thinking, we would suggest that if you want to get paid more you should work on your preaching. Instead, the worker is worth her hire and preaching takes a toll…so we do not muzzle the ox.
3) The biggest difference in pastoral pay is the church’s revenue
If a church brings in under 250k per year the average base salary plus housing is $42,872. That is in keeping with the median single earner salary of the country. Household income averages $55,775 which includes two-wage families (deptofnumbers.com/income/us). If a church brings in more than $1 million a year (something like 800 people on average in Sunday morning attendance) the average base salary plus housing is $71,999. It really did add up to “71,999” by the way, I didn’t monkey with that curiously sales-like fact. That’s a 67.9% increase in pay. If the church is increasing numerically, the pastor is increasing in income. If the church is shrinking, the pastor’s budget is decreasing on average. That is not a statement of value on our part from this site, simply a reporting of facts and trends.
Apparently we are not completely muzzling the oxen that is treading the grain. However, we might ask what happens if the oxen is treading just has hard as another oxen but the farmer doesn’t make as much (for any reason) should they get paid that much less?
Now here are two things you might not have known:
1) Education makes a huge pay difference.
The average senior pastor who gets a masters degree receives 12% more in total compensation than the average pastor with a bachelors. Read that again. If you don’t have your masters, think about what 12% would equate to. The average pastor with their doctorate (PhD or DMin is not divided in the study) makes 10.3% more than the masters. Doctorates typically cost less to receive than masters, especially the behemoth Master of Divinity degree versus the rather small Doctorate of Ministry degree. Perhaps this is a shameless plug for education. I don’t work for Wesley Seminary but they should thank me. I tell my own students who are finishing our Mdiv equivalent masters program that it was one of the best ministry decisions they ever made. A masters trained pastor is on-average better equipped and will therefore be better paid. More importantly, the goal is that they will better serve souls. And the cost of the degree will pay itself off in 2.5 years for the masters, 2 years for the doctorate if the church raises the salary accordingly (and we should). Feel free to print this for your board before, during, and after your degree.
Pastors used to be among the best educated persons in town. They were respected as such. We’ve lost something now that pastors are often among the lowest level of educated persons in town. There is great danger in allowing pastors to remain relatively uneducated. If pastors cannot tell Plato from play dough, or have an intelligent conversation about the difference between open theism and arminianism they should not expect to get paid as well as professionals who know their field.
2) Senior pastors take the biggest cut in tough times.
Between 2013 and 2015 senior pastors took an average pay cut of $19,470. That’s a huge pay cut to any family budget. Associate Pastors took a $3,233 increase. That’s right, associate pastors took a pay raise while senior pastors took a massive pay cut. Other areas in the church budget weren’t necessarily increased. Full time administrative assistants took about a $400 cut during that period and worship pastors took about a $900 cut on average. Some of that may have been reduced hours in hourly positions. Now matter the reason for the reduction, all of that pales in comparison to the senior pastors who cut their pay by a significant percentage, and a big chunk of yearly change. While giving to charitable causes has increased, year-2013-giving to churches by percentage reached Great Depression levels. Who took the hit? Senior pastors.
Perhaps this is noble. The senior pastors look at their staff and make a tough call. They are the leader, they make the sacrifice (servant leader model.) Or perhaps they make a strategic call, the senior pastor has no desire to leave, but the staff might go elsewhere if their pay is cut. Who knows, but thank you to all you senior pastors who quietly told the board to cut your pay. Thank you from every staff person who doesn’t even realize that their pay raise or smaller pay cut was primarily funded by your personal pay.
We need to ask questions about this though. Over time, preaching will continue to take it’s toll. The weekly production of content will continue to drain the soul. Have we allowed the oxen to muzzle itself? Should we do that? Is it best for the kingdom long haul? District superintendents, board chairs, and lay leaders of all stripes need to consider that question carefully. Maybe it is not in the church’s long term best interest to let pastors play the martyr with their pay. How many of their children will play Jonah because they remembered Mom and Dad whispering tensely at the table about the “lower giving” and the need to “cut the family vacation again?”
I will leave those questions aside and talk to you, the preacher. You’re the one reading this and give some unsolicited advice.
1) Make preaching your priority growth goal.
Preaching is the central growth engine of the church. Evangelistic preaching that not only seeks to bring people to Christ, but train people in how to lead people to Christ is one of our primary roles. And actually, the church has let us know they will pay us more if we do it better (all other things equal). It is worth pouring your time into improving your preaching week by week…for the kingdom’s sake and your family’s finances sake. You might think that corrupts the character of preaching. I do not. Neither did Paul. He was happy with little, but he was also content with much. He was willing to be bi-vocational, but he stopped that immediately when the pay was sufficient to preach full time. I think good pay for growth of the kingdom actually puts the incentive in the right place. If more people are following Christ and giving generously as a result of a pastor’s labor we should pay her more. Does that mean the pastor may make more than the plumber or factory foreman who sits on the board? Perhaps. “Worthy of double honor” comes to mind. They may make less than the business person who sits right beside them. Should we tell the business person to make less money simply so they can be equal to the plumber? Of course not. Board members need to set their own personal egos and personal budgets to the side when they walk into the board room. If they cannot do that, they should step down from the board.
2) Find out what pay is reasonable, and accept it.
If you get the 2016-2017 compensation handbook you’ll be able to do a salary and compensation worksheet that looks at your church income, your church location, your church size, your (or your pastor’s) educational level, pastoral years of experience, and the pastoral position to decide on a reasonable salary scale. If you are the pastor in question, do not feel greedy for accepting it. They will need to replace you one day after all, and the budget should be built to do so. Do not feel underpaid if you are within it. It’s tempting to look wistfully at the boats, houses, cars, and clothes our wealthier congregation members have and think “it must be nice.” If we do that, contentment is leaking out of our souls. A worker is worth his hire, and you are worth a reasonable pay. However, do not keep seeking more than what is reasonable. Instead, work hard at what you have been given (Proverbs 12:11). Take joy in the work itself (Ecclesiastes. 3:22). Seek first the kingdom, and do not be surprised or resistant when all these other things get added back to you. Do not be too impatient when they have not yet been added back. We are citizens looking for another city.
For the Wesleyan-Arminian movement:
These things may not be the heart of preaching, but they do deeply affect the preacher. And no matter what our theology of preaching may be, the state of the preacher affects the state of preaching.