On The Side: Preaching and Money

header_imageOver 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:

  • Groceries will cost 2% more
  • Housing will cost 8-14% less
  • Utilities will cost 6-8% less (unless it’s drafty)
  • Healthcare will cost 3% less

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 ( 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.

pay-cut-cartoonBetween 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.

Oxen thresh grain with hooves and men separate kernels from straw.

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:

  1. Perhaps its time we put more reflection into how we set salaries. Should preaching senior pastors be allowed to play the martyr with their pay? Is that the right strategic move? Perhaps preachers need the church to protect them from themselves as well as from others.
  1. Giving is changing. Giving to charitable causes as a whole is up; giving to local churches is down. It’s a new day and we need to think carefully through how we should adjust our thinking and preaching about giving. Whatever preaching we are doing and discipling we are doing is not quite accomplishing the need: for regular faithful givers to support the ministry and work of the church for the sake of the world.
  1. In a denomination and movement whose population is increasingly served by staff churches rather than solo pastor churches (though we still have a beautiful army of those) a standard of pay and benefits might be a good idea. Though the averages work out, human beings do not live in averages. There are some churches who are taking advantage of young people by paying them well below the standard for their education, church size, position, and location. That’s an issue of injustice and local churches may need accountability to right the wrong.

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.