Church Consultant on the Quiet Issue of Pastors' Salaries

A church consultant says that when it comes to pastors' salaries, the small minority of preachers who live lavishly should not be reason to underpay the other 400,000 pastors leading churches.

A pastor's salary is a quiet issue, Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, acknowledged in a December blog post. It causes discomfort both for the pastor and congregation when brought up, which Rainer finds unfortunate.

While there are extreme examples of pastors who mismanage finances, most pastors are not overpaid, he says. Many are underpaid.

With that, Rainer wanted to clear up five common issues that most church members are unaware of when it comes to a pastor's pay.

First, he says churches should not count benefits and expense reimbursements as a pastor's pay. No secular company counts benefits and expenses as part of a worker's pay and it shouldn't be the case in the church as well.

"I cringe when I hear churches state a [compensation] package to be the pay for the pastor," he wrote.

When it comes to determining what a fair salary would be, Rainer suggests researching the many resources that are already available. Denominations have their own compensation studies and the Internet also provides resources. One rule of thumb, he says, is to estimate the mean income for families in the church and make that the basis for the pastor's pay.

No research tends to lead to churches underpaying their pastors, he notes.

Requests for a raise are often avoided by pastors who don't want to deal with a critic, Rainer says. But the church consultant wants church members to keep this in mind: most pastors, in reality, would appreciate a fair raise to keep up with growing expenses.

Without adequate income, pastors also fall under extreme stress and may become distracted and less effective in ministry, Rainer warns.

On a final note, Rainer wants church members to know that some pastors do leave because of pay issues though they may not say so out loud.

"It's not that the pastor is in his job for the money; it's that the compensation for his vocation is insufficient to meet his family's needs," says Rainer.

During hard economic times, Rainer acknowledges that pastors should be grateful in the first place for their employment. But, the consultant stresses, that shouldn't be a good reason to pay a pastor unfairly.

"Paul wrote these words to his young protégé, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 5:17-18: 'The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain and, the worker is worthy of his wages.'"

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