Should pastors make competitive salaries to comparable roles in the marketplace?

Mar 01, 2021

For those of us who didn't begin in ministry, we often find ourselves emerged in a professional culture unlike any we've ever experienced. Early in my career as an executive pastor, I learned there were a few trains-of-thought when it came to compensating pastors and church staff. And as unique as each individual is, so are their opinions on how pastors and church staff should be compensated.

And while there are numerous ways that church staff can be paid effectively, I want to give my perspective on a healthy model I've seen work over the years. But before we get there, we need to set the stage for context - For today's conversation, we're really talking about full-time church staff positions (pastors, preachers, ministers, and team members). We're not looking at bi-vocational, home churches, etc. 

1. Know your community and your expectations.

If you are hiring a replacement senior pastor for a church in an area where the average household income is around $130,000, please don't expect to hire a senior pastor at $50,000 with 20 years experience, a doctorate from a respected seminary, has a family of 5, and expect them to live within one mile of the church where the average home prices are around $350k. If your area has an average income of over $100k, you must take that into consideration by:

  • Adjusting your budget to accommodate higher paid salaries among the staff (not just the senior pastor)
  • Adjust your expectations (Provide housing in the neighborhood as a benefit, require less experience, etc.)

2.  Don't let money be an obstacle.

If churches want to hire the best staff, they need to be able to pay an equitable salary to the level of staff they want to hire, regardless of whether or not they are coming from a church environment. In fact, more and more churches are finding that hiring people from within the marketplace tends to lend to employees with healthier expectations, work ethics, and a drive to move the organization forward. And in order to even get interviews with the level of candidates you want, you'll have to be able to compensate at a level that is comparable to what they have today.

3. Don't let money be THE objective.

I've seen some churches try an attraction model to bring in quality candidates where they pay above the marketplace in compensation. And while I think it's well-intended, I think you get a much broader pool of candidates who may not be considering the position as objectively as they should. You don't want financial incentive to be the driving force for candidates, or you're likely to hire the wrong fit.

4. Use compensation as one of the tools to keep the best employees.

Done properly, ministry gets tough and requires dedication and buy-in from the whole family. Once you've identified those team members you definitely want to keep on the bus, make sure their compensation is as healthy as they will find in comparable, healthy work environments. I've always said that ministry is stressful enough on the staff, their families, and their marriages. Do your part to remove the financial stress from the equation and ensure the best employees are compensated accordingly. Side note: sometimes stress from finances is an inability (or unwillingness) to manage it properly, not the inability to earn a quality living. Equip them with those tools as well, but it's only your job to lead them to water. You can't make them drink.




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