Thoughts on Paying Pastors

I wrote this post after which gives some more thoughts on the matter.

The Revolution (Church/Body of Christ) Will Not Be Funded

Since starting theStory Joe, Darryl and I have wrestled a lot with the idea of salary and if a church should pay its pastor, go bi-vocational or make an income completely separate from the faith community. What does that look like? I found myself wavering a lot on the issue. I personally don’t take a pay check from the church and this point in time I don’t want to. Right now we pay Joe a part time salary ($12000 a year, up to $20000 for next year) and pay a part time kids experience designer a small wage ($5200 a year).

The list of reasons why churches should pay their pastors is endless. It’s great to have someone dedicated to the task full time in cultivating the community. It’s awesome to have someone able to spend the time needed to bring together good messages and do the proper study. It’s great to have someone there to walk and journey with people through hard times; someone at the church who is designated teacher, pastor, and caregiver. If someone’s gifts lie in being a pastor, well they may not have other gifts or trades that they can make a living anywhere else. It’s nice to have someone responsible for the administrative side, visionary side and organizational side of things. I’d much rather see money go into someone’s pocket than into a building project.

I think my reasons for not being paid are more though. With my idealistic thinking, I would hope that a community would together fulfill the role of what we have created the “senior pastor” into. The church would be dedicated to cultivating the community and growing together. When someone is in need, the community responds. The community learns to teach each other and build up their teachers. I hate the idea of the communal responsibility being passed off onto one individual for a pay check, or at least this is what happens in many circumstances.

I also hate the idea that pastoral ministry is a career. It works the exact same way as any business does. There is a hierarchy. You can work your way up and down. The person at the top calls the shots. They get scheduled raises and benefits and they are all expected. In fact we get pissed when churches treat their pastors badly and don’t give them what’s due to them. We give them pension plans and pay into the RRSPs. We pay their mileage and give them book budgets. Pastoral work is a white-collar job just like all the others. It’s like a mix between a counselor, public speaker and administrator. What ever happened to tent-making, or working with our hands or suffering for the kingdom? Do we really think that pastors have the “rite” to a well paid job with benefits because they went to school and got educated or have special gifts that were realized?

We want to argue that we have to support our families, or that no one else is going to do it, or that it is in fact a profession (because we went to school for it) so we must be paid like all the others, and treated like all the others. I just don’t buy it though. I think idealistically (which I think is what we should be reaching for, not ignoring it because we think it’s impossible) there should be no such thing as paid pastors. I do not think the pastoral ministry should be used to “get ahead” in this world and should not in anyway be on the same level as other white collar jobs.

Here is my proposal. Instead of hiring pastors on and paying them a salary based on all the ridiculous things we pay them for, we create a new system that is setup to support pastors. Let me explain. This system says if you want to be a pastor of this community than you will learn to serve this community at the cost of your career advancement and weekly pay checks. (As I type this I’m starting to see this looking a lot more like how the Salvation Army sets things up). Pastors need to be supported; not paid. Communities need to sit down with their pastors or the people in their community that want to dedicate their full-time lives to the community and weigh their needs. Then the community should work together and commit to meeting those needs. Every year everyone should sit down again and re-evaluate what this person and their family needs to survive along with them, holding them accountable to their stewardship practices along the way and then determine together how the community can meet their needs.

This I think would save us a lot of hassle. We would stop instantly playing the raise/salary game thinking we deserve or need a certain amount to survive. Thoughts that come to us all alone as we justify all the things we need in our heads to survive and our lives and purchases would be laid bare before the community as together they decided what was the best way to support this person who has decided to give his/her lives over to them for the sake of the kingdom. This would in turn help each community member re-evaluate their own finances on a regular basis seeing how he is supporting this pastor to live and realizing that they could probably live simpler also. This of course puts the pastor on the spot. All of sudden the house that they live in is up for question, do they really need to live in that expensive of a house? Do they really need that many vehicles? Do they really need to vacation that often? Do they really need to have that kind of medical care? It’s transparent all of sudden because the pastor is giving these decisions over to the community and is at the mercy of their decisions. As I talked this out with a few people before I posted this, one friend says that “this would be a brutal way to live” for that pastor. It could be, but someone has got to put themselves out there and live brutally for anything to really happen.

Some may think its reinventing the wheel of boards and deacons determining the pay scale of a pastor based on whatever they base it on. What I’m proposing though isn’t a pay scale at all. It isn’t based on the size of the church, how long they’ve been a pastor, how long they’ve been at the church, what they deserve, what their responsibilities are; rather it is based on what the needs of the pastor and his family are.

I think this sets up a community to have leaders who are leading by example while still serving at the feet of the community they are serving. While the community works together to help one family survive, maybe other families will start to catch on to what is really happening and start participating with more than just their finances to pay off an extra heating bill. Things like retirement and investments become less of an issue because the community has committed to supporting this person/family and its not like there is such thing as retirement inside committed relationships. Things like medical care and surprising bills in the mailbox become the burden of the community instead of the individual.

While my hope is that entire communities would work this way, not just with the pastor, what if we started with just the leader or the servant of the community. We work together to support that person and make sure they are OK always and taken care of instead of sending him pay checks every few weeks and letting him fend for himself. What do you think? One friend says that I am speaking from a place of ignorance because I don’t get my salary from a church. In my opinion this gives me a better perspective on the issue, because I have given my life to the church but am not paid. The problem is though, I probably won’t ever get to test out this theory myself, at least anytime soon. The last thing I would want to do is push somebody else into this way of living that they weren’t comfortable with. So what do you think?

17 thoughts on “Thoughts on Paying Pastors”

  1. Thanks for this post Nathan,

    I’m a student pastor with a yearly salary. I’ve been here in this role for 1.5 years now. I’ve been wrestling with this for a while now, even before I took this job.

    There are pro’s and con’s of this type of system. But the con’s really suck.. Honestly – You can’t model sacrifice, the way of Christ very well when you are paid to do it, to be a pastor. People in the church expect you to do “your job” and they will “do their jobs”. Truth is.. your job is their/our job. This paragraph is gold…

    “I would hope that a community would together fulfill the role of what we have created the “senior pastor” into. The church would be dedicated to cultivating the community and growing together. When someone is in need, the community responds. The community learns to teach each other and build up their teachers. I hate the idea of the communal responsibility being passed off onto one individual for a pay check, or at least this is what happens in many circumstances”.

    I hate the senior pastor, youth pastor thing… hate it. I refuse to ever be a tradional sr. pastor. It totally messes with the function of the church…

    I also never get out of the church bubble.. I’m paid to stay in it. And I’m kept busy doing the work of the body -so how can I escape? There’s just too much to do.. Stuff I’m not even gifted act so it takes way longer..

    Right now I know God has me in this situation to learn from the inside. I’m interested thinking further in this proposed system you’ve put together. I still however don’t know if their should be people on full time church duty no matter how their needs are cared for. I think they should never be so filled with stuff to do in the church that they aren’t available outside the bubble. Ministry is everything we do. We are all pastors, we are all called to be the royal priesthood, we need to blur the lines of “in church” and “out church” so that everyone realizes they are “the church”.

    Thanks so much for reminding me of this discussion. It’s a messy one. Yet it’s huge for our current times.. God’s changing things.. Soon if the economy keeps the way it is we might all be forced to leave our in church salary jobs. Maybe that’s what God wants… I’m just not sure yet.


  2. Dude!

    Like Greg, I too am “on staff” at a church. I get paid a full-time salary.

    I don’t *necessarily* have a problem with this. I mean, I definitely hear and am aware of some of the issues you and Greg have raised, but, I don’t think these *necessarily* have to be issues. Certainly many pastors get paid a hell of a lot more than they should be getting paid.

    You talk about, as a community, deciding on what the pastors needs are and meeting those needs. I wonder if even a majority of the community would be able to agree on what those needs might be. Also, I’m not sure I know anyone at all who strictly has their needs met and then does away with the rest of their income. But on to my real question, is there a real quantitative/qualitative difference between “paying” a pastor and “meeting the needs” of a pastor? Surly, “meeting the needs” of a pastor would at some point be in monetary terms, no?

    I certainly have my issues with typical church leadership structures, however, I tend to think that a bi-vocational basis is beneficial.

    Also, if your argument is that people ought not to be paid full-time to fulfill the duties of the Church then wouldn’t this extend beyond “pastors”? How about people who ‘professionally’ care for the poor, or provide shelter/jobs to refugees, or dig wells in foreign countries or run day camps for underprivileged children? These all seem to me to be “Church duties”, so should people not be paid a wage for such things?

    Grace and peace,


  3. DISCLAIMER: The views of Nathan Colquhoun do not necessarily represent those of theStory, its staff or constituents.


  4. Thanks for the comments Greg and Jonathan

    Greg, “you can’t model sacrifice, the way of Christ very well when you are paid to do it” A lot of truth in that statement and I think it is that realization that drives me to think the way I do about this.

    I don’t think the ideal way is to have one person who is paid full time to think about the church all the time, the ideal would be for everyone to always be thinking about the mission of God and the furthering of the kingdom, unfortunately it’s more like we’d rather just tithe and pay the pastor to do it for us.

    Jonathan, I think an option like this is trying more to open the doors of community and accountablility than it is focused on withholding money from someone or thinking that money is bad.

    What drives a post like this, is seeing paycheques or direct cash seen as a reasonable way to “pay back” someone who serves in the kingdom. It unfortunately to me sends a mixed message to everyone. Money cannot be the currency of the kingdom.

  5. Nathan,

    You’ve touched on a very important subject here and I think Scripture supports both models (remunerated and non-remunerated) forms of ministry, as evidenced in 1Cor. 9:12:

    “If others have this right of support from you, shouldnt we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Dont you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? 14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. 15 But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me. I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of this boast.”

    Paul’s last line that he “would rather die” than give up the boast of preaching the gospel for free speaks to the idea of being free from the bondage of having to please people and depend on their support. And yet he also affirms his “right” to such support on the basis of God’s commands.

    In Corinthians and Thessalonians we see Paul refusing the support of the people he is ministering to, presumably because he wanted to maintain credibility against the accusations that he was peddling religious services. But also because it appears the Corinthians didn’t consider him a “real” apostle because he would not take their support.

    Your comments about the multiple roles being collapsed into one person reminds me of John Wesley’s sermon “Prophets and Priests” where he makes a distinction between prophetic ministry (which he equated with Methodist preaching) and priestly ministry (which he equated with the Church of England). In his mind, these two types of ministry were complemented each other, and he found quite distinct roles for priests and prophets in the Old Testament. Some, like Ezekiel, combined both roles. But many prophets in the Old Testament were not priests (e.g., Amos, the farmer). And many priests (e.g., Aaron) did not exercise a prophetic function. Wesley argued that after Constantine both roles were collapsed into one.

    One of the questions we need to ask today is whether it is possible for us to be prophetic when the people are paying our salary. I don’t mean “prophetic” in the sense of apocalyptic foretelling (Tim LaHaye, et al), but rather in the calling people back to God, particularly when their shepherds have led them astray:

    I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, I had a dream! I had a dream! How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” (Jer. 23:25)

  6. I think this idea would only work if members of the congregation also opened up their lives and finances to the church. Each family or member should practice the same economic openness and accountability to what the rest of the church deems appropriate.

  7. Agreed Dan, but here is my issue with that. It is a lot more practical to have one person (a leader and pastor at that) to model this type of transparency and accountability to start and get the ball rolling.

    From my experience, it’s very difficult if not impossible to take your entire church community (even if its small) and suggest that they all practice this. But if you started with one or two individuals in hopes that it would trickle into the community then I can see it eventually getting there.

    My hope is that communities would be like this, but they just aren’t and to try and ‘change’ entire communities all at once doesn’t seem to work, they are too big to make major changes like that. But if you put it on display then I can see possibly different members starting to come to the realization that this way works and is healthy and want to coming on board.

  8. Fair enough… although I think that our views on ‘leadership’ may be even more different now than they were when we had our last discussion on the topic (i.e. I’ve become even more of an anarchist than I was then).

    That said, I see at least two problems with what you are advocating:

    (1) it ends up furthering the divide between the pastor and the congregation, and further relegating the pastor to an other-than-usual saintly status;

    (2) it is open to all sorts of abuses — from people who dislike the pastor, seeking to impose absurd requirements on her and her family, to people who project all their guilt onto the pastor and thereby set absurd requirements on her and her family, and so on.

    My thought is that, if there are people interested in this sort of financial openness and accountability, then why not initiate this as an open group within the church members — and the pastor and her family would have their support (which would be funded by the congregation as a whole) determined by this group.

  9. Ok, I think that would work probably even better (your solution). However, I think all I’m saying is that the pastor if he truly wants to serve the community and the kingdom whole heartedly, my hope is he would be the first one in starting a group like this or taking the first steps in the direction of serving not for a pay cheque. If a church was to start this group, the pastor would have to be part of it, and most likely be the first one in it for a while.

    If you had a pastor trying to advocate community, accountability and mutual support to the community I think it would be a lot better coming from a position of vulnerability and service rather one from leading and paid services.

    I think this approach could possibly lend a hand to your views on leadership in that it removes the ‘leader’ from any position of control over the community and rather puts them at a place of service at their feet. Anyone who wishes to be a “leader” or a servant to the community is required to become the least of everyone in the community. Hopefully your second problem doesn’t end up being the issue though I do admit, it does put the pastor at a disadvantage and more vulnerable than I would want to be. Someone has got to take the initial steps of vulnerability and openness though and be at the mercy of the people they are serving at some point.

    1. Okay fellas first no one needs to be paid to teach the Bible and I know from personal experience if we are lead by the Holy Spirit we become ready at any moment to teach God’s word. We have turned the Church into nothing more than a social club and most members haven’t a clue that they are being fleeced and turned into biblical illiterates. Down size your programs spend more time on getting the Word taught as it is written, put everyone on volunteer basis, down size your flock by teaching others to teach. Spend time with your members,go to their homes get to know who they are and what their needs are. You may even get a real nice meal out of it. Invite a family to your house let them know who you are. The most important of all is learn who Jesus Christ really is and teach only that! Time is becoming short and many are already going to be held accountable for leading people down the wrong path. Gentle men get out their and get yourselves jobs and provide for your own families. The funds needed for a Church are rent or payment for the building, utilities, and supplies. Tithe is for the ones in need and the store house should be kept full and available. God will give each of you a solution and remember Matt. chapter 6 and Phil. 4-13 this may seem difficult and off the grid, give yourselves to God in prayer and He will show you the way. When the heart is willing and the call strong no one can stop you from doing what is right.

  10. What you are writing about reminds me of the Bishop in Les Miserables. The play and the movie give the bishop a minor role, but Victor Hugo spends a lot of time building up the character of the bishop. He lived in an extremely large house when he moved in to be the Bishop of D, but then he moves out of the house to a much smaller house because the hospital is much smaller. He moves into to the hospital and gives the hospital into his house.

    I don’t think pastors should be paid because I think the congregations should take care of his food and the congregation should give him housing. For instance, I think that families in the church should house him in spare bedrooms (etc.)

  11. I think we should be careful of our opinions and the opinions of the people and stick to the word of God.
    Each person should also listen to the voice of God for their situation.

  12. I agree, pastors shouldn’t get paid. Neither should evangelists, missionaries, convention workers, christian musicians, christian authors, professors in seminaries or christian colleges, christian centers and anyone else that does anything for the church or christianity.

    Why with all the money we’re saving we could do a whole lot more good!

    Oh, except that there wouldn’t be any churches or other institutions with which we could do the good. Not that I believe that the true body of believers would disappear, but let’s face it there’s alot more to running a church than just preaching a couple of times a week. If people really just want home churches then we could save a whole lot more money by selling off all the church properties, seminaries and christian colleges & hospitals.

    However, when is the last time that you heard about a home church feeding a community, clothing the homeless and attending to the needs of the sick? When is the last time a home church prepared people to become preachers and teachers – very few do.

    And about the money… I seriously doubt much of it would make it to helping the poor and needy, but we’d have more new cars pulling up to the 4 bedroom suburb home church where only others of their same means meet to ‘worship’. Yeah, that’s much better than what we have.

  13. As I read through some of this arguments, views, issues or whatever we wich to call them, reminds me of all the Monday morning arm chair quarterbacks. Coulda,Shoulda,Would’ve. There is argubalbe validation on both sides, but as like our salvation goes, how do we know we are saved? WEll we know cause we feel it and live it. So a pastor who has a calling to lead a flock, he knows and feels it. Unfortunatley, because of the wolves in sheeps clothing, most pastors get the “reputation” of not deserving to get paid. We are all of sound mind and heart that we can go to a house of worship that has a pastor and decide if we would like to support that church, who does pay or give thier pastor a weekly wage. We also have the right to not support such a church.
    I on the other hand have chosen to live by the commandment that says “Love your neighbor as thy self” and I believe my pastor is my neighbor and since i give to charitable organizations and God has blessed me in many many ways, I feel that the pastor that I feel has prepared all week and “labored” to prepare on a weekly basis for 2-3 sermons per week, on top of all the other duties we “expect” from a pastor, is deserving on part of my tithes and offerings that the bible asks of me to give.
    So again…I am like the other Monday morning arm chair quarterbacks…haven’t been in those shoes, but i sure can make suggestions.

  14. Paying ministers have gotten out of control. Their reward is saving souls not getting a check. The collection is for the saints. Many people are suffering and the church cannot help them because greedy ministers are taking in over half of the money coming into the church. Many of them are doing too much in the church that God is not pleased with, starting with musical instruments, praise dancing, and choirs. The church in many places have become an entertainment instead of focusing on teaching God’s Word. Take away the large salaries and see how many ministers are going to preach. Paul worked (a tentmaker) so why can’t these ministers of today work a JOB to take care of their families like the members do?

  15. Debra and JC,
    How true both of your statements are.In my church ,the pastor gets a very large salary with all the benifits and he has 10 paid staff to assist him with the business of the building needs.He refuses to do anything else to minister to the body so unpaid deacons,sundayschool teachers and volunteers take care of each other.My church does no community outreach with evangelizing and helping the needy because all the money goes for salaries and taking care of the building needs there is nothing else left over.There are many needs in the church for helping our less fortunate members and descipling them,but they are ignored and told to trust Christ for their needs.Are most churches like this today.It’s as if they are more interested in keeping the pastor happy so he won’t leave us,while others are ignored.It’s very sad.

  16. 1 Timothy 5:17-18 The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

    In this verse, we see the church is to financially support those who labor in the teaching ministry. Paul supports his assertion with the Old Testament law in Deuteronomy 25:4

    In Matthew 10:10, Jesus said that those who do the work of ministry should be supported by those whom they minister to.

    Today we do have a select group of highly influential ministers who are paid ridiculous salaries. However, most Pastors I know are very sacrificial and underpaid. Two very good pastors, I know, from two very different denominations have been borrowing money to pay the bills in order to share the gospel, teach Gods Word, and counsel troubled marriages. These are two very authentic, sincere, ministers who will be forced to quite their church jobs in order to find work that will enable them support their families. I am sure they will still volunteer at the church but the body of Christ will be worse of because of these men not fully dedicating their time to the cause of Christ.

    Most churches I know of overwork and underpay their ministers. Many do not realize the great sacrifice many Pastors make to become Pastors. I have served Christ in ministry for over 15 years with no pay, less then no pay, and being partially and fully supported. When I worked in a secular setting my pay was over 250K a year, now in ministry its a middle income. That’s ok with me. But its ridiculous to say a Pastor is underpaid when many Pastors can make considerably more in a secular setting.

    I believe truly called ministers who live lives of purity and conviction; who teach God’s Word with excellence are worthy of their wage. What is that wage? Probably an upper middle class wage for the area in which they live. Can your Pastor buy a house in the area they live in? Doing so would only cause the Pastor to commit more to the ministry in that area. Can your Pastor take time if family emergencies arise? Too often the answer is- NO! Shame on any elder, deacon or church member that does not pay their Pastor an honest wage when they have the resources to do so.

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