Page last updated





Ministry Salaries

too much or too little?
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

The minister's salary may be one of the more controversial issues in the church and para-church ministry setting.  In my early ministry days, I served as one of the associate pastors in a large suburban mainline church.  I remember the issue of the pastor's salary coming up in my confirmation class and suddenly I found my youngsters in the middle of a hot debate.  A few of them strongly felt that a pastor should not get paid at all. Ministers, according to this view, are called by God and should live "on faith." 

Others felt that pastors should get paid, but that the salary should be lower than the average salary of the church members. Baffled by these sentiments, I told them that a lot of ministers go to school for seven years and often even have a masters degree.  To my surprise, most of my confirmation "kids" said that even so they didn't think that ministers should earn as much as people who hold a secular job.

Frankly, I was shocked to hear such opinions expressed.  It was my first innocent encounter with the double standard that exists in many ministry places.

Setting the pastor's salary may be one of the most sensitive issues for both the minister and the church board.  Norman Adamson reflects on one of his experiences:

At first they wanted to debate my salary publicly at the open board meeting. I thought I preserved my dignity by convincing the board to discuss it with me in private. I was wrong.Two board members walked into my office, closed the door behind them, folded their arms sternly across their chests, and said to me, "How much do you want?" There has to be a better way to establish a pastor's salary. [1]

One of the problems may be that neither the bible nor church history gives us clear ministry salary guidelines. The apostle Paul, for instance, emphasizes throughout his writings his "tent-making" approach to ministry--he supported himself by a secular job and hardly ever accepted monetary gifts. So, in the absence of biblical precedent, what are some dependable ways to determine a minister's salary?

How to determine a minister's salary:

  1. One way of effectively determining a minister's salary is by adhering to the minimum recommended (or mandatory) salary within a connectional (or episcopal) denomination.

  2. A "second method is to average the salaries of the church's leadership board. I reason with the board that most churches feel their pastor is at least equally valuable to a church as the other leaders. Therefore, a survey of the lay leaders' incomes, including social security and benefits, is an equitable way to determine what a pastor's peers within the church are making." [2]

  3. Another "method acknowledges that a pastor compares in many ways to a teacher—in duties, continuing education, and role in the community. The salary package, therefore, should equate to what a local teacher with comparable education and experience would be paid. In addition, because a teacher's health insurance, social security, and often pension contribution are included, a local church should compensate for these as well." [3]

  4. A fourth way is by national comparative salary statistics.   The following table shows the comparable salary averages for ministers in the United States in the year 2000 (source: Clergy Salaries in Congregations, Alban Institute, September/October 2002 issue, p. 7):

Year 2000 Stats Average Weekly
% of Pastors
within Polity
Median Salary
plus Housing
Small (<100) 56% $36,000
Medium (101-350) 38 49,835
Large (351-1,000) 6 66,003
Small (<100) 63 22,300
Medium (101-350) 32 41,051
Large (351-1,000) 4 59,315
Very Large (1,000+) 1 85,518

Concluding remarks:
The issue of ministry salaries will likely remain a sensitive and controversial one for years to come.  Hopefully this little article as well as the thoughts shared by our colleagues below will get you started on a quest for the appropriate method and approach to help you and your peers determine a fair ministry salary package.

[1] How Much Is a Pastor Worth? 3 ways to determine a fair salary, with perks. -- in
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid.
[4] Clergy Salaries in Congregations, Alban Institute, September/October 2002 issue, p. 7.

Clergy Salaries
in Congregations, Alban Institute, September/October 2002 issue, pp. 6-11.
How Much Is a Pastor Worth? 3 ways to determine a fair salary, with perks. -- in


- How Much Is a Pastor Worth? 3 ways to determine a fair salary,
   with perks. -- in
- Features: Salary Negotiation For The Hesitant - LeadershipJournal
- The Pastor's Salary Under A Depreciated Currency
- Setting the Pastor's Salary
- Pastor's Salary Guidelines for 2003 - MC Canada