Sunday, July 30, 2006

What should a pastor get paid?

My mother serves her church as the chair of the "Pastor-Parish Relations Committee" which means that, among other things, she is responsible for how the pastors' salaries are determined.

Yesterday, during a visit for my daughter's birthday, she was asking me about pastors' salaries and how they should be set. I suggested this model:
  1. Survey the congregation about their salaries. If you take an accurate sample of the households in your congregation, you shouldn't have to poll every household. Some basic statistics applied to the size of your congregation will guide you in collecting a good sample.
  2. Note the salary range for the primary breadwinner in each family/household. This will occasionally be tricky, but usually it will emerge fairly clearly. It's important to note the primary earner's salary, since that is the baseline we're going for.
  3. Take the median figure in the range of your sample. Be sure to determine the median (mid-point) not the mean (average); one particularly high or especially low salary in the mix can throw off an average, but the median will always be in the middle. The median, then, becomes the benchmark for determining salary.
  4. Adjust the salary for each pastor accordingly. If he has a lot of experience, then go over the benchmark by some; if he's fresh out of seminary, drop it down a bit. The same with professional degrees, the number of staff or volunteers he will oversee, and other similar variables.
I like this model because it sets the pastor's salary based on the incomes of the households in his church, rather than in (false) comparisons to other churches in other communities (or even within the same communities). I also like it because it forces a church to actually think about what they will pay their pastor and why. I think too many churches use something as arbitrary as, "we paid the last pastor $xxxx, so let's add $xx to that and we're done."

So that's the rubric I suggested to my mother. I'm sure there are others. What would you say to that question?

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JohnLewis said...

I perfer a reference to the salary structure of local public school teachers, than church members. Multi-staff ex. pastors payscale could be linked to a public school administrator and a solo pastor's pay scale linked to a public school teacher with a masters degree.

Ed Eubanks said...

Thanks for your comment, John. Generally, I would agree-- IF the schools didn't notoriously UNDERpay their teachers and OVERpay their high-level administrators. I've never been in a school system where it was commonly agreed that the teachers in the school systems (public or private) were fairly paid.

So, following this course ought to be reliable, but then it is forcing a model onto the process that is (for the foreseeable future) doomed to leave a pastor underpaid.

Furthermore, the merit of basing the salary on the median church member's salary enables the pastor to afford to live among his flock. Chances are, there will be some expectation that he will live in the neighborhood(s) that the members live in-- which means his costs of living will be roughly the same as theirs. If he is paid substantially less (as he would be if his salary were tied to the school teacher's standard) he would either be unable to live near his flock-- which will often cause relational difficulties-- or he'll have to sacrifice something to do it, like sending his wife to work or taking a second job.

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