Paul E. from Downey, California, asks: “What are some guidelines churches should keep in mind when setting a pastor’s salary?”
At least three questions are wise to prayerfully consider in determining a pastor’s salary. What biblical principles do we need to keep in mind? What institutional policies make sense? What cultural dynamics are in play?
First, what biblical principles are important to keep in mind? Both the Old and New Testament reveal that it is appropriate and important for God’s covenant people to offer economic support to those who are specifically called vocationally to teach and lead them in corporate worship. The apostle Paul affirms the rightful obligation of the local church to offer financial support to the pastoral vocational calling. To the Galatians, Paul writes, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6). Writing to Timothy, Paul emphasizes the generous nature of economic pastoral support: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). God’s Word teaches that a local church body is charged with the responsibility of providing generous financial support to the pastor or pastors who teach and lead them.
Second, what institutional policies make sense? Though churches vary in size and institutional complexity, policies must be established by the church leadership that comply with legal requirements, ensure fairness, encourage good morale, and maintain accountability and foster transparency. Salary variation should be based on criteria such as the pastor’s amount of formal education, degree of experience, level of responsibility, proven competency, and value to the organization. The attendance level, budget size, and institutional complexity of the local church are also often factors in determining salary levels. A local church leadership team can secure updated national surveys on pastoral salaries that assist them in determining if they are in the “ball park” with other local churches of similar size and cultural contexts. In the local church I serve, we periodically evaluate our pastoral salaries with other similar churches. Our goal is to pay our pastors somewhat above this comparative benchmark. If we are going to err, we want to err on the side of generosity.
Third, what cultural dynamics are in play? An urban church context is vastly different from a suburban one. With this cultural diversity comes a variety of economic levels, educational opportunities, historical perspectives, and perceptions about the pastorate. For example, the kind of automobile an urban pastor drives may have very different connotations to his parishioners than the automobile a suburban pastor owns. Each local church is ensconced in a community and a cultural context that speaks into a pastor’s salary formulation. In many suburban contexts, a common baseline rule of thumb is placing the senior pastor’s salary in the same range as the local public high school principal. Another rule of thumb is matching the pastor’s salary with the median household income of the community where the church is located.
A healthy gospel-centered local church will wholeheartedly embrace the stewardship of nurturing a healthy pastor and pastoral staff. This very important stewardship will be carried out in a particular cultural context, guided by the authority of God’s Word, and implemented through consistent institutional policies. Setting a pastor’s salary and benefit package will involve a wide range of supervisory input as well as consistent encouragement and ongoing feedback. It is often said that sheep well fed are well led. But it is also true that sheep well fed feed their shepherd well too.