It’s budget time in many churches and the largest component of most church budgets is staff pay. The economy is humming along. Unemployment is very low. Many economic measures are up and consumers have confidence sufficient to be making major purchases of vehicles and the like. The LifeWay/Guidestone 2018 Compensation Study has been released and the overall average pay package for full-time senior pastors is $77,979 and the average for full-time clergy staff is $74,393. The full-time senior pastor of that average church with attendance between 100 and 150 in weekly worship is a bit lower at $68,227. The local parson is not impoverished by any measure.
The budget, finance, or personnel committee may recommend that the beloved pastor get a pay raise this year for the first time in a few years. That’s good.
Over the years I’ve heard quite a few stories, some first hand and others second hand, about pastors who selflessly, heroically, repeatedly refused to accept pay raises from their church. Last week a layman told me how his pastor had been offered pay raises for several years running but had always refused to accept them.
I think that on balance this is an unwise practice. Here’s why:
- It gives the congregation a distorted view of pastor compensation. Church lay leadership ought to be informed about compensation levels. In most cases the entire congregation should as well. LifeWay’s Compensation study isn’t perfect but it gives the best look at SBC clergy compensation that is available. It allows one to check the figures by church attendance, budget, state, and staff position. The pastor that deliberately allows his pay level to lag will distort the church’s view of what a pastor should be paid. Some churches should pay more than the average and some less. Local conditions vary.
- It may cause the next pastor some grief. Pity the new pastor or pastor candidate who has to deal with the entrenched church attitudes, engendered by the former pastor’s practice of refusing pay raises, that low pay and no raises ought to be the standard.
- You may be punishing your wife and kids. Talk it over with your wonderful wife first.
- Inflation has bumped up a bit and forgoing raises means your pay is decreasing. Most church situations do not demand that the pastor take an annual pay cut but failing to stay abreast of inflation means you are doing just that. The inflation rate is about 3% now which doesn’t sound like much but it steadily grinds away from your purchasing power. If you refuse inflationary raises it is unlikely that the church will ever take steps to “catch up” with this. Turn down 3% this year and it isn’t likely that the church will offer six or seven percent next year. You lose. If you refuse raises for several years running you will fall behind significantly.
- You deny the church the blessing of doing what is right, good, and proper in your behalf. Most churches and congregation are well versed in how to protect their money. They don’t need extra help from you. If they feel led to offer you a raise, then take it. You didn’t demand it. You didn’t ask for it. They offered it.
- You convey the flawed attitude that money isn’t important. Your job is to teach that our treasure is in heaven, that silver and gold aren’t the most important things. Your job is not to convey that it is not to be considered in life or church decisions. Leave them with the understanding that it is not the most important thing to you. That is sufficient.
- It fails to present the proper view of stewardship, part of which is the proper place of supporting the pastor. If you are blessed beyond your present and future needs, then you can always give more to the church.
- You are probably not considering the long view of your ministry. Several years, I asked the church that the pay raise they were giving me be applied to my retirement contribution. Your wife will almost certainly outlive you. If you are busy making points with the church by turning down modest pay raises, you may be taking the money out of her pocket down the road.
I can only think of one reason to turn down a pay raise: if your church has a staff and the disparity of pay between the senior pastor and other staff is too wide. It’s a good leadership practice and a simple thing to speak up for your staff. If there isn’t enough to give all the proper raises then you may be in a position of explaining what needs to be done.
Of course, if you win the lottery and are suddenly independently wealthy then work for free. More likely in that circumstance, you will be free indeed, since they will fire you for being a gambling preacher.
Sure, if getting a raise is such a rare occurrence then you can have a good laugh at my article here. Fact is, my working theory is that most pastors never get a real raise unless they change churches.