If there is a bias in SBC life it is in favor of larger churches. Not that denominational leaders and employees deliberately discriminate against average churches (median attendance, 70; average attendance around 120), or their pastors; it’s just that most of the revenue, most of the trustees, all of the leadership, all of the elected presidents come from large or megachurches. The guy soldiering away in the hinterlands as the single staff of a “normal” sized SBC church, a church that is probably rural, probably has a budget no more than $100,000, who’s pastor is not likely to be asked to do any volunteer denominational task beyond his local association, and which pastor deals with everything personally and may live in a church-owned house…this guy doesn’t see a lot of programs and aid directed at his situation.
[Caveat here: There are resources and assistance for the pastors “normal” size churches. Sometimes you have to look and ask. Whenever I’ve asked for prayer, for advice, for guidance, for resources , denominational workers have responded well and I have appreciated that.]
The senior pastor (for this article the “senior” pastor is the only pastor, only preacher, only clergy staff) was reported in the most recent LifeWay Compensation Study as having an average total compensation of $77,979. Total pay package includes: “Salary + Housing Allowance + Fair Rental Value of Church-owned Housing + Utilities on Church-owned Housing + Social Security Equivalent + Retirement Benefits Paid by the Church + Insurance Paid by the Church”. You can place your pay package and see if your are an average or $ub-average SBC senior pastor. The general feedback I get is that the average figures are higher than people who read this are receiving from their church. (For the record, I think it’s a good thing for LifeWay to use the methodology that may show higher figures because it might be an incentive for a church to help their pastor catch up with the average.)
I don’t know of a study that shows how many SBC pastor wives are employed. I do know quite a few single staff pastors where their pastor income is the only income the family receives. The pastor’s spouse is working at home with children (for no cash income) or otherwise not employed outside the home.
My view of these things is colored by my experience, location (deep south, traditional churches), and circle of acquaintances. Here are a few things that have stood out to me over the decades:
The pastor may be valued and beloved by his small congregation but that doesn’t always translate into income. He may be living at the poverty level. I’ll never forget our church treasurer, who was also the head financial guy for the local school system, coming to me to say that if I wanted to, I could get reduced or free meals for my kids at school. He knew exactly what I made (he wrote the checks) and what the income limits were for free or reduced price meals. Bit of a blow to my ego, the mighty pastor is paid so little that his kids can eat free at school. I passed on the opportunity. We made out fine without subsidized school lunches.
When the conversation with my first church’s pulpit committee came around to money, a figure was given and the chairman quickly said, “This is the best we can do. We can’t negotiate this upward.” It was modest but in line with similar sized churches in the area. The church was generous in other ways (but how much free squash, peaches, and tomatoes can you eat?). I asked for and got a monthly contribution to my retirement account, probably the most important step I took in that church in regard to my personal finances.
The pastor’s wife may find difficulty if she desires outside employment. You tell me: Do churches still expect to get a free laborer in the person of the pastor’s wife, and do they look askance if she works outside the home? I get the sense that the general societal trends of two income families is true for clergy as well as secular couples.
It doesn’t need to be said but the small church pastor can’t secure a paid staff position for his wife in his church like large or megachurches can.
The average SBC pastor may have an itinerant ministry, that is, he will move around and serve several churches as pastor. Church may be larger congregations with higher pay and longer tenure. This isn’t a given for those in the pastoral ministry because most of the churches are small churches. It’s more likely that a pastor will start out in an average church and not depart much from that category. I did an analysis once of the LifeWay Compensation Study and concluded that pastor compensation wouldn’t rise significantly with experience. Moving to a new church might be the best way to get a decent raise but it probably wouldn’t be a category or step increase unless the new church was much larger.
Clearly, this is my experience, the wife of the pastor is discriminated against. In an insular community, it may be that the usual employment opportunities for the pastor’s wife are restricted. Not by deliberate design but subtly. One of my pastor friends had a wife who was a teacher. She could never get a teaching job in the community because, as they both assessed the reasons, she wasn’t expected to stay long, and the few good teacher jobs were better reserved for permanent residents.
All this to get back to the idea of the pastor and his family living paycheck-to-paycheck. That is, if the pastor missed just one paycheck he would be in financial difficulty. I used to read articles and book giving pastors advice. I recall one guy addressed the issue of a church member dying while the pastor was off on vacation. Generally, the pastor has been expected to curtail his plans and return. The advice given was that the pastor should just set a sum aside for emergency plane tickets so he could return. Wasn’t in my budget. Maybe yours, though.
The SBC is continuing to educate and train impressive numbers of clergy. Unfortunately, we can’t all be megapastors or large church pastors which means that the young minister should carefully assess the matters of finance from the outset.
Nonetheless, the Lord provides. He always has for me and my family. But, let’s not presume on the Lord for this part of life. It is better to plan, calculate, act proactively, and make sober assessments of your future than to fling yourself on the whims of your current congregation.
Paycheck protection plan? Maybe Trump and Biden will print a lot of checks for these difficult times. The SBC pastor doesn’t have a paycheck protection plan. No denomination sets his pay level. No hierarchy exists to manage his career. No one will deal with a recalcitrant or oppressive church in his behalf.
But serving the Lord and His churches is a wonderful and fulfilling calling.