I haven’t been doing this pastoring business for a long time, but I am increasingly shocked by some of the ways churches do not value helping their pastors and church staff members put food on their family’s table.
From making a pastor’s pantry dependent on under the table envelopes of cash, to forcing a man to work a full-time pastorate on a part-time salary, to making promises that can’t possibly be fulfilled to entice a new pastor in the door, there are a plethora of unethical and straight up sinful ways churches, elder boards, and networks make a lead pastor their indentured servant and not an honored shepherd.
I write this from the privileged position of having never experienced the crushing and trapped feeling of seeing my family financially struggle under the burden of my vocational ministry role because I’m not paid enough to care for them. I’m paid fairly, praise God for his grace, but I know many who are not and it hits close to home.
A Reminder to the Church
Before a man is called to feed the flock of God, he is called to feed his family. Paul clearly provides instruction to Timothy reminding him that the man who refuses to provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim 5:8). If we take Paul at his word, why are so many pastors placed into the impossible position where they are seemingly forced to be unfaithful to their families so they can be faithful to their churches?
Such a dichotomy should not exist. Scripture and the history of the church are clear: the church has the responsibility to care for her pastor by paying them a salary through which they can feed themselves and their families (1 Cor 9:9, 1 Tim 5:18).
Not one pastor I know went into ministry for the money. They followed a call from God to feed the sheep, and the expectation is that in affirming the calling of God on their leaders, the sheep will provide for their shepherd. It’s not rocket science, but too many pastors and ministry leaders struggle under the great burden of stretching a dollar too thin.
Where to From Here?
I believe it was Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli who stated that all there needed to be for a church to pay a pastor the average wage of his church were ten faithful families giving ten percent of their income. But in many churches, the storehouses of bank accounts, property holdings, and controlling financial boards choke out their own pastor’s ability to focus on their care, shepherding, protection, and nourishment.
If you’re a pastor reading this and you’re nodding along, I am sorry. My prayer for you is that God would give you courage, and give those who set your salary vision, wisdom, and direction to see that you are their greatest asset.
If you’re on the Board who sets your pastor’s salary, I plead with you to not rob yourself of the gift of your pastor’s care and attention because his mind is rightly filled with conflict as his children grow up without him at home because he’s working a full-time job in addition to the full-time ministry work of the church, food from the food bank in their bellies, and memories of the extreme financial disparity between them and the other kids in church.
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” – 1 Timothy 5:17–18
Feed your pastor’s family. If you do this, and do it generously and fairly, you will free him to better love you, care for you, teach you, and protect you. This is good for all.
If you’re wondering what fair compensation looks like for a pastor there are many resources that can help you. Please avail yourself to multiple reports and sources of information, and take into account your pastor and staff’s specific needs, a fairly compensated pastor will be better able to serve you and your church.