Ask RC: How well should pastors be paid?
Before we can answer how well pastors should be paid we first have to establish that they should be paid. The Bible is clear enough on this—see I Timothy 5:17-18 and I Corinthians 9:9-14. Having established that they ought to be paid we have already moved away from the pseudo-gnostic notion that there is something inherently sketchy about it. That is, if we are inclined to think they ought to be paid nothing, we will likely find any payment gross and obscene. Such is envy badly disguised as piety.
In principle I am persuaded that a man’s pay ought to be determined by agreement. That is, in the marketplace there are those who value my labor at x. I value my labor at y. If there is overlap, I have a job. Under such a market scenario someone cannot be overpaid. When we grumble about this athlete, that actor, or that other business executive making big dollars our real beef is with those in the market who are willing to pay so much. No need for us to get troubled when others make agreements we might not make. Remember that when God established the nation of Israel He established in the marketplace no price ceilings or price floors.
But the pastor is not entering into the marketplace, selling his services to the highest bidder. His calling is distinct from the market place. In Old Testament Israel (recognizing of course that pastors and Old Testament priests have far from a one to one correspondence) He established the Temple system which ensured provision for the Levites quite apart from what the market would bear. In like manner we who proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ do not sell this message from the pulpit, but deliver it joyfully as we have received it, without cost.
The next challenge is perception. Some churches pay their pastor very well indeed because it becomes a matter of pride for the church. Other churches believe they should pay their pastor very little, lest he look unspiritual. I think those who think in these terms are the unspiritual ones. There is nothing spiritual about driving a rundown car, or eating beans and rice, nothing unspiritual about going out to dinner or owning a well made suit.
So what’s the bottom line? I’d encourage a church to aspire to these goals, in this order. First, give freely and joyfully. The pastor is not spending the church’s money when he is paid. Tithers are not buying stock in the man and do not become a board of directors managing his household budget. Don’t determine where and how he should give by paying him little. Second, aspire to free your pastor from financial pressure. A shepherd should not be spending his time and energy worrying about how he will pay the electric bill. Third, give the man some dignity. He has studied long. He works hard. “Worthy of double honor” (I Timothy 5:17) may be difficult to define precisely but it should at least mean that the pastor is paid well enough that he can pick up a check from time to time, and is not always dependent, like a servant, on the occasional, unexpected generosity of his friends. Fourth, pay him well enough that he is able to give with great generosity.
There are a few other principles I’d encourage us to remember. Don’t begrudge the pastor other paying work. If he writes a book, or speaks at a conference do not see it as robbing your church of the hours he is to put in. See it as an opportunity for your pastor, and your local body, to serve the broader body. If your pastor is well paid and still feeling financial pressure send him to Financial Peace University or a similar program. Finally, if he really and truly is in it for the money, such will show apart from the money. A hireling is a hireling no matter how well or poorly he is paid. You don’t avoid hirelings by paying little, but by paying attention.
Finally, remember that the pastor is not an employee of the church. To be sure he is under the earthly authorities of the session and his presbytery. But he is also a servant of the king, an undershepherd under the Great Shepherd. His job description includes the dangerous business of speaking the truth to power. Never let financial fear be used against his calling. I leave you with no magic number, no calculus to come up with one. But that’s okay, for neither did the Bible.