How much do Methodist pastors make?”

pastor salaryI get regular search hits from people looking for statistics on how much money United Methodist pastors make. Since a lot of this is publicly available, and I just saw the most recent information, I thought I’d share it clearly…

The below comes from the 2016 Reports of the Kentucky Conference of the UMC.

To decipher pastors’ salary reporting, you may need to see “The Pastor Salary Fallacy.” Unlike everyone else, pastors don’t use any of their base salary to pay for mortgage, rent, utilities, or any other household expenses. The best apples-to-apples comparison with other occupations would probably need to add up salary, housing, and utilities, and compare that to others’ base salaries.

Our conference reports set a minimum compensation package, and also provide a budget for our 12 director-level conference positions. I’ll share those two to show you a bit of our range, though I should make it clear that the director-level positions are not the highest paid in the conference. Actually, someone in one of those positions told me that they’re viewed as middle-tier positions, in terms of pay.

The minimum compensation package for ordained elders in Kentucky:

Base salary: $35,002
Parsonage or housing allowance: $12,000
Utilities allowance: $4,000
Retirement and life insurance: $8,648
Health insurance: $12,000
Total package: $71,650

Our pastors pay self-employment tax, different from most employees. That costs them an extra $3,901 on the numbers above. But they also don’t have to pay income tax on housing & utilities. That saves them $3,328 on the numbers above (assuming a 15% federal rate + 5.8% state rate and using $12,000 as housing allowance cost–our conference’s minimum). That comes out to an adjusted total package of $71,077.

The compensation package for our director-level positions:

Base salary: $84,161
Parsonage or housing allowance: $14,000
Utilities allowance: $4,000
Retirement and life insurance: $15,234
Health insurance: $12,000
Total package: $129,395

Adjusting for cost of self-employment tax ($7,815) less savings from no income tax on housing ($5,490 at 25% federal and 5.8% state), the adjusted package is $127,070.

I’m not including these directors’ travel and expense allowance, which averages $13,750 per person. That would increase the total package to $137,925.

For what it’s worth, the highest-paid position in Kentucky had a $166,000 package as of three years ago. I expect that has gone up since then, but don’t have more recent data.

All of this only represents ordained elders in Kentucky. I’ve heard that Kentucky has the second-lowest pay in the UMC in the southeast (a fact accompanied by no small amount of hand-wringing and pressure on churches to raise elders’ salaries), so if you’re looking in the southeast, assume these numbers are on the low side.

This also does not include deacons. Since deacons aren’t moved from church to church, there isn’t the same pressure on churches to raise their salaries or risk having them moved to another church. Many of our full-time deacons have packages much lower than the minimum listed above, as churches aren’t required to provide them with a parsonage or housing allowance.

My new interview about clergy compensation with Wesley Sanders has some great thoughts about how we think about this topic and a chart comparing salaries to median household income. Click here to see it!

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23 thoughts on “How much do Methodist pastors make?”

  1. Your cabinet-level clergy are living like paupers compared to North Georgia — currently $118,614 + housing and utilities ($37,749 a year or a parsonage). If approved at annual conference, base compensation will increase to a little over $123,000, with a goal of similar magnitude increases over the next several years in order to bring compensation up to 95% of episcopal compensation (Currently around $138,000) so that the bishop may offer a favorable compensation package to those “invited to accept” cabinet-level appointments.

    For your interest, here’s a document with the denominational average compensation and a breakdown of average compensation by conference. This is base salary + utilities and housing, or an equivalent adjustment (I believe 25% of base) for clergy residing in a parsonage. It does not include the cost of health insurance or the value of the pension contribution.

    • The author of the original article fails to point out that clergy must pay self employment tax on the value of the housing. You may subtract that from the base

      • Hi Mike — I actually did point this out, or at least take it into consideration. See the paragraph under the calculated package total:
        “Our pastors pay self-employment tax, different from most employees. That costs them an extra $3,901 on the numbers above. But they also don’t have to pay income tax on housing & utilities. That saves them $3,328 on the numbers above (assuming a 15% federal rate + 5.8% state rate and using $12,000 as housing allowance cost–our conference’s minimum). That comes out to an adjusted total package of $71,077.”

  2. Though I am of another UM conference, I wonder what this information would be when applied to associate members and local pastors. Also, I wonder how being ONLY an associate member or local pastor impacts such pastors compensation and what type of acknowledgement for the good work they may be doing. Example: I’ve know of a couple of local pastors who were appointed to their churches and within a couple of years saw significant growth, which brought about an increase in salary, which got them reappointed elsewhere (that were smaller than where they had been, and even involved a decrease in salary) so that an ordained Elder could be appointed to that church — now that the church had become more appealing because it was experiencing growth and could pay a higher salary…all of which happened under the local pastor!

    Just wondering.

    • Jim, I assume that scenario happens in many places. Local Pastors exist — so far as I can tell — to provide clergy in places that cannot support elders. I am a local pastor myself, but my circumstances are a bit unique. I see the second-class treatment that many LPs get, even if I do not personally.

      • Right on John!!!! Second class treatment is alive and well, sadly, in our Annual Conferences in all sorts of areas. What’s neat about being a Conservative is knowing that one day the God we worship will deal with the Elders that act so unchristian like to our brothers and sisters who aren’t ordained. The power of a simple piece of paper is phenomenal. Many times I have been embarrassed to be an Elder.

  3. Because I came off Disability I returned to minimum base salary for an Elder in our Conference. But my Church can’t afford it so $12,000 comes from Conference Equitable Salary. At first I panicked as I have gotten Fat (too literally, I’m afraid!!! And I liked my toys!!!!) and Sassy and didn’t know if I could live on it. For health reasons (my son has special needs) we maintain two residences 2.5 hours apart!!! My wife had to take Honorable Location as an Elder (both of us couldn’t itinerate with Bryan’s needs and at the time I had the larger package!!!) and now works in a program that provides special needs people vocational help at $10/hour!!!! I live alone in a parsonage with no furniture (my choice) while Evelyn and Bryan live in our 1 bedroom apartment in San Antonio. I travel on my days off to be with them and cover my travel even though I do a significant amount of Church work that I could legally get reimbursed for if my Church could afford it!!!! All this is to say we do fine. Sure, we have to budget and we cut corners but we enjoy serving as we do. For health reasons that continue and to get to move back Home with Evelyn and Bryan I am taking early retirement. I’ll have to find a job but God has taken care of us all our lives and will continue. I have a friend serving a big Steeple who won’t be a DS because he doesn’t want to take a Pay cut. I, personally, have served on District Committees of Ordained Ministry in 4 different Districts (never been asked to be on the BOM–colleagues tell me it is because of my lack of tact/big mouth and Bible Thumping!!!) and I have had the privilege to witness and serve with some of the finest ministers in our Denomination who serve as local Pastors/lay Pastors/not ordained and sadly I have served with some of the sorriest, high paid Elders that one could imagine. I was in Retail Management before I entered Seminary (and took a pay cut!!!!) 30 years ago and I fired individuals I was responsible for, much more competent than many Elders I have run into. If you want to get good people to enter the ministry offer less and seek people truly called by God! For me a focus on $$$ from a Pastor is a red flag!!! As long as we have “our daily Bread” God will take care of the rest!!!

  4. I am a full-time licensed local pastor in the Holston Conference serving a 2 point charge. My stats are as follows: My salary is $29,276, which is slightly more than the base compensation for a FLP in the Course of Study, the churches contribute $5,936 to pension, pay $8,220 toward health insurance that I do not take since I am covered under my wife’s policy, and reimburse me up to $2,700 for expenses. I do not receive a housing or utility allowance since I own my home and do not partake of the parsonage provided. I do, however, get to claim $14,000 of my salary as a housing allowance for income tax (but not self-employment tax) purposes. Adding the various pieces of the compensation package together, I cost the local charge $46,161, but I effectively make $37,941. It is a struggle and, I admit that there are times when I wonder why I ever left the business world to answer the call to ministry and take a 75% cut in pay to boot, but I wouldn’t (and cannot) do anything else.

  5. Thanks for making these figures so accessible. I’m in (I think) the lowest paying annual conference. But I don’t see that as a problem, really. I like knowing that I’m not making very much in contrast to other clergy, and I like my laity knowing that, as well. I’m not in it for the money. I have a hard time respecting the clergy who are. One aspect of the success of early Methodism which people don’t like to talk about in America today is the fact that the large majority of traveling preachers were barely paid enough to get by on. I think it made sure that the only people involved in leadership were those who literally put proclamation of the good news over and above their own personal health.

    That being said, my wife and I live very comfortably on this humble salary of mine. It doesn’t take much money to meet basic needs. I think it’s kinda scandalous how well a lot of clergy live, considering we worship a guy who chose homelessness and told people to give up all their money…

  6. I’m not savvy with money, but the above sounds pretty good. I hear complaints that clergy are not paid enough, but I don’t know the context in which it’s used. Ex: compared to other clergy, compared to lifestyle, compared to other business salaries. Could you help me understand if it’s a good salary?

    • According to this very handy tool ( ), the average UMC pastor in Kentucky is in the top 15% of household incomes in the state. Note that this is for households, not individuals (which are harder to gather data for). So it essentially assumes that if any of these pastors have spouses, their spouses earn no income. If they have a spouse with income of, say, $40,000, then they go up to the top 6%.

      So to help you understand if it’s a good salary… How do you define good? Is top 15% of all households — with no income from a spouse — good? Then our average pastor is good.

      By “good,” do you mean using the church’s collection the way that Wesley and the church fathers would approve? In a way that keeps us in solidarity with the poor (or even the average)? Then I find it hard to call this “good.”

      • I’d say we get paid well so I’m always a bit stumped when I hear complaints. I don’t have children in school yet and wonder if that makes a difference. Still, top 15% sounds high.

  7. The denominational average salary is $48,890. If approved later this week the minimum salary for those in full connection in New Jersey will be $41,122, with a full time local pastor getting at least $34,954. Add to those amounts a minimum of $300 for every year of service up to 18 years. During the first ten years of service a four week vacation; five weeks after ten years. Parsonage, health care, pension, expense accounts, etc. also. There is no minimum for part-time local pastors.

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