Pastors’ Salaries and Church Buildings

Last week, I began to discuss pastors and their relationship to “church business.” Some of you told me you have similar concerns. Let’s press a bit further…

Whenever the church begins handling money internally – rather than giving it away – we get into sticky matters. How does the church properly use charitably given money?

Let me show you a few examples from my own tradition. I think they’re universally applicable.

Pastors’ Salaries

When the Methodist movement was growing rapidly, people began to ask whether John Wesley was getting rich off the whole endeavor. That would be a serious accusation against the man who wrote, “If I leave behind me ten pounds (above my debts, and the little arrears of my fellowship) you and all mankind bear witness against me, that I lived and died a thief and a robber.” Look at his brilliant response:

I look upon all this revenue, be it what it may, as sacred to God and the poor; out of which, if I want any thing, I am relieved, even as another poor man. So were originally all ecclesiastical revenues, as every man of learning knows: and the bishops and priests used them only as such. If any use them otherwise now, God help them! (from “A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists,” XV, 6)

  • How did they view the collection of the church? As sacred to God and the poor.
  • How did they pay their workers? They took care of their basic needs even as another poor man.
  • How long had the church’s collection been used this way? The bishops and priests originally used all ecclesiastical revenues this way.
  • Who should know that? Every man of learning.
  • What of anyone who uses the church’s collection differently now? God help them!

What if we still followed Wesley’s understanding of church leaders’ pay and the sanctity of the church’s collection? What current practices would change or go away entirely?

A personal test for church leaders: Are you in it for the money?

Buildings and Debt

Look at this requirement of early Methodist pastors regarding their buildings:

It shall be the duty of every preacher belonging to this conference to use his influence against constructing expensive meeting houses. (1816 New England Conference of the Methodist Church)

What if this were still every preacher’s duty?

It might be worth noting that the American Methodist Church experienced its greatest growth while the above was the rule. It has experienced its greatest decline during the period where bigger sanctuaries, gyms, and fellowship halls has been the standard.

Why were those early Methodists so against expensive meeting houses? A great explanation from the first Discipline of the American Methodist Church (the Methodist book on how we function), 1784:

Let all our chapels be built plain and decent; but not more expensive than is absolutely unavoidable: otherwise the necessity of raising money will make rich men necessary to us. But if so, we must be dependent upon them, yea; and governed by them. And then farewell to the Methodist discipline, if not doctrine too.

How much better off I believe the Methodists would have been if we had never removed this from our Discipline!

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33 thoughts on “Pastors’ Salaries and Church Buildings

  1. The issue extends to bishops as well. Our current Book of Discipline makes it clear that the needs of bishops should be provided for–housing, travel, and office expenses. It seems to me that bishops should receive the minimum salary their conference pays to elders in the church. That way, they can have a proportional amount contributed toward their pension fund and still have enough money to live on. I actually thought about writing such an amendment to the BOD for GC2012, but I drafted a different proposal regarding equitable salary (which failed to make it to the plenary floor.)

    Our value system regarding pastoral compensation is NOT Christian or Biblical in my opinion. Restoring Biblical values with regard to pastoral compensation would do a great deal to restore trust in our leaders and our church.

    1. Thanks for your response, Holly. I was intrigued by your proposal to GC and passed it on to some of our delegates as a proposal I wished they would support.

      It seems we now openly endorse a system of pastoral compensation that we learned from the business world, not Church history or Scripture. I hear too many conversations about not being able to attract good pastors if salaries aren’t higher. (These conversations are usually centered around salary packages that are already at least double the median salary for my city and state.) I hear too many people suggest that some of our more highly-paid pastors should receive more because they would be making more in the business world. I have even heard that good pastors wouldn’t consider going certain places if the salary package isn’t high enough. (These conversations were about $100k + packages in an area where median is under $40k). When did we let the world co-opt our values regarding money?

      1. As a future pastor, currently a seminary student, I am appalled at the thought that we need to set high earning marks to attract good pastors. I have a family to support, and I was in the business world making far more than I will ever make as a pastor – but I didn’t give that up to find wealth serving God and the church. As long as our basic needs are met, I am comfortable making the minimum pastor’s salary the rest of my life. Now, living expenses are quite different in different parts of the country, and that must be taken into account, but to encourage a money-driven ecclesiology is a huge mistake.

  2. Becky, I agree with you. At age 60 my husband started the process for Local Pastor and WE choose to do this not because of a paycheck but because we felt the call to go and serve!! We have been blessed many times over and we have never had any regrets

  3. Keep in mind that many of us pastors leave seminary with a debt of 30-50K plus because the denomination can no longer offer any real scholarships or financial assistance…and we can’t get an MDiv at our local state school.

  4. One sad reality about this perspective stems from the truth that in our denomination (and in many other places) money and power are identified with each other. I know some pastors who WANT power even though they honestly do not really seek money—they even feel a bit guilty about their salary. It seems to me that we should make a CONSCIOUS decision to disconnect the two. The people with the MOST power in our system (bishops and district superintendents) should receive no more than minimum salary plus expenses (housing, travel, continuing education, and office expense).

    Here is a link to my blog post in which I set out my alternative vision for clergy compensation.

  5. As far as being governed by the rich.

    2012 General Conference delegates from the United States:

    $100,000 annual household income
    48% of lay delegates
    60% of clergy delegates
    20% of of US population

    (p. 2386 of Daily Christian Advocate)

  6. I somehow failed to post the full set of statistics:
    2012 General Conference delegates from the United States:

    $100,000 annual household income
    48% of lay delegates
    60% of clergy delegates
    20% of of US population

    (p. 2386 of Daily Christian Advocate)

    1. Thanks for these stats, Luke. If 60% of our clergy delegates are in the top 20% in the US, then we are, indeed, governed by the rich. And many of those in the top 20% will be receiving raises at their Annual Conferences this year. Is anyone questioning this?

      Thank goodness for our African delegates or I think we would have fully said farewell to the Methodist discipline and doctrine, too. How did the 1784 Methodists foresee this problem so clearly, and we are mostly ignorant to it while staring it in the face?

      1. Some will say that the “best” pastors deservedly receive the highest salary. Frankly, I resent that assumption. I believe the “best” pastors are those who are willing to serve where ever they are appointed even if it is not in a prestigious appointment among the wealthy.

        But my opinion is not validated by church authorities. This is a serious SPIRITUAL problem that goes to the heart of much of the dysfunction and decline of our denomination. Most of our leaders show little evidence of living in accord with Jesus’ teaching and example in the way they handle money.

  7. Also:
    < $50,000 annual household income
    14% of lay delegates
    3% of clergy delegates
    50% of US population
    (p. 2386 of Daily Christian Advocate)

  8. And:
    $50,000-$99,999 annual household income
    37% of lay delegates
    37% of clergy delegates
    30% of US population

    1. Thanks for sharing this interesting data. Is there an online version of the source you can link to?

      I wonder if partly this is skewed because people earning masters degrees and higher for ministry are more likely to marry people of similar educational achievement? (For example of three associates at my home church one is married to a dentist and another to a judge.) The “household income” includes a spouse’s salary also, correct? If so this would be important to note as they high income may be partially independent of their salary as a pastor.

  9. Pingback: A statistical call to ministry… « jonathan powers

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