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How Much Should Churches Pay Their Pastors?

As a pastor’s kid I remember that during every congregational meeting at our Baptist church, my family and I were dismissed from the room so that the church could discuss and set the pastor’s salary for the following year.

It was always a mystery what went on during the time we were out of the room. Was there debate? Did ten random families list their household income and was an  average made? What criteria was used to make a decision?

The Bible tells us to use wisdom when determining how much to pay a pastor. The Apostle Paul says that a “worker is worth his wages” and “don’t muzzle the ox while he treads the grain” (1 Tim. 5:18). But what kind of salary does that translate to?

My current denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), recommends that every pastoral call (formal job offer) include the words “That you may be free from worldly care and avocations (meaning hobbies or side hustles)” to precede an offer of salary. The idea is that the minister should be paid enough so that his mental and spiritual energy is spent on the kingdom of God and not having to be overly scrupulous in his financial life. It’s a wise application of the New Testament’s commandments on this issue.

Still, many churches struggle to land on a salary. Let me suggest, based on my experience setting salaries for church planters in the PCA, a few criteria that a church could use when determining a salary. I propose that an elder board or search committee triangulate the following three numbers to come up with a reasonable salary.

First Number: What would it cost for the pastor to rent a house in this area?

I think rent is a wise measure because it is an all-in cost that stays up to date. Mortgage payments are unreliable because they depend on the size of a downpayment, how much help they get from family, how long they have owned a house for, etc. Rent takes into account the size of the pastor’s family along with all other local factors.

How does average rental cost translate to salary? Most financial planners agree that it is a good rule of thumb for housing to be around ⅓ of your costs. So if you multiply the rent by 3, you get an average month’s salary (gross).

For example, if the average 3 bedroom house rents for $2000 in a small town, then the pastor’s monthly salary should be around $6000/month or $72,000 a year. Or, if a stacked 2.5 bedroom townhouse in a GTA suburb rents for $3500/month, the pastor’s salary would be around $10,000/month or $120,000/year.

In urban Ottawa where I live, a 3 bedroom house within a 10-15 minute drive of my church rents between $2800/month on the low end and $3500/month on the higher end.[1] This puts the expected salary $8400/month ($100k) and $10 000/month.

Second Number: What does a ten year teacher make in this area?

Why teachers? Well, they exist everywhere, the data is easily available, they have a similar level of training to most pastors (undergrad plus teacher’s college (six years) vs. undergrad plus masters degree (six years). Why ten years? To roughly approximate the level of management and authority a pastor will have in most churches.

You can find this information by googling “teacher salary grid + YOUR AREA.” Sometimes there are additional levels depending on further education, but in Ottawa, a ten year teacher makes $96,000.[2]

Third Number: What is the median household income in the area?

We would expect pastors to have a similar lifestyle to their communities and many churches expect the pastor to provide the majority of the household income. So, household income serves as more reliable than average income. Also, median (middle) is more helpful than average because it tells you where the middle of the society is instead of being skewed by the extreme ends of the scale.

You can find this number relatively easily by searching, but in Ottawa, it is around $106,000.


What are the three numbers for a church to consider to set a wise salary? I’ve argued for the average of (1) renting a suitably sized home near the church, (2) the salary of a 10 year teacher and (3) the median household income. In my part of Ottawa, those three numbers are remarkably similar: (1) $100k-120k; (2) 96k; (3) 106k.

My opinion is that the salary should not be lower than the lowest number and not higher than the highest number.

If that sounds like a lot to pay a pastor, it is. But the reality is that housing costs and inflation in Canada have risen quite quickly and if we hope and expect pastors to serve for the long haul, they need to be “freed from worldly cares and avocations.” If we hope that our current youth and young adults will see pastoring as a viable future, we need to pay pastors in a way that is worthy of their work and the areas in which we expect them to serve.



[2] https://www.ocetfo.ca/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ocetf202014-201720collective20agreement-1.pdf