I am not a pastor, but I spend a lot of time talking to pastors. In fact, as I think about it, every male in my immediate family is or has been a pastor or lay elder. And I know one of the toughest topics for pastors to talk about is money.
One reason why is that pastors know that seeking money can be the root of every type of evil (1 Tim 6:10). This expectation (among others) can make it tough for pastors to talk about money even though pastoral pay is biblical (1 Tim 5:17-18). As a consequence, churches or the committees that oversee pastoral pay do not always understand the financial pressures of their leaders.
No one asked me to write this article. But I would like to make five observations on pastoral salaries to help non-pastors get a better sense of some of the challenges pastors face and perhaps to make changes to better support their pastor.
1. Congregations have a Biblical Obligation to Pastors
Congregations should ask whether or not their pastor’s salary is generous since congregations have a biblical duty to pastors to allow them to serve with joy (Heb 13:17) and to be worthy of emulation in the realm of giving (Heb 13:7).
If a pastor lacks the financial stability to be hospitable, to give with joy, and to avoid extraordinary concern about his family’s well-being, then it makes it more difficult for a congregation to obey passages like those in Hebrews 13:7 and 17.
The Bible also speaks directly about pastoral support. Paul says, “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 Tim 5:17-18). Here, he follows the pattern of holy Scripture (Deut 25:4; Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:15) and of Jesus (Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7).
Paul elsewhere cites Jesus’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:14: “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” The apostle likely refers to Jesus’s sending of the Twelve Apostles or of the Seventy-Two whom he told not to save and prepare for their work but to rely on the generosity of those whom they served (Matt 10:5-15). As Jesus says to the Twelve, “the laborer deserves his food.” To the Seventy-Two, he says, “the laborer deserves his wages.”
2. Raises do not Always mean an Increased Salary
On average, inflation in Canada is 3.4%. In 2022, inflation has skyrocketed to over 8%. On average then, if a pastor does not receive at least a 3.4% wage increase per year, he actually receives a wage deduction relative to the value of the CAD dollar.
The same reality exists in secular business. Since profits are relative to the market, businesses that maintain their profits in a sense do so at the level of inflation.
The rate of inflation this year has crossed 8%. In response, companies have increased their pay rate to keep up with inflation and to retain or gain good employees. For example, the CBC shows an increase in salary across many fields during pandemic. This increase of salary likely occurred to gain or retain good employees given the timeline that the CBC presents (Q1 2019–Q1 2022). But there is reason to believe companies even in the middle of 2022 have continued to offer jobs with increased salaries at or above the rate of inflation.
While this increase in pay has exceptions (small business owners, unionized workers, etc.), it at least shows that markets have raised pay for various careers.
That said, such raises will not always be reflected in congregations. Congregants who give to their church’s budget may have received a raise but they also have less spending power due to inflation (~8%).
So it may be nearly impossible for churches to raise the salary of their pastors to account for growing expenses caused by inflation. If so, then congregations should realize that pastors have less spending power than they had a year prior. They have less spending power relative to the worth of the Canadian dollar. Realizing this doesn’t mean a church can do too much financially, but it may make a congregation more sympathetic to the pastor’s situation.
Since pastoral positions usually do not have a high pay in the first place, this can hurt.
It means not sending one’s kids to soccer camp. The deduction means not taking someone out for lunch since one cannot afford it. It means not buying meat at the supermarket. The lack means not being able to afford a vehicle for his family. It means a lot of things.
In Canadian culture, we have a high quality of life. So I am not naming these things as “suffering.” I am illustrating how this pinch affects the day-to-day of pastors to illustrate the practical impact. If most parents in the congregation can afford their child’s soccer camp, but the pastor cannot, then maybe it’s worth reviewing his salary.
3. Church Hiring Practices Sometimes harm Young Pastors
Some churches offer half-time jobs or half-time pay, on the assumption that a pastor can work half-time elsewhere. The church might pay a 20 hour a week salary, while the pastor works 20 hours elsewhere. This bi-vocational structure can and does work, but not always.
Sometimes this approach means the pastor has barely enough money to support his family. It also means that the pastor cannot put his shoulder to the plow to pursue a career or educational goal that would allow him to succeed in life. He works part time at McDonalds and part time at church. Together, the total salary is less than one regular full time position.
And making more money, given the expense of Canada, might simply mean making enough money to support one’s family. So this is not merely a financial point. It has practical import. In such cases, it may be better for the pastor to pursue regular full time work and function, at least for a short time, as a lay pastor. The pastor would simply be an unpaid pastor in the church until a congregation is ready to support a pastor full-time.
Another note. Working a full time job would also build a pastor’s resume. That full-time job and its attendant resume comprise aspects of what makes one qualified for ministry in the first place (managing one’s household; 1 Tim 3:4). So asking a young pastor to work part time jobs may actually weaken his ability to pastor well and have overall success at managing his household.
In a church plant or small church situation, it might make sense, then, for a potential pastor to remain an unpaid pastor until a church can provide the pastor a salary. I suspect in some (not all) cases this strategy would serve the pastor better.
Otherwise, what can (but not must) happen to some pastors is that they get locked into half to three-quarter pay at their church. Eventually, they cannot save or support their family or do what a head of household ought to do. Added to this, they have sacrificed their ability to build skills and experience to gain employment outside of the church.
And they might need that job eventually. Supporting one’s family matters. As Paul says, “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8).
What might happen to some (not all) pastors who remain at partial pay and work side-gigs to survive is that they become “stuck” in ministry without the requisite ability or experience to find a sufficiently well-paying job. That does not serve young (or old) pastors well, nor does it serve the congregation well. Many people find themselves here.
Being aware of the above dynamics can help hiring committees understand the pressures that young pastors are under. Maybe creative solutions can be found. I know many people pull off bi-vocational work. It does happen. Here, I am only pointing out that it does not always work out and some reasons why.
4. Committees may not fully Grasp how Expensive life is
Committees that oversee pastoral pay often have retired persons on them. When they worked, they may have made $40,000 a year and bought a house for $120,000. So it can be hard to make the mental leap that in Toronto a young pastor with three kids needs around $85-90,000 per year either to rent a 3 bedroom place (for $3,200 per month) or afford a mortgage for a $800,000 townhome.
To give one example of cost, consider buying an entry level townhome in the GTA (or any urban area). The cost of the home may be $700,000. One’s mortgage might be in this scenario $600,000. And the townhome fees may come to $500 a month. Currently, five-year fixed mortgages are about 5.5% (October 2022).
On this criteria, someone’s monthly payment would run to about $3,600 per month or $43,200 per year. Add to this $6,000 per year in condo fees, and we have a total cost of $49,200 per year. This does not include electricity, internet, insurance (including mortgage insurance). All of this is after tax. It also does not include buying a vehicle, which depending on the city may be necessary with 3 kids.
Recently, I saw an advertisement to hire a pastor with a salary that started at $50,000 per year in one of the most expensive cities in Canada. If a pastor moves to this city with three kids, buys a townhome to live in, and attempts to live on that salary, it would be impossible. With the price of goods and other goods going up, such a salary would mean that a pastor and his family could not afford to live in this city.
Granted, many people will own a home already. Without a mortgage, the cost of living greatly decreases. Or, a pastor’s spouse may work to provide sufficient funds to provide for the family. But this creates another social problem that may inhibit a pastor from advancing in their ability to manage their household well. It would also mean that the church expects by the salary they offer that the pastor’s wife will of necessity work to provide sufficient income. Assuming that the family has children, this, I think, creates an expectation at variance with Scripture.
Hence, young pastors with kids are less likely to get into ministry in these expensive locales since they cannot afford it. Obviously, rural Saskatchewan does not require such high salaries simply to afford the necessities of life. It’s relative based on location.
I am here trying to paint a realistic picture of what it costs to live in some of the expensive cities in Canada. I know that places like Edmonton, for example, would allow a pastor to purchase a home at a much lower price than, say, Vancouver. But calculating the cost of living in both places still matters when one considers pastoral pay.
5. A Salary is a Function of Mission.
In some places, Paul received financial support (Phil 4:15-18). In other places, he didn’t (1 Cor 9:15). But Paul was always worthy of his wages. He chose sometimes to use his right of financial support and other times he did not. Paul knew that taking money could impede his ministry at times, and at other times it would not.
In modern economies like Canada, we pay property tax and use a single currency (CAD dollar) to exchange goods. We rarely exchange goods for service, have rich patrons who can support a person or family, or any of the ancient world options.
We have Canadian dollars and a modern economy in which spending power has no physical backing but represents the economic power of the nation. For this reason, supporting a pastor in Canada usually will look like a salary rather than the direct support of a wealthy patron or the like. Dollars have basically replaced any sort of bartering system or natural sharing that many societies in the past enjoyed.
We are also so incredibly wealthy compared to any other century and almost any other geography, that we should have sufficient means to support a pastor financially. Even a smaller congregation can support a pastor if ten or more families faithfully give. For this reason also, it makes sense to financially support a pastor in our context.
I offer these five observations based on my experience with churches and pastors. I am sure I could add many more observations. And I probably have not said everything perfectly. My goal here is to help congregations understand the pressures of pastoral ministry and how pastoral salaries work since pastors rarely talk about it.