What Should You Pay Your Pastor?
An answer to one of the questions we are asked the most, starting with the scriptures.
People ring the FIEC office for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s just a sales call, but if you’re reading this, we have enough coffee/security/stationery/public liability insurance (delete as applicable) already. Very rarely a phone call is to let us know how helpful we’ve been, although feel free to do this more!
Most of the time it’s churches with questions. Questions about coronavirus rules (especially at the moment), questions about resources, questions about conferences… and questions about what to pay the pastor. This is a question that comes up time and time again, especially as people scour the website in vain for a document called ‘FIEC Pay Scales’ or something similar.
There is a reason we don’t have such a document, which goes to the heart of what FIEC is. We’re a fellowship of Independent churches and, while there are some things we need to be firm about in order to promote working together (our Doctrinal Basis is the primary example), there are others which we believe should and must be determined by the local church. And a leaders’ pay is one of those.
But without wanting to be prescriptive, we can – we trust – still be helpful. We’re happy to provide some input into this most frequent of questions, so here goes.
Let’s listen to what Paul writes to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:17-18) first, and then draw some principles.
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”
Here are three important considerations.
What a church pays its pastor (or indeed any other worker) needs to be set in its wider context. Such leaders, says Paul, are worthy of “double honour”. It is true that the word for honour can mean a financial remuneration (and this is certainly Paul’s primary focus, given the quotes that follow) but it can mean an awful lot more.
Honour here can mean respect (see the way the word is used in 1 Timothy 6:1, for example). The money we pay is just one part of the package – a package which should demonstrate an appropriate care, honour, love, and respect for those the Lord places over us.
What does this mean in practice?
I believe it means we cannot pay a pastor well but show little care for his emotional, physical or spiritual well-being and think we have fulfilled our obligations. In that case, we have certainly not shown “double honour”. It also doesn’t, of course, excuse a church which underpays to then say “at least we send him on a conference or two”.
Instead, a church should be asking “what approach do we need to provide for our pastor in his financial, spiritual, physical, and emotional needs?” Think about how the church will help to sustain him in all of these areas.
What a church pays its pastor should be fair. The language of “wages” picked up in Jesus’ words (quoted in 1 Timothy 5:17) implies that there is a matching up of effort and reward. And both the pictures taken together, whilst hardly glamorising pastoral ministry, make the point that it is very hard work. The hard-working farm animal or daily labourer sweat it out and the amount paid should reflect this.
The “keep him poor” mentality (thankfully mostly gone now) is highly unscriptural. The principle instead is “see how hard he is working” and pay accordingly.
Moreover, fairness must include an element of "what does it cost to live here?" How much is a house? How much are bills?
What we pay a pastor should be generous – he is worthy of double honour.
Some have taken this literally. I heard of a church who worked out the average pay of the congregation, doubled it, and then paid the pastor that amount. This is a rather arbitrary way of interpreting what Paul is saying, but it's clear that, at the very least, he is challenging a lack of generosity. Within reason, a church meeting comment of “does he really need that much?” should ring alarm bells.
It seems to me that the starting point for determining pay is gladly embracing these principles and then working them through in your local context.
There are lots of practical things that could be said, of course, and perhaps such advice is best considered on a case by case basis. But be scriptural first and you will be surprised at how many of the practical questions answer themselves.