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"How Much Should We Pay the Pastor?"
A Fresh Look at Clergy Salaries in the 21st Century

by Becky R. McMillan and Matthew J. Price.

In setting clergy salaries, most Protestant congregations and denominations,
like the secular world around them, turn in varying degrees to the free
market for guidance. Typically, for example, congregations look at what
they have paid pastors in the past and what they can afford given their
current membership, or they look at the salaries that similar congregations
in the area offer to pastors. Others might look to denominational guidelines
or average salary reports.

While these methods do shed some light on what a competitive, market-driven
clergy salary should be, this report questions whether such an approach
is appropriate. Instead, the authors suggest a better approach would be
to set compensation sufficient to provide hospitality and a well-lived
life for persons, and their families, who are compelled by a call from
God to proclaim the Gospel. The report suggests that to do so, congregations
might need to think and act collectively with other congregations rather
than individually.

In the report, the authors initially compare Protestant and Catholic clergy
salaries in an effort to illustrate and highlight the differences and
underlying rationales between free market and more centralized, collective
decision-making approaches to setting salaries for pastoral leadership.
Catholic and Protestant clergy salaries are products of different conceptions
about how and why pastors are paid.

Within the Protestant realm, the researchers further examine clergy salaries
by church polity, as determined primarily by how much autonomy individual
congregations have in setting clergy salaries. Churches in so-called Connectional
polities-primarily Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians--have
little autonomy over salaries, are subject to some degree of centralization
such as salary guidelines or requirements to pay pension and health care
benefits and are therefore less subject to market forces. In "Congregational"
polities-primarily Baptists, but also, Pentecostals, United Church of
Christ and others-congregations act autonomously in determining clergy
compensation, are not subject to centralized regulation, and represent
a more market-driven approach to compensation.

Generally, in all but the very largest churches, salaries for pastors
in Connectional polities are higher than those paid to clergy in Congregational
polities, even when controlling for pastor education, experience, and
congregational wealth. The same holds true for pension benefits and health
care coverage. The authors attribute the differences primarily to centralized
decision-making in Connectional systems, which appear to encourage at
least something of a livable wage minimum. Regardless of polity, only
a small percentage of pastors earn what most Americans would consider
a professional level salary.

The report illustrates how the free market forces that drive secular salaries
are also at work within the salary structure of the church. Church size
translates directly into market power. To attract entrepreneurial clergy,
some very large churches are paying entrepreneurial salaries. To earn
enough money to pay back educational debt and save for college and retirement,
clergy must seek to serve large churches or place their calls second to
spouse's careers.

The report also highlights the fact that while regional differences in
salaries are not large, clergy salaries across the country have split
between small and medium-sized churches that struggle to pay clergy even
a modest stipend and larger churches that pay high, competitive salaries.
Smaller churches that cannot afford to pay a high enough wage to support
full time or fully ordained clergy are increasingly moving toward part-time
or less experienced or educated clergy, or have no pastor at all. The
report raises particular concern over the state of salaries for African-American
clergy, the restricted upward mobility of women clergy, and the growing
burden of debt incurred by clergy to fund their theological education.

In the second half of the report, the authors examine the impact of clergy
compensation on calling and commitment. Low clergy salaries, they contend,
are making it difficult for pastors to be true to their call and are causing
many talented graduates to enter other professions or other forms of ministry.

At the same time, inadequate compensation is inadvertently transforming
ministry from a calling into a career. To accumulate savings, provide
for their families, and pay off educational debt, clergy feel compelled
to move up a career ladder to larger congregations. Many are forced to
take on second jobs or depend upon an income-earning spouse, both of which
limit the types of churches and ministries that a pastor can serve.

Local churches are also adversely affected by market approaches to clergy
compensation. Rather than focusing on mission to the world around them,
congregations must focus inordinately on church growth strategies to increase
the market power needed to attract "good" clergy. Clergy who
are financially dependent upon a congregation are less able or likely
to lead in prophetic ways, since such leadership risks losing members
and dollars.

The authors suggest that faith communities consider more regulation and
cooperation between congregations and among denominations, particularly
for providing clergy benefits such as health coverage, retirement benefits
and theological education debt repayment.

The report also includes responses from four clergy.

The Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Carder, Bishop of the Mississippi area of the
United Methodist Church, says the underlying market ideology significantly
influences UMC salary structure and clergy deployment decision. The United
Methodist Church is particularly suited to examining the role of the free
market within its mission and offers four proposals to help recover a
missionally-based itinerancy and an adequately compensated clergy.

The Rev. Robert D. Dale, a church consultant and assistant executive director
of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, says the reports' findings are
"surprises we should have expected" and essentially indicate
that, whatever their denomination, pastors are underpaid. He calls upon
congregations to take a more counter-cultural stance in addressing the
tensions between mission and market.

James Hudnut-Beumler, Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, asks what the
long term effects will be on middle-class churches of having a clergy
that can no longer expect to live as one among the people they serve.
In all polities, the ability and willingness of congregations to pay a
professional wage for professional services is on the decline.

The Rev. Scott Wilson-Parsons, a United Methodist pastor, examines the
emotional aspects of compensation and the differences in how pastors and
congregations view compensation.

Pastor Speaking to Ladies
African - American Male Speaker