Evangelicalism Makes Me Uncomfortable: Reason #4

Pastoral Pay

There are jobs where no vacation is truly sacred; jobs where a person might be called upon to go to work at any time of day or night no matter where they are. National leaders are one example. CEOs or Public Relations executives are others. In almost every case, however, those jobs come with appropriate compensating perquisites, but not for pastors. For pastors, two things you can always assume are that everyone expects the pastor to be happy to help whenever he’s contacted, and no pastor is actually paid as though he or she is available 168 hours per week, every week of the year. Evangelical Culture more or less always exploits pastors when it comes to pay, and this is something about Evangelical Culture that makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

Fortunately, apart from limitless availability, the evangelical church doesn’t expect too much from our pastors. OK, OK, we do expect them to be able to preach, but that’s pretty much it. Well, that and the ability to read Greek and Hebrew, but if a pastor can’t, Evangelical Culture will forgive him his inability to read in 3 languages so long as he feels sufficiently guilty. Oh, and this is kind of a corollary to the preaching thing, but we do also expect a pastor to be able to teach – you know, a Sunday School class or a Bible study – if asked. And it would be best if he or she can do that teaching a few times a week, if need be, in addition to the aforementioned preaching. But none of this is that big of a deal, since the responsibility to correctly interpret the divinely inspired words of God several times a week isn’t the least bit high-pressure.

Apart from those things, we don’t ask for much from evangelical pastors.

Oh, except for counseling. Not “sharing-burdens-with-a-fellow-believer” counseling, mind you. An evangelical pastor should have some understanding of what professional counseling involves – the ability to take notes, listen actively, and know when to refer to licensed counselors is a must – and she should also have enough wisdom, insight, and knowledge of the Bible to use it appropriate and on the fly in a counseling session, but even that’s not a big deal. It just comes naturally with the call, you know?

Also – and this is kind of related to counseling – I guess we do expect evangelical pastors to be able to mediate and solve interpersonal disputes. You know – nothing complicated; just the ability to get two or more parties who have been actively ignoring the pull of the Holy Spirit in their lives for some time to now listen to the Holy Spirit and be reconciled. Fortunately, this comes easy, isn’t intimidating, and never requires a pastor to take the uncomfortable step of confronting anyone. Um, unless it does. In which case we do expect a pastor to be able to confront someone with love and firmness, without ever losing his temper or saying anything unnecessarily hurtful. Or that could be (mis)interpreted as being unnecessarily hurtful. Once again, NBD.

Those are some of the things we expect, but there are so many things we don’t expect that probably warrant mentioning. For example, I’ve never heard of a pastor who wasn’t hired/appointed for lack of an MBA. True, the pastor’s reputation is probably finished if anyone in the church mishandles money under the pastor’s “watch,” but we never expect a pastor to be a CPA or have an MBA. We figure he can acquire that skill set in his free time, you know?

We also never expect a pastor to have a degree in leadership or communications; the Holy Spirit will give our pastor everything needed to have a vision, articulate that vision, sell that vision, and implement that vision, right? And if someone in the church undermines the vision being set for the church, the pastor’s leadership skills will be sufficient to handle that. If not, of course, he just may not be cut out for a role as senior pastor, amIright?

I’ve also never met anyone who expected their pastor to attend every event or ministry initiative at the church; as long as the pastor comes to my Bible study he can miss your potluck, right? He doesn’t have unlimited time. Same thing for kids’ sporting events, too. As long as the pastor shows support for my family, he can do what he wants with the rest of his time.

Sarcasm aside, Evangelical Culture asks too much of our pastors. Even worse, however, is how we pay them. For as much training as the job requires, as much stress as the job entails, as much work as pastors do, and as much time as evangelicals demand from pastors, they should be paid like CEOs. Unfortunately, in Evangelical Culture pastoral pay tends to be dramatically closer to that of gas station attendants. Remember that many pastors keep office hours five days a week, oversee religious services on a sixth, and attend myriad other church events, meetings, or crises at other times each week. Add it up, and 60 hour weeks aren’t at all uncommon, even before we note that the pastor is on call the other 108 hours each week too. There’s a reason the word ‘workaholic’ was coined to describe pastors: they’re always working.

Since it is Pastor Appreciation Month, now seems like a good time to ask yourself if your church pays your pastor appropriately for the skill set he’s utilizing to serve you. Any pastor who can meet ½ the expectations listed above – and I’ve known many who manage the whole list, by the grace of God – would command dramatically higher compensation in the world of business. The willingness of our pastors to sacrifice fair pay in order to answer their callings to serve Jesus’ church does nothing to acquit us of our responsibility to pay them fairly; if God fills our pulpits and our pastoral staffs with talented people who could get rich elsewhere, who are we to pay those same people like they make their livings folding sweaters at the mall?

I know some of you won’t believe me. Your church is the exception, you don’t think your pastor works this hard, or you have no reason to trust my opinions. It’s always possible that I’m wrong, of course, but you should know that I am the son of a pastor (now a denominational official) who grew up surrounded by pastors and then went to seminary. I once tried to make a list of the pastors I know, and I stopped after clearing 100 names. I almost certainly know more pastors than you do, and more importantly, I know their stories. I know their skill, I know how hard they work, and in many cases, I even know how much they’re paid. And (at least this time) I know what I’m talking about.

Pastors never stop working, and they’re rarely paid fairly. Help your pastors by resisting some of the expectations leveled on them by Evangelical Culture. It’s a losing battle, but the effort counts. And as you fight, make sure your pastors are paid as well as your church can afford (and recognize that this will probably entail convincing your church that they can afford more than they realize). You owe it to them and you owe it to God.

(Want some actual stats? Click here for a reliable but decade-old survey on pastoral compensation: http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/39-pastors-paid-better-but-attendance-unchanged ;
click here for more recent data from the largest evangelical denomination: http://www.westernrecorder.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=361:ministers-compensation&catid=56:kentucky&Itemid=168 ;
and click here for still more recent info on pay in some evangelical and some mainline denominations: http://www.covchurch.org/resources/files/2012/08/Pastoral-Compensation-Report-for-2012.pdf )

2 thoughts on “Evangelicalism Makes Me Uncomfortable: Reason #4

  1. I was attending the Milan Free Methodist church when the decision to have small groups on Sunday nights instead of a service at the church. My grandmother was appalled! She said “We pay him to preach three times a week!” I said “No, Grandma, you pay him to be at your beck and call twenty-four hours a day!”

  2. Preach it. There are SO many expectations placed on pastors these days. And there’s no way we’re in it for the money. :)

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