Clergy Salaries - Taboo Subject?

It is one of those things that no one likes to talk about - (a) how much does the preacher make? (b) Should the preacher get a raise? (c) Do we ask the preacher to leave the room when we talk about his/her salary?

The answer to the above questions are fairly simple:
a. That figure should be common knowledge and part of the budget (which anyone should be able to look at upon request)
b. If the preacher is doing a good job AND the congregation can afford it, of course
c. No. Not only should the preacher NOT leave the room, he or she should take leadership in not only the discussion of his/her salary, but in the salaries of the paid staff at the church.

However, (b) is not always handled well.

Getting a raise. The scriptures are clear on at least one thing: "The laborer is worthy of his hire," which is mentioned in the New Testament at least a couple of times where the matter is concerned. How much that amount should be is a matter of debate. Where UM clergy are concerned, some pastors feel that because of their education they should be paid at least enough to pay off student loans and debt (which is certainly understandable). At the same time, one does not enter the ordained ministry with salary in mind. Does an ordained minister graduate with the comparable credentials as a physician or lawyer? Yes. But is ministry as lucrative as those other two professions? Of course not. So the comparison holds some water, but not a lot.

Where clergy and raises are concerned, opinions range from clergy who don't ask for a raise (or turn one down)and feel like they are already blessed enough, to those who automatically feel entitled to a raise and take it personally when they don't get it. I am sure some clergy come off as greedy to their congregations, and there is some truth to that. When you take salary, pension contributions, and (in some cases) insurance, housing allowances, utility allowances, and professional expenses... ordained clergy may not be rolling in dough, but they don't always fare so badly either. In some cases, we clergy may make more money than many in our congregations.

In today's economic climate, I think we clergy need to be a bit more sensitive to our congregations' ability to pay and give raises. Granted, every church can be challenged where its stewardship is concerned. But some study about economic realities is in order too. One of the Methobloggers (Rev J) wrote a very enlightening blog regarding his congregation and indebtedness, citing a Dave Ramsey quote about American people and their indebtedness: "It isn't that people don't want to give to church, they can't." Rev J goes on to note that when a monthly payment to non-mortgaged debt takes half to two-thirds of a family's income, there isn't much left to give to God and the Church. So while a biblical tithe might be 10%, some families would be quite faithful and sacrificial if they only gave 1%.

Our Staff-Parish Committee looked at the CPI (consumer price index) for the past two years for our area. From July 2008 to July 2009, the CPI actually DECREASED 2.1%. From July 2009-July 2010, it increased 1.2%. Last year, as a staff we agreed to no raises even before staff-parish met; we knew it was a lean year overall and that our senior congregants did not get cost-of-living raises to their social security benefits; in good conscience we could not ask or accept raises. This year we talked about it as a staff-parish committee at length. I was clear that I didn't want or need a raise, but I hoped we could give the staff at least a cost of living increase. After a lot of discussion, we are recommending a 1.4% increase. Now that has yet to be approved by the church as a whole, but this represents a gracious and compassionate response from our church's personnel committee.

The church I serve is a very blessed one. While we are not rolling in dough, neither are we poor. God has blessed us richly: we have bought and paid off a parsonage in five years, we expanded our parking and playground facilities, and our indebtedness for a church our size is manageable and shows good stewardship. We certainly have our challenges: for one, we need to update our sound and video capabilities in our sanctuary. But I think our congregation approaches budgets and money in general in the way we should approach all things: with grace, with good stewardship, and with God as our priority.

My church is not the norm in United Methodism.

More and more churches cannot pay their apportionments, the pastoral remuneration for many churches is the largest expense on the budget, and yet some clergy DEMAND a raise - at the expense of other ministries in the church. We hear a lot of discussion from the clergy side of things - but I wonder how laity feel about this issue? Do we clergy seem greedy? Do we have our priorities misplaced? Are we paid too much?

At a time when our denomination is shrinking, our budgets are growing, and the sustainability of both is in question, I think these are good questions to ponder over. Any opinions?



Gary Drum said…
I don't see anything taboo about clergy salaries, at least not in the UMC where they are voted on in charge conference. This pay comes from church member donations, after all. The amount is published in the conference journal.
As a part-time ( as if there were such a thing) pastor, I'm very sensitive to what my small membership churches can pay. When I was offered my current appointment, I requested a sharp cut from what was being paid since it was obvious that it was too high for the churches' size. I believe the conference letter recommends three percent raises this year, but I'm asking for no change. I'm not being noble here, just realistic. In a previous appointment, one of the three churches on the charge had a nice gain in membership including some who could and did give liberally. And all three churches sustained themselves well and proudly paid full apportionments. Accepting annual raises was, for me, quite appropriate and appreciated.

Deborah Sue said…
I am with you on calling and salary expectations. I have already said to SPRC no raise this year - my family is doing ok (tho seminary loans for a 2nd career pastor stink).

In my conference a good bit of consideration for appointments are made based on salary - I think this is where things get really messy..
Bro. Dave said…
No raises here, for a second year in a row. With a congregation in transition/decline, apportionments partially unpaid, a leaking roof, a slow economy, and fewer dollars for ministry, salary increases are simply not realistic.

I take issue with you, Sky, on the point about a pastor sitting in with the SPRC during the salary discussion. As the salary-recommending body, the SPRC needs to be free to have a frank discussion. It is very difficult for some church members to honestly evaluate their pastor when s/he is sitting in the room glaring at them. So, I make my case, then leave them to decide.
Sky McCracken said…

I think as pastor of a multi-staff church, you HAVE to be there where discussion of salary takes place. A raise for the pastor is a significant amount of money, and the raise (or lack thereof) can affect the raises that other staff get, i.e., if you're not getting a raise, who on the staff DOES deserve one - one that might go beyond the cost of living. Plus, where UMC pastors are concerned, the funding is for the position, rather than the person, is it not? So you're not just representing yourself - you're representing the Connection.

Money is a spiritual matter - shouldn't the spiritual leader be present?

On a more personal level... how many people ask their boss for a raise that they think they deserve and then leave the room so the boss can make a decision?!?

My 2¢.
Bro. Dave said…
Sky, to the contrary, in most business settings, the boss rarely consults the employee. A job performance evaluation is done and the boss decides if a pay raise is warranted. The employee rarely gets to sit in while the boss makes that decision.

I advocate for my staff (in those cases where a pay raise is deserved), but to advocate for myself only comes off as self-serving.

In my present situation, I have emphasized that the financial stability of the church and the full payment of apportionments takes precedent over pay raises. Until those two objectives are met, we cannot afford raises... and perhaps I have not done my job sufficently.