How much should a church pastor get paid?

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Would it surprise you know the average salary of church pastors in this country is $85,544? The average American family brings home $51,413 a year.

Would it surprise you know the average salary of church pastors in this country is $85,544? By the way, that’s not the mean which is a number easily skewed by one celebrity preacher raking in as much as the President. That’s the median. In other words, if you lined up every pastor in the nation according to their income–from least to greatest–and stood right in the middle of that line, every pastor in front of you–that’d be 50 percent of them–makes $85,544 a year or more.

To give you some perspective, the average American family brings home $51,413 a year.

But before you start foaming at the mouth and planning your retort about greedy, hypocritical pastors, maybe we should have some idea as to how big the average church is in this country.

Some reports will claim the average church membership is 184 people. That number is a little misleading because that’s the mean. The median would be more like 75 people. So, the average church has 75 members and gives their pastor $85,544 a year.

Let’s do the math.

As of 2010, the percentage of our population under the age of 18 is roughly 24 percent. 24 percent of 75 people is 18. Subtract 18 children from 75 members and we get 57 potential income earners in the average sized church. Approximately 11 percent of the population is retired. Even though they likely have some income, let’s assume they do not for this example. That leaves only 51 people with a potential income. 51 percent of the American population is married. That cuts the number of total households down to 39.

Are you still with me?

If the average church has 39 households with incomes of $51,413 a year and they each give the average 2.56 percent to the church, the church should bring in $51,330.74 in a year. Of course, that’s the national average for giving. Let’s pretend that everyone in the church gives at least 10 percent and the number goes up to $200,510.70. Subtract church expenses and money given to help those in need, yeah, you could probably pay the pastor $85,544.

But should you?

Paying the pastor is in the Bible

First, let’s make it clear that financially compensating the ministry is in the Bible. While Paul did say no man should preach for personal gain (2 Corinthians 2:17), he also commanded the church to provide for the ministry in material ways:

Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not of the fruit thereof? or who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock? Say I these things as a man? or saith not the law the same also?

For it is written in the law of Moses, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written: that he that ploweth should plow in hope; and that he that thresheth in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown unto you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we shall reap your carnal things? (1 Corinthians 9:6-11)

As a side note, I’ve heard some reject the practice of paying the pastor with a predetermined salary. They feel it is only biblical if the pastor receives what he is personal given by individual members from week to week–an amount that varies. I disagree. Paul told the Corinthians to “lay in store” so there would be “no gatherings” when he got there (1 Corinthians 16:2).

Applying the Old Testament principles

Since Paul referenced the Old Testament when talking about paying the preachers, let’s do the same as we talk about the amount to be given. We often think Old Testament giving was limited to 10 percent. Well, that’s not quite all of it.

First, one tithe (10 percent) was given by each family to be used for the Levitical priests (Leviticus 27:30-32). Another tithe (another 10 percent) was given by each family for the religious feasts (Deuteronomy 14:22-27). Yet another tithe (an additional ten percent) was given by each family every three years for those in need (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). That’s 23 percent total.

How does that translate to the New Testament church?

Well, if we were to follow the Old Testament model–by the way, there is no rule that says we must–each household would give 23 percent. 10 percent would go to the ministry, 10 percent would go to church expenses, and 3 percent would go to those in need.

Breaking down the figure I calculated before–where people gave 10 percent–$86,219.60 would be used for church expenses, $26,066.39 would be given to the needy, and…drumroll, please…$86,219.60 would go to the ministry. That’s actually more than the average $85,544. Of course, every church’s circumstance is different. It doesn’t really matter though.

My opinion on the issue

This is my opinion and nothing but my opinion. The Bible does not give us an exact figure or percentage. Ideally, I believe a church should strive to give their pastor the average income of the church. If you totaled the income–dollar amounts–of every family and divided that by the number of incomes, you’d have a nice goal to eventually reach if you haven’t already. Personally, I’d struggle with the idea of the church giving me more than that amount.

Regardless of what your church pays your pastor, it’s important to remember that we all have a responsibility to give and to do so with joy (2 Corinthians 9:7). As said before, we also have a responsibility to care for the material needs of the ministry. As for the exact amount the pastor should get, that’s a matter for the church, her deacons, and the pastor to work out.

Pastors, keep in mind, your vocation is not an occupation. It’s not about the money. As Paul went on to write, he never asked for financial support when he knew it was best for the church to refrain and continue in his secular work (1 Corinthians 9:15).

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