And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field. Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place (Neh. 13:10-11).
The issue of ministerial pay will immediately set hares running. Various salary precedents are followed in churches, in some cases for years with little understanding of their basis. In our worldly employments, wages and salaries might reflect skill levels, experience, knowledge, scarcity of labour and perhaps performance or productivity. Such considerations may enter the minds of those charged with setting ministerial pay, yet they are difficult to assess in the context of a calling from the Lord to preach Christ to the lost. Pay levels for ministers will never reflect the eternal priceless nature of the ‘output’.
There is no set formulae to be followed in setting ministerial pay. Trustees, treasurers, elders, and in some churches, the remuneration committee, are charged with using church resources wisely (sometimes within regulatory guidelines) and being able to justify decisions to the awkward and vociferous at the annual meeting. They hopefully recognise that men called by God typically do not enter the ministry to make financial gains. Typical parlance is that we seek to be honourable in setting pay levels.
An honourable pay level
An honourable salary might be based on near ‘related’ activity, perhaps linking ministerial pay to that of teachers. In reality, this is often closer to the unqualified teacher pay range as opposed to head teacher pay. Current estimates of the annual gross pay for ministers of religion are in the £26,000 to £30,000 range (median gross pay for adults in Wales was a little over £29,000 at the end of 2021). Therefore, we might pay the minister close to the average such that many ministers are able to honestly claim: ‘Silver and gold I have not much!’
Others might request a minister to produce an estimate of what he needs; in others, pay might be based on ‘observed’ financial need. Then there is the inevitable reward system based on what the church can afford, or in other words, what they are willing to pay. The pay waters are further muddied by manses, side payments, earnings from funerals, births and deaths, gifts etc. HMRC keeps an eagle eye on ministers who are a common target for the dreaded self-assessment paperwork due to the labyrinth of fees and offerings, vicarage expenses and any other benefits the minister receives.
We might all repeat tales of ministers kept poor and hungry by wealthy congregations, or having irregular or erratic salary payments. Even the best congregations might not muzzle the ox, but ensure there is not too much grain left on the mill floor.
It is difficult to give a recommendation of where you set the pay of your pastor, but here are some challenges to those charged with being ‘honourable’ in setting reward structures in churches.
- If we argue salary is dictated by the financial strength of the church, are we really giving enough?
- Do we really want the minister having to pray to God to provide money for their everyday needs when resources might be available?
- Is the minister obliged to do other things to make ends meet which take him away from his true calling?
- Have we made sure that legal guidelines around pension provision have been made for our minister?
- If there is no manse, are we giving enough to cover rents or providing the minister the opportunity to get on the housing ladder (yes, ministers retire too)?
- If we are a blessed congregation financially, are we working to support ministerial pay in other places?
In closing, I will take you to 1 Samuel 30 when David returns from the battle with the Amalekites to 200 of his men who were too weak to go to the front line and were left at the brook, Besor. The warriors who had gone to the front line were not willing to share the spoils with those that were left behind with the baggage. In many churches is it exactly the opposite? Those who are not typically on the ‘spiritual front line’ may have the spoils and resources, leaving the ministers fighting on the front line with inadequate resources.